The young woman who came into the corner grocery in the Jenin refugee camp did not hide her hostility when told there was an Israeli guest. It seemed that it was even difficult for her to sit in the same room as the guest, whom the grocer honored with sweets and jokes while commented on the various political parties running in the elections. Without any prelude, the young woman asked the guest, “So, what do you think about ‘sacrifice operations?’ “
It was clear she was not interested in an answer, but only wanted to deliver a lecture on why she thinks it is the proper response.
“So a dead Palestinian girl is okay? And to bomb us in our homes is okay?”
What really angered her, more than anything else, was the answer that revenge is not a liberation struggle. The grocer hushed the young woman, saying “That’s not how to speak to guests.”
When the young woman left, the grocer said that the young woman’s brother, a member of Fateh, committed an attack in Israel and was killed. Another brother was killed when the IDF invaded the refugee camp in April 2002.
In similar arguments from Rafah to Jenin, the terms used for suicide attacks are “response,” or “answer.” Sometimes, for example in the context of Qassam fire, the sentence, “we also have the right to defend ourselves,” comes up as an explanation. The more forthright and sincere, meaning those who don’t deceive themselves and others about the capacity for “defense,” say, “we also have the right to frighten you, like you always frighten us with your shelling and bombings and sonic booms. Your citizens should also feel threatened.”
There’s no need for the explicit term “vengeance” to show up in the conversations, but it is in the background, and it is clear that people are very understanding of the atavistic and tribal urge. Those who avenge through suicide bombings, with Qassams or with a knife represent them, because they found a way to express the sense of rage and impotence that everyone feels, both as individuals and collectively.
Presumably, vengeance made Ahmed Kfina murder the easiest victim he found on his way on Sunday: Kinneret Ben Shalom Hajbi, a 58-year-old woman from Petah Tikva. There’s no need for “assessments” by intelligence experts and orientalists of various sorts, to know that he did not act at the behest of others.
The attempt to explain to Israelis that such acts of vengeance are puny compared to the intensity of the Israeli assault on every individual, and against the entire Palestinian community, is doomed to failure. On a daily basis, Israel attacks every Palestinian with systematic variety. The aggregation is lethal, even if the killing of a nine-year-old girl or setting a dog on an elderly woman are not daily occurrences. It’s that aggregation that undermines any attempt to conduct a normal life. It’s being locked up in the West Bank’s enclaves, so that simple routines like going to school, work, or visiting family are impossible. There’s the unceasing expropriation of land for roads and security fences for settlements; the trees uprooted by the army, livelihoods that are cut off daily, and the insult of that; the army’s prohibition, on security grounds, against accessing farm and grazing lands; the break-ins to houses in the middle of the night, which the Israeli public rarely if ever hears about; the hours of waiting at checkpoints; the frightened children; the aimed rifles.
The personal urge for vengeance and the understanding that people have for the avengers intensifies the more it becomes clear that there is no unified Palestinian plan against the occupation, and the more it becomes apparent that the Palestinian organizations and the leadership have failed to lead their people out of Israeli control.
Unlike the political organizations, the personal avenger does not need to take into account the influence of his actions on the failed Palestinian ambitions for independence. The avenger “solved” his own personal crisis. Therefore, there should be no expectation from the personal avenger that he be interested in knowing that his act of vengeance does not teach Israelis a thing about the motives they provide for vengeance. On the contrary, it only strengthens among Israelis the sense of victimhood, and their natural tendency to prefer ignorance of the occupation.