Washington Post - August 15, 2001
Where Palestinian Martyrs Are Groomed
West Bank City of Jenin Emerges as Suicide Bomb Capital
Williams, Washington Post Foreign Service
West Bank -- Two young men described as volunteer suicide bombers
stood silently as their Islamic mentor bid them a tranquil good
evening. "And don't forget to say your prayers," he reminded them as
they left his home.
had been among a group of men in a modest living room in Jenin
serving coffee to a foreign visitor and venting their hostility
toward Israel. Israelis consider them the most dangerous of
Palestinian adversaries, followers of Islamic Jihad, an organization
devoted to attacks on Israeli civilians in pursuit of a Palestinian
state. The two potential bombers said Islamic Jihad had recruited
them to attach explosives to themselves, infiltrate a crowd of
Israelis and set off a deadly blast.
a city of 27,000 considered the current capital of Palestinian
terror bombings, it is not hard to find such young men. Nor is it
hard to find Palestinians who justify such assaults. They argue that
Palestinians, overwhelmed by Israel's military power and hemmed in
by its continued hold on most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip,
regard suicide bombs as a weapon of last resort.
feel that to do nothing is a kind of suicide," said Abu Samer, a
political activist who, in the days when peace talks were on track,
organized reconciliation meetings with Israeli citizens in his home.
"They believe they are up against an immovable force, and that at
least this is one thing Israel can't stop."
security officials identify Jenin as a seedbed of terrorists for
Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Resistance Movement, another militant
Muslim organization known by its initials in Arabic as Hamas. There
have been about two-dozen suicide bombings in the past 10 months of
Israeli-Palestinian clashes, all but a handful of them this year.
Fifty-one Israelis have been killed by the blasts. Israel security
forces also have headed off at least three other attempts, Israeli
assaults in the past two months, at least nine have originated in
Jenin and surrounding villages. Jenin-based terrorists carried out
the two most recent suicide bombings: last Thursday's attack on a
Jerusalem pizzeria that killed 15 Israelis and Sunday's bombing of a
cafe in Haifa that injured 20 customers.
has become a city of bombs," said Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli
army's chief of staff.
the rationale behind Israel's attack on central Jenin early
yesterday morning, in which tanks and armored bulldozers leveled the
main Palestinian Authority police station. But the attack did not
seem to dim Jenin's enthusiasm for combating Israel by any means.
"We got their attention. They came, they shot, they left. We are
happy," said Abu Samer, who asked to be identified by his nickname
out of fear he would be arrested by Israeli forces.
police station was targeted because Israel's prime minister, Ariel
Sharon, blames Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority, which controls
Jenin and its surroundings under peace agreements reached in 1993,
for not cracking down on Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Dore Gold, a
spokesman for Sharon, described the tank operation as "an act of
Palestinians do not dispute Jenin's reputation as a hotbed of
suicide bombers. This city of blocky buildings and potholes
overflows with bitterness about the more than 500 Palestinian
fatalities in the past 10 months. Anger and nationalism blend with a
belief in a divine sanction for martyrdom under Muslim tradition.
something people have begun to take pride in. We are not second to
Nablus or Gaza in struggle," said Ramadan Bitta, the Jenin district
said Arafat's recent call for an end to attacks on civilians
influences almost no one. "People here understand it only in one
context: that both sides must stop," he said. "If the Israelis don't
end killing, the Palestinian people don't see why they should,
sits at the top of the West Bank, its back against high hills, its
agricultural skirts spread westward toward the Mediterranean Sea.
The flatlands are fertile, and Palestinians prize Jenin wheat. Fig
and olive groves dot the hills that separate the city from the
Jordan Valley in the east and the city of Nablus to the south.
the first intifada, or uprising, against Israel in the 1980s, Fatah,
the Palestine Liberation Organization's largest faction, dominated
Jenin. After peace talks dragged through most of the 1990s and
residents became disillusioned with the pace of Israeli withdrawals
from the West Bank and Gaza, Islamic organizations gained a
following. At the beginning of the current conflict last September,
the revolt in Jenin was limited to stone-throwing assaults on the
main Israeli military checkpoints west of the city. The protesters
paid a heavy price: 30 were shot dead between September and
gunmen soon appeared on the streets and in surrounding villages, but
Israeli targets were out of reach. There are few Israeli settlements
in the region or roads designated for settlers' use. "This is an
isolated spot, the end of the Palestinian earth. Most people have no
way to confront the Israelis, and the Islamic parties offered a
way," said Bitta, the governor.
competition is clear and the people are the judge," said the Islamic
Jihad leader, who was with the two candidate suicide bombers in his
living room. "If the PLO's way worked, they would stay with them.
But they are coming to us. Our way is effective."
on condition of anonymity because, he said, he feared assassination.
