By Vanit Sharma
Often many people associate suicide terrorism as a newly formed way of targeting certain groups or individuals. Though the concept has recently seen more frequency in media and world affairs, its origins date back several hundred years. Terrorist organizations such as Hamas have utilized suicide bombings and martyrdom against the state of Israel to further the Palestinian cause for an exclusively Islamic state. Suicide bombings continue to take on diverse forms and shape society in variant conflicts and war. Guerrilla groups such as the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka and Kurdistan Workers Party of Iran have both committed more the 240 suicide attacks on civilians since the 1980’s. Close to twenty nations internationally from the United Kingdom, the United States, Kenya, Columbia, Indonesia, Turkey, and especially Israel have seen the utilization of such means of instilling fear through the use of terror. Recently many around the world have started to acknowledge the tactics utilized in these specific forms of terrorism are exclusively Islamic driven and housed.
Suicide bombings are particularly popular amongst Palestinian groups in Israel known as Hamas, and other sub divisions of this highly structured organization. What the world has witnessed in modern day Israel is an ongoing conflict many call a struggle, flight, and war for acknowledgement. This particular act of using suicide terrorism and martyrdom against Israel has been viewed around the global community as some of the worst acts of terror. The last few decades have showcased and heightened the media’s and diplomatic arena’s views on the rise of global terrorism.
Today Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world, spanning North Africa to Southeast Asia. Its large global presence is viewed as one of the main reasons for suicide terrorism having deep-rooted ties to this one particular faith. Islamic Jihad means strive in the Arabic language, and practicing Muslims believe that there are three types of variant struggles associate with Jihad. First they believe that there is an internal struggle with one’s self to live out the Islamic faith as well as possible; second, they believe there is a struggle to build a good Muslim society, and third, they believe that there is a Holy War or struggle to defend the Islamic faith with the use of force if necessary. These three struggles are what cause many in the global community to question and cause controversy on what an Islamic Jihad really stands for.
Though the Islamic faith adheres to these struggles, many state that there is no means for justifications, as followers believe the holy book Qur’an defends their right to self-defense if needed. What is seen is many Muslims using and interpreting these attributes from the holy book to strengthen and justify their actions on the basis of them have the freedoms to protect their faith from oppression. Often they view what they are doing as differentiating right from wrong in modern day society. Jihad is seen in Israel through the lens of the Palestinian Islamic stance fighting to protect and establish the right for an Islamic state.
Martyrdom is another key attributed symbol in Islam meaning “The suffering of death on account of adherence to a cause; especially to one’s religious faith”. It is also viewed as the basis of the Islamist belief, however many Muslims to not support the practice of it in modern day society. What Muslims believe is that the individual undergoing the act of a martyrdom operation is doing what that individual believes is their Islamic duty as a follower of the faith. They are in control of their own life, and see this operation as the next stage and path towards eternal life.
Martyrdom operations are typically justified by result of being rewarded by Allah, which is God to a world of Paradise known as Jannah. This world of paradise is the ultimate goal that individuals are willing to sacrifice their own lives for which is justified by Islamic law. Seen throughout the international community, Martyrs for the faith of Islam have particularly been seen in Palestinian resistance to Israel. The development of this is viewed as a tactic both political and social as it ignites and fosters fear in enemy forces. The martyrs or bombers are always passionate in their causes and views to defend what they see unjust for their society.
Today bombers range from women to children as martyrs are carefully chosen and monitored upon them executing their act of terrorism. They are fully aware of their actions and deeply religious, adhering to strict norms. Israel has experienced a vast amount of suicide bombers and martyrdom operations against it, and what drives this factor is the deeply rooted Islamic Palestinian movement in the region. Through these operations, vast amounts of fear is generated on the opposition front, and much hatred and rage is caused by the victims.
With the present day creation of Israel in 1948 allowing followers of the Jewish faith to return to the land of their forefathers, the current Arab-Israeli conflict is seen as one of the most violent areas of concern in the global community. Palestinians believe the land Israel resides on today is land promised to them by British Colonial Authorities and is historically and rightfully theirs. Some of the most violent acts of terrorism and suicide bombings have been committed in the name of the Palestinian fight for the destruction of Israel. Israeli’s mere existence in the Middle East also plays vital factor, as it is the only non-Muslim nation in the region; and its existence is viewed as an invasion and unwanted presence. Even before the 1948 formation, Jewish settlers used terrorism against British Authorities and Palestinians living in the area for the creation of a state for them to be house in.
