What can you expect from a kid named Jihad?
By Chris Matthews, author of ‘Now, Let Me Tell You What I Really
Think’ (Free Press, 2001) and ‘Hardball’ (Touchstone Books, 1999), a nationally
syndicated columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and the host of ‘Hardball’
on CNBC and MSNBC cable channels.
NABLUS, The West Bank – He couldn’t be age 10 yet, but the kid had his career
figured. He seemed to be the leader among a group of local pre-teens. His mark
of authority was a crude contraption he brandished: a piece of wood carved
into the shape of an Israeli-made Uzi. To complete the illusion, he rigged his
handmade weapon with a long rusty nail that he kept sliding along a slit in the
wood as if to reload the rifle.
This young Palestinian jerked his gun again and again in the air, clearly imitating
the dozens of adults he – and we – have seen firing their guns in the air to
display their nationalist zeal. But don’t think this kid’s little training exercise
suffered from a lack of adult supervision.
As I saw with my own eyes, it’s the grown-ups who promote this
behavior. Abdel Qassem, who intends to challenge Yasser Arafat for president
in upcoming elections, was walking with me as we passed the boy with the
handmade Uzi. Instead of telling him to cool it, Qassem cheered him. “How
many of you are ready to die for Palestine?” he challenged the young leader.
“All of us!” the kid sporting the toy Uzi barked back.
LESSONS OF YOUTH
Politicians are not the only forces pushing young Palestinians to a life of
violence. Just a few yards from the boy and his toy, the concrete walls were
plastered with posters celebrating the glory of those viewed by the passersby
as ‘martyrs’. Prominent among these signs are the clusters of youthful faces of
those who died across the border in Israel, the suicide bombers who explode
into bits from the dynamite they strap to their stomachs. Recent photo of Jihad
Titi, made available by his family Last Monday evening, May 27, an 18 year-old
from near Nablus went to an ice cream parlor in a Tel Aviv suburb and blew
himself up, killing a woman and her 18-month-old granddaughter.
What motivated him? You could start with his name: Jihad Titi. Parents who
name their kid ‘holy war’ have a rather stark career plan in mind. What do you
want to be when you blow up?
Jenin is the most notorious cradle of suicide bombers. The same day as the ice
cream parlor bombing, I sat having coffee with some local men there. Our view
was an immense pile of concrete rubble that stretched for acres. Two months
ago, this was the Jenin refugee camp. That was before the Israeli Defense
Force cleared it of terrorists in the worst fighting of the intifada.
PRIMED FOR ‘MARTYRDOM’
As we sit sipping our strong Turkish espresso my host, a local shopkeeper,
casually notes that the fellow joining us had seen a son kill himself in a suicide
bombing. As I try to imagine the man’s quiet grief, someone hands us a stack
of brochures celebrating Jenin’s ‘martyrs’.
Our host, who could not be more hospitable, explains how the Israelis came to
reduce the entire Jenin refugee camp to rubble. Arafat is the culprit, he says. It
was the Palestinian leader himself who asked the Israeli tanks to surround him
in his Ramallah headquarters. This gave Arafat the alibi he needed so he could
not be blamed for not stopping the Israelis from launching their attack on Jenin,
a city loyal to Hamas, which rivals Arafat for power.
Hearing this absurd rumor, the visitor grasps how so many in the Islamic world
could be so gullible as to buy the notion that Jewish employees at the World
Trade Centers all took the day off Sept. 11.
Listening to the street buzz in West Bank cities like Nablus and Jenin, it’s
even easier to grasp why their kids are ready, once they reach suicide age, to
do what’s expected of them.