- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 7, 2004

There are times when the survivors of terrorism must envy the dead. These times always follow the cowardly crime of suicide bombing. On Aug. 31, Palestinian murderers blew up two buses filled with women and children in Beersheba, Israel. The count was 16 killed and about 100 “wounded.” What meanings lie behind these twin bus attacks on “infidels?”

The Palestinian terrorist declares with absolute religious conviction that no Jew should ever feel secure in Israel. His determined cruelty in following “God’s will” is palpable. Discovering sacredness in the charred corpses of helpless bus passengers, this martyr has grotesquely transformed the medical landscape of a country that must now fight for breath every day of its still-imperiled life.

During the rotation of a radiologist in any busy city hospital, the variety of patient problems usually reveal ordinary harms. But injuries are now very different in Beersheba’s hospital. In recent years, with the recurrent waves of suicide bombings, unique and hideous trauma, evident on radiographic images, has become a “normal” part of the Israeli physician’s practice.

X-rays of suicide bombing victims often show hundreds of metallic fragments, ranging in size from millimeters to whole nails, embedded in the victims’ bodies — literally from head to foot. What had been created originally by civilized human beings for constructive purposes now has been fiendishly transformed by Arab terrorists into the deadliest of projectiles. Nails, screws, nuts and ball-bearings are packed by the suicide bombers into their explosive vests to maximize lethal effects and to inflict unendurable pain and suffering on Jewish bodies. These objects, usually after being dipped in rat poison or other available toxins, are propelled into skin, flesh and bone with the force of bullets.

The nails fly head-first, presenting themselves in a strangely surreal yet orderly arrangement within the victims’ bodies. Many are embedded only to the depth of their entrance sites. Others burrow their way in more deeply, and lodge under the skin where the examining physician can actually touch and feel their alien presence. Others must be removed after hours of meticulous exploration. Still others enter the body far deeper, perforating and lacerating vital organs at random. CT scans of these victims’ heads show blood, air, metal and bone fragments displacing normal brain tissue.

The “lucky” patient who survives the initial explosive insult may often require extensive surgery to repair damaged organs. Others may sustain fractures, burns, amputations, vascular injuries, paralysis, blindness or brain damage. A collapsed lung or perforated colon — what would ordinarily be considered a major injury — is now taken as a blessing for these merely “wounded” victims of Palestinian terrorism.

Although some of the victims recover physically and return to a normal life, many more require a lifetime of ongoing rehabilitation. Some are impaired permanently. And all suffer serious psychological effects that need to be treated. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety affect not only the victims of the attack, but all of Israeli society. How could it be otherwise in a society under constant attack by those who cry out: “When the martyr dies a martyr’s death, he attains the height of bliss”?

The Palestinian martyr’s unheroic weapon has now literally and figuratively penetrated the hearts and souls, as well as the bodies, of an entire nation. Too often, media are unable or unwilling to transmit the full human meanings of such penetration. The result has been that too few people are able to comprehend the true horrors caused by Palestinian suicide bombers.

Hearing the lamentations of its citizens — agonized cries that no people should ever be made to utter — the State of Israel now has an obligation to listen closely and to defend itself. Here in the United States we should also be attentive. As we already know, we, too, are not immune to suicide terror attacks.

Louis Rene Beres is professor of political science at Purdue University and Chair of Project Daniel. Dr. Michael L. Messing, a radiologist at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, is currently studying the medical effects of terrorism.

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