"The suicide bomb is
the 'smart bomb'
in the Palestinian
CHENNAI - When 29-year-old Hanadi
Tayseer Jaradat blew up herself and 19 others in a
restaurant in Haifa, Israel on October 4, she joined the
long and fast-growing list of Palestinian suicide bomber
"martyrs". Claiming responsibility for the attack, the
Islamic Jihad said that revenge had motivated Jaradat to
carry out the mission.
There has been a
significant spurt in suicide attacks since the start of
the second intifada in September 2000. In 2001, around
36 suicide attacks were carried out - a sharp increase
from the four attacks carried out the previous year.
Suicide bombers became a part of the Palestinian
militant armory only in 1993 - almost a decade after the
Lebanese Hizbollah carried out a wave of suicide attacks
The first suicide attack by the Sri
Lankan militant group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Eelam (LTTE) was in July 1987. The Tigers lead the pack,
having carried out over 200 attacks since, several of
them against prime ministers and presidents. Latecomers
to the suicide mission strategy, the Palestinian
militant groups, are said to have carried out around 150
attacks, most of them since September 2000.
Pre-September 2000 it used to be fairly easy to
describe the Palestinian suicide bomber. A rough profile
would read: young, male, unmarried and fanatically
religious, with a bleak future. The profile has since
changed. In fact, it has become increasingly difficult
to define what a suicide bomber would be like.
Today a suicide bomber could be a brilliant
student like 18-year old Ayat Akhras. It could be a
newly-engaged 21-year old like Maher Habashi, who killed
himself and 15 others in a bus in Haifa in December
2001. Or it could be a 47-year-old-father of eight, like
Daoud Abu Sway, who carried out a suicide attack in a
hotel in 2001. The suicide bomber could even be a woman,
like 28-year old Wafa Idris, who became the first
Palestinian woman suicide bomber on January 27, 2002. A
suicide bomber does not have to be an Islamic
fundamentalist. Idris, for one, did not fit the profile
of a fundamentalist. Family pictures show her wearing
makeup and sleeveless dresses.
Jaradat, who is
the fifth Palestinian woman suicide bomber, had a bright
future ahead of her. She had completed her law studies
in Jordan five years ago and was working as a trainee in
Jenin. She was just days away from qualifying as a
The Hamas, Islamic Jihad
and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade have carried out most of
the suicide attacks in Israel. Some years ago, Hamas and
Islamic Jihad militants would hunt around for recruits
to carry out suicide attacks. Mosques, funerals and
protest demonstrations were their favorite hunting
grounds where they would look for religious, committed
and angst-ridden young men. Those who showed an
inclination would be indoctrinated and trained for the
Today the process is far easier. It is
said that several volunteer to carry out missions.
Consequently, the indoctrination and training process is
not a tough job or a time-consuming process. There is a
steady stream of volunteers to choose from.
Revenge appears to have motivated Jaradat to
strap herself with explosives and blow herself up.
Israeli forces in a raid on Jenin killed her 25-year-old
brother Fadi and a 34-year old cousin Salah, both
Islamic Jihad militants, in June. The two were killed in
the presence of Jaradat. It is said she was inconsolable
after their death. Always religious, the incident
appears to have set off an even more intense
religiosity. This, together with a desire to avenge the
death of her cousin, would have made her volunteer to
carry out a suicide attack. She would not have needed
much persuading by the Islamic Jihad. But revenge alone
is an inadequate explanation.
Analysts who have
been trying to understand the mind of a suicide bomber
have come up with a variety of theories to explain their
motivation. Some have looked for answers in religion.
Islam, they quickly point out, holds out the promise of
a place in heaven for a martyr, including the attention
of 72 virgins who will serve him in heaven. Seventy
relatives, too, find places in heaven thanks to the
"martyr's" sacrifice. But these are rewards for a
martyr. Islam clearly forbids suicide.
clerics have opposed the use of suicide bombs. Reuven
Paz of the International Policy Institute for
Counter-Terrorism at Herzliya draws attention to the
reservations over excessive use of suicide bombs that
were expressed by Sherf Mohammed Serifadla, spiritual
leader of the Lebanese Hizbollah. Incidentally, Shi'ite
Islam draws inspiration from Hussein's march to certain
death at the battle in Karbala. Some Shi'ites have
justified suicide bombing citing this incident.
