March 26, 2004 - Hussam Abdo's story deserves to be told.
Hussam is a Palestinian child from Nablus, 14 to 16 years old (once again, reports vary). He looked even younger. The Israeli soldiers thought he was 10.
A couple of days ago his behavior changed. He started giving out candy to his family and neighbors. When asked why, he refused to answer. He also got his hair cut the way his mother Tamam likes it. He kissed her and told her he would do anything to please her.
"You never are like this," she told him. "What happened?"
"I just want you to be happy with me," was his reply.
The next day he left his house saying he was on his way to school. He never got there.
Israeli soldiers spotted Hussam as he pushed through the crowded line at the Hawara Checkpoint near Nablus and ran toward them. They noticed that his shirt was padded. They called out to him to stop. Taking cover behind concrete barricades, they aimed their guns at him and ordered him to raise his hands. They made Hussam lift his shirt, revealing the large grey belt of explosives underneath. At the sight of the soldiers' weapons Hussam became frightened. "I don't want to die. I don't want to blow up," he said.
There were many Palestinians waiting at the checkpoint, and soldiers cleared them from the area. Then they sent out a yellow army robot with scissors and told Hussam to take the scissors, cut the shoulder straps, and slip off the belt.
"Lift your right hand and reach out to grab the scissors with the left," one Israeli soldier yelled.
Hussam, frightened, obeyed. He was able to cut off only part of it; it became clear he did not know how to remove it.
"I don't how to get this off," he called out.
He continued struggling and eventually managed to free himself. The soldiers quickly took him to a safe place and then detonated the belt. It contained eight kilograms of explosives, plus bolts and screws.
Then the soldiers made Hussam strip to his underwear to make certain he was not carrying any additional explosives or weapons.
Israeli authorities detained Hussam for questioning. He told investigators that members of Tanzim (an extremist group affiliated with Arafat's Fatah movement) promised him 100 Israeli shekels to blow himself up at the checkpoint. (100 NIS is about $22.) The Tanzim told him that 72 virgins were waiting for him in heaven, and that blowing himself up was the only way he would ever have sex. "Blowing myself up is the only chance I've got to have sex with 72 virgins in the Garden of Eden," Hussam told the investigators.
The child seemed particularly vulnerable, and may have suffered from mental retardation. His family described him as very suggestible and easily manipulated. "He doesn't know anything, and he has the intelligence of a 12 year old," his brother Hosni said of him. Hussam told his questioners that other kids humiliated him and bullied him at school, and that he only wanted people to like him. He thought that by blowing himself up he could become a hero.
Hussam's family was upset and furious. They worried when he did not come home on time, and when they heard of his detention several hours later his father nearly had a heart attack.
Hussam's mother Tamam was beside herself: "Hussam left home this morning to school, and this was the first we hear of what happened. This is shocking. To use a child like this is irresponsible, forbidden." Hosni expressed his own rage at the terrorists who recruited his brother and said, "The ones who sent him are stupid, because the army will give him two slaps and he will tell them who sent him."
From the very beginning of the intifada children have been used as pawns. At first it was mostly young boys. They were used as human shields, sent to throw rocks at police and soldiers. The Israelis would respond with tear gas, and then a second line of adult Palestinian sharpshooters would fire from behind the children. The tactic was intended to draw Israeli fire and make Israel look like it was conducting a war against children. It worked. World outrage was directed against Israel, and the Palestinians got a free pass. That same world reaction bears much responsibility for what is happening now. It taught the Palestinians that their children can be a powerful weapon against Israel. They learned their lesson well. Now children wear vests loaded with bombs and nails and sharp bits of metal soaked in rat poison.
Aside from the fact that the world let them get away with it, there are several reasons why the Palestinian terrorists are using children. Children are cheap, readily available, and easy to recruit. They are (or were) more likely to escape detection by Israeli authorities. And the systematic program of incitement, sponsored not just by Hamas but by the Palestinian Authority itself, has made "martyrdom" seem appealing to impressionable young minds. Over 30 suicide bombers have been under the age of 18, and Israeli authorities have arrested more than 40 minors who were actively involved in planning suicide attacks. Just last month, Israeli police arrested three boys, aged 12, 13, and 15, who admitted they were en route to carrying out a shooting attack inside Israel. Hussam Abdo and Abdallah Quran go to the same school - apparently Palestinian terrorists see their own schools as military recruiting grounds.
"In addition to the fact that he would have harmed my soldiers, he would have also harmed the Palestinians waiting at the checkpoint, and there were 200 to 300 innocent Palestinians there," said Lieutenant Colonel Guy, commander of the Hawara checkpoint. "I wouldn't be surprised if the terrorists attempt to dispatch a pregnant woman wearing explosives next. It is hard to believe how low the terrorists are willing to stoop. They have no morals."
