Israel Resource Review 26th Febuary, 2002


Sannctifying Suicide: Analysis of the Islamic Perspective
Ori Nir

The great increase in suicide attacks in the course of this past year sparked a debate in the Arab and Moslem world on the position of Islamic religious law toward the issue of self-sacrifice in a holy war.

Some religious rulers in the Moslem world, particularly the official ones in moderate Arab regimes (Saudi Arabia for example), expressed adamant opposition to suicide attacks in the past.

Experts who follow this debate are of the impression that the voice of the moderates has become weak of late and almost marginal among the flood of those who espouse it.

In the Palestinian arena, in contrast, there is no debate at all, because the most prominent of the religious sages have expressed support for it, says Dr. Motti Keidar of Bar Ilan University, a specialist in radical Islamic rhetoric. While in Palestinian society there is a lively debate on suicide attacks on the moral level and on the image and political usefulness level, there is no theological debate on the legitimacy of suicide attacks. Even the official religious rulers in the Palestinian Authority, headed by the Jerusalem mufti, Akram Sabri, say that suicide attacks are permitted according to Islamic law.

Most of the religious activity on this issue in recent months focuses on the effort to refute the religious opinions of those opposed to such attacks, to develop and make the array of justifications more sophisticated, and to provide them with a theological umbrella that is as wide and as solid as possible.

The Hamas Internet site, a site rich in information devoted largely to praise and glorification of suicide attacks and their perpetrators, provides us with more than just a glimpse into the justifications and arguments in favor. These sites center mainly on two issues: first, why this is not suicide, which is completely forbidden in Islamic religious law, but rather sacrificing the soul in a holy war, a deed of which there is none loftier. Secondly, why it is justified using such violence against civilians, including women and children.

This issue became acute a year ago, when the mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abed el-Aziz Bin Abdullah el-Sheikh said that he is not aware of any religious law that calls for "self killing in the heart of the enemy," and warned that this "does not constitute part of jihad," and expressed concern that this was "self killing and nothing more."

This statement by the official Saudi religious ruler troubled Arab and Palestinian religious rulers. The main contention they raised was that there is a profound difference between suicide and giving one's soul (istishaad), and that the test is one of intention. "If the person giving up his soul intends to kill himself because he is sick of life, then this is suicide. But if he wants to give up his soul to deal a blow to the enemy and to earn a reward from Allah, then he is considered to be giving his soul," explained at the time Dr. Abed el-Aziz Rantisi, a Hamas leader. Suicide is described as a defeatist, egoistic act, while giving one's soul is considered the exact opposite, an act of altruistic heroism that expresses faith in Allah's mercy, and not a lack of faith in Him and His grace. Therefore it is not only an act of the highest social-community devotion, but also supreme religious faith. Justifications to Strike Civilians

Rantisi and others at the time relied on a reasoned religious ruling (fatwa) of the Egyptian sheikh, Yousef el-Kardawi, considered the chief mufti of the radical Islamic movement, the "Moslem Brothers," with branches all over the world (Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Moslem Brothers). Kardawi's fatwa described a person who kills himself as someone who has despaired of life, whereas someone who gives his soul does so in the great hope that Allah will allow him into Paradise.

This being so, the Islamic camp does not share the approach that says that young people who kill their souls along with Jews in the streets of Israeli cities are the victims of despair and depression caused by the Israeli occupation. Rather the reverse, they are people imbued with religious, social and political awareness, who march to their deaths with their heads held high.

Sheikh Kardawi also explained in the exegesis to his ruling, why it is permissible to kill civilians in such attacks. He explained, "Israeli society is a military society. Both men and women serve in the army and can be called to reserves at any time." If an elderly person or a child is killed in such an attack, Kardawi said, this is involuntary killing, which conforms to "a need that obviates the forbidden," a basic religious rule.

In contrast to Kardawi's militant opinion, the more moderate opinion of Sheikh Mohammed Sayad Tantawi, the sheikh of a-Zahar university in Cairo, and considered a leading religious ruler in the international Moslem world, stands out. Tantawi said that such acts are indeed self defense and the giving of one's soul, however, this is only as long as they are aimed against fighters and not against women and children.

Tantawi's remarks led to a tremendous wave of counter reactions, led by Sheikh Kardawi, which reached their peak last December, when Tantawi commented on the suicide attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa and again condemned them. This was in effect a second wave of statements and rulings on this issue, after the first wave which was sparked by the remarks of the Saudi sheikh last April.

