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Firestarters By: Julia Gorin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, August 06, 2004

Two significant recent developments in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict—namely the security fence and the Israeli decision to withdraw from Gaza--reveal what most psychiatrists likely have suspected: Palestinians can't go a day without setting something on fire.

Pyromania may be the yet unexamined, underlying motivation behind the willingness to self-combust that is so prevalent among, and peculiar to, the Palestinian population. After all, if one looks at the;far more desperate situations of people living;in many African countries as well as in Cuba, Cambodia and Thailand, to name a few—which do not have a neighboring Israel providing jobs, running water and electricity—no one there is causing explosions or burning buildings.  

It is said the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity—such as that presented by the Israeli plan to withdraw from Gaza, which has elicited havoc instead of hope. But the kind of society that the opportunities bring takes years to implement. Why wait a decade to witness the results of one’s efforts to build a livable society when it’s so much easier to just set off an explosion and become a local legend?


With the new fence obstructing access for carrying out pyromaniac missions against Israelis—and therefore bringing less and less uplifting news of successfully carried-out explosions—the immediate gratification is gone. Now that it’s more complicated to blow up Israelis, the torching syndrome has turned inward, as militants burn down PA offices, police stations and cars in Gaza, as well as government buildings in the West Bank.


It’s not just the Palestinians, of course: Chechens, Saudis and even Iraqis have an affinity for the blaze. During fighting in Iraq between American-led forces and Baathist holdouts, whenever something exploded—regardless on which side—local people stopped what they were doing to yell and jump around whatever was burning. Whether these people are like firecracker-obsessed children or more like tribal sorts who dance around fire, it’s a culture of pyromaniacs. You can put them in suits and invite them to the negotiating table, but pray that no one lights a cigarette.


Witness all the energy and excitement even at funeral processions for fallen Hamas leaders. There is excitement because an assassinated Hamas leader means that somewhere there was an explosion that caused it, and there will be future explosions to avenge it.


The much debated Palestinian national identity is one of maintaining a perpetual state of need and suffering. That’s why, when this people gets what it agitates for—as it did with the unexpectedly generous Barak-Clinton offer and now again with the Gaza withdrawal plan—it only agitates them more. Because if the day ever arrives that there is nothing to explode or set afire, there will be no reason to get up in the morning.


What's needed in the Middle East aren't peacekeepers, brokers or statehood, but a team of specialists trained in dealing precisely with the disorder that for too long has been swept under Aladdin’s rug.

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