How martyrs are made
By MARGARET WENTE
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Saturday, Oct. 11, 2003
Early last Saturday morning, 27-year-old Hanadi Jaradat waved goodbye to her parents and hurried off down the street. She had business to do -- something about a land transaction. An apprentice lawyer, she was only a few days away from finishing her internship and opening her own office. "She was happy," her father later said.
But Ms. Jaradat's true business lay elsewhere. She changed from her traditional Arab robe and scarf into blue jeans, and put her hair up into a ponytail. She slipped across a lightly guarded part of the security fence that now separates large parts of the West Bank from Israel, and made her way to a busy Arab-Israeli restaurant in Haifa called Maxim. It was full of families on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Somehow, she dodged the security check that all restaurants in Israel have these days. Inside, she detonated her body-belt full of explosives. She blew up 19 people, including herself and three generations of two different Israeli families, and injured dozens more. Five of the dead were Israeli-Arab Christians, and three were Jewish children.
The Maxim was co-owned by an Arab family and a Jewish family, and was almost 40 years old. It served both Arab and Jewish customers, and was a symbol of peaceful co-existence. No one knows if that irony occurred to Hanadi Jaradat, who is now the newest role model for Palestinian girls -- the most-successful female suicide bomber ever.
"Everyone was happy and proud of her," said a neighbour in Jenin, the explosive refugee camp where she lived. "We are receiving congratulations from people," said her 15-year-old brother, Thaher. "Why should we cry? It is like her wedding today, the happiest day for her."
The usual explanation for what motivates people like Ms. Jaradat is despair and revenge. There was plenty of that. A few months ago, Israeli soldiers killed her older brother and a male cousin. The family says they have no idea why, but the Israelis say they were Islamic Jihad terrorists. It was Islamic Jihad that claimed credit for Ms. Jaradat's murder mission.
I've heard this story before. I heard it from another family last January, who told me how their bright and beautiful 17-year-old daughter left home one day to detonate herself in a Jewish supermarket. I also learned then that young Palestinians are urged by a relentless stream of propaganda to choose violent death. This poison is manufactured not by Islamic Jihad or Hamas, but by the Palestinian Authority itself. It includes TV news shows and newspaper articles that glorify murderers (interviews with proud mothers of the dead are a standard feature), and sermons from extremist imams. It also includes a unique invention of Palestinian culture -- music videos celebrating suicide, starring attractive boys and girls in Western fashions and set to catchy music. These music videos have two themes. One is the wickedness and depravity of the Israelis. The other is the beauty of Shahada -- dying for Allah -- which is depicted as the supreme act of patriotism.
In these videos, Israelis are depicted as monsters -- cruel, sadistic people who murder mothers, children, and helpless old men in cold blood. One that ran on TV all summer (after the PA had agreed to engage in the "peace process") shows a mother who is targeted and murdered by soldiers. Her daughter mourns her death and sings sadly over her grave. In another, shot in a similarly gauzy, impressionistic style, soldiers shoot down Palestinian schoolchildren at a checkpoint in successive waves, until they're all dead. The last scene shows a graveyard, where the ghostly children rise again, presumably to ascend to the sweet afterlife. In another, a handsome young man sees his sweetheart shot dead. She ascends to Heaven, where she appears robed in white among the other maidens of Paradise. Then he becomes a martyr, too, and is reunited with her in Paradise, where they once again embrace.
Other music videos show children riding off on their bicycles to throw stones at enemy soldiers and falling happily to their death. "Don't cry for me," they write in notes left for their parents. In one, a mother mourns her fallen son and then hands a gun to the younger one (who looks to be about 12). You can see this infinitely depressing material for yourself at the Web site of Palestinian Media Watch (http://www.pmw.org), an independent Israeli organization which has done the world a service by documenting it.
These messages, which have been broadcast for years, are part of mainstream culture. And although most Palestinians are desperately poor, almost every family has a TV. The messages run on official Palestinian Authority TV. (Since the summer, the amount of airtime has been substantially reduced, but they're still shown every day.) They are produced with money supplied by the European Union and other nations that subsidize the PA.
What political goal are they designed to achieve? There isn't one. In fact, the only goal seems to be to get rid of the Jews. The message is that all of Israel, not just the territories, belongs to the Palestinians. Palestinian textbooks don't even show the state of Israel. The entire region is depicted as greater Palestine.
One music video that aired a couple of weeks ago did show a map of Israel. There was a heart over it, dripping blood. Then, arms with stones sprouted from the ground, and in the final shot, the Palestinian flag covered the whole map.
Many outsiders believe that these extreme beliefs are confined to a small minority of people. This is not true. Yasser Arafat periodically repeats his enthusiasm for child martyrs (but only in Arabic). Soccer teams and UN-sponsored summer camps are named after suicide bombers. Last May, the director of the Palestinian children's aid association gave a television interview in which she explained that part of education policy is to teach children to aspire to death for Allah. "The concept of Shahada for him [the child] means belonging to the homeland, from a religious point of view. Sacrifice for his homeland. Achieving Shahada in order to reach Paradise and to meet his God. This is the best."
It has worked. One of the most-chilling television moments I have ever seen features two 11-year-old girls being interviewed on a news set around a year ago. They are talking about wanting to die, in the same way that girls here talk about wanting to be teachers, or doctors, or brides. "Do you think it is beautiful?" asks the adult male host. "Shahada is very, very beautiful," answers one of the girls. "Everyone yearns for Shahada. What could be better than going to Paradise?"
"Every Palestinian child aged, say 12, says 'O Lord, I would like to become a Shahid,' " says the other girl.
The story of the Yom Kippur massacre was quickly overtaken by fresh news this week. Israel bombed an empty terrorist training camp in Syria in retaliation. Governments and newspapers around the world condemned Israel for it. People criticized George W. Bush for not being tough enough on Sharon. The latest Arafat government fell apart. Wise people opined once again that Israeli will never be able to achieve a political solution through military action.
This is true. It's also true that peace will never come until Palestinians renounce their death cult. So far, there's no sign of it.
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