Book review: Palestinian views on suicide operations

Originally published on Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley, The Electronic Intifada, 13 October 2009

The Making of a Human Bomb

In his new book The Making of a Human Bomb: An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance, Nasser Abufarha examines the phenomena of Palestinian suicide operations. It is based on extensive fieldwork conducted in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, mostly in and around the northern town of Jenin. A native of the city, Abufarha interviewed families of suicide bombers, observed demonstrations and studied Palestinian cultural products that addressed suicide attacks. He also conducted interviews with activists from three different armed factions to explain suicide bombings, or “martyrdom operations” as they are more commonly known in the Arab world.

Abufarha traces the development of the concept of self-sacrifice in Palestinian society from the 1960s to the first Palestinian intifada (1987-1992). During the 1960s, Palestinian resistance fighters were known as the fedayeen or those who sacrifice for a cause. Contrary to common portrayal in the Western media, anyone fallen in the course of resistance to the Israeli occupation is honored in Palestinian society as a shahid, or a martyr, whether armed guerrilla or unarmed protestor.

Following the signing of the Oslo accords in the mid-1990s, the bombings by Hamas and Islamic Jihad were not supported by the majority of Palestinians, who mostly still hoped the “peace process” would lead to a Palestinian state. The two Islamic groups had to actively recruit for such operations.

By the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000, the stone-throwing children of the first intifada had grown up. Having watching their friends fall as martyrs to Israeli brutality, volunteers began to offer themselves to the armed factions: if they were to be killed anyway, it was surely better to choose the manner of their death. In the words of one of Abufarha’s interview subjects: “we are all martyrs with execution on hold.” The new concept of istishhad arose: actively seeking martyrdom as an act of resistance.
Continue reading Book review: Palestinian views on suicide operations