By Daniel Pipes, August 15, 2001
Hours after the killing of 15 Israelis in a Jerusalem restaurant last week, the
brother of the 23-year-old suicide bomber delightedly announced that “this is a
unique operation for its quality and success… Palestinians everywhere can now
hold up their heads.”
Likewise, after a 22-year-old suicide bomber two months earlier killed 21
Israelis at a Tel Aviv discotheque, his father announced:
“I am very happy and proud of what my son did and, frankly, am a bit
jealous… I wish I had done it myself.”
And so it has been with nearly all suicide operations – family members rejoicing
at the “martyrdom” of their brothers and children.
Some fathers even publicly announce a hope that their children will kill Israelis
in suicide operations.
Puzzled by this apparent denial of the primal human urge to protect one’s
young, President George W. Bush has commented, “I just can’t understand
this.” He is hardly alone.
Two main factors account for this bizarre behavior. The first concerns the
Palestinian Authority drumming into impressionable youth the glory of suicidal
death while killing Israelis.
PA television harps constantly on this message. On the Children’s Club (a
Sesame Street-like children’s program), a young boy sings: “When I wander
into Jerusalem, I will become a suicide bomber.”
A repeatedly shown television clip calls on children to “Drop your toys.
Pick up rocks.” In another, the words to a children’s song go: “How pleasant is
the smell of martyrs, how pleasant the smell of land, the land enriched by the
blood, the blood pouring out of a fresh body.”
Ikrima Sabri, the PA’s ranking religious leader, says, “The younger the martyr,
the greater and the more I respect him,” while praising mothers who “willingly
sacrifice their offspring for the sake of freedom.”
PA schools indoctrinate pupils on the virtues and joys of martyrdom, then honor
and celebrate suicide killers. Four summer camps are currently training eight- to
12-year-olds for suicide bombings. Organizations like Hamas promise to look
after the killers’ families’ financial needs.
In all, notes Meyrav Wurmser, a Hudson Institute specialist on the
indoctrination of pupils, the PA has developed “a state-run ideology that pushes
[children] to their death.”
Why does this indoctrination work and why do Palestinian families
enthusiastically send their children to die? What pressure could overcome the
human instinct to protect one’s beloved?
That pressure is not hard to locate, for it pervades Middle Eastern life. It is an
unrelenting, compulsive preoccupation with family honor. The power of this
obligation goes far beyond anything Westerners encounter.
The fixation on family honor takes two main forms. The negative one, called ird
in Arabic, concerns the sexual purity of women and it accounts for the Middle
Eastern custom of murdering female relatives for perceived offenses to the
family. Such honor killings are intended to purify the family from its shame;
thus do brothers kill sisters, cousins kill cousins, fathers kill daughters, and
even sons kill mothers.
These men do so not because they want to – almost nothing could be more
horrifying in the context of the tight-knit Middle Eastern family – but because
they feel obliged to. Allowing a dishonored woman to remain alive brings
ridicule and disdain on the entire family. In such circumstances, mere love for a
daughter or sister dwindles into insignificance; she must be killed.
Thus, after an Egyptian father strangled his unmarried but pregnant daughter,
cut her corpse into eight parts, and threw those down the toilet, he explained
his reasons: “Shame kept following me [before the murder] wherever I went.
The village’s people had no mercy on me. They were making jokes and mocking
me. I couldn’t bear it and decided to put an end to this.”
The positive form of honor (sharaf in Arabic) involves efforts to enhance the
family’s status by taking steps to win it praise and renown; and nothing can
win a family as much glory as its willing sacrifice of a family member for a
Thanks to PA propaganda, suicide bombing has become a highly honored act.
Thus, the Tel Aviv bomber’s father crowed about his son, “He has become a
hero! Tell me, what more could a father ask?”
Combined, the monstrous social environment created by the PA and the
families’ preoccupation with social status goes far to explain why Palestinians
glory in the destruction of their youth.