Israel has killed a number of Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Fatah leaders
as well as others Israeli intelligence suspects of terrorism.
bombers, including the two youths, are strictly volunteers, said the
Jihad leader. "They come once, and we send them home. If they come
again, we send them home, but begin to check them out. Are they
clean? Nationalist? Do they follow Muslim tradition? Do they pray at
the mosque? Muslim belief is the most important thing. It just can't
be an impulse. For us, it is important to know that this life is
short, but the next life is for eternity."
candidate seems suitable -- people looking to avenge the death of a
relative need not apply -- Jihad activists tap him to become a
suicide bomber. Women are not excluded, but "it hasn't come to that"
because none have stepped forward, the activist said.
Palestinians criticize Jihad and Hamas for sending young men to die.
Why not give them a weapon, they ask, and at least a fighting
chance?. "When a martyr dies, we don't lose a follower. We gain
dozens of them," the Jihad leader said.
the potential bombers said he has been ordered not to kill children
-- even though children have been among the victims of recent
attacks. "If we see them on the bus or in the area, we have to stop
the mission," he said. Otherwise, he said he has no qualms about
targeting civilians, saying everybody does it. "Our people are
getting killed every day. Maybe tomorrow, even our Palestinian
Christians will become suicide bombers," said his companion. "To be
a suicide bomber is tops."
left -- it was almost time for early evening prayers and it was not
yet the moment for their assignment. Their overseer stayed behind
and sought to explain Jihad's activities.
believe Allah favors the martyr. You have them, too, no? Did not
soldiers invade Europe knowing they were going to die, and did not
Christian priests bless them?" he asked. "We are not acting
irrationally. We have goals. We don't want Jews to immigrate here.
We want them to leave. We want to remind Israel and the world that
Palestinians are alive. We have examples of Islamic success in armed
struggle -- the Iranian revolution, and Hezbollah in Lebanon."
intelligence officials say that Iran helps fund Islamic Jihad, along
with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim movement. Hezbollah
inspired many Palestinians to embrace warfare because its relentless
attacks helped drive Israeli troops out of southern Lebanon last
year after more than two decades of occupation.
are no other options for us," the Jihad leader said.
acknowledged that the pace of killings is rapidly eliminating
possibilities of compromise with Israel, and viewed that as a plus.
"Who really thinks that as this goes on, Palestinians can really
accept that the Jews stay in this land?" he said. "Every Israeli
everywhere is a thief of our land."
acknowledged that, operationally, the suicide bombers are deficient;
numerous attacks have resulted in the death only of the bomber. "We
have so many volunteers, and sometimes we feel the need to attack
quickly, and so have not taken enough care to train the martyrs," he
bearded terrorism chief did not want to discuss technique. Israeli
officials describe the bombs themselves as simple, yet dangerous to
handle. They regard frequent reports of bombs exploding in
Palestinian workshops as evidence that Israeli efforts to
assassinate accomplished bomb-makers have been a partial success. On
the other hand, "they can have 10 failures and then one spectacular
success," noted Yoram Schweitzer, who heads the Institute for
Counter-Terrorism, a Tel Aviv research institute.
officials say that bombs are made from fertilizers, nails, screws
and simple detonators. Instructions are widely available, even on
the Internet. The long and open border with Israel makes
bombers seem adept at keeping their activities secret, even from
relatives. In Aqqaba, a farming community south of Jenin, hundreds
of inhabitants attended the wake of Izzedin Masri, the suicide
bomber who blew up the Jerusalem pizzeria last week.
The wake seemed more celebratory
than mournful. Pink and white patio chairs filled the central
square and flags draped a sound stage. Big portraits of Masri showed
him as a bespectacled restaurant owner, which he was in the open
life, and a Rambo-like guerrilla with two big rifles, the costume of
his secret life as a Hamas suicide recruit.
father, Ahmed Masri, said he knew nothing of his son's plans. In an
apparently deceptive move, Izzedin had asked him for permission to
marry a village girl just two weeks before his attack.
knew he belonged to Hamas, I would have pressed him to stop his
activities," the father said. "He worked in the restaurant; he went
to the mosque to pray. That's how I knew him," he added, while
taking the well-wishes of lines of visitors, who were served candy
said the current generation is more hardhearted than his.
used to come to the restaurant, when I ran it. They felt at ease
enough to put their rifles against the wall. I looked at them as
people. Now, no one looks at them
as human," he said. "On the street, people simply say there
are no options. My son and our
family are not poor. The restaurant did business. We are desperate
only in the way all Palestinians are. We have to get rid of the Jews
from around us."
for prayer interrupted the father's tale, and the mourners gathered,
responding to chants from the minaret reminding the people of Jenin
that God is great. .
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