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 fourteenth installment in ‘Setting The Record Straight,’ the most recent series of articles from Jewish Press Online contributor, Alex Grobman, PhD 

There is no dearth of volunteers for martyrdom a Hamas leader pointed out. Their greatest problem was the “hordes” of young men who demanded to be sent. The selection process was difficult and challenging. One “technical consideration” they weigh is whether the recruit can “pass, at least temporarily, as an Israeli Jew.” Those who were rejected were not easily deterred. They repeatedly returned “pestering us, pleading to be accepted.” [1] (Nasra Hassan, “Letter from Gaza: An Arsenal of Believers,” The New Yorker (November 11, 2001). The point was reiterated by Israeli security official: “These days they don’t have any problem to recruit suicides. For every suicide they want, they have 5, 7, 10 volunteers!” [2] (Joseph Lelyveld, The New York Times Magazine (October 28, 2001). Many organizations boasted they had more volunteers  than they had explosive belts. [3] (Mohammed M. Hafez, Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers  (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006), 21. 


One senior member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said, “The selection process is complicated by the fact that so many wish to embark on this journey of honor. When one is selected, countless others are disappointed. They must learn patience and wait until Allah calls them.” Every time Israel retaliates after a suicide attack, “it is easy for us to sweep the streets for boys who want to do a martyrdom operation,” he said. “Fending off the crowds who demand revenge and retaliation and insist on a human bombing operation—that becomes our biggest problem!” [4] Hassan, op.cit. 

Hamas and Islamic Jihad seek youths who can assume leadership positions in their terror organizations, but their military wings depend on volunteers for martyrdom operations.[5] (Ibid) Religious study groups known as uras (“family”) are another source for potential bombers. After a person is identified as a prospective candidate, his or her enlistment occurs away from the study hall. Local mosques are also canvassed for observant young men whose attendance and conduct are observed for some time before a recruiter will befriend them. [6] (Hafez, op.cit. 21) 

When an individual is a volunteer, they are questioned about their motivation, and discouraged about becoming a martyr in order to assess their level of their resolve. [7] (Ibid) Recruits are told that once they commit to being a martyr, they cannot change their mind. A person from the supporting group is assigned to monitor the volunteer’s self-discipline, whether he is discreet among his friends, and scrutinizes his “piety in the mosque.” Sometimes, an imam will  advocate a particularly passionate youth to become a martyr. During the week before the suicide mission, two “assistants” are delegated to be with the potential martyr all the time. Any signs of doubt or wavering are reported, so that a senior trainer can come to reinforce the person’s determination.[8] Hassan. 

Preparation, which includes intensive spiritual exercises, prayers, and reciting the Koran, reinforces  the person’s “conviction, which supports his certitude. It removes fear.” The focus is on “Paradise, on being in the presence of Allah, on meeting the Prophet Muhammad, on interceding for his loved ones so that they, too, can be saved from the agonies of Hell, on the houris, and on fighting the Israeli occupation and removing it from the Islamic trust that is Palestine.” [9] (Hassan, op.cit.) 

Before leaving on the mission, the candidate prepares a written will, a video and in the past an audiocassette. At times, all three. The volunteer is photographed in front of the sponsoring terrorist organization’s banner and motto. The soon to be martyr, is seen reciting the Koran, posing with guns and bombs, and imploring his friends to emulate his example, while lauding the righteousness of jihad. [10] (Ibid.) 

After the bomber succeeds in murdering Jews, the individual’s family and the sponsoring terrorist organization celebrate as if this were a wedding. Hundreds of guests arrive to extend their congratulations. Refreshments specified by the bomber are served. Frequently, the mother “will ululate in joy” to express her elation at the honor Allah has conferred on her family. [11] (Ibid; (Joseph Lelyveld, The New York Times Magazine (October 28, 2001). 

“It Ain’t  Easy Being a Terrorist” 

Palestinian Arab sheikhs and leaders of terrorist organizations have no qualms about dispatching teenagers to blow themselves up, contends political strategist Aaron Klein, but they hide behind women and children as human shields, drive expensive cars, and reside in beautiful residences, while so many other Palestinian Arabs live in squalor in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria “fostered” by the UN.[12](Aaron Klein, Schmoozing With Terrorists: From Hollywood to the Holy Land, Jihadists Reveal Their Global Plans—to a Jew! (Los Angeles, California: WND Books, 2007), 60-61. 

Klein, who interviewed a number of terrorist leaders, reported that with few exceptions, all those he spoke to were surrounded by women and children by design. The terrorists know the Israeli army would not deliberately attack a home if civilians were present. [13] (Ibid.) At the same time, when engaged in battle, the Arabs wear civilian clothes, occupy neutral buildings such as mosques, schools and hospitals from which they launch their attacks, and use civilians as human shields. [14](Richard Kemp, “The fact that the IDF killed no civilians in Jenin is a marvel,” The Jewish Chronicle (July 6, 2023). 

