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Countering Suicide Terrorism


Yoram Schweitzer surveyed the modern history of suicide terrorism. The P.L.O. Muslim Jihad, the Hamas, did not invent it. He argued that the suicide was invented by the Hizbullah in Lebanon (1983-1999 - 50 cases of suicide). But other groups used the same method: Tamils in Sri Lanka, for example. Also the Kurdish Worker"s Party (PKK) used 21 suicide attacks against the Turks. Schweitzer, like many other experts, failed to focus on Osama bin-Ladin"s Al Qaeda.

Reuven Paz spoke about the religious roots of suicide terrorism inside the Arab world. His conclusion was: "I would like to conclude with a factor that is one of the consequences of these perceptions of the struggle between Islam and the West, or Islamism versus the Western culture, or Islamism versus Judaism. In most cases, and I refer here mainly to those involving Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian arena, it has been very easy to recruit volunteers for these operations. Not only is it extremely easy to find people willing to die, but in many cases of suicide terrorism the volunteers were recruited for the operation only a week or a few days before the operation.

There is no battalion of volunteers constantly training to commit suicide. But there exists the constant willingness to commit suicide. From time to time members of Hamas even recruit their own family members-cousins, for example. They are influenced by their perception of the ultimate level of the struggle against this conspiracy, these terribly brutal enemies they are facing. Thus the organizations succeed in recruiting these people very easily.

Although I refer mainly to the Palestinian arena, the same holds true of Islamist radical groups elsewhere. In the case of the assassination of the late President Sadat, the killers were captured alive, although they had been certain prior to the operation that they were going to die. So although this operation did not meet all of the precise criteria for a suicide operation they were still sure that they were going to be killed. The three individuals who carried out the operation with Haled Islambuli were recruited on the First of October, 1981, only four days prior to the operation. So again, here we see what the Egyptian sociologist described as prevalent in many cases in the Arab world, not only in the Palestinian arena."

And also: "The Islamic activity is highly successful, and must be fought or confronted by what Professor Palazzi calls "Islamic Moderation." But it must be confronted mainly by using its own weapons-the appeal to the spirit. Personally, I do not believe that there exist technical means to fight these operations. The only way to counter the influence of these groups is to target the social and religious foundations on which they have built their successes."

Dr. Khalil Shiqaqi discussed the dynamic of the popularity of suicide terrorism inside the Palestinian community. As we are aware the international media pictured expressions of joy and celebration whenever a massacre of Israelis or Americans has been reported. The Palestinian educational system tends to cherish those who murder Israelis even in a case of murdering babies, a toddler.

Dr. Shiqaqi remarked: "To support or oppose violence and suicide attacks is of course a matter of policy preference. As a society, societies make policy preferences all the time. They support the peace process or they support violence. If they choose violence, they support violence against military targets or violence against civilians. And when they support violence against civilians, sometimes they support violence against the civilian collective, and sometimes only against individual civilians. The question that I will try to address is, what determines those policy preferences? Why do people support or oppose violence and suicide attacks?

Remember, Palestinian society is very traditional. It is both Muslim and traditional. There is a religious prohibition against suicide. Moreover, as a traditional society, it does not encourage individualism. Remember also, what Durkheim, the French sociologist said- "individualism leads to suicide." So, for both religious and social reasons, we should not expect to see suicide attacks, or support for them, among Palestinians.

I have three themes I want to develop. The first is that support for violence among Palestinians is dependent on the Palestinian perception of the threat posed to them by Israel or Hamas. In other words, the issue we need to examine is the threat-perception. Threat-perception is an emotional issue. The more intense the perception of threat, the more likely the selection of a more extreme policy preference. And in terms of what forms of violence a Society will support, suicide attacks top the list as the highest form of violence in terms of intensity. According to my thesis, this modus operandi requires of its supporters the highest degree of threat-perception at the emotional level."

Boaz Ganor briefed the conference on this history of suicide terrorism in Israel. Ganor explained: "The use of suicide attacks in Israel quickly became a widespread phenomenon, chiefly because of the new deployment of IDF in Gaza and the West Bank, which caused a decline in Israeli intelligence measures and operational ability. The phenomenon was abetted by the official Israeli response to these attacks, which disregarded the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority in preventing them.

Prior to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian organizations executed terrorist attacks against Israel whenever their operational ability allowed. Their capacity was limited only by the activity of Israeli security forces in the territories under Israeli control."

Ganor pointed out the set of benefits for the suicide terrorists at large: Suicide attacks are considered attractive by groups of religious and nationalistic fanatics who regard them as a kind of "holy war" and a divine command. The perpetrator of the suicide attack is not considered either by himself, by other activists or, in our case, by the Palestinian public at large, to have committed suicide. He is, rather, seen as a "shahid"-a martyr who fell in the process of fulfilling a religious command, the "Jihad" or "holy war." (Thus his act is called in Arabic Istishhad).

Suicide attacks may provide the shahid and his family with substantial rewards: First - The majority of the shahids come from a low-social-status background. The shahid improves his social status after his death, as well as that of his families. Second - The family of the shahid is showered with honor and praise, and receives financial rewards for the attack - usually some thousands of dollars.

In addition to the religious mission, and the family rewards, the shahid also receives some personal benefits (according to his belief), including:


Eternal life in paradise.


The permission to see the face


And the loving kindness of 72 young virgins who will serve him in heaven.

The shahid also earns a privilege to promise a life in heaven to 70 of his relatives. The will of Hisham Ismail Abd-El Rahman Hamed (a suicide attacker who blew himself up in November 1994 at Nezarim, killing 3 IDF officers and wounding 2 Israelis and 4 Palestinians) reflects the state of mind of the shahid at the time of the attack. He wrote:

Dear family and friends! I write this will with tears in my eyes and sadness in my heart. I want to tell you that I am leaving and ask for your forgiveness because I decided to see Alla" today and this meeting is by all means more important than staying alive on this earth.... (Maariv 13/11/94 p. 15).

Another suicide attacker - Salah Abed El Hamid Shaker, who blew himself up with another shahid at Beit Lid in January "95, killing 18 Israelis and wounding 36, wrote in his will:

I am going to take revenge upon the sons of the monkeys and the pigs-the Zionist infidels and the enemies of humanity. I am going to meet my holy brother Hisham Hamed and my distinguished teacher, Hani El Abed, and all other Shahids and saints in paradise. Please Forgive me. (Maariv, 23/1/95)

All of these factors constitute a substantial incentive for fundamentalist believers to adopt suicide attack tactics. When there are religious, nationalistic, economic, social, and personal rewards for this kind of action, it is no wonder that Hamas and Islamic Jihad find no difficulty in recruiting volunteers for such missions."

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