In 2001, Sheik Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah al-Sheik,
the supreme religious leader of Saudi Arabia, issued a
fatwa equating suicide bombings with suicide and
declared it unacceptable to the religion. Several
Islamic clerics have echoed his ideas.
are others who interpret issues differently. Mohammed
Sayed Tantawi, a leading Sunni Islam doctrinal
authority, wrote in the Cairo daily al-Ahram that "if a
person blows himself up, as in operations that
Palestinian youths carry out against those they are
fighting, then he is a martyr. But if he explodes
himself among babies or women or old people who are not
fighting the war, then he is not considered a martyr."
Islamist militant groups have sought to sidestep
the debate for now. They do not describe the
self-detonation of human bombs as suicide attacks. They
refer to these as an act of sacrifice, a part of the
jihad, a powerful tactic to fight the occupation of
Palestinian land by the Jews.
To many, the
willingness to blow oneself up might seem as the crazed
act of a religious fanatic, an act of self-destruction
so enormous and revolting that it can be done only under
the influence of narcotics, perhaps. It does not appear
so crazy to the thousands who live in the overcrowded
Gaza and the West Bank.
To Palestinians living
under decades of Israeli occupation the resort to
suicide bombings is easy to explain. As Mouin Rabbani,
director of the Palestinian American Research Center in
Ramallah, argues: "Palestinian suicide bombers are
neither products of a passive and unquestioning
obedience to political authority nor pressed into
service against their will." He sees suicide bombings as
the result of "the bitter experience of what they [the
Palestinians] see as Israeli state terror".
"Without exception, the suicide bombers have
lived their lives on the receiving end of a system
designed to trample their rights and crush every hope of
a brighter future ... Confronted by a seemingly endless
combination of death, destruction, restriction,
harassment and humiliation, they conclude that ending
life as a bomb - rather than having it ended by a bullet
- endows them, even if only in their final moments, with
a semblance of purpose and control previously considered
out of reach."
In a moving account "Why we have
become suicide bombers: Understanding Palestinian
Terror", Dr Eyad Sarraj, a Palestinian psychiatrist and
renowned human rights activist, draws attention to the
utter despair that has gripped the Palestinian people
and the humiliation of life under Israeli occupation. He
recounts the various moderate and legal steps the
Palestinians took to fight the occupation and failed. To
him, as to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians,
suicide bombing is the direct result of Israeli
occupation and oppression. It is a political act.
Indeed, the glorification of dead suicide
bombers and their glorification as part of the martyrs'
cult indicate the support that the phenomenon of suicide
bombing has among the Palestinian people. In fact, a
suicide bombing and the death of yet another Palestinian
suicide bombing is not an occasion for mourning but for
celebration of the martyrdom attained by the individual.
Advertisements in newspapers that announce the death of
a suicide bomber extend an invitation to the public for
the funeral. The announcements read like wedding
invitations. However, an important question is whether
families would celebrate their son or daughter's
decision to become a suicide bomber if they knew of it
ahead of the mission.
For the Palestinian
militant groups, the suicide bomb is a useful, low-cost,
highly effective weapon to deploy against the Israelis.
The Israel Defense Force is among the most well-equipped
in the world. It has used tanks, missiles and air power
against the Palestinians. The Palestinian arsenal is
rather low-tech - assault rifles, grenades and a few
missiles, even stones.
The suicide bomb is the
"smart bomb" in the Palestinian arsenal. It is a bomb
that has a brain. It cannot only cause death and
destruction, but also dodge and hide. What is more, it
refuses to be defused easily. For an army that is
trained to occupy territory and defend it, the suicide
bomber is a complex enemy to fight. Often the suicide
bombers disguise themselves as Orthodox Jews or soldiers
and saunter casually into buses, pizzerias and discos to
carry out their attack.
The suicide bombs have
dealt deadly blows to Israel. They have narrowed the gap
in the ratio between the numbers of Palestinians killed
to the number of Israelis killed. More importantly, they
have undermined the confidence of the Israeli state and
society like no other Arab military operation has. The
use of suicide bombs has plunged Israeli society into a
a state of almost endless terror.
government has sought to tackle the suicide attacks by
eliminating suspected bombmakers and bulldozing the
homes of the families of suicide "martyrs" in a bid to
deter the attacks.
Its strategy isn't working.
The human bombs appear to be queuing up for their
suicide missions faster than they can be deployed.
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