By Vic Rosenthal
On July 31, 2002, a bomb inside a bag covered by a newspaper exploded in the cafeteria of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Seven people (four Americans among them) were killed and 85 injured, two of whom later died. Many of the injured were Israeli Arabs; the university had until then been considered a model of coexistence between Jews and Arabs.
On August 22, five members of Hamas were arrested by security forces (one of the arresting officers was my son) and charged with planning and carrying out the bombing. The device was planted by Muhammad Odeh, 29. Odeh worked as a painter at the university and had free run of the campus. The night before the attack, he placed the bomb over the chain link fence surrounding the university; the next day, he entered through the gate (where bags are checked), retrieved the bomb, put a few drops of perfume on it to hide the odor of the explosive, and placed it in the cafeteria. No suicide bomber, he then left the area and detonated it with a cell phone call.
Israeli officials said that this group was responsible for several other deadly attacks, including transporting suicide bombers to Jerusalem’s Moment Café (11 dead) and a billiard parlor in Rishon Letzion (15 dead). They also carried out at least five other attacks in which there were no deaths. When they were arrested they had just planted another bomb in Tel Aviv, which was defused by police. The prosecutor called them “the most dangerous and evil cell ever brought to justice in the State of Israel”. They were convicted and received life (!) sentences.
Conventional wisdom would have expected that these terrorists were impoverished residents of the occupied territories with no jobs or hope, frustrated by checkpoints, perhaps living in refugee camps. But conventional wisdom would have been wrong.
The five were Arab citizens of Israel. Four lived in East Jerusalem. They possessed Israeli identity cards (and license plates), which allowed them to travel freely in Israel without arousing suspicion. According to CNN, all were married and employed and several had company cars.
What motivated them, if not poverty, discrimination, or frustration with the occupation of the territories? Wa’al Kassem, one of the group, made the following statement to the court: “We thank the Lord, Allah, for what we have succeeded in doing, and we call upon all of the Arab residents of Jerusalem to carry out jihad for Palestine, which is our religious obligation and right…”
Although some suicide bombers may be naïve, poor, frustrated, mentally defective, in trouble, or coerced, their handlers are not. Their behavior is quite rational, given the Islamic premise that animates them. Kassem (and others) have expressed it quite clearly to anyone willing to listen:
“…jihad…which is our religious obligation and right…”