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July 3, 2002 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 100

The Palestinian Debate Over Martyrdom Operations Part I: The Debate within the PA

July 3, 2002
Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 100

Recently, there have been several calls from amongst the Palestinian leadership condemning martyrdom operations and demanding their cessation. Nevertheless, a new, clear and determined PA position on this issue has not yet emerged. What is taking place in fact, is a debate in which some of the high ranking officials express explicit opposition to such operations, others call to limit them only to the territories occupied in '67, and others call to continue them unconditionally.

Calls Against Martyrdom Operations
PA Chairman Yasser Arafat issued several calls to stop these operations. In a speech on Nakbha Day (May 15, 2002) he said: "We declare today our un-acceptance of operations against Israeli civilians... The Palestinian and Arab public opinion is convinced that such operations do not serve our goals. Rather, they cause disagreements [with the international community] and unite large parts of it against us. You know better than me that such operations cause dissent... Let us remember the Hudaybiya agreement..."[1]

After the two martyrdom operations carried out in Jerusalem in June 2002, Arafat issued another statement calling to totally stop these operations.[2]

Other high ranking Palestinians have voiced clear opposition to martyrdom operations and called for a popular unarmed Intifada. The new PA Interior Minister Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Yahya said in a symposium in Gaza that as early as September 1998 he called in writing to refrain from an armed confrontation with Israel and endorsed a strategy of popular uprising. The present character of the resistance does not accumulate to any big strategic achievement rather the opposite. It causes losses and damages and accumulates feelings of vengeance hate and enmity between Palestinians and Israelis. Viewing the Palestinian armed resistance as a form of deterrence is nice words that have no basis in reality because such a deterrence can exist only when both parties have WMDs.[3]

Former Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Nabil Amru, told Al Quds daily: "… Of course I do not support martyrdom operations. I must not be happy that the sons of my people blow themselves up in this way. I cannot send my sons to such operations. In addition to that the political reality and the Palestinian leadership oppose such operations..."[4]

Arafat's Advisor on Military Affairs, Mamduh Nofal, suggested that the Hamas movement should be ousted from the "national Palestinian forces." Since it crossed all lines and violated the common denominator agreed upon by all the Palestinian forces. Nofal accused Hamas of striving to destroy the peace process as well as the PA through martyrdom operations against Israeli civilian targets which grant Sharon justification for his military assault with the backing of the White House and unofficial backing of some Arab countries.[5]

Calls to Continue Martyrdom Operations
PA Deputy Minister of Awqaf and preacher in the Al Aqsa Mosque, Sheikh Yusef Jum'a Salamah, said in a Friday sermon: "The U.S.'s description of martyrdom operations as terrorism is false and libelous. The Palestinian people ... has no way to defend itself, its land, and its honor, except through this way. If the Jews are scared of these actions let them withdraw from the Palestinian lands and then the martyrdom operations and the armed resistance will cease because there will be no need for it. America and the entire world should understand that ... there is no way for that oppressive occupation but to pass away... Let me stress that the armed resistance is continuing. Our people is steadfast and the people with all its religious factions agrees to armed resistance to the Israeli occupation regardless of the number of casualties. The whole Palestinian people backs it leadership whose sole goal is to remove the occupation and create a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital."[6]

Calls to Limit the Operations to Territories Occupied in '67
Palestinian Cabinet Secretary, Ahmad Abd Al Rahman, stated: "Martyrdom operations are the most noble, most sublime means of battle, that the Palestinian people have created... However, these operations should be [limited] to the occupied Palestinian lands beyond the June '67 borders."[7]

A similar position was voiced by Minister of Planning and Regional Cooperation, Nabil Sha'ath, who stated: "We support martyrdom operations but only of the kind that emerged in Jenin, and sought to confront the Israeli aggression, or of the kind planned by the youth of Khan Yunes, who surrounded themselves with explosive belts waiting for the Israeli invasion in order to blow themselves up against the Israeli tanks."[8]

