What Palestinians Think of Suicide Bombing

While some Palestinian intellectuals condemn it, the tactic remains popular in Palestinian society.

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In defense of suicide bombing as a military tactic, some Palestinian movements have made various claims. For example, Palestinian armed groups have asserted that their targets are not really civilians because "all Israelis are reservists." Supporters of Palestinian suicide bombings also have pointed to Israeli attacks that killed or injured Palestinian civilians as justification for the suicide bombings. 

The Pros and Cons

Palestinian attitudes, or at least those expressed in public, have tended to be supportive and even celebratory of suicide bombing attacks against Israelis. The polls have registered public support with figures ranging from percentages higher than 70 percent to below 50 percent. There have been some Palestinian voices raised against the practice, despite strong pressures brought to bear against any Palestinian who publicly criticizes official opinions.

The most prominent example of Palestinian criticism of suicide bombing was the June, 2002, full-page ad signed by more than 50 Palestinian public figures that ran in Al Quds, a leading Palestinian newspaper, a day after a suicide attack killed 19 people on a Jerusalem bus and hours before another such attack killed seven more Israelis at a bus stop. In the ad, the Palestinians urged the militant groups behind deadly assaults on Israeli civilians to "stop sending our young people to carry out such attacks. We see no results in such attacks, but a deepening of the hatred between both peoples and a deepening of the gap between us."

suicide bombing in jerusalemThe signatories included Hanan Ashrawi, a leading Palestinian spokeswoman and a legislator, and the Palestinians' senior Jerusalem official, Sari Nusseibeh, along with other prominent figures. Although some Israeli observers complained that the ad seemed to imply that the suicide bombing actions were wrong only because of the damage they cause to the Palestinian international image and the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, it should be noted that Dr. Nusseibeh has gone on record as opposing such acts due to their inherent immorality. In addition Abu Mazan, another prominent Palestinian leader, has publicly denounced the "militarization" of this most recent Palestinian uprising.

Prominent Islamic religious leaders have also criticized suicide bombers who act in the name of Islam. These criticisms have come from supremely regarded authorities on Islamic law and tradition, such as the imam of Saudi Arabia and the dean of Al Azhar University in Cairo. They have pointed to Islamic prohibitions against the taking of one’s own life under any circumstances, and have also noted that Islamic law forbids the killing of women and children, who are considered protected by Islam even in the most extreme of wars and jihad.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.