The Road to Martyrs’ Square: A Journey into the World of the Suicide Bomber
by Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg, Oxford University Press, 304 pp; US$14.99
By Howard Nathan
Hamas is the focus of this book. The word is an anagram of the movement’s more formal title, the Islamic Resistance Movement. It also translates as “zeal”. The thrust of the book is to make and illustrate the point that Hamas is not just a Palestinian political organisation; it is an Islamic religious cult, which has, as a subsidiary objective, the extermination of Israel and its Jewish citizens. Much is also revealed in the Hamas Covenant which proclaims, “Allah is its goal, the Prophet its ideal, the Koran its constitution, jihad its way, and death in the service of Allah its aspiration.” The Covenant recites all this is in the name of the Most Merciful Allah, and then as to the status of all non-Muslims states, “they are smitten with vileness wherever they are, unless they obtain security by entering into a treaty with Allah”. As for Israel, “it will exist and will continue to exist until Islam obliterates it just as it has obliterated others before it.” A whole section of the Hamas Covenant is devoted to the destruction of Israel and the liberation “of every inch of its territory.” Jihad, not meaning an inner personal struggle but armed conflict, is a sacred duty of each Muslim.
The most revered mentor of Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist Abdullah Yusuf Azzam wrote, “Glory does not build on its lofty edifice except on a foundation of cripples and corpses.” Azzam was initially a mentor of Osama bin Laden. They parted company before Azzam’s assassination in Peshawar in 1989. With these quotes in mind, the obsession of Hamas with creating, glorifying and projecting a martyr’s death provides, to the Western mind, some glimpse of the mindset of suicide/murderers themselves. They also illustrate the utter futility of expecting Hamas ever to be a source of civil government in any part of the Middle East. Hamas, of course, is not the voice of all Islam, nevertheless it is Islamic. A direct lineal descendant of the Muslim Brotherhood, its fundamentalist interpretation may not represent a majority of Muslims, but virtually all Muslims accept Hamas as Islamic.
The authors of this book lived on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, as well as visiting both for extensive periods, for more than six years. They are research scholars at the University of California and formerly Visiting Scholars at Hebrew and Harvard Universities, and have worked at Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Stanford, UCLA and Tufts. Initially they photographed the graffiti covering almost every blank space in the Strip and around Jerusalem at the time of the first intifada. They kept at this, often at personal risk because any display of interest proved to some that they had to be Israeli agents. Not until later did they discern how significant graffiti would be in revealing the mindsets of those who were to become suicide murderers for both Hamas and Fatah. As their narrative unfolds, we see how Hamas originated the technique of murder/suicide, but it spread to Fatah who introduced its own refinement of female killers. Later Oliver and Steinberg moved into the other forms of media of the so-called “resistance” – posters, martyr cards, videotapes, and audio-cassettes.
When they commenced recording the graffiti some 15 years ago it was mostly the work of the shabab, a word connoting “the testrosteronic swagger and street machismo” of the local hoods. It changed over the years and became more socio-religious and violent. The messages exult death and sacrifice. Suicide in the cause of Allah is posted as being the purest way to Paradise. As the Muslim Brotherhood’s most important spiritual influence Said Qutb wrote, “Indeed our words remain dead until we die in their cause.” The graffiti and later the tapes and videos all deliver the same message epitomised in two words – “divine death”. The suicide murderer is not an aberration, but the logical and almost inevitable realisation of the Hamas program and ideology. This book unravels the strands that justify this conclusion.
To most Western minds the notion that God is glorified, and the individual redeemed, by murder/suicide, is a perversion of the divine name. Our minds cannot accept that such notions, or indeed their underlying philosophy, could be held by sentient rational people. I suspect that is why so many soft core commentators ignore the reality, or worse, deny the fact, that divine murder is one of the prime motivators of Hamas. To those of this commentariat, this book should be required reading.
Divided into three parts, “Saint Yasin”, “The Portfolio”, and “A Death on the Path of God”, the book contains episode after episode establishing the reality of the movement’s self-seen divine claim to govern and recover all of Israel for Islam. Hamas perceives itself to be a source for the redemption of the entire world, which will bring about the end of days and climax Islam’s triumph and purpose.
The authors’ conversations with Sheikh Yasin and his cohorts clearly illustrate this. This first part has 17 episodes, each a first hand account of interaction with Yasin (since killed by Israeli forces). They met with the disciples at his feet, who later went out to torture, kill and maim. I will not rehearse the details but they justify the authors concluding as follows; “Since 1988 Hamas has killed or injured many hundreds of Israelis and has tortured and killed hundreds of Palestinians – collaborators and political opponents, women and misfits – and has gone on to talk of these acts in a way which can only be described as sadistic. Yasin reigned over all these operations as unseen commander and guiding force. He was the indestructible father – and in gratitude the street boys of the intifada laid body after body before him, like so many mice brought in by the cat to please its master.” He is honoured to this day by Hamas, beatified by the deaths he engendered.
“The Portfolio”, the second portion of the book, is a series of personal encounters with Palestinians, their audio and video tapes, and those of their informants who were making their way to suicide and murder. I found it difficult to comprehend how the mundane could be so transmogrified into the chilling.
The third and final portion, entitled “A Death on the Path of God”, brings us up to the time of the second intifada, where the central character Ra’id, acts out his violent life. I had been about to write “fantasy life”, but that would have missed the point of the whole book. His life dispensing murder and torture is not at all fantasy. It is exactly what he and their other informants’ lives were about. In a Hamas-sponsored film interview, two murderers are discussing the forthcoming demise of one of them, they talk about a mission into Jerusalem and the following exchange occurs:
Q. “Booty for you or for the Muslims?’
A. By Allah it’s booty for the Muslims. In Islam everything – our lives, ourselves, and everything we do – belongs to Allah and to the Muslims, for without Allah and Islam it would not be possible to exist.
Q. Is there something he gave you to remember him by – a gift?
A. By Allah there is a very dear gift – a dagger. And he bequeathed me this dagger, this gift, so I could cut off the head of a Jew, or a collaborator. If, Allah permitting, I remain alive long enough, then I will be able to fulfil my vow.”
This amply confirms the Hamas cult of redemption through death. God in the name of Allah has given me a gift and hence permission to kill, and God should let me live long enough to do exactly that.
At one time or another most religions sanctioned killing God’s enemies as they defined them. But such theophany is no longer espoused by Christians, Hindus or Buddhists. Nazism, although not reviled by the churches, did not project itself as a religion. And it must be said that most Muslims do not sanction murder in the name of Allah. Hamas does.
This book will carry its readers along an educative path explaining how it is that the so-called Prime Minister of Palestine, the Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, said recently of the question of whether or when Hamas might recognise Israel, “It has been answered for all time. Never.” The Hamas cult espouses an Islamic theology that propounds that it has superceded all other religions and is superior to them all. Muhammad was the last messenger of God, there will be no others. God’s revelation to mankind is complete and finished as it is stated in the Koran. Anyone who believes otherwise is an infidel and outside God’s purview and ineligible for resurrection at the end of days. Therefore any such infidel cannot stand equally with any Muslim and certainly cannot occupy any of God’s land. To comprehend this mindset one can now understand that the world is not dealing with a political movement capable of compromise and susceptible to negotiation. In fact murder and suicide is seen as God-ordained, the way of true Islam.
The only prospect for accommodation with Hamas is when the remainder of the Islamic world fights and condemns it, sending it to the margins of Islamic life, so that it withers like so many other Muslim cults before it.
Howard Nathan is a retired justice of the Victorian Supreme Court and a member of AIJAC’s Editorial Board.