Majority of Palestinians indicate support for suicide bombing attacks

JERUSALEM (BP)--Palestinian public support for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians has soared, according to a CNSNews.com report on a survey released by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion.

Just over 76 percent of Palestinian respondents in the survey said they supported suicide attacks like the one at a shopping mall in the Israeli city of Netanya in which seven Israelis were killed and dozens of others wounded. Only 12.5 percent oppose such attacks.

The survey of 707 Palestinian adults from the West Bank and Gaza Strip was released June 4 and was conducted before the weekend suicide attack at a Tel Aviv disco, in which 20 mostly teenage Israelis were killed.

Nabil Kukali, president of the PCPO, said prior to the beginning of the 36-week-old intifada (uprising) the percentage of those who supported suicide attacks never exceeded 29 percent. He attributed the dramatic rise to economic hardships experienced by the Palestinians.

"The situation is very tough," Kukali told CNSNews.com in a telephone interview. "[There is] the Israeli siege and the economic situation is very bad."

Since the beginning of the troubles last September, Israel has closed the borders between its territory and areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority in a bid to keep out terrorists. The closure has prevented most of the more than 100,000 Palestinians who depend on jobs inside Israel for their livelihood from reaching work.

The violence also has led to a severe drop in the tourism trade, costing the jobs of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who work in restaurants and hotels.

Kukali drew a comparison between the support for suicide bombers to that of Israeli respondents in a recent Israeli poll, who said they supported the use of F-16 fighter planes in retaliatory attacks against PA security targets.

Some 62 percent of Israelis said they supported the use of the planes after Israel used them to bomb a PA security installation in retaliation for the suicide bombing in Netanya.

"I hate killing," Kukali said. "The young people [who died at the Tel Aviv disco] are just like my kids.

"No one is happy about that. Sometimes I feel [I could] cry for the mothers and fathers. It's easy to make war [but] I think we should work together to make peace."

The concept of suicide bombing has prompted a debate among Islamic clerics in the Arab world. Suicide is expressly forbidden in Islam but many leaders have justified it as martyrdom in the context of a jihad (holy) war against the Jews.

The debate was fueled by a Saudi Islamic leader, Sheik Abd Al-Aziz Al-Sheik, who said that he saw nothing in the Koran to permit or encourage suicide attacks.

"I am not aware of anything in the religious law regarding killing oneself in the heart of the enemy [ranks], or what is called 'suicide.' This is not a part of jihad, and I fear that it is merely killing oneself," he was quoted as saying in the London Arabic publication Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

"Although the Koran permits and even demands the killing of the enemy, this must be done in ways that do not contradict [Islamic religious law]," Al-Sheik added.

But some Palestinian religious leaders draw a distinction between committing suicide and killing oneself for the sake of Allah.

The PA mufti of Jericho, Sheik Muhammad Isma'il Al-Jamal, published a religious edict in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida in which he explained the "great difference" between "martyrdom," which is allowed and even desirable in Islam, and suicide, which leads to "torments in Hell on Judgment Day," according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Hamas leader Abd Al-Aziz Al-Rantisi said that "suicide depends on volition. If the martyr intends to kill himself, because he is tired of life -- it is suicide.

"However, if he wants to sacrifice his soul in order to strike the enemy and to be rewarded by Allah -- he is considered a martyr. We have no doubt that those carrying out these [anti-Israel] operations are martyrs," he was quoted as telling Al-Hayat in Beirut.

The position was also supported by Egyptian clerics. A leading Sunni cleric at the Al-Azhar Center for Islamic Research, Muhammad Sayyed Tantawi, said he believes "suicide operations are of self-defense and a kind of martyrdom, as long as the intention behind them is to kill the enemy's soldiers, and not women or children."

(At least two of the recent attacks targeted children. The previous week, the bomber made his way into a group of primarily teenage girls before detonating his bomb. His youngest victim was 14. Earlier, another bomber mingled with a group of schoolboys waiting for a ride to school, and blew himself up.)

Other scholars from the Al-Azhar Center also issued a joint ruling saying that "he who sacrifices himself is he who gives his soul in order to come closer to Allah and to protect the rights, respect and land of the Muslims.... When the Muslims are attacked in their homes and their land is robbed, the jihad for Allah turns into an individual duty.

"In this case, operations of martyrdom become a primary obligation and Islam's highest form of jihad," they said.

"[When] jihad becomes an individual duty, all Muslims must join in, and children must go [to battle], even without asking permission from their parents," the scholars added.

Recently, Palestinian psychiatrist Iyad al-Sarraj was quoted as saying that as far as the suicide bomber was concerned, he could have no better reward than "killing the enemies of [Allah] the enemies of his country ... avenging the humiliation, going to paradise."

"It is no wonder that some people are doing it. We should wonder why everyone isn't doing it," al-Sarraj said.


Stahl is the Jerusalem bureau chief for CNSNews.com. Used by permission.

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