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July 31, 2001 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 66

Debating the Religious, Political, and Moral Legitimacy of Suicide Bombings: Part IV

July 31, 2001 | By Yotam Feldner*
Syria, Palestine, Egypt | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 66

Over the last few months, in light of increased Palestinian suicide bombings, the Arab media has been engaged in a heated debateover the religious, political and moral legitimacy of martyrdom operations against Israel. Those participating in the debate includeleading Sunni-Islamic authorities, as well as political officials and senior columnists. Following is the fourth part of a comprehensivereview of the debate:

In Defense of Martyrdom Operations – The Political Arguments
Support of suicide operations in the Arab media was not based solely upon religious foundations, as some columnists related to their political achievements. Amru Nasif, a columnist for the Egyptian opposition weekly, Al-Usbu', who in a previous column volunteered to carry out a suicide bombing himself[1], criticized Arab intellectuals who dared to denounce the Tel-Aviv bombing and claimed the bombing damaged the Palestinian image in the world: "… The Martyrdom operations should continue, Allah willing, and their ferocity should increase. We must use the panic and the intensive Zionist presence at the sight after each attack to strike another blow that will harvest twice as many of their stinking souls. Let the US and the West go to Hell along with their filthy culture..."[2]

Supporters of suicide bombings argued that these attacks may serve to drive the Jews out of Israel. Dr. Lutfi Nasif, a columnist for the Egyptian government daily, Al-Gumhuriya, wrote: "...Some fear that the Fidaai [self sacrifice] operations, in which the Martyrs blow up themselves, provoke international public opinion... [However] if we examine the bombings of the last few days in Israeli cities, we will find out, no doubt, that they have had many positive aspects. The main issue that occupies the mind of every Israeli is security. The Jewish immigrant who left his original homeland and came to Israel, dreamt, no doubt, of security and stability; when he feels the loss of security in the Promised Land, he begins thinking about emigration out of Israel. The lack of security for [the Israeli citizen] himself and his children, exceeds the borders of Israel and touches Jews all over the world. Many of them, who contemplated immigration to Israel, have distanced this thought from their minds... These operations should not bother us. Our goal must be getting the number of Israeli casualties closer to that of the Palestinians... We salute all the Shahids and are sorry for their departure, but the freedom tax must be paid, even if it is expensive...."[3]

Bahjat Ibrahim Al-Dsuqi, a columnist for the Egyptian government Al-Akhbar weekly stated that with suicide bombings "the rats who came from the US, Europe, and Russia will flee," and added "whoever is killed by the Israeli arsenal or by the Israeli settlers is a Shahid," but "whoever blows himself up as a revenge against the enemies is a Shahid of the highest rank of Martyrdom, because he has sold his soul and bought Paradise. We are not afraid of [sacrificing] thousands of Martyrs." Al-Dsuqi added a piece of advice for America: "I advise the US...: Do not forget what happened to the Marines in Lebanon, nor the bombing of the USS Cole destroyer in Yemen."[4]

Walid Badran, also an Al-Akhbar columnist, expressed his conviction that the operations present the Israelis two options: "to return to the places from where they came, or to accept a just agreement," because "nobody disputes that Jerusalem is more precious to the Muslims and Arabs than life itself, while the Jews consider their lives more precious than Jerusalem."[5]

Dr. Ibrahim Abrash, a lecturer on politics at the Rabat University in Morocco, referred to the fear amongst some Arab intellectuals that suicide bombings will damage the Palestinian international image and declared that this fear is unfounded because the attacks are legitimate in international law: "...the UN itself distinguished between terror and legitimate struggle, in September 1972, the Black September Organization, that belongs to the Fatah movement, attacked the Israeli delegation to Munich and killed some of its athletes. The UN General Assembly convened to discuss the issue... under the title "arrangements needed in order to prevent terrorism and various forms of violence that endanger the lives of innocent people, or endanger their basic rights." However, the Arab and third world states did not like this title because it ignored the reasons and motives behind the terror. Hence, these states supported the Arab proposal [to make an addition to the existing title]: "...and examining the reasons behind the form of terrorism and violent acts that result from suffering, disappointment, and a sense of distress and despair that lead some to sacrifice human lives, including their own"... And, indeed, this proposal was accepted..."

"In addition, in a resolution from 1977, the Palestinian people was mentioned as having the right for an armed struggle... Therefore, there is no reason for us to voluntarily beat ourselves. As long as the man-made laws regard the struggle of peoples as legitimate, we should adhere to this principle and to this right, and ignore the American and Zionist efforts to label them as terrorism..."[6]

The Head of the Syrian "Arab Writers Union," Dr. Ali 'Aqleh 'Ursan joined the attack on Arab intellectuals who denounced the Tel Aviv Disco bombing: "...If what you gain from denouncing the nations' Martyrs is a blonde smile, an Arab tap on your shoulder, or a Zionist thank-you letter... you are welcome to it, and we are welcome to our blood that writes in shiny letters that will be read by our sons in the future so they will continue the march of liberation, that will take place only by the use of force, through Jihad, and through Martyrdom..."…"Whoever denounces the operations of the Shahid's joins the Arab politicians who apologize for the legitimate struggle. However, these do not represent the conscience of the nation, nor do they influence the public... It is the blood that writes history, and the black ink cannot soil the golden pages written in the blood of the Shahids, on their way to liberate Palestine, the Golan, and South Lebanon..."[7]

Hamad Al-Majid, a columnist for the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat weekly, addressed the issue of victims: "…The victims were not only a riffraff of Zionists whose killing has brought happiness to any bereaved Palestinian mother and remedy to every injured family in Jerusalem. This was also a blast to the sense of security promised by the Zionist leaders. Sharon won the elections by carrying the sun of security in his right hand and the moon of tranquility in his left hand. However, his promises went flying in the air with his people's body parts..."

