In the Shadows of Men: Pain in Fear


I understand and sympathize with the men who throw their own lives away in such a manner. I sense their desperation. I feel their pain. For a long time, I understood their actions, their decision to end their lives. Their desperation and humiliation comes from all directions—not only the occupation, but also the corruption within the Palestinian leadership. There is no hope for a better future. One had only to try to pass through a checkpoint during the Second Intifada and be humiliated by a guard no older than your son to feel this level of frustration. I felt the same sense of hopelessness, though later I would meet a man who changed my mind, who reminded me that there is always some value to life, no matter what has been stripped away.

Diagnosing what happened and is happening is not complicated. It’s easy to understand. The Palestinian people today live in a state of devastation and desperation. The tyranny of occupation and corruption, as well as tension within the Palestinian Authority, robbed the Palestinian youth of any promising future. The state of increasing humiliation from all directions has led young people to take their own lives with kitchen knives, or even with a ruler or scissors.

I do understand those who go to their end aspiring to reach heaven. Or those so desperate from living an existence that loathes them that they let go of it. I cannot blame such a person, living in despair and desperation, without hope for a solution. Life needs a space for hope to thrive, and such spaces have been shut and locked for young Palestinians.

At this time, during the Second Intifada, I said what many others said, that every Palestinian passing through a checkpoint is a potential suicide attack. I repeated this until I met the person I would later call the angel of death. I was in a Jenin refugee camp with a group of activists on an invitation from the late director, Julian, who was also a creative force in the freedom theater. A very well-known man who represented the leadership appeared. He was at the top of the list of people wanted by the occupation. I was horrified when I saw him. His relationship with Julian was very close. What Julian and his mother, Arna, did in the camp to establish the theater was very impressive and inspiring. They attracted young people to the theater and gave them chances and choices for creativity and expression in ways they were not used to amid the violence and desperation that haunts life in refugee camps.

The man sat in front of us and situated himself in the middle of the room. His face had been disfigured in an accident, when a bomb exploded as he was building it. The way he spoke was cold and monotone and carried a horrific energy. I was scared and surprised. The details he described were very interesting, and I couldn’t take my eyes of him. It was as if he had bewitched me. He was talking about how he prepared the suicide bombs, how the young men used to come to him, and how they used to plan their attacks.

I looked around, and for an instant my eyes met with one of the Jewish activists. I saw the horror in her expression as she tried to suppress the tears in her eyes. The man was proudly describing his deeds. And he spoke about his own life, which was a tragedy by all measures. His mother and father were killed. His brothers were killed one after the other. He was wanted, and so nobody would provide him shelter, fearing retribution, fearing that they’d become a target. His life was one escape after another.

I looked at him at some point and asked, “How can you still carry on with life when you have so many reasons not to? Why do you lead others to their deaths with their own hands, and yet you hold on to your own life? Why do you take them to a cowardly death? Why not train them to fight instead? Why carry out suicide attacks on a busload of people feeling safe, regardless of who they are? Isn’t it enough to know that a child was among the crowd? While military bases are popping up on every intersection, why don’t you train these men to confront and fight? If death is their destiny, why don’t they die in real combat?” Suddenly, I saw him as a devil, a kidnapper of souls. Why was his life valuable while others’ lives were worth nothing to him?

At that moment, I came to despise suicide attacks. Because whoever leads them is a kidnapper of souls, working in the place of God to decide who lives and dies.

What is happening these days is different—it’s neither directed nor organized. All who decide to leave their homes with a knife do so quietly. Trust is totally absent. They no longer trust a system, authority, party, or family. They only know a desperate feeling and the devastation that bled them of any value for life.



Leave a Reply