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August 15, 2004

Education and Social Status Determine Attitudes toward the Roadmap to Peace among the Palestinians

Contact: Guillermina Jasso, New York University, gj1@nyu.edu, 212-998-8368
Eva Meyersson Milgrom, Stanford Institute for International Studies, (650) 724 7085, eva@meyersson.com

San Francico, August 15, 2004 – Individuals who take their own life in pursuit of a cause are not necessarily desperate loners. Research shows that most Palestinian suicide bombers are trained by organizations and supported in their action by family and their own community.

Sacrificing oneself in pursuit of a cause appears to be against all basic human instincts. However, the most paradoxical aspect in today's wave of suicide attacks is the phenomenon of organized suicide bombing, where tight cohesive groups sacrifice their best and most promising young members.

Guillermina Jasso and Eva Meyersson Milgrom in their empirical study "Social Identity, Social Distance, and Palestinian Support for the Roadmap," analyze the social climate of these communities and why they demand and support the ultimate sacrifice of their members. The authors assess support for four of the provisions of the 2002 “Roadmap” peace initiative: 1. Ending incitement against Israel by all official Palestinian institutions, 2. Declaring an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism and undertaking efforts to arrest, disrupt, and restrain individuals and groups conducting and planning violent attacks on Israelis anywhere. 3. Cutting off funding and all other forms of support for groups supporting and engaging in violence and terror, and 4. Restoring pre-Intifada links between Arab states and Israel. The first three are directly pertinent to support for the tactic of suicide attacks and the fourth evokes a more general support for peace.

The study is based on a survey of Palestinians' attitudes towards the Roadmap conducted in June 2003 by the Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah.

The results from the empirical analysis show that better educated men and women have more negative views of the Roadmap than those who are less schooled. Attitudes toward the Roadmap vary as a function of an individual’s social identity, as determined by educational status and relative income. High educational status correlates with a negative attitude to the Roadmap. However, men’s and women’s attitudes are affected differently by income.

The results support earlier findings of a strong correlation between education and radicalization of people’s attitudes when income is low. There may also be few opportunities for well-educated men and women to find work that matches their training and skills. Higher-income men favor the Roadmap, suggesting a link between earnings and developing property or farming and selling to Israelis. Peace and political stability are better for business than political unrest.

The attitudes toward the Roadmap also vary strongly with the individual’s geographic location. Geographic effects are significant for both women and men; where one lives seems to strongly define the social context of a Palestinian relative to others.

Living in close proximity to Jewish settlers, for example, and seeing their easier access to resources, water, roads, and electricity, may influence the Palestinian attitudes negatively towards the Roadmap by making more visible the distance between the social statuses of the two groups. Another aspect of the social context defining Palestinian views involves the fact that they may have been witnessing, to a larger extent, the killing or the arrest of family members or neighbors. In other words, these results point to the central fact that growing social and economic inequalities between dependent societies negatively influence attitudes toward the peace process.

Finally, survey results for Palestinian women, though less clear-cut than the results for men, suggest that women’s attitudes may be in transition. Insurgency movements such as Hamas are also providers of health, schooling, and, importantly, new opportunities for women.

New opportunities cut a wide swath. For instance, according to interviews with Hezbollah members, women whose husbands have become martyrs may set up their own household with the support of the organization. That is, they gain some independence vis-à-vis their extended families and can decide for themselves about their children's schooling or the grocery list.

This paper will be presented at the 2004 ASA Annual Meeting in San Francisco on Sunday, August 15, at 12:30 PM. The paper will appear as a chapter in the forthcoming book The Market for Martyrs: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Suicide Bombing, edited by Eva M Meyersson Milgrom.

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The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.