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‘Filling the Moral Vacuum’
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Destroying Any Move Toward Peace

Hardship and Deprivation at Home: Ironically, the suicide bombers have only contributed to an escalating spiral of violence and death not only for Israel, but for their own people as well.
Suicide bombing, after all, is not a new phenomenon. Psychiatrist Aziz al-Abub and others from Hezbollah programmed the suicide bombers that crashed their explosives-laden trucks into the U.S. Marine barracks and the French headquarters in Beirut on October 23, 1983, killing 303 and injuring many more.

Al-Abub, a master at his craft of controlling and influencing behaviour, wields an arsenal that includes psychotropic drugs. It was he who administered uppers to the Beirut drivers before their deadly missions.

In Israel, the first suicide bombing took place in April 1993. Others soon followed, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. Men, women and children died on buses, in shopping malls and cafes and on the way to school. Each death had one common purpose: to wreck any move to bring peace to the region.

Each potential bomber is recommended to the Jihad Committee. This is a little-known group within The Martyrs. Their exact number is unknown. To avoid Israel’s electronic eaves-dropping apparatus — a helicopter hovering high over the West Bank can pick up a whispered conversation in a house — the Committee members communicate all important decisions through handwritten notes.

Those notes include a decision on a likely candidate to be a suicide bomber. Long before the person is approached, careful checks are made into the family background. The fear the Israelis will plant a potential bomber so as to get close to the Jihad Committee is a constant threat. There have been at least two such betrayals.

There are pre-conditions. No bomber must be the sole wage-earner in the family. If two brothers or sisters volunteer, only one will be chosen.

A favourable decision made, the candidate is invited to meet the Jihad Committee. These meetings are often held in public places, again to reduce the risk of electronic surveillance.

The first meeting focuses on a candidate’s religious knowledge. Only later are they close-questioned about their political commitments. If the Committee is satisfied, a candidate is told he will be placed on a list of suicide bombers. No one knows its size. The Israelis believe it numbers hundreds.

The preparations for martyrdom are conducted inside a mosque, usually in a back room far away from prying eyes. The imam has an “assistant” — a member of the Jihad Committee — who spends many hours each day with a candidate in the run-up to his death.

During the preparation stage, each bomber is repeatedly given assurances: that on the Day of Judgment he or she will be allowed, upon entering Paradise, to choose 70 relatives to also enter; that in Heaven a candidate will have at his disposal 72 houris, the celestial virgins who, he is told, live there.

These promises are interspersed with checks to ensure that a would-be bomber’s belief in martyrdom has never wavered. Mentors repeat time and again the same exhortation: “You die to achieve Allah’s satisfaction. You have been chosen by Allah because he has seen in you all that is good.”

Steeped in Extremism

Dr. Ariel Merari likens the process of preparing the suicide bomber for his mission to psychological indoctrination or brainwashing. And there are many reports of drugs being the suspected catalyst.
The first sign a bomber knows he is about to go to his death comes when he is joined by two “advisers” who replace the “assistant.” Older men steeped in extremism, their task is to ensure a bomber does not waver in his or her readiness to die.

As the time grows closer to his mission, the bomber is moved to a specially prepared room.

The indoctrination becomes more focused. The bomber is told Paradise is very close. When the time comes, all he must do is press the detonator button to enter the promised world.

For hours the advisers and the human bomb continue to pray together and partake in long fasts. In between, the practical side of his departure to Paradise is taken care of. All of the bomber’s earthly debts are settled by the Jihad Committee. He is told his family will become honoured members of their community.

There are constant checks to ensure the bomber shows no signs of fear. Reassured, the advisers then confer on him the title of “al shaheed al hayy,” the living martyr.

In the final stages, the bomber places a copy of the Koran inside his clothes. Over it goes the body suit. A wire to the detonator button is taped to the palm of the right hand.

The advisers escort the bomber close to the target area. They bid farewell with the promise given to all human bombers. “Allah is with you. Allah will give you success so that he can receive you in Paradise.”

Later, as the bomber presses the button, he cries out, “Allah akbar.” Allah is great. All praise to Allah.

Almost certainly these were the last earthly words Wafa’a Ali Idris spoke.

