What Palestinians Think of Suicide Bombing

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

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In private, there are many Palestinians who may not have the courage to air in public their feelings alongside prominent public figures and religious leaders, but are deeply perturbed at the direction their society has taken since the wave of suicide bombs has begun. When an entire generation is obsessed with death, they say--when a generation is growing up not aspiring to be doctors or software engineers but engineers of death--then a generation is effectively committing suicide. They do not question the Palestinian aspiration to an independent state and society, but wonder if the glorification of violence and death in their society are undercutting any possibility of a normal Palestinian future.

Suicide Bombing Tactic of Choice

Yet despite these reservations voiced by some Palestinian intellectuals and some human rights groups, every Palestinian armed group--not solely the Islamic religious ones as in the past--now conducts suicide bombings. Where suicide bombers were once recruited carefully and with some difficulty, undergoing a regiment of religious indoctrination and training, there are now far more volunteers then explosives to go around.

Israeli intelligence once prepared profiles on who would be most likely to be pressed into service with Hamas or Islamic Jihad for suicide missions, based on the ages, educational levels, and religious beliefs of the average perpetrator. These profiles are now useless: Suicide missions have been carried out by individuals of a large range of ages, as well as people from every possible class and educational background and people with secular as well as religious beliefs. And suicide bombers are no longer always men, either.

In the meanwhile, Israel has enforced closures on the Palestinian territories in an effort to prevent any potential killer from slipping into Israeli civilian areas. Trade and education have ground to a halt, and the Palestinian population is plunging ever deeper into poverty, with 60 percent of the residents in the West Bank and Gaza Strip living on less than two dollars a day. The Palestinians, who were once considered the most highly educated and technologically sophisticated in the Arab world, have begun turning to subsistence agriculture to survive. As poverty and religious fanaticism spread, so apparently does the readiness of ever more young Palestinians to volunteer to be martyrs for the cause of 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.