The rulings and the counter opinions of the Islamic clerics and commentators raised various justifications for killing civilians, old people and children. The main one was the principle of measure for measure: the Israeli occupation indiscriminately hurts children, women and old people, and should therefore be responded to in kind. Another argument is that all of Israeli society is not only a military society, but it is also an occupying and exploitative society. All Israeli citizens rob, not just Moslem land, but the very air they breathe, say the Islamic commentators. And therefore, the term "innocent civilians" does not apply to Israeli society.

Another justification is that any constriction to unreserved support that must be given to such attacks "is liable to cause confusion, doubt and hesitation among the young heroes who sacrifice themselves for the homeland," as Fahmi Haweidi, a columnist considered close to the Moslem Brothers, and who writes for the official Egyptian Al Ahram newspaper, explained.

These religious justifications, like all rulings and Islamic opinions, rely mainly on exegesis to the Koran and on oral tradition (the hadith) attributed to Prophet Mohammed, that deal in precedents for sacrificing the soul. Since in the period of the great wars of Islam, in the time of the Prophet Mohammed and others, the technological and military means now used by the suicide terrorists did not exist (such as explosives and automatic weapons), it is hard to find such precedents. Therefore, most of the traditions that the sages use, touch on the issue of the difference between suicide and giving one's soul in battle. An Existing Jihad Fact

One such story in Islamic tradition, presented by Sheikh Sabri, the Jerusalem mufti appointed by the PA, is the story of the fighter known in Islamic tradition as "the flying Jaafar." This was Jaafar Bin Abi-Talab, the cousin of the Prophet, who was one of the commanders of the force Mohammed sent from Mecca to the Fertile Crescent in the year 629. His troops encountered the Byzantine army in the area of the muata (today southern Jordan) and a battle ensued. In the course of the battle, Commander Jaafar broke through the Byzantine lines holding the Moslems' flag in his right hand. The Byzantine cut off his right arm. He picked up the flag in his left hand. The Byzantine then cut off this arm too. Jaafar held the flag in his stumps, and marched forward with it until he died. When the Moslems found his body, it had been stabbed fifty times with a sword, all in the upper part of his body, and none in his back. In other words: Jaafar did not try to flee. At his funeral, Mohammed said that Allah had given Jaafar wings in Paradise instead of the hands that were cut off, and that is why his name is now "the flying Jaafar." What Jaafar did, Sheikh Sabri explained in a sermon in the el-Aksa mosque last May, is not considered suicide, but rather "a martyr's death for the sake of Allah."

Another story is that of Abdullah Bin Jahash, who on the eve of the Uhoud battle (in 625, in the Arabian peninsula against the Kureish tribe), told Allah that during the battle, he intends to fight with such devotion, that if any of the enemy gains over him, that Abdullah will let him cut off his nose and ear. When Allah asks him the next day why his nose and ear have been cut off, Abdullah said, he will answer his Creator: for Allah and His prophet. The next day, one of the Moslem commanders related that he found Abdullah dead, with his nose and ear cut off and hanging by a thread. The commentator Ismail el-Radwan of the Sheikh Ajalin mosque in Gaza, who related this story in a sermon broadcast on PA television last August, used the example of Abdullah, among other reasons, to explain that even when the body parts of a shahid are scattered, he rises to Paradise and meets there with Allah and with the Prophet Mohammed.

In the rhetoric of the Islamic sermonizers, religious interpretation is mixed up with popular traditions and political analyses. In Ismail el-Radwan's sermon, for example, immediately after he told the story of the nose and ear of Abdullah, he detailed for his audience all the other benefits a shahid earns when he sacrifices himself -- total absolution for all his sins from Allah; relief from all the torments of the grave; entry into Paradise; exemption from the fear of Judgement Day; 72 virgins; the right to sponsor another 70 members of his family; an honorary crown for his head, with the jewel in the front more precious than any other gem in the world.

Sheikh el-Radwan's sermon, along with an enormous amount of translated material on the matter of suicide attacks, can be found in the Internet site of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors the Arab world media.

A month ago, the sages of all the Islamic movements in the Arab and Moslem world convened, Sunnis and Shiites, to discuss the ramifications of the confrontation between the United States and the radical Islamic movements, as well as the escalating fighting between Israel and the Palestinians. Their concluding announcement, which is prominently displayed on the Hamas Internet site, includes a message to the US and to Israel, a message to the Palestinian Authority and a message to the Arab regimes. At the end, there is also a message to the Moslem sages. As for the matter of "the act of giving one's soul," i.e. suicide attacks, the letter to the sages reads: "The community of sages has already ruled in this matter, and they (the attacks) have become an existing and useful fact of Jihad. What is needed from you today is not to allow a confused minority or a skeptic to raise any questions and doubts over these acts."

