Israel Resource Review 23rd June, 2002


Confession of an Israeli analyst of Islam and Arab statecraft: I believe Arafat

Research Associate, Department of Arabic, Begin-Sadat Center
Bar Ilan University

On May 15, 2002, Yasir Arafat addressed the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramalla. The occasion was the 54th anniversary of the Nakba ("the disaster" of Palestine, i.e. the establishment of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948). In his speech Arafat referred to the suicide attacks against Israeli citizens, stating that these attacks "do not serve our cause, but rather subject us to angry criticism on the part of the international community". Arafat called upon the Council to deal with this problem (which has aroused serious discussions among Palestinians and Arabs in general) from the vantage point of the "Hudaybiyya Conciliation Accord, out of our concern for the patriotic and national interest of our [Palestinian] people and [Arab] nation, in order to strengthen worldwide solidarity with the Palestinian people and its cause".

What is behind this reference to Hudaybiyya? It conveys the following twin messages.

  1. "The Hudaybiyya Conciliation Accord" was an agreement which the Prophet Muhammad signed in the year 628 A.D. with the infidels of his tribe, the Kuraysh. He did so upon their refusal to join the community of Islam, when he realized that he could not defeat them militarily. Two years later, having consolidated his power, he attacked Holy Mecca, slaughtered the men of his own tribe and torched all the symbols of their heathen culture.

  2. Islam regards the actions of the prophet as religiously sanctioned models for the behavior of the faithful. In fact, the authorized collections (Hadith) of Muhammad's acts and pronouncements are among the important sources for the Islamic authorities of every generation in deciding questions of religious law. Thus, the prophet's way of treating his agreement with the Kuraysh is perceived as the ideal procedure for Muslims when dealing with non-believers: When Muslims cannot impose their will for expanding the rule of Islam by force, they are permitted to sign temporary agreements with the non-believers. Such agreements are to be kept until Allah grants a sufficient increase in Muslim power. At that point the faithful are allowed (or obliged) to break the agreements and to impose Islamic terms on the infidels. Why else would Allah have granted them the power to prevail?

In referring to Hudaybiyya, Arafat meant exactly this: Any agreement with Israel is -- in his eyes -- no more than a Hudaybiyya Conciliation Accord. This is eminently clear to anyone who reads the Islamic sources, preferably in Arabic. (Internet sites in English tend to portray a rather conciliatory picture of Islam, for Western consumption, by rephrasing Islamic messages.)

The proof for this is inherent in the second message of the quotation from Arafat's speech. Suicide attacks at this juncture are not condemned as vile inhuman acts but are held in abeyance because they are presently incapable of advancing Palestinian goals. At present, the Palestinian cause can best be served by avoiding international condemnation and by promoting the encouragement and sympathy of the world community.

What does Arafat mean? That suicide attacks are evil and should be removed from now on from the arsenal of legitimate weapons in the struggle against Israel? Not at all. If anything, recruitment and training of shahids is accelerating. What he advocates for the near term is a change in the modus operandi. Does he promise not to use suicide attacks again? By no means. Does his most recent call to desist from attacks upon civilians remind us of his record of broken promises made to Rabin (1993), Netanyahu (1996) and in many public declarations between 1993 and 2000? They do indeed.

As a student of Arab politics and as a Zionist with personal past involvement with efforts to promote peace and understanding between Israelis and Arabs, I do indeed believe Arafat's message: he does wish to come to an agreement with the Israelis, but, as he points out to his followers, any agreement with non-Muslims, such as a commitment to stop suicide attacks, is simply a modern version of Hudaybiyya. As such, in accordance with Islamic principles which form the basis of the political culture in the Arab sphere, such a commitment may (or must) be broken at the right time. Clearly, before long, when in Arafat's judgment suicide attacks will again be helpful to the Palestinian cause, he will once again call upon his followers to go out and sacrifice their lives in Israel's streets ('millions of shahids marching to Jerusalem').

Great tragedies have occurred in international affairs when governments try to understand potential enemies in terms of their own political culture. The events of September 11 can serve as one recent example. Israeli ignorance of Islamic traditions and Arab culture have brought about many serious political and military setbacks, from the surprise attack which started the Yom Kippur War (October 6, 1973) to our lack of realism all through the Oslo process, 1993-2000. We shall continue to disregard the Islamic tradition only on pain of more naive dreams, by Israeli and Western leaders, dreams which are totally detached from the Middle Eastern reality, a reality which is becoming increasingly colored by the Islamic brush.

Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Phone: +972 54 778 908

Department of Arabic and research associate of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

A Child Describes A Terror Attack On Her Home Which Resulted in the Murder of her Mother and Three Siblings
Eli Bardenstein and Sharon Solomon

"My mother and I were watching television on the upstairs floor. Suddenly we heard shots."

Avia, 13, recalls the night of horror at Itamar, from her bed at Petah Tikvah's Schneider Hospital.

