By Stuart Littlewood – London
‘The suicide bomber wrote that he began to live the day he came to know he was to die. Where did he get this passion to kill?’ — Mahesh Bhatt
Here in the civilised West we hate suicide bombers with a passion.
We’re taught that the proper way to blow fellow humans to smithereens is to do it from 40,000 feet.
Or failing that, send Apache helicopter gun-ships at street level firing their laser-guided missiles and 30mm cannon.
Or failing that, turn loose our main battle tanks to shred and vaporize the “enemy”, reduce their homes to rubble with DU shells and spread birth defects for generations to come.
Nowadays we don’t even have to leave home to do it. We can train our really brainy chaps to steer armed drones to the target from the comfort of an armchair.
B-52s, F-16s, Apaches, drones and tanks… that’s the ticket. Awesome hardware gives any murky mission a moral superiority that gets nods of approval from the governing élite in the drawing rooms of London and Washington.
What is not acceptable is delivering the high explosive in person, all the way to the target, and looking your enemy in the eye as you push the detonator. That simply isn’t cricket.
“There can be no justification, under any circumstances, for taking innocent lives through terrorism." Those were the very words used by Liberal Democrat Party leader Charles Kennedy in 2004, when he sacked British MP Jenny Tonge from her front-bench spokes job for suggesting she might consider becoming a suicide bomber herself if she had to live through the situation the Palestinians were in.
Statistics from Israel’s B’Tselem make the Palestinians’ situation clear. Between 2000 and the start of Israel’s "Cast Lead" blitzkrieg on Gaza in December 2008, the Israelis’ vast standing army, equipped with the most advanced weaponry American money can buy, killed 4,790 Palestinian civilians in their homeland. Of these, 952 were children.
Yes, 952 young Palestinian lives horribly snuffed out and their parents desolated…
In response Palestinians, with their garden-shed weapons, killed 490 Israeli civilians, including 84 children. In this vicious game of murder the Israelis were leading the Palestinians by 11 to 1.
Those were the “circumstances” in which Kennedy sacked Jenny Tonge.
Terrorism Most Foul
During the Cast Lead onslaught – the foulest act of state terrorism for decades – Israel slaughtered at least 350 more children, and Gaza has been under daily attack ever since. So the "most moral army in the world" must have blown to bits, shredded, incinerated or smashed with snipers’ bullets at least 1,400 youngsters in the last nine and a half years. The numbers left maimed and crippled don’t bear thinking about.
In their study Palestinian Suicide Bombers: A Statistical Analysis Sean Yom and Basel Saleh found that many Palestinian suicide attackers had been on the receiving end of violent encounters with the Israeli military resulting in injury to themselves, or arrest, or a close family member being killed.
From October 2000 through March 2004, over 2,800 Palestinian fatalities and 25,600 non-lethal injuries were inflicted by the IDF. Revenge, often fuelled by deteriorating economic prospects and the imposition of harsh policies, provided recruiters with a ready supply of volunteers. Persuading individuals not to support or participate in violence would necessarily involve “improving the structural health of Palestinian society”.
Fat chance of that. Israeli policy is to grind the Palestinians into poverty and helplessness, to take away everything they own and let them rot in a Zionist-prepared hell. Far from allowing the health of Palestinian society to improve, they tighten the screw of oppression further. In the period covered in the study they deliberately destroyed some 4,700 Palestinian homes while continuing their normal programme of slaughter, dispossession, abduction and all the other atrocities they are famed for.
Since 1967, according to ICAHD (the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), Israel has demolished in total 24,145 homes in the Occupied Territories including 4,247 (a UN figure) destroyed during Operation Cast Lead. Palestinians tend to have large families. Consider how many homeless have been created.
Professor Robert Pape’s comprehensive analysis Dying to Win, based on his work for the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism, advances the idea that suicide terrorism exerts coercive power “to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland… The bottom line, then, is that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation”
Occupation includes control of territory, as in Gaza, not necessarily military occupation.
And of course, when it comes to Israel, we’re not talking about a democracy but a vile ethnocracy.
Religion has little to do with it. Pape dismisses the often-repeated view that Islam is the root of the problem. “Rather, the taproot is American military policy”. And the notion that Islamic fundamentalism is bent on world domination is “pure fantasy”
Many suicide bombers are simply motivated by the desire for revenge. According to one researcher, harsh state repression "should not be perceived only as a reaction to suicide bombing" but "often precedes and is a major cause of suicide bombing."
One Saturday night in 2001 Saeed Hotari blew himself up at the entrance to a disco in Tel Aviv, killing 21 teenagers and injuring 132. Hotari was one of nine children from a poor Palestinian family living in Jordan and had been in the West Bank for two years hoping to find a better life. He left a message saying: “If we don’t fight, we will suffer. If we do fight, we will suffer, but so will they.”
The disco bombing was cited by the Israeli government as one of the reasons for building the Apartheid Wall.