This article appeared in Ha'aretz on February 21st, 2002

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Precedent-making Suit Against Palestinian Authority Security Chief
Shmuel Mittleman

A Palestinian resident of Jerusalem is suing the Palestinian Authority and the commander of the Preventive Security Service, Jibril Rajoub, for NIS 10 million. In a suit filed at the Jerusalem District Court, he reveals a story of severe abuse.

Zohir Switi, represented by lawyer Nadav Haetzni, lived in the village of Dura in the past and worked as an art teacher in the city girls' school A-Tur on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

He relates that he was abducted from his car by Rajoub's men, who waited for him at the Dura-Fawar intersection in the southern Hebron hills area. At the time the place was under Israeli control.

He related that he was beaten by his interrogators who demanded that he confess to receiving an Israeli ID card in exchange for collaborating with Israel. When he would not admit it, he was taken by car to a desolate area near Dura and thrown into thorny bushes. He said that his interrogators stomped on him with their shoes, put cigarettes out on his face and legs, urinated into his mouth and inserted a bottle into his anus.

After that Switi was imprisoned for two days in a prison cell in Hebron and the torture continued: he was stripped and tied by his hands and neck with a rope tied to the ceiling. The interrogators extinguished burning cigarettes all over his body, stepped on his stomach, slammed his head against the wall and beat his genitals with sticks. He lost consciousness several times from the blows, but his interrogators poured cold water on him and continued to question him.

Haetzni argues that Switi became a broken man and suffered physical and emotional scars and that the Palestinian Authority must pay for the damages it caused him.

This article ran in Ma'ariv on February 26th, 2002

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Documents Seized at the PLO Orient House Reviewed.

The Israeli Ministry of Public Security has hired a team of Arabic speaking journalists to review the vast computer systems and documents that were seized at the PLO's Orient House last summer. The results of their investigations are beginning to see the light of day.

On 10.8.2001, the Israeli government closed several Palestinian Authority institutions in the Jerusalem area, including Orient house and PA offices that served the governor of the Jerusalem district and the Palestinian security services in Abu Dis (see ).

The offices in eastern Jerusalem were closed by order of Public Security Minister Uzi Landau according to the authority granted him under the law on the implementation of the interim agreement.

During the closure of the institutions, security forces uncovered documents, tapes, computers and considerable material from various periods that point to the direct link between Orient House, the PA and PA Chairman, Yasser Arafat.

From the material seized, it arises that PA officials carried out ramified activities in the Jerusalem area in complete contravention of the agreements that have been signed with them. It will be pointed out that the aforementioned law obligates the PA to respect Israel's sovereignty within the State of Israel, including eastern Jerusalem. The material seized attests to a range of activities carried out at Orient House:

A. Activity by the Palestinian security services in Jerusalem

Among the seized material were operational documents that described activity by the Palestinian security services in Jerusalem, including lists of names of residents of eastern Jerusalem (with whom the services, apparently, had dealings) and records regarding the employment of Orient House security guards in the framework of the Palestinian security services.

B. Real estate activities in eastern Jerusalem

The documents also attest that part of the financing transferred by the PA was designated for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of structures and properties of residents of eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, and featured the direct involvement of Yasser Arafat. It should be emphasized that part of the PA's involvement in this area stems from its goal to prevent the transfer of real estate to Jews.

C. The involvement of the PA in the appointment of various functionaries

From documents that were seized, it arises that the PA was deeply involved in the appointment of various functionaries and those holding various positions in eastern Jerusalem. The PA, especially Arafat, confirmed appointments, ranks and the financing of salaries, a fact which indicates the direct subordination of these offices to the PA.

D. Diplomatic activity

The documents indicate the extensive use of Orient House for various issues that were discussed in the political negotiations between Israel and the PA.

E. The PA's involvement in financing

The documents shed light on details regarding the PA's financing of, and its financial institutions' dealings with, activities at Orient House and other offices, according to directives from Arafat. Documents were also found regarding PA financial activity in Jerusalem, carried out via Orient House. The PA thus violated the aforementioned law.

