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In the middle of November a new method of “smuggling” Palestinians into Israel was exposed: in the northern Jordan Valley, two cars from East Jerusalem disguised to look “police-like” were used in an attempt to transport Palestinians without permits through the Bezek crossing. The same week a private smuggling attempt from the West Bank to Israel came to light: a woman was transporting someone concealed in her car, and by her behaviour she aroused the suspicions of soldiers at a checkpoint. This was reported in passing on the radio, as a curiosity. Neither of the two incidents represented a security danger; they were merely additional attempts by unemployed people to work in Israel. There are probably hundreds like them every month, who have not yet been discovered en route to “infiltration” into Israel in a desperate search for livelihood and food for their children. It could even be added: while heroically endangering themselves.
The discovery of a breach in the “separation wall” immediately sets off security alarms in Israeli ears. If those routes are known to workers, then they are probably also known to organizations that espouse suicide bombing. Can the fact that those routes have not been used lately to send suicide bombers be attributed only to the activities of Shabak [Israel’s internal intelligence agency and security police — trans.], or is it due in part — or perhaps mainly — to the fact that the various organizations have changed their approach? Or maybe there is something more: there are organizations and splinters of organizations that are probably looking for candidates for suicide attacks. But today, unlike in the past, the atmosphere of support for suicide attacks — which was motivated mainly by the desire to avenge the many civilians that the IDF killed immediately after September 2000 — is not prevalent.
It is an accepted cliché among some so-called radicals that army attacks in which Palestinian civilians are harmed — which are routine occurrences that pass below the Israeli radar — always create “the next suicide bomber”. The truth is that nearly every Palestinian has many reasons to be fed up with life to the point of suicide and thoughts of revenge, and those thoughts are not linked only to military attacks. Even without killing, the Israeli occupation regime kills — hope, plans, relationships, ways of life. Living among Palestinians brings daily examples of the thousands of shades that despair has, just as the regime of occupation and colonization brings with it thousands of variants of material and mental abuse. Every moment, people mourn for the lives they could have had and which they are not experiencing. How explosive is the daily insult which people experience, under a foreign rule that decides who will live in their own houses and who will not, who will have access to their lands and who will not, when the bulldozer will tear up your grandparents’ land in order to attach it to a highway and a green settlement, who will waste several hours every day at a checkpoint, who will send their children to university and who will send them to beg, who will lose their source of livelihood, who will see their family and when, and who will not. Massive is the insult felt by the many who depend on charity. Added to all this, of course, is the constant opprobrium of a disappointing and failed Palestinian leadership and the absence of hope in its ability to effect change.
The inescapable conclusion is not that every Israeli attack is likely to create the next suicide bomber. Something is inverted here: how is it that in spite of everything, more youths have not chosen the path of suicide in the past? How is it that people are not choosing to commit suicide today? True, there is another escape: many people, public-opinion polls tell us, are hoping to leave. But appearances are always bigger than reality.
The attachment people have to their harsh lives is more than just the instinct for survival or a default option. In it is a constant lesson to those Israelis who are planning for “transfer” overtly or covertly: the large majority of Palestinians knows that oppressive regimes come and go, but they will stay on their land. Consciously.
Amira Hass is an Israeli journalist who writes for Ha’aretz among other publications. This essay first appeared in Kibush.co.il in December 2007. Translated from Hebrew by George Malent.