Just days after the death of her daughter in a Jerusalem suicide bombing attack, Nurit Peled-Elhanan is unswayed by Israeli accusations that the Palestinian Authority is to blame, at least in part.
Instead, the hollow-eyed mother places responsibility for the death of her daughter Smadar, 13, and for the other victims squarely on Israel itself.
“This is the fruit of [Israel’s] misdoings,” Peled-Elhanan said this week as she sat in her home surrounded by friends and relatives. “It serves their purpose. They want to kill the peace process and blame it on the Arabs.”
The grieving mother’s views--that Israel’s policies of occupation and oppression have created an atmosphere that breeds Palestinian suicide bombers--are far from typical among Israelis. But they have struck a chord with an audience of leftists and some Palestinians, a number of whom have called or stopped by her home to show support in the days since last Thursday’s triple bombing.
“She had the courage to say what’s going on with the Palestinian people, to say that they are angry and fed up,” said an elderly Israeli woman who added that she did not know the family but felt compelled to drop in after hearing Smadar’s mother interviewed on Israel Radio. “It is no one’s fault but our own.”
A Hebrew University lecturer, Peled-Elhanan, 48, said her politics have always been left to far-left.
Her father, Matti Peled, a former general who became a dovish legislator, was one of the first Israelis to meet secretly with Palestine Liberation Organization officials when such encounters were outlawed. And Peled-Elhanan welcomed a Palestinian envoy to her daughter’s funeral, dismissing Israel’s charges that the Palestinian Authority was indirectly responsible for the bombing because it failed to clamp down on Islamic militants.
The group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Smadar Elhanan and four other Israelis and for another deadly multiple bombing in the city July 30.
Avraham Diskin, a Hebrew University professor who is a longtime friend and neighbor of the family, said personal tragedies often reinforce strongly held political views.
“Hawkish people would say after a bombing like this, ‘Look, there’s no one among the Palestinians to talk to; you can’t make peace with terrorists,’ ” said Diskin, a political science professor who grew up with Peled-Elhanan on the street where both still live. “The other side says, ‘Had we had peace, we would not have to suffer from these terrorist attacks.’ ”
Indeed, in the aftermath of the latest bombing attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and right-wing members of his government have hardened their positions, as has the opposition Labor Party.
Labor, which spearheaded the peace deals with the Palestinians, has accused Netanyahu of seizing the opportunity presented by the attack to abandon the signed agreements.
Netanyahu said he will cancel further withdrawals in the West Bank until the Palestinians launch a sweeping crackdown. By appearing to walk away from the land transfers at the heart of the accords, Netanyahu seemed on the verge of declaring the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements officially dead, even as U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright arrived in the region to try to save them.
But some Israelis, even some inside Netanyahu’s government, are responding with alarm. Foreign Minister David Levy reportedly declared at a recent Cabinet meeting that he would not stay in a government that killed the peace process.
“It may be that there are those who believe this process ought to be left to die,” he said, according to an account in the newspaper Maariv. “I am not one of them. Don’t they ask what will happen without the Oslo [peace] process?”
Peled-Elhanan also said she hoped that Albright could help stop the deterioration but added that she was not optimistic.
At her home this week, a steady stream of visitors arrived to help her family observe the seven-day Jewish mourning period. Smadar’s nursery-school teacher. Nurit’s college friends. Smadar’s classmates. Her brother’s army pals.
Some sat on plastic chairs in the small, flower-filled garden. But most entered the apartment, eventually making their way into the crowded living room for a mixed tableau of pain and politics.
Buried Sunday next to her beloved grandfather, Smadar died two weeks short of her 14th birthday. She had asked permission from her mother on the day of the bombing attack to be freed from baby-sitting her brother Yigal, 5, for the afternoon to shop for a birthday present for a classmate. She and a friend, Sivan Zarka, 14, were among the blast’s Israeli fatalities; another friend was injured and remains hospitalized.
Smadar shared her family’s belief that the Palestinians should have a state alongside Israel, her family said. Occasionally, she even challenged teachers who disagreed.
But most of the time, like any teenager, she was thinking about music and boys, not politics, her mother said.
Peled-Elhanan said she felt no anger toward the bombers--"they are desperate, insanely desperate, people"--or Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s self-rule government, which Netanyahu and U.S. officials say has done too little to stop attacks by Islamic groups.
“The Palestinian Authority can’t do anything,” she said. “They are on the verge of suicide. . . . We are the strong ones. We have the army and the air force. But we are violating their rights, humiliating them.”
She picked up a small, framed photograph of her daughter, an image of a pensive girl with brown hair and wide, dark eyes. Smadar, she said, was a “victim of the peace.”