Psychological Indoctrination

Dr. Ariel Merari likens the process to psychological indoctrination or brainwashing. Indeed the techniques are similar, and there are many reports of drugs being the suspected catalyst. There is constant repetition that Allah approves of this way to deal with the hated enemy.

“It is a form of conditioning, rather similar to what the Chinese and Russians developed during the Korean War,” said Dr. Merari.

As part of preparing a candidate for death, contacts with the family are reduced to a minimum. This is to reduce any hesitation over severing earthly ties. He or she is constantly reminded of the new life ahead.

In a number of cases, it has been documented that psychotropic drugs were used as an integral part of the conditioning process.

Only when a candidate is on the eve of martyrdom is he or she usually allowed final time with his or her family. In part this is to test whether or not they will weaken in their resolve.

Wafa’a, for example, spent her last two days with her mother. Only when she had taken delivery of her underclothes and body suit did she let her mother know what was going to happen.

“We prayed together. For Palestine. For my daughter’s safe journey to a better world,” Wasfiya Ali Idris would recall.

She is herself a woman who sees life through the prism of Islamic extremism. Her reading is confined to the Koran; her hero is Yasser Arafat. Her dream is that her daughter has gone to her death to help create a Palestinian homeland.

"Martyr of the Month"

In some respects Wafa’a Ali Idris did not quite fit the profile of a shaheed. Until she had been enrolled by The Martyrs, she had not shown any strong religious feelings.

“After time with The Martyrs she became a devout follower of all that I had taught her as a child,” said Wasfiya.

Wafa’a’s anger against Israel also became a living, vibrant force that sustained her during her work as a paramedic.

In the year before her death, she had been injured three times by Israeli soldiers as she had tended to Arabs wounded on the streets of Ramallah.

Her mother would remember: “At that time my daughter was getting more and more angry. All she was doing was trying to save lives. But the soldiers did not care. Then one day she said to me, ‘Mother, I have joined The Martyrs. It is the only way I can serve my people. All those who have died have to be avenged!’ I understood her feelings.”

In Ramallah suicide bombers are heroes — an ironic tribute, since their acts bring the wrath of the Israelis down upon their own people. Yet, there are posters for the “Martyr of the Month.” They are celebrated in song and verse. They are remembered in Friday prayers in mosques in the West Bank and Gaza City.

Imams are fearful of giving their names in case, I suspect, they would be arrested for complicity in a suicide bombing.

But Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, has no such fears.

“Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. But these rewards are not in themselves the goal of the martyr. The only aim of the true believer is to win Allah’s satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah. And never forget it is Allah who selects the martyrs,” he has said.

Funding from Iran

For families who have allowed their children to be sacrificed, the financial rewards are good. Each immediate family member has all his or her debts paid off by the Jihad Committee. Each receives a pension for life. While it varies, it is said to be a minimum of twice the income they received before their son or daughter died.

The money comes from Iran. It is laundered through the Central Banks from Damascus to Athens. From there it is electronically transferred to an account in Cairo. Then it is couriered to Gaza City for distribution.

Mossad, the Israeli intelligence organization, has devoted considerable time to try and trace the final destination of the money in the hope it could lead them to the men who prepare the bombers.

But it is a daunting task. The Martyrs operate on a small-cell basis. Often there are no more than two or three persons in a cell.

In the closed world of the Palestinian refugee camps, informers for Israeli intelligence are hard to recruit. Those who are discovered are executed.

For them death can be agonisingly slow, preceded by unspeakable torture. For their families there is the odium of having bred a traitor.

But for the suicide bomber there is only glory. In the world they inhabited there is little enough of that. For them death is perhaps all too often a welcoming relief.

After Wafa’a died, a leaflet was circulated with her photo throughout the West Bank. It read: “We do not have tanks or rockets. But we have something superior — our Islamic human bombs. In place of a nuclear arsenal we are proud of our arsenal of believers.”

The one certainty is that in a Palestine where two-thirds live below the poverty line, desperation reigns among families to the degree that blowing oneself up can appear to be a “solution” — and young men and women will continue to be exploited.

Gordon Thomas is the author of the world bestseller Gideon’s Spies: Mossad’s Secret Warriors (St. Martin’s Press). A revised paperback edition is now available. He is also co-editor of

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