In 2003 a female Palestinian lawyer, Hanadi Tayseer Jaradat, aged 29, killed 21 civilians at Maxim restaurant in Haifa. She acted to avenge the killing of her brother and a cousin (some sources say her fiancé) by Israeli security forces.
Surgeon Abdel Aziz Rantissi, co-founder of Hamas, warned: "Israelis will have no stability and no security until the occupation ends. Suicide bombers are Israel’s future." Rantissi was assassinated in 2004 in a helicopter attack on his car. A mother and her five year-old daughter were killed in the attack and four other bystanders wounded.
How much can a person take before snapping?
Arrest, detention without due process, constant humiliation, homelessness, unemployment and other family suffering at the hands of the IDF are not the only spur. Yahya Ayyash, nicknamed “the Engineer” and regarded as the Father of Suicide Bombing, became Hamas’s chief bomb maker and for several years topped Israel’s most wanted list. From a relatively well-off family, he gained a BSc in electrical engineering at Birzeit University and planned to study for a Master’s degree in Jordan but the Israeli authorities wouldn’t allow him to.
Thwarted in his life’s ambition Ayyash joined Hamas. “Don’t get sore, get even” might have been his motto. He used household chemicals to manufacture an explosive brew called Mother of Satan. His devices were used in a number of “massacres” and he quickly achieved hero status, narrowly escaping capture many times. It is claimed he was responsible for the deaths of around 90 Israelis.
Eventually in 1996 Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, eliminated Ayyash by persuading a relative to give him a rigged mobile phone that exploded when he used it. 100,000 people are said to have turned up at the funeral. 40 more Israelis were then killed in retaliatory bombings.
Yet Israelis still revel in targeting Palestinian students. Five years ago they forcibly removed four Birzeit University students from their studies in the West Bank and unlawfully sent them back to the Gaza Strip. All four were due to graduate by the end of that academic year.
There was an outcry from around the world and the Israeli military agreed to let them return to Birzeit, but only on condition that they signed a guarantee to permanently move back to the Gaza Strip after completing their studies. This revealed for all to see Israel’s plan to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip, even though the two areas are internationally recognized as one integral territory. Under international law everyone has the right to freely choose their place of residence within a single territory. Ten years ago around 350 Gaza students were studying at Birzeit, but today there are almost none and the racist regime blocks Gaza students from reaching the eight Palestinian universities in the West Bank.
It was no surprise to learn last Christmas that Berlanty Azzam, a fourth year Business Administration student from Gaza studying at Bethlehem University, was suddenly “deported” by the Israeli military back to Gaza. Berlanty, a Christian girl, had lived in the West Bank since 2005 and resisted all temptation to visit her family home in Gaza in case she was prevented from returning to Bethlehem.
The 21 year-old was only a few weeks from graduating when she was arrested after attending a job interview in Ramallah. In a deliberate attempt to rob her of her degree the most moral army in the world blindfolded and handcuffed her, loaded her into a jeep, drove her to Gaza and dumped her in the darkness late at night.
In the case of another university honours student in her final year, Israeli soldiers frequently rampaged through the Bethlehem refugee camp where she lived, ransacking homes and arbitrarily arresting residents. They took away her family one by one. First her 14-year-old cousin and best friend was shot dead by an Israeli sniper while she sat outside her family home during a curfew.
Next the Israelis arrested her eldest brother, a 22 year-old artist, and imprisoned him for 4 years. Then they came back for her 18-year-old brother. Then they came again to take her youngest brother – the ‘baby’ of the family – just 16. These were the heartbreaking circumstances (Mr Kennedy please note) under which this student was studying for her degree.
Luckily she had the guidance of caring university teaching staff to keep her on the straight and narrow. The most moral army in the world may have robbed her brothers of an education, but she was determined to complete hers.
Although Palestinians take their education seriously not all students cruelly obstructed by the Israelis react as Yahya Ayyash did. However, there must be a limit to how much injustice and frustration a young person can take before he/she snaps.
Modern suicide bombing appears to have started in 1980 in the Iran-Iraq war when an Iranian youngster exploded himself against an Iraqi tank, but it was Hezbollah’s devastating attacks two years later in Lebanon which attracted world attention. US forces and the Israeli occupation forces were soon expelled. The technique was then exported throughout the Middle East and beyond.
The threat of suicide bombing has receded in the Holy Land while Israeli military atrocities escalate. The regime’s leaders, seeing the Israel brand image plummet, are now pulling every dirty trick imaginable – even to the point of trying to annex sacred Islamic heritage sites – in a frantic bid to provoke a third intifada (uprising) and cast themselves once again as the victims of terror. Something has to give. Many Palestinians will snap, and no-one will be surprised to see another Ayyash emerge.
Here in the West few of us can fully comprehend what turns a bright, intelligent person into a suicide bomber. But then, we don’t have a jackboot on our throat. We don’t have our front door battered down in the middle of the night by military thugs, our family abducted, our home bulldozed and our land confiscated.
The moral to the story is surely this. You mess with other people’s rights and freedoms, and trample on their dreams, at your peril.
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.