children in the bullseye

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    Children in the Bullseye
    By Frimet Roth September 24, 2004


    Many of us are approaching the Day of Atonement with images of Beslan etched in our minds. Who can forget the naked, injured children gulping down their first water in 53 hours? Or the murdered children in body bags being scrutinized by anguished adults searching for missing loved ones? Or the most severely burned children rushed to Moscow for life-saving medical care?

    Merged with those images, are the other children who have perished at the hands of terrorists. Like my sweet Malki, who met her death in a bombing together with her best friend while they stood waiting for a slice of pizza in Jerusalem's Sbarro. They were fifteen and sixteen years old at the time. I see their smiling faces as I recite the High Holy Days prayer: "Who will live and who will die? Who by fire and who by water?"

    So it was with particular fury that I listened to and read the coverage of the Beslan massacre: One minute it was a journalist doing verbal acrobatics to avoid saying "murderers" and "terrorists", in favor of the clumsy euphemism "hostage takers"?

    The next minute I was assaulted by pundits hunting for the "cause" of the carnage and finding it in Putin's political policies in Chechnya, or in the bungled Russian rescue operation, or in the fact that Ossetia is a Christian province surrounded by Muslim regions.

    I have the urge to shake them and yell: "It's the murderers, stupid!"

    Early on in the siege, women with babies were released. I watched one on television as she sat at home, baby in arms, tearfully recounting her ordeal. She had pleaded with her captors to allow her two other children to come with her. "But they refused," she told reporters. "They had no mercy. Their eyes were filled with hatred."

    This may seem obvious to some. Surely, nobody but a hate-filled person could ignore the pleas of that mother. Only a hate-filled person could torture those innocent children then shoot them in the back. Children eager to begin a new school year; or children chatting with friends while standing on line like my Malki, or children cowering under their beds, like other Israeli victims.

    But we live in strange times. Many of our media experts choke on the the words "evil" "barbarism", "hate". As the American columnist, Molly Ivins, wrote "One trouble with defining terrorism as absolute evil is that, as the saying goes, one man's terrorist is another man;s freedom fighter?(and) I think we're all capable of evil under extreme circumstances."

    Speak for yourself. Some of us, sadly, too few these days, would beg to differ. Irshad Manji, a Muslim woman and author of "The Trouble with Islam: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith", has no trouble blaming Muslim terrorists. "What drives so many of today's suicide bombers isn't that which the material world has failed to deliver to them", she recently wrote in a column entitled, "Palestinians Are Trapped by Their own Culture". She once interviewed the top Gaza leader of Islamic Juhad, Mohammed Hindi, who boasted that his "martyrs" do not act out of despair. "Most of our martyrs", he said," were very successful in their earthly lives."

    My Malki's murderer, Izzadin al-Masri, was, to quote Time Magazine, " a 23 year old son of a prosperous restaurant owner."

    Der Speigel, taking the minority view, acknowledged the unadulterated evil in terrorists. The Beslan massacre, it warned, signaled "the beginning of a new calendar in the rebellion?by Chechen rebels - a time in which war and terror, deliberately and preferably directed against children, are considered legitimate means to an end."

    But even they erred. Because we in Israel, know that the "beginning of that new calendar" actually passed a long time ago. Hundreds of children have been murdered in cold blood here for four years now. And the same academic explanations for those actions that we Israelis have been hearing, are now being applied to the Beslan carnage in most editorials and public pronouncements.

    In the New York Times, Harvard academic, Richard Pipes, wrote, "It is proper?to express outrage and full solidarity with the Russian people," but not to "equate the (Beslan) massacre with?Islamic terrorism in general." It is different from the attacks on the U.S. that were "unprovoked and had not specific objective."

    Israeli commentators, have fallen into the same trap. In Haaretz, Yossi Melman, accused Putin of drawing parallels between the 9/11 attack on New York's Twin Towers and the Beslan attack "in order to divert attention from their failure and in the hope of winning the sympathy of the United States, the European Union and the rest of the international community? hoping to receive a carte blanche?to declare a total war."

    After the 9/11 attacks, when we naively expected Americans to finally empathize with our suffering, we heard the same distinction being drawn between our victims and theirs. The same criticisms of Putin were leveled at Sharon.

    Mental health professionals here and abroad have been discussing the emotional damage that the Beslan victims are likely to suffer. They offer advice on how to minimize it and help them cope with their traumatic losses. I have known their pain for three years and have a suggestion that has been overlooked: Acknowledge that they were brutalized unjustifiably.

    Nothing exacerbates the anguish of a bereaved parent more than sympathy for his child's murderer. If we cannot achieve an end to terrorism in the coming year, let's hope at least for this universal New Year's resolution: the drawing of a red line- the murder of innocent children. And zero tolerance for crossing it.
    Views expressed by the author do not necessarily
 
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