Posted on July 29, 2002 in Washington Watch

The picture on the cover of the New York Times was too powerful to ever forget. It showed the grieving father of two-month-old Dina Matar carrying her tiny broken body. She was wrapped in a Palestinian flag and she was being taken to her grave.

Dina was the youngest victim of Israel’s terrorist attacks in Gaza. Dina, her 11-year-old brother, her aunt and three cousins were among the 15 who were killed by a one ton bomb dropped from an F-16. They are all gone.

We were not present at Dina’s birth. We did not see her parents’ joy at her coming into the world. We did not hear her cry or see her first movements. We will never know what Dina might have been: a mother, a teacher, a poet or a leader. We will not know her.

Dina’s life was short. But she will not be so easily forgotten because of the way she died and the fact that her tragic death and burial have been captured in one photo. As a result, for at least one moment, the world stopped and paid attention to this one little Palestinian victim and they grieved for her.

The night Dina was murdered I was on my way back to my office following a meeting with a Congressman when CNN called and informed me of the attack. My taxi changed course and minutes later I was on TV both watching live footage from Gaza and commenting on the horror that was unfolding.

In part, because of this graphic coverage of dead and wounded Palestinian children–an all too common occurrence, but one rarely seen on U.S. television–Americans have been shocked. U.S. and world reaction has been swift. European criticism has been understandably strong. But even here there has been a reaction.

Despite Sharon’s praise for the attack as a great victory and Israeli government attempts to dismiss the killings as “unfortunate” or “collateral damage,” official Washington has not agreed.

At first the White House struggled to find the right words to use. After intense internal debate a statement was issued which had the President describe the bombing as “heavy handed.” Additional comments were made by White House and the State Department officials so that the message became clear and was described by the Washington Post headline, “White House decries Israeli missile strike.”

In the days that followed, in response to questions from reporters and an appeal from two members of Congress, (Michigan’s John Dingell and West Virginia’s Nick Rahall), the State Department continued to ratchet up its criticism, noting that “We have made quite clear that we think this,…attack was heavy-handed. This was an attack that killed many innocent people…it was carried out in a residential area. And it doesn’t contribute in any way to the cause of peace.” The White House Spokesperson added that, “this was a deliberate attack against a building in which civilians were known to be located…. This is an instance in which the United States and Israel do not see eye to eye.”

There are now renewed calls that the U.S. apply sanctions called for by the long-ignored Arms Export Control Act (AECA). The AECA is the U.S. law that requires the Administration to stop shipment of U.S.-supplied weapons to recipient countries that use them against civilians or in a manner that would serve to exacerbate a conflict.

Clearly this law, which has been applied to Israel on only a few occasions in the past (most notably during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon) should have been enforced many times in the past year and a half. Regrettably it was not, but a determined effort is now being made to call for its implementation in the wake of this horrible Gaza massacre.

Obviously Sharon is wrong. Dropping a one-ton bomb on a packed residential area is not a legitimate act. It is an act of terror, plain and simple. And Dina’s death is not “collateral damage.” It was murder and she is, in the purest sense of the word, a martyr.

My concern, at this point, and I hope I am not too late in expressing myself, is that reactions to Dina’s death be carefully considered. Anger, I know, is deep and real. And grief and pain are also widespread. But calls for vengeance will not serve Dina, the other victims, or the cause of the Palestinian people in general.

As difficult as it is to say and as difficult as I know it must be to hear, Dina’s death has refocused U.S. and European attention on fundamental realities. It is Palestinians who are victims and it is Sharon and the Israeli military who are victimizers.

A retaliation bombing in the streets or markets of an Israeli city would erase all of that. Dina would be forgotten. The image of her death would be replaced by the horrible pictures of other innocent shattered lives. In an instant, the debate over Israeli tactics that is now taking place in the United States and even in Israel itself, would be ended. Israelis, some of whom have been terming Sharon’s bombing as “terrorist,” would call for revenge and Washington would condemn the Palestinian attacks and then fall silent as Israel struck back.

And in the same instant, the image of Ariel Sharon would, as a result of a single Palestinian attack, be once again transformed from the brutal bully that he is, to a strong defender of his “beleaguered people.”

No, Dina must not be forgotten. The way to honor her and all the victims is to insure that she is remembered and to work to insure that there be no more victims.

If there was ever a time to build a strong and forceful Palestinian peace challenge, it is now. Out of the ashes and rubble of Jenin, Gaza City, Nablus, Ramallah, Hebron and so many other cities and towns, Palestinians must be supported to refocus their all too justified anger into a challenge–to the Israeli people to stop the occupation and the killing and repression and to the American people to be fair and true to their stated values.

It will be hard, but it is so important that it must be said and must be tried.

Do not allow Dina to be forgotten. Do not make more Israeli victims in the mistaken notion that it serves Dina’s memory. It will not. It will only add yet another tragic round of violence, with death and more victims all around.

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