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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Courage to Face Terror

Terror can draw the undecided and the halfhearted into the politics of fear that breeds more terror and fear. This axiom is well known to the messengers of death who have struck among Israelis and Palestinians. But that terror can apparently convert determined believers in peace into opponents is a little-known fact that will no doubt please the killers even more.


Times of horror are times to mourn, to fear, to vent grief and rage. But if hope is to be preserved, these must also be times for courage. Palestinians, Arabs, Moslems must have the courage to be ashamed, disgusted, angry, even if the perpetrators were but a handful whose views have been rejected by solid majorities. For Israelis and Jews, courage means not only coping with the immediate pain but also daring to hope, recognizing terrorists for the small minority that they have become, witnessing that many Palestinians today share their anguish.


And for Americans who care, courage means denying, not affirming, the immediate, reflexive response to terrorism that all is lost. That voices of courage have been few on all sides is one reason for the current gloom that threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Perhaps it was the element of surprise that broke the prevalent self-delusion that times of violence had been buried with Yitzhak Rabin. For this, both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority share the blame for failing to prepare their publics for the sort of disaster that they should have known was still possible. They pretended to their people that peace was finally at hand, when in fact the process had only just begun and those opposed to it were growing more desperate by the day. When terror struck, they felt compelled to blame each other for doing too much or too little, when in fact they were allies for mutual survival targeted by the same enemies. They now find themselves having to pass through the narrowest of windows as their publics face fateful decisions: The Palestinians must make fundamental changes in their charter within two months; the Israelis confront the most important election in their history within three.


Yet sources of hope are abundant for all who care to notice. For Israelis: Consider that the Palestinian leaders long thought of as terrorists are now themselves fighting terrorism. Consider that many Palestinians now see the terrorists as traitors. Consider that poll after poll indicates a dramatic decline in the number of Palestinians supporting violence as an instrument of policy. And consider that, despite the harshness of conditions on the ground, a majority of Palestinians have spoken in favor of peace at the ballot box.


For Palestinians: Consider that even in these weeks of horror, the newly elected Palestinian Legislative Council held its first meeting, giving a voice to the long-silent majority opposed to the noisy bombs of the few. Consider that Israel has withdrawn from most West Bank cities, bringing the Palestinians closer to self-determination than ever before.


And voices of courage, although few, have not been altogether absent. Begin with Leah Rabin, widow of the fallen prime minister, who on the day of the latest explosion warned against reporting without comment the screams of Israelis for "death to the Arabs,'' as if those few madmen represented all Arabs, all Palestinians. Some ministers in the Israeli government stood firm on the virtues of peace even in the midst of death. And Palestinian officials spoke firmly and in one voice against the terror. Most important, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in favor of peace -- a new and important step in the effort to rob terrorists of the legitimacy they so desperately crave.


It is easy to dismiss these demonstrations as too small, or to compare them with the massive Israeli rallies to decry Israel's part in the Sabra and Shatilla massacres in 1982. There is no doubt that Palestinians need to summon the courage to speak more loudly, and with the soul-cleansing revulsion that Yitzhak Rabin so movingly expressed when a single Jew brought death into a Hebron mosque.


But it should not be forgotten that most Palestinians are also victims in these attacks on Israelis. Closure of the territories, which is the usual Israeli response, causes widespread hardship -- food shortages, unemployment, school shutdowns and for some, even the impossibility of travel to peaceful rallies. What is not shut out is the pundit's verdict that leaves no room for hope: that the Palestinians' dreams are over, their miserable fate sealed by arbitrary acts of zealots.


To recognize Palestinian pain should no longer mean denying Israel's; we must salvage at least this out of the horror. Yet Congress is contemplating "punishing'' the Palestinians for the acts of the few by withholding designated aid, when in fact Palestinians committed to peace desperately need help to overcome the hardships of everyday life. Yasser Arafat does not need "pressure'' to act, because it is his own survival that is at stake; his fate is closely tied to Shimon Peres' and he can do more if he is seen by his people as acting on his own.


American pundits, moved by the recent bombings, have rightly pointed out the dark side of Palestinian society, as they did with Israel's dark side when Jewish terror struck. Fortunately, the bright side of the picture is bigger and growing. But it has been too easily overlooked by commentators quick to write obituaries for the peace process they celebrated as inevitable only two weeks before. Few people have had the vision to tell the truth for what it is: The process has gone too far to be reversible and not far enough to be viable. The alternative to moving forward is more terror, more fear. Only the courage to hope will break the nightmare cycle.





Shibley Telhami is director of Cornell University's Near Eastern studies. He contributed this comment to the Los Angeles Times.