Suicide bombers win public honor; parents grieve in private
From Mike Hanna
(CNN) -- Thursday's explosion at a pizzeria in Jerusalem is just the latest attack being attributed to a Palestinian suicide bomber. Ten such blasts since last October have claimed about 32 Israeli lives, including 21 killed outside a Tel Aviv disco in June.
The international community has condemned the bombings in strong terms, labeling the bombers as terrorists and murderers. But the view is quite different on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank.
There, the young men who carry out the attacks are seen as heroes in the fight against Israel, martyrs for the teachings of Islam, even role models for Palestinian youth.
Their likenesses have been painted on walls, even though in some cases, the bombers killed only themselves. One such martyr was Nabil al-Arreer, the first suicide bomber of this intifada. On October 26, he rode a bicycle up to an Israeli military post in Gaza and detonated explosives strapped to his body --- earning him an honored place on the wall murals throughout Gaza.
Religion is a powerful factor here. Though the Koran teaches against taking one's own life, the suicide bombers are seen as martyrs and are said to be living in the heavens.
At bomber Shadi al-Kahlout's funeral, attended by thousands of people, his mother Subhia al-Kahlout grieved for the loss of her son, even as she expressed pride in the way he died.
"I am a mother and I was sad to lose him," she said. "At the same time, according to our religious teachings, my son is alive in God's company."
"Because Shadi became a martyr, I was proud," she said. "But he is my son and losing him was painful."
That pain is sometimes hidden under a public mask of stoicism, as explained by Dr. Iyad Sarraj, a psychiatrist.
"In this tribal society we have two sets of language --- one for the public, which is a language of steadfastness .. a language of being macho ... a language of being proud ... even of dying," Sarraj said.
"Underneath of course we're human beings and we suffer. Sometimes the expression of grief for the martyr .. is something that people are even ashamed of."
In a letter left for his parents, Shadi al-Kahlout told his mother to rejoice for him, and told his father, Abdul Rahim al-Kahlout, to be patient, as he would see him in heaven.
"We had a feeling that one day Shadi would become a martyr, but we didn't know when. Once I told him ... don't you ever think of doing a martyr operation and not talk to me. He promised me that he would call me and he did call me," the elder al-Kahlout said. "That was the last call he made."
Abdul Rahim and Subhia al-Kahlout have 10 surviving children, and numerous pictures of a dead son. A son they say they think of every hour of the day.
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