Thursday, January 1, 2009

Normal Mothers Want Their Children to Live

The key stumbling block preventing a resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict and the reason so many people have difficulty understanding it both hit home during a recent meeting with Haim Blumenfeld, Chief Superintendent of the Ashkelon City Station of the Israeli Police: normal mothers want their children to live.

Blumenfeld came to Connecticut right after making a presentation at the Anti-Defamation League's Advanced Training School's course on Extremist and Terrorist Threats, held for senior law enforcement agents in Washington, DC.

I listened to Commander Blumenfeld as he described the challenges of bringing some sense of security to Israelis living in Ashkelon and Sderot while the residents are under daily fire of Kassam and Grad missiles fired from nearby Gaza. I viewed scenes of devastation, including ordinary homes ruined after direct missile hits and the shells of municipal buses whose riders had been incinerated after they were bombed.

War is an unpleasant business. We've all gotten jaded with scenes of devastation not only in Israel, but Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Georgia, Somalia, the Congo, Haiti and countless other troubled areas around the world, so those scenes, horrific though they were, did not shock me.

One short video Blumenfeld showed did shock me. A video of Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat, the woman popularly known as "Umm Nidal," made a deep impression, even though I'd heard about it and even read the text. Understanding that video leads to a depressing insight.

Umm Nidal was one of the Hamas candidates in the 2006 elections. She is a celebrity, with no fewer than three shahid sons having given their lives in the cause of murdering Jews.

Normal mothers would be devastated by death of even one of their children, but not Umm Nidal. In the video of a farewell ceremony for one of her sons, just seventeen years old, she ordered him not to return "except as a shahid." She is shown after his death, calmly explaining that she wanted to "choose the best for him. And the best is not life in this world."

Umm Nidal is no fringe figure. Sari Nusseibeh, considered a symbol of the moderate Palestinian Arab, praised her with the words "When I hear the words of Umm Nidal, I recall the hadith stating that 'Paradise lies under the feet of mothers'" in an interview on Al-Jazeera. She won that election to the Palestinian Authority legislature.

I'd known all this, but it didn't completely register until I watched that video of the mother sending her beloved son to his death and later explaining how it was for the best.

It's difficult for people living in normal, civilized societies to comprehend the total dysfunction of large portions of Palestinian Arab society. We tend to think other people must, at heart, be much like we are, with the same desires and wanting mostly to live normal lives. It's natural to look at the Arab-Israeli conflict from that perspective, leading to the expectation that if we can just get the Arabs and Israelis to listen to us then both will be eager to make reasonable compromises in order to achieve peace and allow their children to start living normal lives.

Such reasoning just doesn't apply to societies where mothers proudly send their children out to murder other, innocent children and those mothers and their shahid sons are considered role models. I had subconsciously realized that, but repressed that understanding before viewing the video shown by Haim Blumenfeld.

I am still optimistic that an Arab-Israeli peace will eventually come, but I sadly recognize it cannot come before the sickness endemic to so much of Palestinian Arab society is expunged. Former United States negotiator Dennis Ross, seeking to understand the failure of the Oslo Experiment, correctly concluded it was a serious mistake to underplay the incitement of the Palestinian Authority.

As recently as this summer, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas congratulated the notorious terrorist Samir Kuntar upon his release by Israel. Kuntar was the perpetrator of one of the most vicious acts in the Arab-Israeli conflict, proudly crushing the skull of a four year old girl after murdering her father in front of her eyes.

I don't know the antidote, but as long as mothers like Maryam Mohammad Yousif Farhat joyfully send their teenage sons to their deaths and the "moderate" leader of the Palestinian Authority feels the need to celebrate the release of murderers, as long as so much of Palestinian Arab society is infested with a sickness too alien to our senses for most normal people to comprehend, any Arab-Israeli peace will remain an unfulfillable dream.

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