In 1964 major Palestinian terrorist groups formed a coalition called the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Yasser Arafat lead up the PLO as their mission included the destruction of Israel, and the establishment of an Arab state. In 1967, the terror and violence became that of a grander scale, and resulted in the Six Day War where Israel annexed Palestinian land on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The causes are seeded in deep political matters, and land disputes in both sides claiming historical roots in the land.
From all this, Hamas, the largest and most influential Palestinian militant movement emerged. Emanating from the Arabic word for zeal; and an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya, it is also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement. It grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was a religious and political organization in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Its founder and leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin established the organization in 1987 following the eruption of the first intifada. Historically Hamas operated as an opposition group in Gaza and The West bank, however now its work spans several variant forms.
Hamas combines Palestinian Nationalism with Islamic fundamentalism which helped draft their founding charter which is committed to the destruction of Israel. Since attaining power, Hamas has continued its refusal to recognize the state of Israel, and achieve the establishment of an Islamic Palestine state. It also houses variant religious, political, and military wings which it allocates close to seventy million dollars a year for. Its social services it provides include establishing schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, sports leagues, mosques, agencies, and health clinics within the Palestine territories. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian Authority’s general legislative elections where they defeated Fatah, the party run by Mahmoud Abbas which set the stage for a deep struggle. Its Military wing attracts active followers ranging in the thousands who believe in their cause of action. Much of their funding comes from private donors in oil rich Persian Gulf States, and other various nations including Iran and the Unites States.
In looking at how Israel specifically has battled and endured the use of suicide terrorism, Hamas is responsible for a vast majority of violence though terrorism that has burdened Israel. In 1993, the first Hamas lead suicide bombing took place, and five months later, the Oslo Accords were put in place to find peace. Hamas is believed to have killed more than five hundred people in more the 350 separate terrorist attacks since 1993. They have continually used bombings to further their causes for an Islamic State formation, and their attacks have been noted as some of the most brutal in modern history. The years between 2001 and 2003 lead Israel to begin construction of a barrier between the 2 various regions of land. Hamas has always justified their use for of bombings, and are willing to martyr themselves for their ultimate goals. Their tactical uses are extreme, and symbolize the many responses they hope to achieve in establishing fear among Israelis.
Though Hamas no longer claims to use suicide operations to execute attacks on civilians, they are still active. One characteristic is they focus of targeting deeply religious followers for bombing operations. Typically older more stable men get chosen, but in 2004 the first female suicide bomber killed four Israelis at a crossing point. What can be seen here is that these martyrs and supporters of Hamas are deeply invested in attaining back their holy land and are willing to go to any extent to fight for it.
Many of the bombers are often told that their deaths will be painless and that dozens of virgins await them in paradise. With ideas such as this being plugged into their frame of thought, the concept of martyrdom against Israel is seen as a valid justified approach. Hamas and Palestinians both view suicide attacks as the only forms of resistance towards their occupation, and are desperate for revenge of their own land. Palestinians often state that they are suffering the brutal occupation of their holy land by Jewish persons, and they are personally attacking their Islamic faith.
The last few decades has showcased some of the most important historic events that have shaped relations in Israel. The use of suicide bombings is not used anymore, however the vast amount of turmoil and loss of life that was seen in the past showcases the struggles both sides remain at. May it be religion, faith, or revenge, many of the actions are justified through these lenses, yet innocent human lives are taken. What Israel has experienced in its past is a reflection of what extremes human beings are willing to fight for, and advance their own causes.
Vanit is graduate student in International Affairs focusing on Global Development at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, where he also holds a bachelors degree in Political Science & International Affairs with a focus on Asia-Pacific. He is a multinational citizen of the United Kingdom, United States, & Overseas Citizen of India. His research interests include the importance of emerging markets, global immigration concerns, and the future of the Eurozone. He is currently an independent analyst, entrepreneur, and project assistant at Global Portland.