Photo Credit: Asher Schwartz

Suicide bombers guarantee international media attention. [1] “The media are part of the war. CNN is more important than airplanes,” asserted Malek Wabdeh, a Hizballah cultural representative [2]

Individuals who are not directly vulnerable to terror attacks are not concerned with their own personal safety, asserts political scientist and terrorist expert Martha Crenshaw. They might express sympathy for the victims, the terrorists or for neither group, but they are in not in imminent danger, because they are far removed from the area of conflict “as well as by virtue of their identity. To them, terrorism is drama. Feelings of curiosity, distress, or vicarious satisfaction of desires for vengeance” might affect their opinions. Interest in terrorism might be similar to their interest in natural disasters or criminality. Terrorists might also assume the “characteristics of a mythical enemy.” [3]


It is “undeniable,” stresses Crenshaw, there is an “entertainment value of terrorism as real-life drama—furnishing suspense and pathos.” The use of highly charged emotional words, expressions, and symbols promote intense public responses. Critics frequently claim the media fosters terrorism by portraying the act as valiant and glamorous. Other observers condemn the media’s focus on the plight of the victims, which can precipitate anxiety and extreme concern. [4]

Leila Khaled: The World’s Most Infamous Plane Hijacker

Leila Khaled, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the world’s most infamous plane hijacker, demonstrated the critical importance of the media to the Palestinian Arab cause. In 1969 she participated in an in-flight hijacking of a TWA plane and an El-Al passenger jet the following year, “Until then [the hijackings], the world only dealt with us as refugees. We demonstrated and screamed and shouted to make the world listen, but the only answer we got was more tents and humanitarian aid. The hijackings were only a short-lived tactic, but I think they were successful in getting international opinion to ask: who are these people? Now the intifada is giving the answer.” [5]

The “iconic photograph” of Leila Khaled with “the gun held in fragile hands, the shiny hair wrapped in a keffiah, the delicate Audrey Hepburn face refusing to meet your eye,” created the symbol of Palestinian Arab resistance and female power. “ But it’s the ring, resting delicately on her third finger,” that “fuse[ed] an object of feminine adornment, of frivolity, with a bullet: that is Khaled’s story, the reason behind her image’s enduring power. Beauty mixed with violence.” She made it from the pin from the first hand grenade she used in training. “I just wrapped it around a bullet,” she said. [6]

To ensure she would no longer be identifiable as an icon, Khaled underwent no less than six cosmetic operations on her face. The surgery meant she could attempt a second hijacking without being detected. This time, she chose an El Al jet from Amsterdam. At the airport, she and her accomplice Patrick Arguello, a Nicaraguan, were stopped and their bags were thoroughly searched by Israeli officers, but the grenades, which were hidden in their pockets, were not found. The hijacking failed when armed guards shot Patrick and a passenger hit Khaled in the head with a bottle of whisky and knocked her unconscious. [7]

Khaled was incarcerated in a London police station for 28 days, until the then prime minister, Edward Heath, exchanged her for western hostages held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Women have always connected to Khaled. In her book Shoot the Women First, Eileen Macdonald explained how “She shattered a million and one taboos overnight, and she revolutionized the thinking of hundreds of other angry young women around the world.” Men in the PFLP were jealous of the attention she was getting, while the women were disappointed, she only spoke about the revolution, not the women. “I represent Palestinians, not women,” she once said. [8]

For years, the PA has used pictures of dead Arab children to manipulate public opinion against Israel. [9] At a stall in Gaza, one journalist found a Suicide Bomber calendar featuring all of the dead terrorists, and Sheikh Ahmed Ismail Hassan Yassin, a founder of Hamas and its spiritual leader. [10]

Terrorists Not Deterred

The terrorists are not deterred by the probability of being killed, which the Palestinian Arab media calls “execution” or by the failure of the upsurge of terror to achieve any significant changes—except for reducing Israelis’ sense of personal security and renewing the debate about the future of Judea and Samaria. [11] Terrorists are also not discouraged by knowing their bodies will not be returned to their families for burial, that relatives might be arrested, some might be fired from their jobs, and the family home will be demolished or sealed with concrete to just below the ceiling. [12]

Israeli Response

The Economist reported that “in 2002, at the height of the second intifada, 92% of Israelis feared that they or a member of their family would become a victim of a terrorist attack. Nearly 10% of the population suffered symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder(PTSD). During the four bloodiest years of the second intifada, the annual risk to an Israeli civilian was about one in 35,000.” [13]

The magazine pointed out that terrorism is psychological warfare that creates “effects that are utterly disproportionate to the actual lethality of the attacks.” Extensive media coverage, politicians who describe the attacks as being “existential,’ and the security services who exaggerate the capability of the terrorists, create the perception of the threat being far greater “than the reality.” [14]

But Israelis are resilient the magazine notes, which it attributes to two factors: the “strong solidarity among Israeli Jews” and the fairly high level of confidence they have in Israel’s security services and political leaders who will be able to find a solution. [15]


[1] Bruce Hoffman, The Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” The Atlantic Monthly Volume 291, Number 5, (June 2003).

[2] Christoph Reuter, My Life Is a Weapon: A Modern History of Suicide Bombing (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2004),73.

[3] Martha Crenshaw, “Questions, Research and Knowledge,” in Walter Reich Ed., Origins of terrorism: Psychologies, ideologies, theologies, states of mind (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1990), 256- 257.

[4] Ibid. 257.

[5] Seumas Milne, “Hijacker back in Britain on campaign trail,” The Guardian (January24, 2001); see also Daniel Henninger, “The Blogosphere of Killers,” The Wall Street Journal (July 12, 2007); Frank J. Cilluffo and Daniel Kimmage, “How to Beat al Qaeda at Its Own Game,” Foreign Policy (April 14, 2009); Leila Khaled, My People Shall Live: The Autobiography of a Revolutionary (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973), 58, 61-63,67-68;

[6] Katharine Viner, “’I made the ring from a bullet and the pin of a hand grenade,’” The Guardian (January 25, 2001).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook, “Seducing children to martyrdom,” The Jerusalem Post (July 4, 2006).

[10] Kevin Toolis, “Where Suicide is a cult,” The Guardian (December 15, 2001); James Bennet, “Leader of Hamas Killed by a Missile Strike,” The New York Times (March 22, 2004).

[11] Amos Harel, “Analysis Why Israel Is Failing to Pick Up the Scent of Lone-wolf Terrorists,” Haaretz (December 18, 2015).

[12] Amira Hass, “Why the Latest Palestinian Attacker in Jerusalem Was Not Deterred,” Haaretz (January 9, 2017).

[13] “Terrorism: Learning to live with it,” The Economist (September 3, 2016).

[14] Ibid.



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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.