"No matter how many times Israel learns of the use of children for suicide bombings, it is shocking on each occasion," said Dore Gold, an adviser to the Israeli Prime Minister. "Israelis do not understand how Palestinians are willing to sacrifice their own children in order to kill ours."
But already Palestinians are coming up with excuses and explanations. They are saying it is Israel's fault - according to them, what isn't Israel's fault? Some are saying that Palestinian society is collapsing as a result of Israeli pressure, and others are charging that Israel staged the entire Hussam incident. This refusal to take responsibility is as damning as the original atrocity.
Here is what Hussam Abdo said in a newspaper interview:
"A river of honey, a river of wine and 72 virgins. Since I have been studying Quran I know about the sweet life that waits there."
No Israeli taught Hussam this religion. This is what Palestinian children are learning in schools run by the Palestinian Authority, the official governing authority for Palestinians. When one's own governing authority promulgates values that are self-destructive, nihilistic, and evil, one cannot pass the blame onto anybody else. Palestinian society has shown a cowardly reluctance to face itself squarely and confront its own flaws. The predictable Palestinian response to every bit of incriminating evidence that comes to light is to call it a lie the Israelis made up. This complete refusal to take responsibility for anything is not the mark of a society that is capable of governing itself and living in peace with its neighbors.
Palestinian terrorists would have killed young Hussam Abdo; Israelis saved his life. To the terrorists that life was worth only $22. The Israelis showed him more compassion than his own people did. This entire episode gives the lie to the Palestinian complaint that they resort to suicide murder because they have no other options and are desperate. They have other options, including the negotiating table, which they rejected. But Palestinian society has become so consumed with hate, so nihilistic, and so contemptuous of life that it prefers to train its own children to kill themselves, often preying on the weakest and most malleable.
It was bound to turn out this way. Palestinian society treats Jewish life as totally expendable, killing for the sake of killing, targeting the most innocent, including Israeli children. But Jewish life is human life. If Israeli children are disposable, then all children are disposable. If Israeli children can be sacrificed to the god of jihad, then why not Palestinian children?
Ismail Abu Shanab, a senior member of Hamas and a so-called "pragmatist" and "moderate," once said that Palestinians might have to sacrifice an entire generation to secure their nationalistic aspirations. Hamas commander Salah Shehade said in an interview: "One should prepare children carefully before carrying out attacks and recruit them into a special military section... in order to teach them the culture of jihad." And Yasser Arafat himself tells delegations of schoolchildren who come to visit him in his Ramallah headquarters: "Faris Odeh! Follow in his footsteps!"
Faris Odeh, 14, is the child who shows up on Palestinian propaganda photos throwing a rock at an Israeli tank. He died in a gun battle, shot fatally in the neck.
If Palestinian society is collapsing, it is not because of Israel. It is because of a system of religious and social values based upon intolerance and ethnic hatred that has infected the entire culture. Even if Israel were instantly to disappear, those values would remain, and would continue to destroy.
Other Arab countries are also to blame. They pay thousands of dollars to families of suicide murderers and they rhapsodize the bombers as heroes and martyrs in their government-controlled newspapers. The psychotic incitement to hatred, especially against Jews, is epidemic throughout the Arab world. Throughout the history of this conflict the Arab countries have rejected the Palestinians, have used them as weapons in their insane war against Israel, and have encouraged the values that are destroying Palestinian society from within. Now they would convince the world that this is all Israel's fault. How many World Trade Centers and Madrids will it take to wake us up to what is really happening?
Finally, the Hussam incident shows once again that checkpoints are not a tool of oppression. Security checks save lives - in this case not only Israeli lives, but possibly hundreds of Palestinian lives as well.
Without the respect for life, there will never be peace.
ABC TV News Broadcast. March 24, 2004.
Associated Press Report. "Israelis Stop Teen Wearing Bomb Vest." March 24, 2004.
Associated Press Report. "Palestinian Intellectuals Urge Nonviolence." March 25, 2004.
Barfi, Barak. "A True Palestinian Pragmatist." Washington Post,August 30, 2003.
Blachor, Deborah and Corky Siemaszko. "Sent to Die." New York Daily News, March 25, 2004.
Dan, Uri and Andy Soltis. "Palestinians in Backlash at 'Baby Bomber' Horrors." New York Post, March 26, 2004.
Dudkevitch, Margot. "Palestinian Boy, 14, Captured Wearing Explosives Vest." Jerusalem Post, March 24, 2004.
Harel, Amos. "Palestinian boy, 14, Got NIS 100 to Blow Up at IDF Roadblock." Haaretz, March 24, 2004.
Glickman, Uri and Marwan Atamna. "Another Palestinian Child Sent on Suicide Bombing Mission." Maariv, March 24, 2004.
Peace with Realism