Dr.Gerstenfeld’s latest article was originally published in Israel National News and republished here with the author’s consent.
The Palestinian Culture of the Glorification of Death
Palestinian society is permeated by a culture of glorifying death. One key element is the idea that dying to destroy Israel is not only noble, but the wish of Allah. This culture of death glorification manifests itself in a variety of ways. One of these can be found in the original charter of Hamas. An article there says that Hamas has been looking forward to implement Allah’s promise whatever time it might take. “The prophet, prayer and peace be upon him, said: ‘The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews (and kill them); until the Jews hide behind rocks and trees, which will cry: O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, come on and kill him!’”1
The Palestinian Authority (PA), controlled by Fatah, expresses its appreciation of killing Israelis through paying the murderers a pension. If they die as a result of their terrorist act, payments are made to the family. The PA also glorifies the murderers by naming facilities and streets after them.2 One terrorist who is remembered in this way is Dalal Mugrahbi, who took part in the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which 38 Israelis, including 13 children, were killed.3
One false argument is that this culture of glorification of death is specific to the Palestinians because of their difficult circumstances. Yet there is in Islam in general a major current, which glorifies death. In 2018, the four deadliest terrorist groups in the world accounted for 58% of all terrorist fatalities in the world. They were all Muslim movements: the Taliban, Islamic state, the Khorasan Chapter of the Islamic States and Boko Haram.4
Support for Islamic terrorism – which is far from marginal — can be found in a variety of places in the Muslim world.5 Even in a supposedly moderate country such as Jordan there is recognition and important support for such murders. On November 18, 2014, two Muslim terrorists from East Jerusalem murdered four people in a Jerusalem synagogue and a heroic Israeli Druze policeman. The terrorists were killed. The next day Jordanian parliamentarians held a moment of silence for the murderers and read Koran verses aloud – “to glorify their pure souls and the souls of all the martyrs in the Arab and Muslim nations.” The Jordanian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ensour, sent a condolence letter to the families of the terrorists stating; “I ask God to envelope them with mercy and to grant you with patience, comfort and recovery from your grief…”6
It is important to understand that this death cult is not only something held to by the ruling authorities. It is also supported by individuals. Various Palestinian mothers have expressed joy that their sons have died killing a Jew or trying to do so. In 2019 the mother of a Palestinian terrorist who was killed during his attack praised how her son wielded the knife when he attacked the policemen. She explained that he had been a butcher. She then sang: “Muhammad Ali was a courageous man, oh knife commandos… You are the pride of Islam…” 7
Those perpetrators who die in these terrorist attacks are considered martyrs. Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik from Palestinian Media Watch mention that the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, from October 2, 2018 points out that according to Islamic belief a martyr marries 72 dark-eyed virgins in Paradise. They state that this theological aspect of the death culture should not be ignored.8 During the second intifada, the PA reported that children played the shahid game and argued over who gets the best part and die as a martyr:9 “A seven-year old girl said to her friends: ‘Let’s play the shahid (martyr) game!’ The children… argue who will play the shahid. Fa’iz, six years old, said: ‘You were the shahid yesterday, today it’s my turn! I’m younger than you. I’ll be the one to die!'”10
Israeli-American psychiatrist, Daphne Burdman, says that both the PA and Hamas lead children to view positively their involvement in terrorist actions in which they risk their lives. She continued: “This mass indoctrination of children is based on a carefully planned campaign that draws on strongly held cultural beliefs and deep-seated psychological mechanisms. The incitement uses a multimodal methodology, preaching Palestinian nationalism, martyrology, and under Hamas, emphasizing worldwide hegemonic Sharia. The campaign utilizes the media, schools, and the street and as well as religious figures.”
Burdman adds “Indoctrination in the Palestinian areas is far broader than textbook and television sources, encompassing general societal elements including newsprint, parents, teachers, methods of teaching with encouragement and praise for adherence, and strong disapproval for less devoted students.” She concludes that “even when violence between Palestinians and Israelis stops, Palestinian children’s state of mind will not change by itself. Once one has been taught that suicide attacks will open the doors to Paradise for oneself and one’s family, much more is needed for detoxification.” Burdman says that from professional experience it is questionable whether rectification of the martyrdom indoctrination can at all be successful and if so, it will be lengthy and complex.11
A number of conclusions can be drawn from the above. One is that the creation of a Palestinian state is not going to eliminate the glorification of death ethos. Such a profound deeply impregnated culture will not change rapidly. Taking this one step further, one can conclude that the promoters of a two-state solution — let alone a one-state solution — are promoting an idea that benefits those that are imbued with the culture of glorification of death.
This is a major accusation toward the Israeli Left as it is toward the European Union and others who promote the two-state solution. The European Union also gives money to part of the leaders of the glorification of death culture, the Palestinian Authority.
When he was President of the United States, Barack Obama has made a variety of evil actions in the Middle East. One of these was the extreme pressure on Netanyahu to support a two-state solution. Fortunately, the latter has since backed out of this position.
One may ask whether those who promote the two-state solution are to a certain extent complicit with the interests of the practitioners of the death glorification. This is even more the case with those who criticize Israel and look away from the Palestinian culture.
The Israeli government should share frequently information about the Palestinian glorification of death culture in the ongoing international debate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Further ideas on how to do this should be explained in another article.
1 Raphael Israeli, Fundamentalist Islam and Israel (Lanham, MD: JCPA, University Press of America, 1994), 132-159.
9 Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Dec. 26, 2001