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Portrait of a Suicide Bomber - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Jerusalem, Asharq Al-Awsat- Following the recent suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the family of a young Palestinian who blew himself up stated that the young man was a university student looking for work to pay his tuition fees, opening the door once again to the discussion of the link between economic status in Palestinian territories and suicide operations. Despite that many Western and Israeli studies have tried to find a connection between violence and suicide bombings, it may be indirectly saying that the answer to the Israeli -Palestinian conflict depends on the rebuilding of the economy only, that does not correspond with a just political solution. Reality proves that this is not the case, as most young Palestinians who have executed suicide operations belonged to the upper middle class or even the bourgeoisie. In search of analyzing the economic, social and educational factors of those young people, Asharq Al Awsat looks at the cases of fifteen suicide bombers. It also met with several families of some suicide bombers who have carried out their operations since 2000 to better comprehend the economic conditions of these youngsters.

Interesting results of the research showed that economic hardship was not the motive behind most suicide bombers as the majority of the bombers belonged to relatively affluent families. Some of the bombers however did suffer financially. The majority of those who carried out such attacks were pursuing higher education and came from stable families. This indicates that it is difficult to link poverty and suicide-operations, as reality is far more complex. Asharq Al-Awsat interviews the families of some Palestinian suicide bombers and looks at the economic situations in Gaza City.

On the morning of Friday, 12 April 2002, 22-year-old Andalib Taqatiqah woke up and got out of her bed. Everybody in the household was asleep after a long night of following the news about re-occupation of Palestinian cities. Andalib made a cup of tea for her brother Ahmad, who was getting up. Talking to Asharq Al Awsat in the remainders of what was the family home in Bayt Fajar, north of Hebron; Ahmad talked about those last valuable moments with his sister. “Everything was normal. She made me a cup of tea and then went out to the courtyard to drink her own tea.”

Ahmad never saw his sister again as Andalib managed surprisingly to pass through Israeli military checkpoints and detonated the explosives that were strapped to her body in West Jerusalem. The then American Secretary of State, Colin Powell happened to be visiting West Jerusalem at the time. In view of her modest economic background, Taqatiqah comes from a lower economic background in comparison to most young suicide bombers whose economic situation is relatively secure. Furthermore, the majority of these suicide bombers came from the middle classes or from a stable agricultural background. Many of them were university students who make up a number of Palestinian radical organizations of resistance.

The town of Bayt Fajar where Andalib was born and raised is famous for factories and quarries that were important to Palestine’s economy and beneficial to the town’s residents. Andalib’s sister Abeer told Asharq Al Awsat “Days before Andalib was martyred, Andalib asked me to make her some homemade cakes. I did not notice that anything was disturbing her. I have kept the ingredients for the cakes that I never made to remember Andalib.”

Abeer believes that we should look into the individuality of each case of each suicide bomber. However, she thinks that there are common causes such as the Israeli massacres of Jenin, Nablus, Ramallah, and the sieges of the Al Mahd church and the late President Arafat in Ramallah. Abeer states that her sister’s operation came as a big surprise for the family. She continues, “Andalib found herself in a suitable location for an operation, and was moved by what was happening in the country.” Abeer did not think that there were any economic factors were part of her sister’s decision to carry out the operation. Andalib’s brother Ahmad also told Asharq Al Awsat “It is true that our economic condition is modest, however, our father works, I work, and Andalib herself was in employment.” For Palestinians, Andalib became the fourth female martyr after Wafa Idris, a nurse from Amari refugee camp near Ramallah, Dareen Abu Aisha, university student from Nablus, and Ayat Akhras, a high school student from the Dehaishe camp.

After receiving condolences for Jabr Al Akhras, Ayat’s cousin who was sought by Israeli intelligence services and killed by special Israeli units, Mohamed Al Akhras (Abu Samir) Ayat’s father, stayed at home with his wife and children in Dehaishe refugee camp. While Abu Samir and the rest of the family received condolences from people from various Palestinian territories, Jabr’s body was taken to Rafah to be buried.

Ayat became well known beyond Palestine. On 29 March 2002, she went to Jerusalem as Israeli tanks were preparing to enter Palestinian cities and detonated herself. The operation gained international coverage as it took place on the second day of the “historical” Arab League summit in Beirut, during which Israeli did not allow Arafat’s speech to be aired from his besieged office in Ramallah. Abu Samir, Ayat’s father is still disturbed by his daughter’s death because she was not only his daughter, but also a dear friend to him. He remembers her last night alive as together they followed the news of re-occupation. Ayat woke her father up for morning prayers, as she was studying, however, nobody knew that she was also preparing for the greatest test of her life within a matter of hours.

