Photo Credit: Twitter
An image recently posted to Twitter glorifying Yahya Ayyash (the 'Engineer'), a Hamas mass murderer who masterminded a wave of suicide bombings that killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis. The image shows Ayyash's face superimposed over an Israeli bus that was blown up by a Palestinian suicide bomber in the 1990's.

*Editor’s Note: This is the tenth installment in ‘Setting The Record Straight,’ the most recent series of articles from Jewish Press Online contributor, Alex Grobman, PhD 

“We like our villains to be wild-eyed monsters,” opined political scientist Robert A. Pape. “The more the crime violates our sense of humanity, the more we expect the perpetrators to be deviant, repulsive, antipathetic, mentally ill, or deficient in normal human feeling. Of course, associating inhuman acts with inhuman villains does not bring the victims back. It does, however, seem to offer an explanation for how horrible atrocities could occur in the first place. [1]


Suicide terrorism is a particularly vile act because it contravenes two of society’s basic prohibitions: murdering innocent men, women, and children, and taking of one’s own life. We also cannot disregard the shocking nature of the injuries and the pain and anguish this act causes. This makes it appear to be reasonable to assume suicide terrorists must clearly be aberrant human beings. [2]

“Terrorists are cowards” contends philosopher Rachael Lu. “They deliberately avoid honorable forms of combat, preferring instead to prey on the weak, the innocent, and those who are not in a position to defend themselves. This is the terrorist’s modus operandi, and we should not allow his eye-popping audacity to distract us from the deep moral depravity that lies at the heart of this stratagem. He is the kind of fighter who prefers whenever possible to shoot his enemies in the back.”  [3]

Lord Chalfont, a British politician and terrorism expert noted another defining feature: “The whole time that I have been involved in terrorist operations, which now goes back to 30 years, my enemy has always been a man who is very worried about his own skin. You can no longer count on that, because the terrorist [today] is not just prepared to get killed, he wants to get killed. Therefore, the whole planning, tactical doctrine, [and] thinking [behind antiterrorism measures] is fundamentally undermined.” [4]

The momentum the Arabs achieved in creating a movement of individuals eager to become suicide bombers was significant. Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman explains how unique this success has been. “Groups there[Israel] succeeded in what terrorist organizations have rarely been able to do, and that transforms their campaigns into almost mass movements, not dependent on a hard-core cadre of fighters but rather with people from the population readily stepping forward to replenish the terrorist ranks.” [5]

The “Moral Logic”

In late 1985, Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, the most senior Shi’ite cleric associated with Hizballah, confirmed: “We believe that suicide operations should only be carried out if they can bring about a political or military change in proportion to the passions that incite a person to make his body an explosive bomb.” He admitted the attacks were justifiable as long they produced exceptional results. When such achievements could no longer be guaranteed, the practice was discontinued. Yet in 1986, another high-level Hizballah warned that “suicidal operations could begin again,” if the opportune circumstances presented themselves. They did in South Lebanon in October 1988, indicating they had ceased this strategy for strategic reasons, not moral ones. [6]

Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, who served as Hamas foreign minister under Ismail Haniyeh, boasted “The importance of the weapon of such martyrs is no less than the importance of nuclear weapons.” [7]

One member of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, explained, “We do not have tanks or rockets, but we have something superior—our exploding Islamic human bombs. In place of a nuclear arsenal, we are proud of our arsenal of believers.”  [8]

‘We in Hamas consider suicide bombing attacks inside the 1948 borders” — inside Israel — to be the card that Palestinians can play to resist the occupation,” asserted Hamas leader Sayeed Siyam. “We often do this in response to Israeli attacks. We do not own Apache helicopters ourselves, so we use our own methods. Given the methods used by the Israelis, we consider the door to hell is open. Their assassination policy and the bombardment — all this theater of war inside Palestinian villages and homes — we respond to that by seeking to make Israelis feel the same, insecure inside their homes.” [9]

All that is required are nails, gunpowder, a battery, a light switch, and a short cable, mercury (readily available from thermometers), acetone, and the cost of modifying a belt wide enough to hold six or eight pockets of explosives. Transportation to a distant Israeli town is the most costly expense. A typical operation at the time cost about $150.00. The terror organization awarded the bomber’s family between $3,000 to $5,000 dollars. [10]

Arab Response is Not Surprising

Arab response should not come as a surprise. Palestinian Arab refusal to abandon the inevitability of Israel’s destruction cannot be as easily dismissed as those in the Western media continually do. Nor can one ignore the overwhelming evidence that this conflict is a religious war, where the land of Israel will always be viewed by Palestinian Arabs as a waqf land – land that is a Muslim religious trust. [11]

This point is plainly defined in Article 11 of the Hamas Charter of 1988: “The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. This being so, who could claim to have the right to represent Moslem generations till Judgement Day?”  [12[

Palestinian Authority shares the same goal. Article 15 of The Palestinian National Charter of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) states: “The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national (qawmi) duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine.” Article 19 asserts: “The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time, because they were contrary to the will of the Palestinian people and to their natural right in their homeland, and inconsistent with the principles embodied in the Charter of the United Nations; particularly the right to self-determination.”  [13]


[1] Robert A. Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (New York: Random House, 2005), 217.

[2] Ibid.217-218.

[3] Rachel Lu, “Terrorists Are Cowards. Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise,” The Federalist (June 14, 2017).

[4]  Ariel Merari, “The readiness to kill and die: Suicidal terrorism in the Middle East,” in Walter Reich, Ed., Origins of terrorism: Psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1990), 193; Christoph Reuter, My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004), 2-3, 11.

[5] Bruce Hoffman, “The Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” The Atlantic Monthly Volume 291, Number 5, (June 2003); Walter Laqueur, A History of Terrorism (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Books, 2016) (Joseph Lelyveld, The New York Times Magazine (October 28, 2001).

[6] Martin Kramer, “The Moral Logic of Hizballah,” in Walter Reich Ed., Origins of terrorism: Psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind op.cit. 148-149.

[7]  Steven Stalinski, “Hamas’s Philosophy on Raising Martyrs,” The New York Sun (March 15, 2006).

[8] Nasra Hassan, ‘‘Letter from Gaza: An Arsenal of Believers,” The New Yorker (November 11, 2001).

[9] Deborah Sontag, “The Palestinian Conversation,” The New York Times Magazine (February 3, 2002).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Bernard Lewis, “The Palestinians and the PLO,” Commentary (January 1975): 43-44.




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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.