hotline header

FLAME Outstanding Articles on the Middle East Printer-Friendly Versions

The Incommunicable Pain of Palestinian Terror

Dr. Luis Rene Beres is Professor of International Law at Purdue University.

He writes frequently on Israeli matters. In the following article, he describes the terrible suffering and physical pain that suicide bombers cause.

Gerardo Joffe, President

by Louis Rene Beres
Professor of International Law Department of Political Science, Purdue University
The Jewish Press, August 29, 2003

Perhaps the saddest and most loathsome aspect of Palestinian terror attacks on Israeli civilians lies, ultimately, in the general incommunicability of physical pain. While newspaper readers and television viewers around the world learn repeatedly about Arab explosions and bombs, about Jewish dead and wounded, they are never able to appreciate fully the true horror of Palestinian terrorism. There is simply no human language that can describe such pain; hence, the unique monstrousness of such violence is routinely reduced to an abstract inventory of "casualties."

Everyone who is human has suffered physical pain, and everyone who has suffered knows that bodily anguish not only defies language, but that it is also language-destroying. This inexpressibility of pain can have important political consequences. In the case of ongoing Palestinian terror against Israelis, it now stands in the way of recognizing such terror as an altogether unforgivable instance of barbarism. Shielded by the inherent limitations of language, Palestinian suicide-bombers are normally able to present themselves before the tribunal of world public opinion as indistinguishable from other categories of armed combatant; indeed, often even as heroic "freedom fighters." In reality, however, these murderers are anything but soldiers. They are fearful and gratuitously destructive criminals, killers who combine a rare species of cowardice with a perverse commitment to inflict harm for harm's sake.

There is, from the terrorist point of view, no reasonable political hope of transforming excruciating Jewish pain into purposeful Palestinian power. On the contrary, the almost incessant Palestinian resort to carnage and mayhem will inevitably stiffen even the most liberal hearts, making a Palestinian state less and less acceptable throughout the world. So why do they continue to enthusiastically inflict pain upon innocents that tears up unprotected Jewish bodies without pragmatic benefit? Have these Arab terrorists now simply traded in Clausewitz for De Sade?

One partial answer is that Palestinian terrorists, in the same fashion as their intended audiences, are themselves imprisoned by the limitations of human language. The pain experienced by one human body can never be shared with another, even if these bodies are closely related by blood and even if the physical distance between them is short. The split between one's own body and the body of another is always absolute; the "membranes" between bodies are stubbornly impermeable. This split, therefore, allows even the most heinous harms to others to be viewed "objectively," sometimes even as a pardonable form of "national liberation." For Palestinian terrorists and their supporters, the violent death meted out to "Jews" (it is always "Jews," never "Israelis") is observably an abstraction. It is "revolutionary" doctrine. Nothing else needs to be said.

Physical pain within the human body not only destroys ordinary language, it can actually bring about a visceral reversion to pre-language human sounds - that is, to those gutteral moans and cries and whispers that are anterior to learned speech. While the many Jewish victims of Palestinian terror writhe agonizingly from the burns and the nails and the razor blades and the screws dipped ever so carefully into rat poison, neither the world publics who unavoidably bear witness or even the murderers themselves can ever begin to know the real meaning of what is being suffered. This is, by no means, an excuse for bystanders or for perpetrators, but it does help to explain why even such callous murder can sometimes be misconstrued as rebellion. Moreover, the incommunicability of physical pain further amplifies Jewish injuries from terrorism by insistently reminding the victims that their suffering is not only intense, but that it is also irremediably understated. For the victims there is no anesthesia strong enough for the pain, but for the observers the victims' pain is always anesthetized.

For all who shall still learn about the latest Palestinian "military" attack upon a nursery school, a kindergarten bus, an ice-cream parlor or a pizza shop, the suffering ignited upon Jewish children will never be truly felt, and even then it will flicker for only a moment before it disappears. Although, at best, it will be years before the "only wounded" are again able to move their own bodies beyond unmeasurable boundaries of torment and back into a sharable, external world, newspaper readers and television viewers will pause only for a second or two before progressing remotely to less disturbing images of discourse. Physical pain has no easily decipherable voice, no palpable referent, and when, at last, it finds some dimming sound at all, the listener no longer wants to be bothered. This human listener, of course, is himself mortal and fragile, and wishes, perhaps more than anything, to deny his own vulnerabilities.

All things assuredly move in the midst of death, and the denial of death is humankind's overriding preoccupation. In consequence, the pain of others is kept at a safe distance and the horror of that pain is blunted by language. Palestinian terrorists, therefore, are always much worse than they appear, and their crimes are not always appropriately recognized as repellent. Although this problem can never really be "solved," the sources of any improvement lie also in suffering, blood, tears and the expected agony of extinction. From the standpoint of Israel's ongoing struggle for acceptance in a genocidal region, its own leaders must soon come to acknowledge for themselves that the time for superficial "peace processes" is over, that Jewish pain is infinitely more important than political logic, that a Jewish cry of despair is vastly more revealing than even the most subtle strategic calculation, and that Jewish tears always have far deeper roots than learned smiles.

LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) lectures and publishes widely on
Israeli security matters and international law. He is Strategic and Military
Affairs Analyst for THE JEWISH PRESS

Facts and Logic About the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159

Gerardo Joffe, President

Return to top of page>>


How many times have you heard someone lament that Israel doesn’t have good public relations? By supporting FLAME, you help one of the world’s most powerful information efforts to spread the truth about Israel and the Middle East conflict. Please note that because FLAME is a non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation, your donation is tax-deductible. Click here to make a donation.


If you have received this issue of the FLAME HOTLINE from a friend or colleague and you'd like to subscribe, please click here.

©2005 FLAME. All rights reserved. | Site Credits | Contact Us