Former Arafat advisor, Bassam Abu Sharif, wrote in an article that martyrdom operations against civilians should be stopped and directed only against soldiers and settlers: "We say again to all those who plan operations targeting Israeli civilians: 'Stop these operations because they severely damage the supreme Palestinian interests and provide Sharon and his government [an excuse] in international circles.' The resistance to the occupation should continue in all forms and means but not through martyrdom operations against civilians. It is time to take a Palestinian stand to stop such operations in order to serve the supreme Palestinian interests." [9]

The same position was voiced by the Director General of the Palestinian Information Ministry, Hassan Al-Kashef, who praised in his regular column in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida the attacks on the settlement Adora [south of Hebron] which according to him was "a model" for the right type of Palestinian resistance: "The successful military operation in the Adora settlement is the Palestinian reaction in the right direction as well as in the right time and place... It came from the right direction and refutes Sharon's and Bush's allegations because it was not targeting civilians in a restaurant or a hotel..."[10]

The Position of the Leaders of Fatah
Two basic approaches can be observed in the positions of the Fatah leaders: The first, puts conditions on the cessation of the martyrdom operations while the second totally ignores Arafat's position claiming that Arafat "no longer controls the military wing of the Fatah."

In an interview with the Israel Arabic Weekly Al-Sinara, the Secretary General of the Fatah in the West Bank, Hussein Al-Sheikh stated that some of the operations were "not in the right time nor in the right place." "Sharon is the one to blame for the escalation and the Palestinian reaction. The ball should not be in the Palestinian court."[11]

In an interview with the London daily Al-Hayat conditioned the cessation of martyrdom operations on a statement by Fatah that it is ready to stop the operations in the depths of Israel on two conditions: First, that Israel totally refrains from entering PA territory and second, that Israel stops the policy of assassinations. At the same time, Al-Sheikh demanded that the armed resistance continues albeit only beyond the June '67 borders.[12]

Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and member of the Fatah leadership, Hatem Abd Al-Qader put other conditions to the cessation of martyrdom operations: "It will be possible to exert concrete efforts to cease such operations if Israel commits itself to the following: First, Israel should commit itself to stop the aggression against the Palestinian people, namely to stop the incursions; Second, Israel should withdraw from the occupied Palestinian lands; Third, Israel should remove the siege from the Palestinian people who live in prisons; Four, Israel should release all detainees; Five, the international community should give the Palestinians guarantees that they will be able to implement their right to operate beyond the '67 borders... Without these conditions it will be difficult to limit these operations. No one can do it as long as the Israeli aggression continues. And whoever claims that he can stop these operations without the suitable [supportive] atmosphere - is dreaming or has delirium." Abd Al-Qader also explained why Fatah members do not respond to Arafat's call to refrain from such acts: "The Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, who are the military arm of Fatah are not subordinate to a central decision taken by the political leadership... Arafat doesn't control them anymore. Israel bears that responsibility."[13]


[1] Al Ayam (PA), May 16, 2002. In his speech Arafat elaborated on the agreement that was signed between the Prophet Muhammad and his Meccan rivals in 628 A.D. for a temporary period of ten years, which later became a precedent and a religious time limit to any peace agreement with non-Muslims.

[2] Al Ayam (PA), June 20, 2002.

[3] Al Hayat Al Jadida (PA), June 14, 2002.

[4] Al Quds, May 29, 2002.

[5] Al Hayat Al Jadida, June 9, 2002.

[6] June 13, 2002, http://www.lailatalqadr.com/stories/p5130601.shtml

[7] Al Ayam (PA), June 4, 2002. On another occasion Abd Al Rahmad said: I call upon the Hamas movement to act in the territories occupied in '67 and stop the martyrdom operations inside Israel... "

[8] Al Quds (PA), May 31, 2002.

[9] Al Sharq Al Awsat (London), May 2, 2002.

[10] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, April 28, 2002.

[11] Kul Al-Arab (Israel), June 24, 2002.

[12] Al Hayat (London), June 9, 2002.

[13] Al Sinara (Israel), June 21, 2002.


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