Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Willing to Die: Palestinian suicide bombers

Driving Forces

The motivation of those who choose to perform suicide attacks has puzzled sociologist and psychologists for several decades. There is no one explanation. However, six influential factors have been linked with homicide bombers:

Social Factors

According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, approximately 87% of Palestinians support armed attacks against soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There is little surprise that many also support those who sacrificed their lives to attack Israelis. In fact, they are viewed as heroes or martyrs and are openly celebrated.

Carrying out suicide attacks for the sake of God and nation is considered not only a worthy thing to do, but is actively facilitated by some community and mosque leaders, schools and even the Palestinian media. Palestinian extremists feel that the suicide attacks are just and something that Westerners will never understand because of cultural and religious differences. Martyrdom is considered to be one of the highest achievements a person can attain. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) stated that martyrdom increases ones social status after death, as well as that of his or her family. Martyrs are glorified and their names and faces often decorate walls and posters throughout many Palestinian communities.

Some families even encourage their relatives and children to engage in martyrdom. Parents of suicide terrorists often feel a sense of pride for the retaliatory act their children have carried out against Israel. It is often believed that the act is a religious duty that is for the benefit of all Palestinians. According to a PBS interview by Martin Himmel, the father of a suicide terrorist stated that the martyr gives his soul as a gift to society by sacrificing themselves.

The Palestinian beliefs concerning martyrdom are not unique to the Middle East and flourish in the Western world. For example, shortly after September 11, a Washington Post columnist visited an Islamic school in the wealthy Washington suburb of Potomac, Md. He was shocked to find that the corridors of the school were filled with the photos of Palestinian suicide bombers, even though the children who attended the school were American citizens and Arab diplomats, not Palestinians.

Financial Factors

An article in Daily Policy Digest, The Motivation for Terrorism,   suggested that a majority of homicide bombers come from Palestinian societys privileged class and are well educated. Therefore, they have no real use or need for money that is often offered by terrorist organizations and supporters to the families of suicide bombers. Some sociologists refute this view, claiming that most suicide terrorists, as well as their families, are actually on the lower end of the economic scale. Thus, money does act as motivating factor, influencing some to sacrifice themselves for the sake of securing their family financially.

The money given to the family of suicide bombers comes from various sources. AIPAC stated that on March 28, 2002, Arab League leaders gave over $300 million to support the Palestinian Authority, an organization that has been linked with extreme militant groups such as the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade. Moreover, they gave approximately $150 million to support the Palestinian uprising. In April 2002, an invoice was discovered by the Israeli military that was believed to have been a terror invoice signed by Yasser   Arafat, which authorized money from his faction to be given to the families of suicide bombers.

Other monies have been donated to the families by private and political organizations located in Iraq, Syria and other countries from around the world. On top of all the monetary donations, the families also can receive other incentives from the militant organizations such as free medical care and educational services. In retaliation, the Israeli military will destroy the bombers house. To make up for the loss, the terrorist organization will sometimes provide the family of the bomber with new housing to replace that which was demolished. It is clear that regardless of whether the suicide terrorists family needs it or not, they profit financially from the terrorist act carried out by their loved one.

Religious Factors

Even though the teachings of Islam forbid suicide and the harming of innocent people, extremists view suicide attacks against Israelis as sacred acts. They are not considered to be selfish acts -- spawned by depression or other psychological problems -- but of self-sacrifice for the greater good of the Palestinian people and God. Dr. Louis Rene Beres writes in Understanding Terror: The Suicide Bases of Palestinian Bombers,   a martyr was quoted as saying that every day on which the sun rises and no Jew is killed, nor any martyr has died, will be a day for which we will be punished by Allah.

According to Ellis Shumans article, What Makes Homicide bombers Tick? those who blow themselves up to destroy Israelis are considered to have fulfilled a mission by God. Furthermore, they are said to have forged their own gateway to heaven.

Nationalistic/political factors

Political and nationalistic factors also play a critical role in motivating a suicide terrorist. The most obvious political issue is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Many suicide terrorists believe that when they assault Israel interests, they are actually defending their country and way of life, while at the same time relaying their political message.

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