Israel Report

May 2002         

The PA's Intentional Suicide Attempts

By Wayne L. Firestone - May 12, 2002
As Israel prepares to respond yet again to the latest deadly suicide bombing aimed at her citizens, it is appropriate to reflect on the larger phenomenon represented by this horrific practice. In addition to sending individuals to commit suicide or to fight to the last man in "un-winnable" battles, as in Jenin, is the Palestinian Authority (PA) evidencing a more collective form of suicidal behavior towards its own people?

In the recently released publication "Countering Suicide Terrorism," Dr. Uzi Arad raises a compelling question in the introductory chapter entitled "Do Nations Commit Suicide? A Middle Eastern Perspective." Arad, director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, cites several historical examples from the First and Second World War where states committed "sub-intentionally suicidal behavior." For example, Alan Clark's book "Battles on the Eastern Front: Suicide of Empires" points to Germany, Austria-Hungary and Russia as exhausting themselves to the point of collapse on the Eastern Front.

Perhaps a closer historical analogy to the PA comes from the Second World War, where the kamikaze pilots evidenced Japanese intentions to fight to the last fighter and later persuaded the American leaders to use atomic weapons as a strategic alternative. For Japan, Arad concludes, "What began as a deliberate and possibly desperate use of a limited course of suicide attacks, ended with an unintended consequence of devastating proportions."

Over time, many outside observers have come to recognize the incremental cost and consequence from the Palestinian leadership's failure to offer its people a realizable vision and strategy to improve their lot. Instead, their leadership has adopted a counterintuitive approach to statehood that is superceded by a right to "victimhood." Suicide attacks are a part of this legacy.

As the intensity of the violence on both sides escalated over the past several months leading to the Israeli offensive dubbed Operation Protective Shield, it is worth reflecting on exactly what each side is fighting for, or at least what they think they are fighting for. For Israel, it is a campaign aimed at attaining basic security rights within the heart of Israel and deterring further terrorist attacks on civilians. In contrast, the Palestinian strategy is based not on avoiding Arab casualties but often mounting them and using this as a justification to the media, the UN, and the EU as further proof of the virtue of their cause. The PA track record reveals an unbroken chain of acts rejecting opportunities for their people and nation to build and instead choosing to victimize their public in order to accuse from a position of despair.

The first sign of this Palestinian position was not the rejection of the terms of the peace offer at Taba, but the rejection of the entire Camp David Peace process in favor of a violent terror campaign utilizing kamikaze suicide bombers aimed at civilian populations. Moreover, the practice was further justified by radical Islamist interpretations of religious doctrine and endorsed by religious leaders, despite specific prohibitions against suicide under Islamic law. Later, it was adopted by secular extremists willing to sacrifice their lives if they can kill more Jewish civilians, including children and adolescents.

Recent documents seized by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Ramallah reveal that the cult and culture of suicide martyrdom is tied directly to Yasser Arafat and the PA. This, in addition to the public support of Iran and Iraq (and now reportedly Saudi Arabia) for the logistics and financing of this campaign. One wonders why the UN, the EU or others who invoke moral judgments almost daily about Israel's actions in the territories, have not managed to find the opportunity to condemn these acts abetting terrorism, at a time when Iraq has reportedly increased to $25,000 its "stipend" to suicide bombers' families.

The right to victimhood strategy is underscored by the reports from Jenin and elsewhere in the West Bank that Palestinians refused to bury war casualties in order to present evidence of a "massacre," (presumably without pictures of the guns that many were holding) at the risk that the outbreak of diseases would create an epidemic among Palestinian civilians. And in what represents perhaps the most cynical example of adding insult to injury come reports from the IDF that initial efforts to provide blood units to the Palestinians as part of a humanitarian aid gesture were met with the response that they "did not want Jewish blood."

Moreover, the recent report from a German television station investigation that one of the first casualties and icons of the al-Aqsa Intifada - Mohammed Dura, was not killed by the IDF but actually shot by Palestinian gunmen, was barely noticed in the rest of the media. This report is not a reason to celebrate. It should be given serious attention not only because it counters long-standing assumptions that the IDF is guilty, but because, if true, it demonstrates the invocation of this new right to victimhood. While the current mass-suicide phenomenon has been largely a phenomenon of radical Islamists, counter terror experts warn that it could spread elsewhere if not contained. In what may be a cruel historical anecdote, there is a report in April from Tokyo of the first solidarity/copy-cat suicide. Himori, a member of the Japanese activist group "Voice" which frequently participates in hunger strikes and candlelight vigils in support of Palestinians, left a suicide note explaining his act of self-immolation in a Tokyo park.

Just as many countries have laws against assisted suicide intended to protect vulnerable individuals, the community of nations must reject sustained efforts to victimize or create martyrs of their citizens.

©2002 -

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