Additional documents were uncovered which attested to financial assistance which had been rendered in response to requests that had been directed to the late Faisal Husseini by people and institutions in eastern Jerusalem.

F. PA involvement in activities on the Temple Mount

Documents were found which attest to the involvement of the PA and its security services on the Temple Mount.

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George Mitchell, scheduled to address Lincoln Square Synagogue on March 2, 2002:
Is His Record Balanced and Fair?
David Bedein

In late October, 2000, US president Clinton appointed an international investigation commission to investigate the causes of the rioting in Israel, naming an Arab American and former US Senator, George Mitchell, as its chairman.

Mitchell initially evoked a sigh of relief when his commission did not blame Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for instigating the riots in September, 2000 during his visit to the Temple Mount.

However, even with that allegation out of the way, Mitchell accepted all of the other specious PLO premises for the current PLO insurrection:

  • Mitchell accepted as a given that the PLO uprising is based on some some kind of movement for "independence and genuine self-determination", without giving credence to the clearly stated PLO goal, stated in all PLO publications, maps and media outlets, even during the current Oslo process, which remains "liberation" of all of Palestine.
  • Mitchell characterized the rioters armed with molotov cocktails as "unarmed Palestinian demonstrators". a term that they seemed to have borrowed from several PLO information reports that have been published of late.
  • Mitchell took the position that security forces do not face a clear a present danger when faced with a mob trying to murder them with rocks and firebombs
  • Mitchell did not even mention that the PA has amassed 50,000 more weapons than they are supposed to have, in clear violation of the written Oslo accords, and not only the "spirit of the accords", which seem to carry more weight with the Mitchell Commission.
  • Mitchell accepted the notion that the Palestinian Authority security officials are simply not in control of their own tightly controlled security services.
  • Mitchell rejected the notion that the PA planned the uprising, as if the PA did not spend the past seven years preparing its media, school system and security services for any confrontation wit Israel.
  • Mitchell described only as an Israeli "view" that the PA leadership has made no real effort to prevent anti-Israeli terrorism, ignoring the message that Arafat has conveyed in his own media for the past seven years.
  • Mitchell rejected Israel's characterization of the conflict, as "armed conflict short of war"; (how else would you describe an army that fires mortar rounds into Israeli cities?)
  • Mitchell rejected the right of the IDF to kill PLO combat officers during a time of war, without giving an alternative as to what actions the IDF is supposed to take in any such military confrontation.
  • Instead of issuing a clear call to the PLO to stop its sniper attacks on Israel's roads and highways, Mitchell simply condemned "the positioning of gunmen within or near civilian dwellings", leaving the observer to assume that PLO attacks from empty embankments would be acceptable.
  • Mitchell suggested that "the IDF should consider withdrawing to positions held before September 28, 2000, …to reduce the number of friction points", ignoring the fact that this would leave the entry points to many Israeli cities without appropriate protection at a time of war.
  • Mitchell demanded that Israel should transfer to the PA all tax revenues owed, and permit Palestinians who had been employed in Israel to return to their jobs, strangely recommending that Israel once again be in the position of paying the salaries of the armed PLO personnel who are now at war with Israel.
  • Mitchell took out a page from Arab propaganda brochures when it calls on Israeli "security forces and settlers to refrain from the destruction of homes and roads, as well as trees and other agricultural property in Palestinian areas", not even relating to the remote possibility that some areas of trees and agricultural land had been razed because it had given cover to the PA security forces during combat.
  • Mitchell accepted the notion that "settlers and settlements in their midst" remains a cause of the Palestinian uprising, because these Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria violate "the spirit of the Oslo process", even though not one word appears in the actual Oslo accords would require the dismemberment of a single Israeli settlement anywhere.
  • Mitchell somehow found a connection between "settlement activities" and the Palestinian ability to resume and makes a judgment that negotiations cannot continue, so long as "settlement activities" continue, thereby introducing an excuse for the PLO to continue its armed conflict.
  • Mitchell accepted the notion that "settlers and settlements in their midst" remains a cause of the Palestinian uprising, because these Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria violate "the spirit of the Oslo process".

    Mitchell knew full well that not a word appears in the actual Oslo accords would require the dismemberment of a single Israeli settlement anywhere.

  • Mitchell never mentioned a word about the role played by UNRWA in its policy of continuing to encourage Arab refugee camp residents to believe that they must return to the homes and villages where they came from in 1948.

  • Mitchell never mentioned a word about the new curriculum of the Palestinian Authority which prepares a new generation for war and not for peace

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