The Making of a Suicide Attacker
Are Palestinians Human?
By Sam Bahour and Leila Bahour
As Israeli warplanes pounded Palestinian cities, Israel's media spin- doctor, Benjamin Netanyahu, was being interviewed on the Fox News Channel where he likened Arafat to Osama bin Laden and accused him of having "suicide kindergarten camps for kids to prepare the next generation of suicide bombers" (Dec. 3, 2001). It is exactly this type of hogwash that leads to innocent Palestinian and Israeli lives being lost to desperation. Mr. Netanyahu should be incarcerated for inciting ethnic violence and hatred.
Regarding the Palestinian children living in the Occupied Territories, if there is any hatred toward Israelis brewing in their eyes, it is not being taught to them by any parent, school, church or mosque. These feelings, if exist, come out of the incidents that occur daily in their lives (Israeli F-16 planes circling above their homes and dropping missiles which kill a parent, uncle, aunt, cousin, or school mate, their schools being closed, their inability to play in their yards, etc.). What Israel has been and continues to create is a generation of Palestinian children suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a direct result of the Israeli occupation. Unfortunately, the world has turned a blind eye to the atrocities conducted by Israel and somehow has turned the Palestinian child into an aggressor only worthy of death.
Listening to the mini-army of Israeli media spin personalities, one is led to ask if Palestinians are really human. For 15 months now, Israel's well-defined whirlwind media effort has been preciously focused on promoting its insidious campaign to dehumanize the Palestinian people.
Assuming Palestinians are no different than any other people (they have two arms, two legs and all major organs), we then should take a step back from the nightly news and media spin and understand why any Palestinian would commit suicide, let alone take innocent Israeli lives with his own. Since Palestinians are human, the sciences apply to them just as it does to the rest of humanity.
Edwin Shneidman, a clinical psychologist who is a leading authority on suicide, and who is sometimes called the Father of modern Suicidology, has described the ten characteristics of suicide in his book "Definition of Suicide" (1985).
If these are the findings of science, then why is it that the investigative reporters of the world do not enter the lives of these bombers to see if they fit the profile of a suicidal person? Why the immediate acceptance of the Israeli spin machine that Palestinians, in some twisted logic, take happiness in killing themselves and others. Worse yet, why do some try to understand the bombings in terms of being part of some orchestrated media campaign that can be turned on or off at will?
As we look at the research on suicide and try to understand the mind of the suicidal individual, the picture should become clearer as to how these characteristics apply to a Palestinian suicide attacker.
Dr. Shneidman states in his article "At The Point Of No Return" in Psychology Today (1987, p.56), "Suicide, I have learned is not a bizarre and incomprehensible act of self destruction. Rather, suicidal people use a particular logic, style of thinking that brings them to the conclusion that death is the only solution to their problems. This style can be readily seen, and there are steps we can take to stop suicide, if we know where to look".
Although this research applies to suicidal individuals and not necessarily suicide bombers which take additional innocent lives with their act, through studying the ten characteristics of the suicidal individual, it certainly seems they apply even more so to the suicidal bomber. These individuals seek to escape overwhelming emotional pain. Shneidman terms this "metapain" (hurt and pain on top of hurt and pain). So, from where does this hurt and pain come? If only the answer were as simple as the question. Living under Israeli occupation for years with basic human rights stripped away and collective punishment the norm would be the best one sentence answer that could be offered at this time.
Another quote that seems to apply from Shneidman (1985) is, "There are many pointless deaths but never a needless suicide". Every suicide seems logical to the individual who commits it. In a suicidal individual's mind, suicide is the only way out of an unbearable situation. A person can only cry so long with nobody listening before his options become constricted and suicide seems to him the only answer. In working with the "typical" suicidal individual, the first step is listening and trying to understand the pain, frustration and hopelessness/helplessness that he is feeling. "Hopelessness" and "helplessness" exactly describe the feelings of the Palestinian people living under occupation. It seems nobody wants to hear the reality of the situation but at the same time everyone seems so willing to label and then be in astonishment when one of these horrendous acts is committed. It is past time to look at the reality and begin to provide other viable options to the Palestinian people. A simple start to begin with would be giving them their dignity and right to existence without occupation.
Suicide bombers are never ever justified in their actions but those who want to try to understand may understand their motivation. To reach a logical conclusion of why these horrific events take place, one must scratch below the surface that the sustained Israeli occupation has made thicker and thicker with every passing year since 1967. Further complicating matters, Israel has been successful in allowing the passive observer to the conflict equate the actions and mindset of the occupied with those of the occupier. This equality is unfair, illogical and unscientific.
We must separate between those who carry out deplorable suicide attacks, those innocent victims of the attacks and those that politically plan, fund, and recruit for the attacks. The overwhelming majority of those who carry out the attacks are no more than normal young men, either born into Israeli occupation or still imprisoned by many years of it. They are victims of Israeli policies of dehumanization and continued military occupation. They lack any means of military resistance while facing a world-class military machine. As one of my readers of a past article stated, "[If only the media would cover] who they were, what their lives were like, who and what were left behind -- it would be a whole different story about public perception of the problem in Israel and Occupied Territories."
The innocent Israeli lives, especially those of the children, which such attacks so abruptly end, are only to be mourned by Israelis and Palestinians alike. Their memories should serve as an eternal burden to all sides that without an end to the occupation there are no winners or losers, only more mourners on both sides.
As for those political entities that breed in the desperation that occupation has created, they take innocent Israeli lives by exploiting Palestinians in despair while simultaneously stripping their own people of any political agenda, or even legitimate armed resistance agenda, for ending occupation. They thrive on disruption and chaos with a clear political goal of complicating any chance for a negotiated solution. These entities perfectly fit Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategy of ending the potential for a negotiated peace. Sharon continues to give them, non-stop, since his election to office, ripe grounds to operate from--economic despair, closures, assassinations, etc. Those that facilitate such attacks could not have asked for a better Israeli leader, one that has given them a never ending seven day grace period to kill more Israelis.
The US has joined the Israeli media chorus in demanding Arafat to do more to stop the suicide bombings. Arafat only wishes he had the power to stop the suicide attacks. He does not, for he cannot end occupation. Israel, and only Israel, can stop the suicide attacks by giving back Palestinians their freedom, dignity and a reason to live by ending 34 years of their brutal military occupation and 54 years of suffering. To the person who thinks in absolute terms, this may seem like Israel would be giving in to a suicide bomber. On the contrary, to the rational, intelligent human being who knows that the world does not operate on historical or religious slogans, but rather "reality", this would be looking at the underlying problem rather than adopting a simplistic "Band-Aid" approach defined by Israel.
If Israel refuses to accept its historic responsibility to end its terrorizing of the Palestinians, then, sadly, it should not question why science applies to the Palestinian people. As Palestinians and Israelis continue to bury and weep for their innocent victims, Palestinians and Israelis alike, the world would be well advised to remove its head from the sand. CP
Sam Bahour, MBA, and Leila Bahour, M.S.Ed., L.P.C., are Palestinian-Americans and brother and sister. Sam is a businessman living in the besieged Palestinian City of Al-Bireh in the West Bank and frequently writes on Palestinian affairs. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Leila Bahour is a Counselor at a Psychological Outpatient Counseling Practice in the US who has worked in the psychological field for eleven years. She spent a considerable amount of time dedicated to the research of suicide during her pursuit of her Master's degree and has treated suicidal individuals daily in her work over the years.