Keren Malki, the Malki Foundation, a non-political, non-sectarian, not-for-profit organization, honors the tragically short life of a girl dedicated to bringing happiness and support into the lives of special-needs children

This site, and the work of Keren Malki (the Malki Foundation), are dedicated to the memory of

Malka Chana Roth Z"L 1985-2001

Washington Post - August 15, 2001 
Where Palestinian Martyrs Are Groomed 

West Bank City of Jenin Emerges as Suicide Bomb Capital 

By Daniel Williams, Washington Post Foreign Service 

JENIN, 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. 

The two 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. 

In Jenin, 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. 

"People 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." 

Israeli 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 officials said. 

Of the 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. 

"Jenin has become a city of bombs," said Lt. Gen. Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli army's chief of staff. 

That was 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. 

The 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 accountability." 

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. 

"It is something people have begun to take pride in. We are not second to Nablus or Gaza in struggle," said Ramadan Bitta, the Jenin district governor. 

Bitta 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, either." 

Jenin 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. 

During 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 December. 

Fatah 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. 

"The 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." 

He spoke 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. 

Suicide 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." 

If a 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. 

Some 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. 

One of 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." 

The pair 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. 

"We 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." 

Israeli 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. 

"There are no other options for us," the Jihad leader said. 

He 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." 

He 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 said. 

The 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. 

Israeli 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 infiltration easy. 

The 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. 

His 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. 

"If I 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 and coffee. 

Masri said the current generation is more hardhearted than his. 

"Israelis 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." 

The call 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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