By Rosie DiManno, June 21, 2002
“How beautiful it is to make my bomb shrapnel kill the enemy. How beautiful it
is to kill and to be killed – not to love death, but to struggle for life, to kill and
be killed for the lives of the coming generation.”
TWENTY-TWO-YEAR- OLD Mohammed al-Ghoul, a master’s student in Islamic
studies, wrote those lines. Then he went out and blew up a crowded bus in
Twenty dead, including the homicide bomber. At least 55 wounded. The most
deadly terrorist attack in the Holy City in six years. It was not a thing of beauty.
This is what happens when a conventional bomb – garden-variety, garage-made
– is exploded in a contained space, such as a city bus: The explosive material
packed around the device, Semtex or dynamite, say, releases an eruption of
energy that heats up the contents of the bomb – in this case, a quiver of nails.
In the blink of an explosive flash, the nails are pushed outward on a pressure
wave that cannot be contained within the puny confines of a steel bus. Think of
water boiling in a lidded pot. The lid will not hold. This super-hot air will melt
and warp everything in the immediate vicinity. It will turn the metal framework
of a bus into instant shrapnel, over and above the shrapnel (the nails) fitted into
the bomb itself. Now the bus becomes a killing instrument of metal and glass
The force of the blast is determined by the quantity of the explosive. An
average bomb – the kind strapped around a suicide terrorist’s waist, covered by
a shirt – would likely detonate at a rate of about 28,000 feet per second – or
about 22 times faster than a 9 mm bullet leaving the muzzle of a handgun. That
means that the surrounding air pressure – normally 15 pounds per square inch –
would spike to 2,200 pounds per square inch. Such heat and pressure will melt
A person sitting nearby would feel, momentarily, a shock wave slamming into
his or her body, with an “overpressure” of 300,000 pounds. Such a blast would
crush the chest, rupture liver, spleen, heart and lungs, melt eyes, pull organs
away from surrounding tissue, separate hands from arms and feet from legs.
Bodies would fly through the air or be impaled on the jagged edges of crumpled
metal and broken glass.
“For the exposed part of the body, the side facing the blast, it would be like
falling off a building,” says Dr. Pekka Sinervo, a physics professor at the
University of Toronto. “No, actually it would be worse.”
“Think of a hurricane,” adds Constable Ken Evans, a bomb squad specialist
with Toronto police. “All that wind moving at, what, 100 miles an hour? Air
pushed by a bomb blast could be going at 25,000 feet a second. If you’re
standing close, it will blow your organs off the bone structure.”
If you’re the suicide bomber, if you’re Mohammed al-Ghoul, you would feel…
“Vaporized,” says Evans.
Except for knowing that you were about to die – unlike your victims, the
children on their way to school, the secretaries on the way to the office, the
shoppers who rely on public transport – I fail to see the courage required in
such an act of destruction. It is a coward’s death.
Suicide bombers, homicide bombers, they are the instruments of cowardly
terrorist organizations, proxy murderers who pick off Jewish children and
women, young mothers, old grandparents, teenagers at a pizzeria,
twenty-somethings at a disco, entire families sitting down to a Passover dinner
at a banquet hall, shoppers squeezing melons at an outdoor market, bus riders:
Hamas, an extremist Islamic group, took “credit” for yesterday’s bombing. U.S.
President George W. Bush was quick to condemn to the attack, as will most
Western leaders, perhaps even our own foreign affairs minister, Bill Graham,
with his palpably pro-Palestinian sentiments.
But Bush, Graham, all those Western leaders, including European presidents and
prime ministers keen to appease their own Muslim constituencies, don’t have to
live in Israel, where buses kill. They don’t have to send their children to schools
patrolled by soldiers. They needn’t worry that a beloved teenage daughter, out
for the evening with friends, will have her minced remains scraped off the
sidewalk by volunteer crews that immediately descend on every explosion site,
scouring for body bits – because this is not debris, not effluent. These are the
precious remains of human beings, and all their families might get to bury.
This is the beautiful spectre imagined by al-Ghoul? An educated Palestinian,
resident of the Al Faraa refugee camp, a devout Muslim, a man of the Koran,
blinded by the zealotry of Hamas, which had recruited him as one more human
bomb. They won’t do the killing on their own, the Hamas leadership. Why
sacrifice themselves when there is so much human fodder at their disposal, all
those hate-poisoned martyrs, little more than boys and girls, impoverished more
inside their souls than in the outward manifestation of their lives.
Al-Ghoul – how appropriate, that name! – had twice before failed to stage
suicide attacks, according to the note he left behind, although he didn’t explain
how or why he had been previously thwarted. Had he been repulsed by
security, by the Israeli military, by checkpoints? Or had he lost his nerve?
If only more of them would lose their nerve.
“This time, I hope I will be able to do it,” he’d written in his farewell missive,
this after paying one last weekend visit to relatives, including thee sisters to
whom he’d brought sweets. When he took his leave, the sisters assumed their
brother was returning to An-Najah University in nearby Nablus, where he was
preparing for exams. But why bother to study, why embark on a new life when
you can choose death instead, for yourself, for umpteen strangers.
What can Israel do now? Retaliate, no doubt. And vengeance is theirs. Continue
building their 360-kilometre security fence to wall off Palestinians on the West
Bank from Israel proper. Support, as a besieged nation, even more punitive
actions against the Palestinian enclaves on the West Bank, even more
humiliating rules that circumscribe normal movement.
Yes, to all that, if with heavy heart. Because to do otherwise, to placate the
devastators, would be to reward Hamas and their kin. These are not, I have
come to believe in recent months, people who deserve a state.
Their independent Palestine would be a rogue nation, a failed state from
infancy, a grotesquery from inception. I did not used to think this. The homicide
bombers, and the families who celebrate them as martyrs beloved by God, have
convinced me of it.
It was Kamel Irikat, an inspector in the Palestine police force and first
generation Mufti terrorist, to whom history gives the dubious distinction of
being the first Arab who vowed to “throw the Jews into the sea,” this after the
United Nations voted in favour of partitioning Palestine in 1947.
If not throwing them into the sea, then shrapnel-bombing them, one by one.