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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February 2004, 09:57 GMT
Viewpoint: Palestinian suicide attacks
By Jenny Tonge MP
In Jerusalem

Palestinian fighter posing before suicide mission
Palestinian 'martyrs' are treated as heroes
The British MP travelled to Israel and the West Bank at the invitation of BBC Radio 4's Today programme to meet families and victims of suicide bombers, after she caused controversy by saying she might consider becoming a suicide bomber herself if forced to live like the Palestinians.

My remarks last month, expressing empathy with suicide bombers, had been misinterpreted by the tabloids as meaning sympathy and approval.

It was, therefore, with some trepidation that I travelled from Jerusalem to the checkpoint out to Bethlehem and the Occupied Territories.

The morning was cold and wet and added to the gloom of Palestine.

I would challenge anyone to spend a few days here and see the contrasts between modern Israel and its affluent citizens and the third world of Palestine.

The blame lies with both sides - I know that - but the ordinary Palestinian has to live in this third world while most Israelis never go there.

In Israel, the armed forces have F16 fighter planes, helicopter gun-ships, tanks, even nuclear weapons.

The disparity was pointed out to me by a civil society group in Bethlehem, when I asked why Palestinians used suicide bombers.

"Tell the US to give us the arms that Israel has and we will stop such attacks," was the response.

Someone has reminded me that Samson was the first suicide attacker.

Wrath of God

As we talked at our first meeting in Bethlehem the room shook and the earth roared - a 5.6 magnitude earthquake, the first in 10 years, struck causing us to run out of the building and wait.

We were lucky there was no more wrath from God that day.

We met up with some al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade terrorists after lurking guiltily in Manger Square waiting for them to arrive.

We were taken to a safe Christian house, where two bearded, shaded, skull-capped men, one with a black Kalashnikov, sat on a sofa near a huge wall hanging of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Jenny Tonge with LibDem leader Charles Kennedy
Suicide attack remarks lost Tonge her front-bench seat
They had heard about my remarks and were pleased that I understood the reasons why they were terrorists, even "proud" of me. This was spine-chilling.

More re-assuring was the statement that they now accepted that Israel had a right to exist and their campaign would stop when Israel withdrew to its 1967 borders, removed settlements and returned Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

It is a different message from the one we have been used to.

National heroes

We visited the family of a suicide bomber. The stories of indoctrination of little children right through their schooldays didn't seem to apply here.

First suicide attack: Hamas kills eight people in Afula in April 1994
120 Israelis died in attacks between 1994 and September 2000
440 Israelis killed and 3,000 injured in attacks since September 2000 (updated 26 December 2003)

The brothers of Mohamed showed no signs of this and his mother claimed she had no idea her son was planning this until the al-Aqsa Brigade delivered his "memorial" picture taken before the mission.

It is certainly true that suicide bombers are regarded as national heroes here, but what else do they have - born out of despair and the desire to resist occupation, laced with religious belief.

Civilian targets are chosen because there is no way of getting at military targets.

We visited the spot where the Angel Gabriel "came down" to the shepherds in their fields and drove back to Jerusalem as a rainbow formed over the golden city - surely one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The next day back in Israel, I couldn't find anyone who was willing to see why the Palestinians resorted to suicide attacks.

Some of the Israeli arguments had truth in them, but it was all so negative.

Until, late in the day, we met a single mother whose 15-year-old daughter had been killed in the local supermarket by an 18-year-old female suicide bomber.

Grief-stricken, she had tried to contact the bomber's family, only to find they were "proud" of their daughter.

But then she received a letter from a Palestinian mother expressing her condolences and asking for a meeting. Her young, civilian son had been killed by an Israeli soldier. They were going to meet.

I left this woman feeling that there was the first sign of reconciliation; we know there are many such people in Israel and Palestine, fed up with the stupidity of their leaders.

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The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

Well done to Jenny Tonge...rather than accept the lie that all Arabs are inherently terrorists, she has gone to see what the Israeli occupation has done to the Palestinian people and understood the reasons for why they have had to resort to violence in order to ever have a chance at a normal peaceful life - Only when people see the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people due to the Israeli occupation will they be able to understand the reasons for the violence.
Karim Mardam-Bey, Amman, Jordan

This was an absolutely shocking article. Once again Tonge shows her limited understanding of a complex situation. This was a totally slanted article and I am ashamed to read it in the BBC. Arguments such as 'The next day back in Israel, I couldn't find anyone who was willing to see why the Palestinians resorted to suicide attacks.' This is a ridiculous comment, (who in Israel? where?) and untrue. People in Israel do understand why the terrorists do it but the Terror facing Israelis every day is hard to cope with. Israel may also not face poverty at the moment but the situation is so tense there that people are afraid to use the bus, go shopping or carry on with their normal lives.
LW, Cambridge, England

It is incredibly sad to see the Holy Land of Middle-East in such turmoil
Arshad Mahmood, UK, Manchester

It is incredibly sad to see the Holy Land of Middle-East in such turmoil. The Palestinians want peace and so do the Israelis. The only people that don't want peace are the leaders of both countries. Both sides have to sit down and talk it through, accept their mistakes and strive towards peace. May Allah give them the thought to do so.
Arshad Mahmood, UK, Manchester

Ms. Tonge seems to have cleared up the entire Israeli/Palestinian problem in only in few days. Those monstrous Jews and peace loving Arabs just need to sit down and have tea? I feel that her intentions are good, but her ability to see the picture is clouded with bigotry.
Scott Lawrence, Jerusalem, Israel

Why are Palestinians so poor, when tens of millions of dollars per month are given to them by EU and the Saudis? Poverty is not an excuse for murder under any law, including the U.K. law. Neither Israel nor any other country owes Palestinians a living. If we start using living conditions as an excuse for suicide bombings, most of the African and some of the Asian countries should cease to exist.
Z Dunn, Australia

Very moving article
Raj Singh, Strongsville, OH

Very moving article. The suicide bombing process is a self-feeding process of destruction. Reason or not, I hope that many more such meetings will occur between victims on both sides. This is the only way the cycle of violence can stop.
Raj Singh, Strongsville, OH

Tonge's account is chillingly blasť and neutral (not to say sympathetic) about the horror of suicide bombing. Examples: "Civilian targets are chosen because there is no way of getting at military targets."; "The next day back in Israel, I couldn't find anyone who was willing to see why the Palestinians resorted to suicide attacks. Some of the Israeli arguments had truth in them, but it was all so negative." Gee, I can't imagine why the Israeli arguments would be "negative." Maybe it's a little hard to be as understanding of the bombing as Tonge when you see the recurring carnage firsthand. Of course it's important to note the causal connection between socioeconomic/political despair and violence, but this was really a self parody. I generally stand up for the BBC when my compatriots dismiss its coverage of Israel as hopelessly slanted (it was only the "hopeless" part I disagreed about), but this piece has made me think twice.
Alice, New York, US

Jenny Tonge MP meets victims of suicide bombers

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