Why we became suicide bombers

The struggle of Palestinians today is how not to become a bomb; and the amazing thing is not the occurrence of the suicide bombings but rather the rarity of them.

The BBC interviewer to whom I recently told this appeared to understand. I was shocked because it is our understanding that the world out there will never understand. And who on earth in their right mind would understand terror and the killing of innocent people?

Why do Palestinians kill themselves and Israelis in such a horrific way at the bus stop or in a crowded market? Do you really care to know? Let me try and explain.

I believe it is an act of absolute despair and a very serious stage of the seemingly perpetual conflict.

Since the uprooting of the Palestinians in 1948, triggered by Irgun Jewish terror under the leadership of Yitzak Shamir and Menachem Begin, we have tried everything. We have tried Nasser and Arab nationalism, only to be invaded in 1956 in our second homes in the refugee camps. It was only the Russian threat to bomb London and Paris, and the resolve of American President Eisenhower that ended the Israeli occupation.

We have tried the United Nations and its Security Council which, by the way, have made excellent resolutions on our behalf. For example, Resolution 194 calling on Israel to allow us to return to our homeland, but to no avail.

So we kept wandering around, between airports and refugee camps, waiting for a hero or an earthquake. All we wanted was to go home.

But our story was getting worse and we grew bitter as we heard that a Jew from Poland would be declared a citizen of our country -- a country now called Israel. We were told that, officially, we were stateless with undefined nationality.

So we went to universities. We believed then that Jews were so clever because they were educated. We were told that Jews controlled the world with their education. They are doctors, lawyers and scientists, never beggars or boxers.

In 20 years, many of us became university graduates and we were in every university. We had some pride.

Some of our educated people formed the resistance movement. They believed that the Arab countries would never fight Israel and that we had to force them to fight. Fatah with Yasser Arafat was born. They forced the Arabs to fight by inviting Israel to attack Egypt in 1967. In the course of six days, the Arabs were defeated again, but worse. This time we lost Gaza and the West Bank; Egypt lost Sinai; and Syria lost the Golan. In a sudden stroke our fate was sealed and we had to live under Israeli military occupation for 30 years.

Do you know what it means to live under Israeli military occupation? Do you care to know?

  • You are given an identity number and a permit to reside. If you leave the country for more than three years in succession, you lose that right to residence.
  • Israeli occupation means that you are called twice a year by the intelligence for routine interrogation and persuasion to work as an informer on your brothers and sisters. No one is spared. If you are a member of a political organisation, you will be sentenced for 10 years. For a military action, you will be sentenced to life.
  • To survive under the Israeli occupation, you are given the chance to work in the jobs that Israelis do not like: sweeping the streets, building houses, collecting fruit; or harvesting. You will have to leave your home in the refugee camp in Gaza at 3 a.m., go through the roadblocks and checkposts, spend your day under the sun and surveillance, returning home in the evening to collapse in bed for a few hours before the following day.

We simply became the slaves of our enemy. We build their homes in our villages and we clean their streets. Do you know what it does to you when you have to be the slave of your enemy in order to survive? No. You could never know how painful it is unless your country is occupied by another force. Only then will you learn how to watch in silence, pretending not to see the torture of your friends and the humiliation of your father.

Do you know what it means for a child to see his father spat at and beaten before his eyes by an Israeli soldier? Nobody knows what happened to our children. We don't know ourselves except we observe that they lose respect for their fathers.

So they, our children, the children of the stone as they became known, tried the Intifada -- the Uprising. Seven long years our children were throwing stones and being killed daily. Nearly all our young men were arrested; the majority were tortured; all had to confess.

The result was that everyone suspected that all people were spies.

So we were exhausted, tormented and brutalised. What else could we do to return to our home? We had almost forgotten that, and all we wanted was to be left alone.

What else could we try? Oh yes -- peace.

When the news came that Arafat had signed a peace treaty in Washington, we were jubilant. At last we thought we were to get rid of that miserable life of military occupation. At last. So we had hope.

We could not believe our eyes when there were no more curfews and we could actually spend our evening on the beach or wander in streets which were now ours after eight o'clock at night. We were ecstatic. We even had elections. And we had a parliament, so we were told.

Then came Binyamin Netanyahu.

He refused to meet Arafat and was clearly forced to shake hands in obvious disgust. He refused to free our prisoners, to have a safe passage for us to move between the West Bank and Gaza. He even surrounded our towns and villages with his tanks and arrested our policemen. Then he went after our holy places and opened a tunnel under our holiest Mosque. Tens of our children, and also Israeli soldiers, were killed because of that tunnel. But he went on insulting us and driving out our sanity.

Arafat called for patience and we were patient. Then Netanyahu started to build settlements in Jerusalem and drive the remaining Palestinians out. Settlers in Hebron spat on our prophet and called him a pig. All in the name of peace we were humiliated -- even arrested and tortured by Palestinian forces to protect the peace. Our Authority was turning against us to please Netanyahu. Our officials were driving in big cars and building big villas. They have VIP cards and cross the checkposts like human beings while we are left to rot.

I've told you just a few things. Does it help you to understand the futility that drives some of us to suicide?

Dr. Sarraj is a Palestinian psychiatrist, chairman of the Commission of Citizens Rights, and a Physician for Human Rights Awardee. He was arrested three times last year by Arafat forces, tortured and threatened with death.