Have you heard the latest news?
I climbed aboard a yellow Ford van in the parking lot outside Birzeit University to head back to Ramallah and struck up a conversation with the driver. He spoke English quite well – he had lived in Chicago, Las Vegas and San Diego – but I insisted on speaking Arabic. The conversation turned, as it almost always does, to what am I doing here learning Arabic.
I’m a journalist, I told him.
Oh, have you heard the latest news?
No, I said.
There was a bomb in Netanya. Half an hour ago.
Five Israelis were killed yesterday in a suicide bombing outside a shopping mall in the coastal city of Netanya. Word of such incidents spreads as quickly in Palestine as it does in Israel. People in both societies tune in to hourly radio news updates as if their religion prescribed it. The official reaction from both Palestinians and Israelis has become cliché. The Palestinian leadership condemned the bombing and the Israelis said it was proof the Palestinians have done nothing to “dismantle the infrastructure of terror.”
The everyday Palestinian reaction is more complicated and wide-ranging, but few will condemn the bombing as their leadership does, and fewer still would agree with the Israelis: that Palestinians are responsible for stopping Palestinians from blowing themselves up in Israel. This weekend, I discussed the very subject with two Palestinian professors who hold Ph.D.s from American universities.
Give me a country with recognized international borders, a constitution, an army and police, and I will be responsible for the actions of my people, one told me. Without this, Palestinian leadership, the argument goes, lacks a popular mandate to crack down on a movement to resist an occupation that is universally loathed.
As far as Palestinians are concerned, the occupation and all that it entails – restriction of movement, “administrative detention,” a euphemism for imprisonment without official charges, jailhouse torture, house demolitions, land confiscation and the killing of innocent Palestinian civilians, antiseptically referred to as “collateral damage” in the language of the occupier – is cause enough to lead someone to blow themselves up in Israel.
Reasonable Palestinians do not support the killing of innocent civilians inside Israel, but they also offer no apologies. I sat down with Abu Imad in his little grocery yesterday evening and we drank tea and talked about the day's events after watching the news bulletin on Al-Jazeera. There was much to discuss: the Saddam Hussein trial in Iraq and the suicide bombing in Netanya. The Israeli defense minister promised retaliation, the news report said.
One side hits the other, Abu Imad said, and the other feels he must hit back. And it continues like this.
He concluded, however, by blaming the other, invoking a familiar Palestinian refrain: You see, Sharon doesn’t want peace. I imagined the idle talk in the groceries on the other side returned the blame: You see, they might say, the bombing is proof the Palestinians don't want peace.