"I turned off the television and got under my parents' bed. Mom went downstairs, and then it got quiet. Someone came into the room and I saw his legs. I thought it was my brother, but then he started speaking in Arabic, and I realized he was a terrorist. He shot at the rooms next door and then sat down near the bed and replaced a clip. Suddenly someone fired. It got dark in the house. I heard soldiers coming, they threw a grenade, but nothing happened. When they threw the second grenade, I was hit in the stomach, and then the terrorist went out of the room and went into the bathroom. The soldiers asked if I could see him, I said I couldn't, and ran outside."

"I was taken to an ambulance, and from there to a helicopter and I was flown to the hospital."

Boaz Shabu, the father, said that on his way home from work he heard about the terror attack in Itamar. "I called home, and I called my wife's cell phone, and there was no answer. There was no answer on my son Neria's cell phone either. I knew that terrorist had gone into my house. At the army base I called again, this time from an unlisted phone, and then they told me that it was my house. I said that I'm the father. When I got to the house, soldiers kept turning my head around, so I wouldn't see the bodies. I said I want to see Rachel and Tzvika, and it was a very hard sight to see."

Boaz does not know yet whether they will stay in Itamar. "What is certain is that I will never ever go back to that house. At most, I'll go to another house in the community," he said. Whereas Avia said, "I don't know if I want to go back to Itamar."

At his room at Sheba Hospital at Tel Hashomer, Assael Shabu recalls the terrible night. "My brother Avishai and I were watching television. The terrorist came in and started shooting at us. The bullets hit Avishai and missed me. I hid under the pillow and that's how I was saved. Only when the soldiers came into the house, did they find me."

Assael, who lost his mother and three of his brothers, was seriously injured. He was evacuated to the hospital where he underwent an operation and his leg was amputated.

Yesterday, at around 6:00 a.m., Assael woke up for the first time and asked his aunt where his mother is. Later he told his aunt that he saw the soldiers rush into the house and yell, "There are dead people here." He said he knew his brother Avishai had been killed because he could not hear him crying.

The relatives by his bedside have not yet told Assael that his mother and two other brothers were killed in the terror attack.

Today, Assael's sister Avia is to be transferred from Schneider Hospital to Sheba Hospital, so that the two siblings can be together.

This piece ran in "Maariv" on June 23, 2002

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

Israeli Intelligence Shares Data With US Concerning Arafat's Direct Involvement in Latest Terror Attacks
Eli Kamir
Correspondent, Maariv

Israel conveyed to the US up-to-date and extremely detailed intelligence which demonstrates Yasser Arafat's personal involvement in the recent terror attacks in the heart of Israel, including last week's terror attacks. Shortly thereafter, President Bush called Prime Minister Sharon and expressed understanding of Israel's right to defend itself.

Early Thursday morning, Washington time, a special Israeli envoy arrived at the offices of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and hand-delivered the Israeli material to her. The material included decisive and clear-cut evidence illustrating the connection between Arafat and the terror attacks. Israeli security establishment officials also presented the same documents to the CIA representatives in Israel.

A senior American source said that the prime minister gave instructions to transmit the intelligence immediately after a telephone conversation he had with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday evening, in which he reiterated the personal link between Arafat and terror attacks in the heart of Israel. The source said that the material was immediately passed on to President Bush himself. The source also divulged that the detailed information that Israel conveyed to the administration in Washington played a major role in the green light from the American capital to Jerusalem to embark on a comprehensive military operation in PA territory. White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer also said that Israel has a right to defend itself.

Furthermore, the American source said that the Israeli material gave the Washington administration officials a further reason to postpone President Bush's speech, at least for the time being. "The material shown to the Americans made them have second and third thoughts about the speech," said the senior source.

The source also said that the material reinforced the American understanding that the Israeli demand to select an executive prime minister for the Palestinian Authority instead of Arafat, is a basic demand from which Israel cannot shift.

For the present, it seems that the Americans will continue supporting Israel with regard to a military operation in the Palestinian cities, and will hold off on the diplomatic speech at least until President Bush returns from the meeting of the G-8 leaders in Canada this weekend.

This piece ran in Maariv on June 23, 2002

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

Glorifying Suicide Bombers: Now a Secular Vision of "Palestine"
Rony Shaked
Correspondent, Yediot Aharonot

On Wednesday, at French Hill in Jerusalem, the Palestinians reached a new record of dubious worth: the 120th suicide bomber since the beginning of the el-Aksa Intifada on September 29, 2000. And this is still not the end. Hamas promised, in a pamphlet distributed on Tuesday after the suicide attack on the Gilo bus, to begin a suicide attack offensive described as, "Suicide attackers from every direction -- suicide attackers in a chain, one after the other."

Fatah, the Marxist PFLP, and of course the Islamic Jihad, have all adopted suicide bombing as a strategic weapon. GSS commanders say that the production of bomb belts is not quick enough to equip the number of volunteers waiting in line to commit suicide.

