In 1996, the cynics in Gaza said that while young Hamas followers found their escape from despair and frustration in suicide attacks, supporters of the Popular Front took refuge in whiskey. Hamas rejected and continues to reject suggestions that the Islamic suicide bombers are driven by economic distress, feelings of bitterness or personal or family failures. But even if it were possible to accept claims that their motives are purely of a national-religious nature, it is clear that today's army of Palestinian suicide bombers includes many for whom religious fervor is not their guiding force.
In the West Bank, secular activists in the Fatah and Popular Front, including those who supported or did not oppose the planting of explosives and car bombs in Israel, were openly amazed over the willingness of people to blow themselves away. Now they don't need to go as far as the mosques to ask young Palestinians how they could be able to press a button knowing that it will kill them, together with Israelis. Now, anyone who fires at Israeli soldiers - even without wrapping himself in explosives - knows that the chances of being killed by IDF gunfire are greater than the chances of escaping.
All of those enlisted in the army of Palestinian suicide bombers are not obligated to enlist. No one in their society will condemn them as "refuseniks" (sarvanim) if they limit their activities to demonstrations or not even participate in them. In Israel, it is comfortable to believe that they were subjected to "jihad" brainwashing and that it is just a case of pure hatred against Jews simply for being Jews. But these explanations will not help understand the reality. The answer to the question of what motivates them must be sought elsewhere, just like the answer to the question of why many adults in Palestinian society, who are pained by the phenomenon of sanctifying death and the readiness to die, do not dare to challenge this.
Is it the poverty that has spread so widely in Palestinian society that has impelled people to kill themselves together with Israelis? Mothers come, their heads covered in shame, to offices of sympathetic Fatah activists and receive notes promising sacks of rice, flour and sugar for the approaching holiday. Some children try to sell chewing gum to drivers at the intersections and drop out of school. But it seems that most of Palestinian society is not frightened by poverty and makes do with what little it has. The supportive structure of the extended family (hamula), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and various charity organizations are the safety net preventing phenomena of real hunger.
Perhaps it's the wretchedness of seeking handouts? Of lacking a livelihood and the chance of making a living? People have told the UNRWA teams distributing food parcels that more than anything else, they want to work, even on relief projects, so that they will not have to be seek handouts. But when the general situation becomes one of wretchedness, it is no longer a source of embarrassment.
Is it the imprisonment in cages in the West Bank and Gaza? Since 1991, Israel has restricted the freedom of movement of all Palestinians, and during the past 16 months, these limitations have reached new peaks. For ten years, without the freedom of movement, an entire people cannot plan anything. An entire people cannot allow itself to be spontaneous. This lack is perhaps not expressed in words, but it is felt very well in the yearning looks of someone who watches a television program and sees that people all over the world are able to get up and travel and return without having to appeal to the good graces of another people's soldiers. But if this were the motive, there would be thousands, not dozens, going out to take their own lives and the lives of others during the past years and not only during the last 16 months.
What about having no chance to study? To find independent housing? To offer the children more than just food and a roof over their heads? "After all, animals provide food and shelter to their offspring. A person who has children wants more than this for them," said a former activist in a left-wing organization who manages to understand the drive to commit suicide.
Potential suicide bombers know that the near future does not promise them a livelihood, decent housing, chances for study and personal development, travel abroad, life in orderly cities, the development of agriculture in their villages or high-tech initiatives. But each of these deficiencies, and all of them together, are not enough to explain the readiness of so many to die at a young age in order to kill Israelis. These deficiencies, of the past and future, build up to internalize a conviction that there is an omnipotent force, a powerful country that since 1967 has dictated and intends to continue dictating the Palestinian society's scope of development and freedom to make decisions. This is a suffocating, unbearable feeling for the Palestinians, a feeling that the future is not worth living. The society raising this army of suicide bombers is convinced that Israelis, on the other hand, are able to look forward to a future that would be a shame to miss. Without these perceptions, it would be impossible to understand the unceasing growth of the Palestinian army of suicide bombers.
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