"The Palestinians are fighting against the Zionists with a lethal weapon - the weapon of the multi-birthing woman. If they kill ["The Engineer" Yahyah] 'Ayyash, or if a Mujaheed is Martyred, the wombs of the women pushed, push, and will continue to push thousands Ayyash's of Mujahideen who suckle with their mothers' milk, the education for Jihad... Ah, If only Sharon and his angels of destruction knew that the mother of a Shahid receives the news of her son's Martyrdom with cries of joy... One of them, so it was reported, took an oath to send the four sons she had left to the battlefield so they would gain Martyrdom as well, just like their brother. We wish that just like the Zionist airports were filled with those vagabond homosexuals on their way in, they will be filled once again on their way out, without anyone feeling sorry for them..."[8] The Islamist Movements' Reports on The Tel-Aviv Disco Bombing
The Hamas Weekly, Al-Risala, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad Weekly, Al-Istiqlal, from the week after the Tel-Aviv disco bombing dedicated substantial part of the weeklies to reports on the bombings.

Al-Risala, published the bomber's will in which he wrote that he was about to meet the Prophet Muhammad and the "leader of Martyrs, the Engineer, Yahya 'Ayyash", and added: "I will turn my body into bombs that will hunt the sons of Zion, bomb them, and burn their remains... There is nothing greater than being martyred on the soil of Palestine for the sake of Allah. Cry in joy, oh mother, hand out sweets, oh father and brothers, a wedding with the black-eyed [women] awaits your son in Paradise [a reference to the Islamic tradition that a martyr is rewarded – among other rewards- with 72 black-eyed virgins]..."[9]

Al-Hotary has spent the last two years of his life in the West Bank city of Qalqilya, and Al-Risala evoked other suicide bombings committed by residents of this city: "In the Martyrdom operation carried out by the General of booby-trapped devices, the Shahid, Saleh Al-Sawi, in Dizengof Street [Tel Aviv], on October 19, 1994, twenty-two Jews were killed and one hundred and eight injured, some severely. Among the casualties were some who survived Hitler's Holocaust. Israel has lost its nerves following this operation, owing to the multitude of the deaths, whose body parts were spread all over the trees and electricity polls." [10]

The Editorial of Al-Risala continued in the same tone: "The Palestinian people should be rightly proud for presenting the most supreme model of struggle and Resistance, the model of the Martyrs... these [Martyrs] are the climax of Jihad and the peak of Resistance. They are youth at the peak of their blooming, who at a certain moment, decide to turn their bodies into body parts and their blood into a flood of fire..."

These flowers [i.e. the bombers]... have become murals on each wall, lines in textbooks, songs sang by children, and the talk of the day by women in the markets... How can Palestine possibly lose when it has such great live ammunition? How miserable are these naive enemies who await their death on each roadside, who are afraid of each plastic bag, of each garbage can, and of each loaf of bread...? Yes, we should stand a moment of silence in their honor because they are heroes, heroes, heroes."[11]

Al-Istiqlal's Egyptian columnist, Dr. Rif'at Sayyed Ahmad, criticized the lack of action, in his view, of the Arab regimes: "First, I salute the bomber's body who protested our silence, our lack of shame, and the prostitution of some of our columnists - and exploded! Salutations to the Shahid, Said Al-Hotari, who gave the most beautiful present to our people in Palestine and in Egypt, when he happily plunged towards his God taking along the way twenty-one dead Israelis..." [12]

Al-Istiqlal Columnist Tareq Nasrallah discussed the suicide bombings in a political context - as a Palestinian reaction to some Arab leaders' attempts to revive "the stinking and decaying carcass", the "dead cow" - the Oslo Accord: "...In response to all those, the Palestinians have launched a few days ago their thirty fifth missile [meaning the thirty-fifth suicide attack] since the beginning of the defiled peace process in Oslo. This missile carried a soul striving for Martyrdom, a heart that embraces Palestine, and a body that treads over all the Zionist invaders. These human missiles... these Martyrs, know only one route that reaches Jerusalem and [from there] climb to the tree in the seventh heaven and to Paradise…"

*Yotam Feldner is MEMRI's Director of Media Analysis.


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 224, June 4, 2001.

[2] Al-Usb'u (Egypt), June 11, 2001.

[3] Al-Gumhuriyya (Egypt), June 2, 2001.

[4] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), June 1, 2001.

[5] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), June 3, 2001.

[6] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), May 25, 2001.

[7] Al-Usb'u Al-Adabi (Syria), June 9, 2001.

[8] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), June 5, 2001.

[9] Al-Risala (PA), June 7, 2001.

[10] Al-Risala (PA), June 7, 2001.

[11] Al-Risala (PA), June 7, 2001.

[12] Al-Istiqlal (PA), June 7, 2001.

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