West Bank Journal: Death and Birth in the Occupied Territories

| March 2004

On Death

First, a correction. Sheikh Yassin, assassinated on Monday by the Israeli military, was only 67 years old, not 92. That's the last time I take the word of an eleven-year-old informant!

Regardless of how old he was, regardless of his responsibility for deaths or his culpability in suicide bombings, regardless of whether you loved or abhorred him, assassinating him was morally, politically and strategically indefensible. If you make assassination a tactic in your political program, you become something vile, something that will taint every good you claim to stand for. However dangerous you might perceive Yassin's ideas to be, you can't destroy his ideas by killing him, you can only strengthen their appeal. You can't kill hate: you can only create more of it by killing. Had Sharon and company hired a PR firm to tell them how to create the ultimate Hamas martyr, they couldn't have done a better job: an old man, in a wheelchair, murdered coming out of a mosque after praying.

In fact, assassinating Yassin was not a program of security, it was a program of deliberate provocation, aimed not at gaining peace and safety for Israel, but at undermining any serious attempts at peace, negotiation, or concessions to the Palestinians. That is his pattern: any time another step toward peace is made, he stages another assassination or a provocation, and that takes care of the threat that he might actually have to give something up or make some meaningful concession.

Assassinating Yassin will surely bring death to Israelis. That means to someone like my cousin, who regularly studies at a Yeshivah, or to my friend Dana, newly pregnant, or to one of the young Israeli activists who are regulars at every demonstration against the wall. Hamas cannot be absolved of responsibility for those deaths, but neither can Sharon.

And the revenge that will inevitably come will surely draw reprisals. The Palestinians, who already have their freedom of movement restricted, their land and water resources confiscated, their economy destroyed, their houses regularly searched and trashed, their schools periodically closed down, their men arrested en masse, their women humiliated, their children terrorized, who have suffered three times as many deaths as the Israelis in this intifada, will suffer some more. That means the death of someone like my friend Hanin in Balata camp, young mother of a baby girl, or the young boy who thought Yassin was ninety-two, or the old man I stayed with in Rafah who urged me to 'Eat, Eat!' in the same tones my grandmother used.