What I Know

July 13, 2005
By Rev. John Newton Hickox

[I am writing from the cigar bar in basement of American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem.]

As you read this, please remember that often the most patriotic thing we can do is  question our government.  I’ve been accused of being an “anti-semite” for stating what you’ll read below.  I’m not.  I’m no more an anti-semite than an Israeli soldier who refuses to serve in the occupied territories is a “self-hating Jew.”

I write this after learning just an hour or so ago that there was another suicide bombing in Netanya yesterday.  I have precious little information so far on this latest incident—only the 3 minute piece on CNN International.  What was reported is that the suicide bomber was an “18 year old Palestinian male terrorist.”   No other details were given about him.  The rest of the time was given to various Israeli officials affirming that “if the Palestinian leadership will not control these ‘Islamist terrorists,’ then Israel will.”  Yeah right.  Ask George  Bush (or any American president) to bring the Ted Kaczynski’s and Timothy McVeigh’s under control.  Ask any American president to guarantee the kinds of abuses that occurred at the Abu Ghraib and Gitmo prisons never occur again.

Let me tell you what I know about this 18 year old Palestinian male terrorist—mind you, not from any personal relationship I had with him—but from the characteristics which Palestinian suicide bombers share.  He was not a nameless, homeless, lost soul.  He had loving parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins and friends who are just as shocked as you would be if your son, parent, sibling, friend became a suicide bomber. He will not be the last one.  He was intelligent, educated, lovable and loved….even popular.  He was related to someone who was shot by an Israeli Defense Forces soldier—at least to this point all suicide bombers share this unfortunate common history.  Someone close to him, a father or mother, a brother or sister, a grandparent, an uncle, an aunt, a cousin, a boyhood friend was shot for no good reason.  Very significantly 55% of suicide bombers have had their home destroyed. They have come from work or school to find their house no longer exists.  They have lived with this fear for months (and often years) and then, out of nowhere they find their worst nightmare has come true. Perhaps the most important thing that can be said about this young man is that those who knew and loved him would tell you that their son, brother, cousin, grandchild, friend would not have done what he did if the illegal occupation of Palestine by Israel did not exist.

Some of you have seen the picture of me with a bright 3 year old boy we’ll call Abdel, not his real name.   It’s important to note in this context, that Abdel’s father “Mohammad” was shot in the back of the head by an IDF soldier when he was 14 years old.  Mohammad’s father learned of the shooting while watching Israeli television when the camera zeroed in on Mohammad in the hospital. Overheard in the background are the reporter’s words:  “This terrorist is not expected to live.”  Mohammad’s crime?  He was throwing a rock at a 60 ton tank that was moving down the road in support of an early IDF incursion into Bethlehem.

What doesn’t show in the photo on the web site is that the night before that picture was taken, while I was asleep on Abdel’s family’s living room floor an Apache helicopter flew over the building, very low.  While I lay there contemplating the ominous sound of that consummate attack weapon Abdel appeared, standing next to me and looking plaintively down at me.  I let him crawl under the blanket next to me.  His little body was trembling.  What I learned later was that Abdel’s friend’s house was demolished by a D-9 Caterpillar the previous year and that horror for the whole community began with the arrival of an Apache helicopter.  As his parents and I were discussing the incident the next morning, his mother Rana’s eyes welled up with tears because, as she related to me, she thought Abdel had several months earlier outgrown this fear because he was no longer coming and crawling into bed with them whenever a helicopter flew over.  What all three of us knew then was that Abdel, in his desire to try to lighten his parents’ load had taken to just lying there in his bed, in fear.

Now, am I saying that I think ‘Abdel’ will become a suicide bomber?  Of course not.  Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children grow up in similar circumstances and merely live their lives in the way that only Palestinians do.  What I am saying is that it’s amazing to me that there are as few ‘terrorist bombers’ as there are.

Just food for thought.


  1. Catherine Alder says

    So powerfully written and so right on. Thank you for it.

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