Klein asked Islamic Jihad’s Abu Ayman, who sent suicide bombers to murder Jews, that it is “pretty easy to send others into population centers to blow themselves up, but if you think suicide bombings are so important, why don’t you become a martyr yourself?” He responded that he was charged to be organizer and recruiter, and not to become a martyr. [15] Klein, op.cit.60. 

As a leader in Islamic Jihad, Abu Ayman said he exposed himself to being assassinated by the Israelis, so he was as courageous as a suicide bomber. He then described the personal sacrifices he had to endure so that a suicide bomber life was much easier than his. “To be a [potential] martyr in a bomb attack is an easier life than mine as a wanted man who sleeps every night in different places, many time in forests and caves far from my wife and children this is much harder than the brother who explodes himself.” [16] Ibid. 61. 

Klein also met with Sheikh Salem Abu Muumen, considered one of the most important religious leaders in Jenin, who mentored those wishing to become suicide bombers. When asked whether American Jews, who support Israel should be murdered. He said: American Jews are here [in Israel] as part of the Zionist plot against our people and against Islam and they deserve to be attacked, persecuted, and killed like the occupiers, the other Israel Jews. [17] Ibid. 64, 67. 

Eliminating Social Incentives 

“Eliminating the social incentive – be it the poignant humanizing of a perpetrator’s failed life or the serious consideration of one’s adopted cause – delegitimizes the incentive,” advises Michael Welner, forensic psychiatrist Michael Welner. “If those who now dream of carrying out their own spectacle killings were to recognize at this stage that they and their agenda would be resoundingly vilified, such tragedies would be deterred by the very organs that supply the oxygen to spectacle and mass murder.” [18]  

To this end, Welner urges the media to refrain from showing their faces or revealing their names. They should only be mentioned “for their weirdness, hostility, self-absorption, and in ways where no one could possibly WANT to identify with. No one copies a pervert; if we can report about rapists and child sex crimes with an inherent contempt for the offender, we MUST do the same for the mass shooter.” [19]   

As long as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other forms of social media provide a venue for incitement, recruitment and glorification of suicide bombers, “Israel is in the midst of a cognitive war, which is part of a new strategic challenge,” declared former Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. This “battlefront is social media,” he said. [20] 


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

[2] Joseph Lelyveld, The New York Times Magazine (October 28, 2001). 

[3] Mohammed M. Hafez, Manufacturing Human Bombs: The Making of Palestinian Suicide Bombers  (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006), 21. 

[4] Hassan, op.cit. 

[5] Ibid. 

[6] Hafez, op.cit. 21. 

[7] Ibid. 

[8] Hassan, op.cit. 

[9] Hassan, op.cit. 

[10] Ibid. 

[11] Ibid; Lelyveld, op.cit. 

[12] Aaron Klein, Schmoozing With Terrorists: From Hollywood to the Holy Land, Jihadists Reveal Their Global Plans—to a Jew! (Los Angeles, California: WND Books, 2007), 60-61. 

[13] Ibid. 

[14] Richard Kemp, “The fact that the IDF killed no civilians in Jenin is a marvel,” The Jewish Chronicle (July 6, 2023); Orde Kittrie, “Hold Hamas Accountable for Human-Shields Use During the May 2021 Gaza War,” The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) (June 23, 2021). Fathi Ahmad Hamad, a political leader of Hamas, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and in April 2009, appointed Interior Minister, proudly declared: “[The enemies of Allah] do not know that the Palestinian people has developed its [methods] of death and death-seeking. For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahideen and the children. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: “’We desire death like you desire life.’” (“Hamas MP Fathi Hammad: We Used Women and Children as Human Shields,” aired on Al-Aqsa TV on February 29, 2008 MEMRI 

[15] Klein, op.cit. 60. 

[16] Ibid. 61. 

[17] Ibid. 64, 67. 

[18] James Swift, “What Drives – And Deters – The Domestic Terrorist?” Uncommon Journalism (February 1, 2017); Jeffery Dietz, MD, “The Paris Terrorist Attacks,” Effective Psychiatric Therapy (December 1, 2015); Meira Svirsky, “Forensic Psychiatrist: ‘Crazy’ Has Nothing to Do with Terrorism,” Clarion Project (March 29, 2016). 

[19] Interview with Forensic Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner, Part Two; see also, Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld, “A Psychiatrist Talks About PA Children’s Indoctrination,” Israel National News (November 1, 2011);  Daphne Burdman, “Education, Indoctrination, and Incitement: Palestinian Children on Their Way to Martyrdom,” Terrorism and Political Violence, Volume 15, Number 1 (2003): 96-123; “Indoctrinating Palestinian Children to Genocidal Hatred: A Psychiatrist’s Perspective,” Demonizing Israel and the Jews Manfred Gerstenfeld, Ed.(New York: RVP publishers Inc. 2013):48-50. 

[20] Ibid; Nir Hasson, “Police detain three Palestinian teens for attack on Jerusalem women,” Haaretz (May 30, 2016); Amos Harel, “Palestinian twin sisters charged with making bombs to attack Israelis,” Haaretz (January 25, 2016). 




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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.