When asked about any potential economic motive that Ayat may have had, her mother told Asharq Al Awsat, “My daughter was among the best at school. She was engaged and did not have any financial problems. A few hours before her death, she achieved top grades in an exam at school. She did not hate life and was not frustrated. She had even chosen the names of her future children with her fiancé. ” Hussein Al Qassas, one of Ayat’s neighbors, told us that the murder of another neighbor, Isa Zacaria Faraj, who was holding his baby when an Israeli sniper shot him dead, was the reason behind Ayat’s decision to blow herself up in Jerusalem. Al Qassas said, “As we rushed to save Faraj, Ayat was crying and screaming hysterically from the roof top of her house. It was the first time I saw her in this condition.” The family of Ayat is still awaiting the release of her body, which has been kept by the Israeli authorities, so that they can bury her.

Similarly, the body of Isa Abd Rabuh Bedier, the youngest suicide bomber from the West bank who died at 16-years-old, is still kept by Israeli authorities. On 22 May 2002, he exploded himself in the settlement of Rashion Lezion near Tel Aviv. The settlement was built over the Palestinian village of Ayoun.

Isa was the youngest son of a famous lawyer called Abd Rabuh Bedier, an independent blind lawyer who went to the United States for higher education. Isa was the youngest son and dearest to him. Isa’s father was visiting Jordan when Isa blew himself up. He still feels the shock and surprise today. The lawyer is moderate in his opinion of the Israeli conflict with the Palestinians as he supports peaceful settlement. Abd Rabhu Bedier who now lives in a rented apartment after the Israeli authorities demolished his stunning multi story villa, rules out any economic motives behind his son’s suicide operation. He told Asharq Al Awsat “there must be an end to the vicious cycle of violence that takes innocent lives.”

Like Bedier, Ishaq Al Nabtiti the father of the 24-year-old suicide bomber, Akram Al Nabtiti who executed a suicide attack in the Talah Al Faransiyah settlement in East Jerusalem on March 17 2002, is well educated and financially stable. Ishaq Al Nabtiti, a retired schoolteacher was shocked upon hearing the news, as his son was soon to be married. Akram appeared in a video that he had recorded before the operation in which he explained his motives. During the recording that Asharq Al Awsat watched, Akram stated that the operation was revenge for the killing of friends and acquaintances; in particular, he was especially moved by the killing of a female neighbor who had children. He spoke confidently about the justice of his cause and expressed his hopes for victory. According to Akram’s friends, he has morally surpassed his enemies as he gave up a beautiful house and marriage with the girl he loved to execute a suicide operation in defense of “the sacredness of Islam and Christianity in Palestine.” Ishaq Al Nabtiti who still remembers the touching words spoken by his son during the recording, told Asharq Al Awsat, “I do not know Akram’s motives behind the operation, but financial reasons are definitely not involved. Regardless of my personal stand towards suicide operations, I respect Akram’s choice despite the repercussions that it has had such as the demolition of my house which took much effort to build.”

The case was the same for Ismail Al Moswaby who carried out a suicide attack north of Gaza City in 2001, after he volunteered himself to the armed wing of Hamas, Ezzedine Al Qassam. He had graduated from the Faculty of Arts from Al Aqsa University and came from a rich family. Nabil Al Ara’eer who belonged to the military wing of Fatah executed the first suicide operation of the second Intifadah. He also came from an affluent family. His father refused any financial support after his son was killed, and instead, donated part of his fortune to build a mosque in Gaza City. Yasser Al Masdar who was under 20-years-old when he carried out a suicide operation in Central Gaza City in 2004, belonged to one of the richest families that owned most of the land in Gaza City. In addition, the female lawyer Hanadi Jaradat who exploded herself in Haifa in September 2003 belonged to a wealthy family.

There are no recorded statistics about the political affiliations of suicide bombers. They come from Islamist organizations such as Hamas and Jihad, as well as from more secular organizations, such as Fatah and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Suicide bombers have become a phenomenon and have been researched between 2001 and 2003. However, the majority of Israelis and western research centers are believed to have failed in their explanation of this phenomenon or to define a prototype of the “suicide bomber.” Whilst “martyrdom” as the Palestinian resistance calls it, becomes a widespread phenomenon in the region, some observers see that various studies and approaches should look at research of another kind and not have any preconceived judgments.

According to current western and Israeli research, the prototype of the suicide bomber is defined by age, education, social status, political orientation, marital status etc. However, in reality, some suicide bombers have defied such classifications. People such as 45-year-old Dawood Abu Sawa, 38-year-old Youssef Abu Sawa, and 36 year-old Yasser Odah were married and living a relatively stable life but became suicide bombers. In addition, successful businessmen such as Ihab Habeeb have become suicide bombers. Others were close to getting married such as Mohamed Al Shamali. Some suicide bombers were distinguished students such as Hamed Abu Hajla from An-Najah University in Nablus who also belonged to a rich family. Finally, Diaa Al Taweel from Beir Zeit University was the son of a leftist journalist. Such examples show that the executers of suicide operations range in social background as well as economic status.