120 suicide bombers, men and women, do not constitute a fringe phenomenon. They are a sign of a societal norm, a reflection of a new Palestinian culture. This is a phenomenon that enjoys the support of the Palestinian street and leadership, not only in public opinion polls but also in the expressions of happiness after each attack, at the funerals for the suicide bombers, in their pictures on every street corner and in the songs praising them. [ . . . ]

In recent months the chorus of praise has also been joined by the mothers of the suicide bombers. More and more mothers chose to be hotographed with their son the suicide bomber before he leaves for the mission, to congratulate and encourage him. Last Saturday, before Mahmud Hassan Abed of the Sheikh Raduan neighborhood in Gaza left for a suicide mission at Dugit, he had his picture taken with his mother and a Kalashnikov. After he was killed, his mother did not mourn -- on the contrary, she celebrated, distributing sweets to relatives. The mother of Hamza Samoudi, who blew up the bus at Megiddo on June 5, was proud of her son: "Hamza wanted to get me into Paradise . . . He is taking women, the beautiful girls of Paradise, he lived and died as a hero, a blessed hero."

On the Palestinian street these mothers are known as Hansa, after Hansa the daughter of Amr, who lived in the time of the Prophet Mohammed and became a role model, a kind of Palestinian "Hannah and her seven sons." Hansa took part in the battle of Kadesiya, one of the most important of Mohammed's battles, and encouraged her four sons for fight even if it cost them their lives. According to the Koran she told them, "Remember that the eternal world (Paradise) is better than this transitory world."

They Know What They're Doing

This new heroic culture has lead to an upheaval: suicide bombings are not viewed as attacks caused by despair, disappointment or in revenge, but as acts of hope. The goal of a suicide bomber is not killing for the sake of killing, but as a means to break Israel's power of endurance -- to undermine society, to shatter the economy, to remove the Sharon government and to force Israel into accepting the Palestinians' conditions for the permanent solution. The Palestinians feel that have already created a small earthquake that has cracked the social and economic walls in Israel. They believe with a bit more effort they can cause Israel's collapse.

Hamas leaders said this week, "the suicide bombers are the strategic weapon for reaching deterrence and balance. The Palestinians are creating a new life through the gate of suicide bombings."

It is worth taking a look at the human profile of the suicide bombers. In Gilo it was Mohammed el-Ghoul, an MA student at A-Najah university in Nablus, which has earned the title of "suicide college." Over 30 of them have come from this academic institution. Around half of the 120 suicide bombers have university education, another 35% have high school education, and the rest have elementary school education. In other words, these are not rash and unstable people, but suicide bombers who know very well what weapon they are using.

It Will Reach Europe Too

Salah Shahada, commander of the Hamas military wing, said this week in an interview on the organization's Internet site that the rush of people wanting to become suicide bombers indicates mental health and is not a way of running away from a situation of despair and frustration. He laid down four principles in the process of choosing suicide bombers: "religious devotion -- observing prayers, charity and good deeds. Parental satisfaction -- we check if the young person is liked by his family and that he is not the only breadwinner, we don't take single children. His ability to complete the assignment and most important, we ensure that the suicide act be such that it motivates more suicide bombings and encourages jihad among the public."

In Palestinian terminology, even officially, nobody talks about suicide, but about sacrifice. Even Sari Nusseibeh and Hanan Ashrawi, who on Wednesday released an opinion calling to stop these acts, called the suicide bombings "military acts whose goal is against Israeli civilians."

The Palestinians have a sense of being pioneers. Arabic television has helped them spread this sense to Arab countries. Clerics from all over the Moslem world, led by Sheikh Kardawi of Qatar, considered the greatest of religious rulers, have given their blessing to these acts, including by women. Even Sheikh a-Zahar, Mohammed Tantawi, has bowed to pressure and issued a ruling that views suicide bombings as legitimate from a religious aspect. Arafat's mantra "millions of shahids marching to Jerusalem" has become the slogan at demonstrations in Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. In marches of support of the Intifada in Germany, France or Belgium, children march with dummy explosives belts. "If these is no war against this cancer, it is liable to spread to Europe too," security sources said this week.

Only on Wednesday night, after the terror attack at French Hill, when the sword of exile was placed at his neck, did Arafat realize that he was liable to end his career as president of Palestine. Only then he called on his people to stop the terror attacks against Israeli civilians. But his call came too late, after the phenomenon of suicide bombers has become rooted -- thanks to him as well -- and he no longer has the ability to put a stop to this norm.

This piece ran in Yediot Aharonot on June 21, 2002

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

Go to the Israel Resource Review homepage

The Israel Resource Review is brought to you by the Israel Resource, a media firm based at the Bet Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, and the Gaza Media Center under the juristdiction of the Palestine Authority.
You can contact us on