|Israel Resource Review
||26th Febuary, 2002
Sannctifying Suicide: Analysis of the Islamic Perspective
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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:
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