Making Martyrs: A Palestinian Suicide Bomber
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MARTIN HIMMEL: Mohammed Badawi deeply misses his son, Mazen. Mazen Badawi has become an icon in this house. He is considered a “shaheed,” a martyr who has committed a suicide attack.
MOHAMMED BADAWI (Translated): The hardest thing in this life is to raise a son 27 years and three months, and he is the only income earner in the house. Our nation is very dear to us.
You cannot imagine how much it is dear to us. The love, the desire to be a martyr is as dear as our love for the nation.
MARTIN HIMMEL: In his Gaza neighborhood, Mazen Badawi is now a hero role model for youth.
As a fighter in the radical Islamic Hamas movement, Mazen Badawi had given this videotaped statement shortly before he took part in a suicide attack last January on a Jewish settlement in Gaza.
Badawi said the attack would be in response to what he described as “the Zionist occupation of Palestinian land.” Badawi called his father to say he was becoming a martyr. He urged his mother not to wail at his funeral.
Less than an hour after making that phone call, Israeli soldiers killed Badawi just as he was about to open fire on a Jewish settlement.
At his funeral, Mazen’s mother fulfilled his wish. She let out a traditional shriek of joy, reserved for weddings and births. Mohammed Badawi and his family believe that Mazen has been reborn into another world.
MOHAMMED BADAWI: (Translated): Do not think those that die for God are really dead, but rather they live in the shadow of God; in the paradise of Eden.
Those that have gone and have become martyrs are happy with their destiny, and so it is forbidden for their relatives to be angry with them.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Like other suicide martyrs, Mazen left a last will and testament.
He tells his mother, “Don’t cry for me. These words are painful. I shall greet you at the gates of paradise.” Mazen also asked his father to take care of his two-year-old daughter to compensate for his absence.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Like other families of suicide assailants, Mohammed Badawi received approximately $15,000 from Iraq through Hamas.
The Hamas movement also regularly contributes food, blankets, and other essentials. Saudi Arabia granted several dozen relatives of suicide attackers a free trip to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage.
Mazen’s wife, Wisal, is pregnant with his second child. All she has left of her husband, now, is this Koran.
MOHAMMED BADAWI (Translated): Palestine is very dear to us, and she deserves that every young man will be a martyr for her. I call on every Palestinian young man to follow in my son’s footsteps because this is the only path Israel understands.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Militant Islamic movements, like Hamas, use heroic martyrs like Mazen Badawi, in order to recruit volunteers for suicide missions.
There is no shortage of such volunteers. As one Israeli intelligence official put it, “for every Palestinian gunman killed, there are five new volunteers for suicide missions.”
There have been more than 50, so far, in the past year. Many of Gaza’s youth are indeed inspired by suicide assailants like Mazen Badawi. They often take suicidal risks in confronting Israeli tanks and armor. Many are too young to understand the consequences of such actions, and that worries Palestinian psychiatrists like Dr. Iyad Zaquout.
DR. IYAHD ZAQUOUT, Psychiatrist: Many, many children identify with these martyrs, and they try to simulate these people and do the same actions.
And we have many children, unfortunately, actually trying to do this at an early age. And we had to talk with the parents and the families.
The families even themselves do not want to lose their children. It’s not their rule to go and throw stones or to harm the army, the Israeli army, because they cannot, actually. And they expose themselves to great danger. And this will create more and more victims in our society.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Our interview with Dr. Zaquout was interrupted by two Israeli Cobra helicopters.
They fired missiles into a nearby Palestinian police headquarters. Just after the crowd had rushed to the site, an Israeli F-16 dropped a bomb on the target. The crowd ran away just in time and then returned once more, flirting with the chance of being killed in a surprise air strike.
Approximately 40 Palestinians were injured in this attack.
The Israelis say these air strikes deter, but Palestinians say they breed more anger, more martyrdom, and more suicide attacks.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Dr. Zaquout has formulated a character profile of a suicide attacker. He described their act as “positive suicide,” suicide for the common good. He said anger fuels the motivation.
DR. IYAHD ZAQUOUT: You know, these people are, they are fed each day and every day with this anger and this aggravation. And when it comes to a certain point, they feel it is the only way to do — is to bomb himself or to kill as many people as he can from the Israel side.
Now, what makes this person reach this decision? In this case, the person goes and kills himself for the sake of the society as a whole. He has a strong relationship with the society and a strong relationship with the community, and he provides, or he gives his soul, as a gift to this society. And he tries to empower this society by this killing of the self.
MARTIN HIMMEL: In his research, Dr. Zaquout discovered that there is significant family support for the decision to undertake a suicide attack.
DR. IYAHD ZAQUOUT: In the last two or one months of their life, they will all the time keep talking about martyrdom and about their loss, and asking their mothers several times, “What would you do if I am killed? What will you do if I am lost?”
And many of them, actually many of the mothers, did encourage their sons or these people to go. So we had the family…at least the family of these people did, I mean, encourage these people.
It is not that they had a bad economic situation. You cannot make a generalization about that. But the only thing is that the family had the support for these values and norms.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Martyrs are commemorated on many of Gaza’s street corners. Their portraits have been etched on walls and placed on billboards.
The Jabalyia refugee camp is a spawning ground for many suicide attackers. Abdallah Shaban, Mazen Badawi’s partner in the suicide attack, lived in this house.
Across the road, Ibrahim Rayan used to live here– until he committed a suicide attack. His father, Dr. Nizar Rayan, is a lecturer of Islamic law. Dr. Rayan believes Western secular society cannot comprehend the religious motivation behind suicide attacks, nor the promised salvation in paradise.
DR. NIZAR RAYAN (Translated): The strangers– Canada, USA, France, Britain– have ceased to focus on the unknown, the mysterious, because they do not believe in God.
Europe stopped believing in God, so why should I speak in our language? I will speak in their terms. I have land and the paradise of Eden. I have Palestine. My land is occupied, and I am trying to liberate it.
MARTIN HIMMEL: A frightened and tearful Ibrahim Rayan had made his last statement just before going on a suicide mission for Hamas. A short while later, he killed two Jewish settlers in Gaza, and then he was gunned down.
Ibrahim’s father says Islam does not usually strive for death and suicide.
DR. NIZAR RAYAN (Translated): Our religion obligates us to good deeds and a long life. And we are the lovers of life, not death, just like you.
But when we lost our land, why should we not lose life as well?
MARTIN HIMMEL: Abdel Aziz Rentisi is a prominent Hamas spokesman. He encourages suicide attacks with regular demonstrations.
Suicide brigades often march in such protests, where they have staged mock suicide attacks. Abdel Aziz Rentisi said there is great motivation among youth to volunteer for suicide missions.
ABDEL AZIA RENTISI: If you are not in the same situation like us, you can’t understand why our youth is prepared to die; to put an end for their lives just to make, to make Israelis to feel, the feelings of our mothers, our daughters, our sons, who lost their neighbors.
MARTIN HIMMEL: Abdel Rentisi participated in Mazen Badawi’s funeral.
He said Hamas discourages married men like Mazen from becoming martyrs but, says Rentisi, their desire to commit suicide attacks is too strong.
As long as the cycle of violence continues to spiral, Rentisi believes many more men and women like Mazen Badawi will volunteer for suicide missions.