A glimmer of hope amid the hatred

September 29, 2002|By Leonard Pitts Jr.

WASHINGTON -- I refuse to make this one of Those Stories.

You know the type. Those moist, somehow facile, stories about absolute good wrested from the heart of incomprehensible evil. Those heartwarming stories that speak of brotherhood, that make you hopeful, that point toward God, abiding.

Nothing wrong with those stories. I just don't want this to be one of them. And that will be difficult because the facts certainly bend themselves in that direction.

Recently, Jonathan Jesner, a 19-year-old Jewish kid from Scotland, was critically injured on a bus in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian suicide bomber. He died a day later.

On Sept. 22, one of Jonathan's kidneys was transplanted into Yasmin Abu Ramila, a Palestinian girl who suffers from a fatal kidney disease. His death saved the life of an "enemy" ... in this case, a 7-year-old who, in newspaper photos, appears fragile, pretty and small for her age.

The tendency is to cue the violins.

And I would, except that I can't get past the brutal manner and utter senselessness of the young man's demise, the latest death in the latest cycle of indiscriminate murder. Two years of Palestinian zealots strapped with explosives and detonating themselves on buses, in grocery stores, anywhere there are innocent civilians seeking to live their lives. It makes moist, facile stories feel irrelevant ... if not obscene.

I've heard the attempts to elucidate this behavior, read reasonable-sounding essays that invariably invoke the desolation and despair of Palestinians' lives and the perceived heavy-handedness and flat malfeasance of Israeli policies. And they don't come close to justification, or even explanation.

It's incomprehensible that reasonable people might think Palestinian suffering would be alleviated, or even addressed, by the death of Jonathan Jesner. Or, indeed, the deaths of any of the hundreds of others who died before him.

The key words, of course, are "reasonable people" ... a commodity more easily spoken of than found among the putative Palestinian leadership.

Which is indicative of the quandary in which we find ourselves. Over the past generation, terrorists have inserted themselves with fresh prominence on the world stage.

The great questions of war and peace were once the near-exclusive province of military leaders and statesmen commanding armies and nations. Now they are also the province of any fanatic with a bomb and a lust for martyrdom.

Call it the terrorist veto. In their willingness to die and to horrify, each one of them has the ability to scuttle diplomacy and negotiation. And they do this at every opportunity, since diplomacy and negotiation -- requiring, as they do, flexibility -- are by definition beyond the capability of zealots.

But the terrorist veto does not extend only to the question of peace. By the intensity of their hatred, terrorists also veto the ability of Palestinian people to see the individuality, the basic human worth, of a Jewish student, grocer, bus driver. Not to mention the ability of that student, grocer or bus driver to see the same in a Palestinian.

It becomes difficult -- and, from a Jewish point of view, dangerous -- to regard the person on the other side as anything but one of The Others. Worse, because of their willingness to pass fanaticism down to their children, terrorists extend their veto to generations unborn.

This is the sorry point to which we have come. It is the point upon which Jonathan Jesner died. Hence, my wariness of glib observations about a postmortem gesture.

Still, it would be a hopeful thing if Yasmin Abu Ramila grows to womanhood strong and healthy with the kidney of a slain Jewish man inside her, and from time to time is reminded by that to look for the individual humanity in each one of The Others.

I hope it helps her understand: Terrorists can veto peace. But the rest of us can veto them.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He may be reached via e-mail at lpittsherald.com, or by calling toll-free at 1-888-251-4407. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

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