January 25, 2004 | Miami Herald

Palestinians, Israelis React Differently

During my recent trip to the Middle East, I visited Yasser Arafat’s presidential compound in Ramallah in the West Bank. As we drove into the compound, our Palestinian escorts highlighted the destruction caused by the Israeli incursion several months back.

“Look at what the Israelis did,” said one Palestinian Authority official, pointing toward the rubble. Inside, Arafat indignantly repeated the same line.

Many of the buildings indeed were outwardly devastated and still bullet-ridden, some of them barely standing. Deep inside the complex though, beyond a labyrinth of passageways and security doors, the presidential offices are actually fairly insulated and well maintained.

Rather than clear the rubble and rebuild the area though, the PA apparently chooses to keep the buildings in disarray as a monument to the Israeli military actions, which the PA calls invasions. This is part of a deliberate and generally successful Palestinian victimization strategy that contrasts sharply with the way Israelis handle Palestinian terror attacks

While the Israelis could keep dozens of destroyed restaurants and other past terror targets as permanent symbols of terrorism, they choose not to. They prefer not to dwell on the attacks.

Their differing responses to attacks, along with the contrasting means that each side uses in its fight, also affect how the media portray the conflict.

• Palestinian terror attacks are usually nearly invisible. Terror groups such as Hamas and the al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade use lone suicide bombers who suddenly appear in a crowded city street, bus or store, and disappear in a flash of explosives.

• Israeli military raids against Palestinian militants regularly involve massive shows of force, often lasting several days. Israeli retaliatory strikes are often more physically devastating and visually dramatic than suicide bombers. Israel uses armored vehicles, its troops move shooting through Palestinian areas, and helicopter gunships hover and fire overhead.

Add the emotional outbursts of Palestinians carrying mangled bodies through the streets after an Israeli raid, and you have a gut-wrenching story. Never mind that the Palestinians have created a culture of death that glorifies as ”martyrs” the suicide bombers who indiscriminately kill Israelis. Posters of these killers are plastered everywhere.

Choreographed procedures

Meanwhile the more-stoic Israelis have developed an altogether different response to Palestinian attacks.

As explained by Bruce Hoffman in this month’s Atlantic magazine, Israels first responders follow highly choreographed procedures. Jerusalem, which recently became the ”suicide terrorism capital of the world” with nearly 40 attacks in recent years, has gotten its reaction down to an art.

When a suicide bomber detonates himself (or herself as recently was the case at a Gaza checkpoint), the Magen David Adom (the Israeli version of the Red Cross that handles ambulances and paramedics and coordinates with the national police and local hospitals) responds within 10 minutes of the attack.

The wounded are quickly taken to hospitals; dead bodies are removed immediately for both religious and political reasons; intelligence and forensics teams get to work; and witnesses are taken to police headquarters to be interviewed. Soon thereafter, members of ZAKA, an Israeli religious NGO whose grisly mission is to identify disaster victims, collect all possible remaining body fragments splattered around the site.

Normalcy restored

In a few hours, cleaning crews (ironically, often Palestinians from East Jerusalem hired by city authorities) sweep and scrub the area. By the next day, repairs have already been made, windows replaced, most signs of an attack have disappeared and a sense of normalcy restored.

Due partly to this rapid response, Israeli media generally carry fewer images of bodies or body bags.

While both sides are suffering, their contrasting approaches to the conflict often give the Palestinians a publicrelations advantage that reinforces their victimization mantra and skews our perceptions of events.

Most Israelis do not dwell on death, but sadly too many Palestinians seem to revel in it.

Paul Crespo is a senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.