From David Sarna Galdi at Haaretz:
[O]n March 9th, as live television broadcasts jumped between different scenes of attempted attacks, one news report caught my eye. Mid-morning at the Zawiya checkpoint in the West Bank, a 16-year-old boy, Ahmad Amer, from the neighboring village of Mas’ha, approached Israeli soldiers with a knife and was immediately killed. Nobody else was injured.How much wishful thinking is crammed into this piece?
While the troubling details of the attack otherwise fit the familiar pattern, a Haaretz report mentioned that Amer had left a suicide note – an unusual detail. Driven by curiosity, I found a full copy of his letter.
Dear mother and father, forgive me and be pleased with me for I am a martyr by God’s will. Thank God for everything. I want you to recall my bad deeds and not my good deeds, so that people may forgive me.
I owe money to some people:
Rami Mohyee A-Din - eight shekels
My uncle Hamdallah - twenty shekels
Al-Beek Restaurant - thirty two shekels.”
The short note, in its humble, poorly scrawled simplicity, is a revelation. Not only does it portray complexity and humanity that is invariably lost between the headlines, but it shows us Israelis where we’ve gone wrong.
It's too late to ask 16-year-old Ahmad Amer why he made the poor decision to go up to an IDF checkpoint with a knife that morning - a long walk to what he knew would be his death. Before he could be arrested, interrogated and tried in court, which might’ve given us a clue as to the motive for his act, Amer was shot dead.
Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu and his right-wing government's determined efforts to ignore the deep-seated resentment and frustration behind politically motivated acts of violence, and to dismiss all attackers as zombies infected by incitement and hatred, equal to the Nazis or to ISIS, what emerges from the suicide note is a picture not of a hate-fueled killer robot, but of a boy. Amar believes in God. “Forgive me,” he begs, anticipating his parent’s disappointment. He seeks the forgiveness of his community. “Recall my bad deeds and not my good deeds,” is an unexpected, sophisticated twist of reverse psychology and penitence. This teenage boy believes he is sacrificing himself for what he feels is a greater good: his community’s historic struggle.
But the most astounding thing about the note is that this 16-year-old boy confesses to the money he owes a friend, a family member, and a local business, making one last request: that his parents pay it back. The sums of money in question are so small that the act of contrition would be laughable if it wasn’t so heartbreaking; For Ahmad Amer, a small-town boy with an adult's sense of responsibility and honor, those measly few shekels were crucially important. In the last moments of his life and, in his own moral world — incomprehensible to us — he was concerned with doing the right thing.
And then there is everything Amer’s message isn’t. It isn’t angry or hateful; it doesn’t speak about revenge or glorify killing. It is personal, casual and hauntingly resigned - a world apart from the scripted, Koran-wielding, politicized videos familiar to us from terror group-sponsored suicide attacks.
The suicide note makes it hard to write off Ahmad Amer as a homicidal jihadist monster; it reminds us that no person, even a violent person, is just one thing: good or bad, black or white. A Palestinian, it seems, is also a human being with beliefs, experiences, pathos, and motives that demand consideration. Yes, Palestinians are killing. But these killings are a twisted response to an equally twisted political and social reality that Israel has a strong hand in. In the words of Charles M. Blow, “You can’t condemn the unseemly howl and not the lash.”
Ahmad Amar teaches us that there is always a partner for negotiation, despite Israeli leaders’ claims to the contrary. As the powerful side of the equation, it’s easy to sit back, claim victimhood, blame — or just kill — the enemy and assert that there’s no possible path to a two-state solution.
Ahmad Amer’s suicide note teaches us that there is still hope for a renewal of the dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians founded on the basic mutual recognition of our humanity, and that there no excuse to stop trying to find a way. In another time and place, Ahmad Amer wouldn’t have attempted to kill and had to die for the sins of others, becoming a statistic in a fifty-year-old conflict. Like his death, his note is not eloquent, but conveys a message much more powerful than the sum of its words.
Because a kid who set out to murder Jews is also concerned about repaying debts, he is now considered the paradigm of a peace partner?
Osama Bin Laden was a fan of Whitney Houston, Charles Manson played a flute, John Wayne Gacy was a clown at children's birthday parties. Are they any less monsters because of these personal details?
Ahmad Amar was clearly not raised as a normal child to want to end his life this way. His decision to stab Jews seems to be a far more important detail of his life than his asking forgiveness in his martyrdom note. Also important was the fact that his mother greeted the news with "Thank Allah he is a martyr!"
I'd day that despite his idea that repaying a few shekels of debt is more important than life itself, Amar was closer to being a monster than a misunderstood moral actor.
But people who want to blame everything on Israel see someone who attempted murder as a victim and those who defended themselves - people who incidentally also have girlfriends, hobbies and other complexity in their lives - are the monsters.
The moral universe that Haaretz lives in is one where no matter what, Israelis are evil and Palestinians are saintly. And they don't even realize that they are engaging in the exact stereotyping that they claim Israelis are guilty of - with far less evidence to support that simple-minded conclusion.
Ahmad Amer woke up on March 9 intending to kill. The soldier who killed him did not. And that is a world of difference.
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