The Motivation of a Suicide Bomber

The Arab-Israeli conflict has a long and complicated history, with massacres and violent acts committed by both sides and each with their own cultural, religious, and personal motivations. The Palestinians and the Israelis have valid, but conflicting interests in the area and brokering a long lasting peace deal has been unachievable. The conflict has been characterized by military incursions, forced resettlement, revenge killings, and terrorist attacks, including the more recent use of suicide bombings. The suicide attack of a Palestinian woman living in Israel and her husband’s subsequent struggle to understand her motivations serve as the primary focus of Yasmina Khadra’s novel The Attack. Through the main character Amin’s journey of discovery the reader is exposed to many aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict and explores the fundamental issues that contribute to the continuing tension in the region. Although this story delves into these issues, it is difficult to treat it is as an historical source due to the Algerian author’s disconnection from the situation. However, it is refreshing to read a work by an author who is an Arab and is Muslim writing on this subject.

In The Attack, Amin’s unique position as a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, the husband of a suicide bomber, and a man slowly reconnecting with his roots, allow the reader to explore this conflict from a variety of perspectives. The story focuses particularly on Amin’s struggle to comprehend his wife, Sihem’s decision and motivation to kill herself and seventeen other people in a suicide bombing attack. In the beginning he calls on his friend, Israeli policeman Navid for explanation as to his wife’s motives. Navid believes that the specific motive of the suicide bomber varies, but that there is something in their subconscious that “clicks” and from then on their own life no long matters.

Amin’s early interpretation was that she was “indoctrinated” and brainwashed into carrying out the attack. However, as the novel progresses, so does Amin’s understanding of his wife’s actions and motivations. He reconnects with his roots after returning to Bethlehem, swelled with refugees, for the first time in ten years and then to the town of Jenin which had been a “picturesque” town in his childhood but was now a war ground, scattered with posters of martyrs and rubble from Israeli tanks. Through violent confrontations with Palestinian fighters and observing his past life turned into a battleground, Amin is forced to confront what he has left behind. His family’s overwhelming pride in her actions helps him realize how he has isolated himself from his heritage and no longer understands the plight that Palestinians are suffering. Although he was unable to realize Sihem’s unhappiness during their marriage, his return to his homeland and tribal roots demonstrate that her actions helped open his eyes to the suffering that she simply could not ignore. Until the very end and his rather ironic death at the hands of Israeli military he maintains that killing is always wrong; but it seems that he now understands Sihem’s most compelling motivation for the attack was that she was “fighting to recover their homeland.”

Although The Attack gives an excellent portrayal of the psychological, physical, and emotional scars created by the Arab-Israeli conflict, it cannot be used as a strong historical source. Yasmina Khadra is a pseudonym created by the Algerian author Mohammed Moulessehoul to initially shelter him from military censorship during his service as a soldier in the Algerian army. While Moulessehoul experienced Islamic terrorism during his military career, his biography does not reveal any direct or personal connection with the Arab-Israeli conflict and so one must be careful when using The Attack as an historical source. What is refreshing is that he is an Arab and a Muslim who has had personal contact with Islamic terrorism. Although his background is too removed from the situation to truly comprehend the impact of this conflict, Moulessehoul seems less susceptible to Western bias or preconceptions that often influence commentary on the Arab world. Indeed, he highlights this himself in an interview when he says that “the West interprets the world as he likes it. He [the Westerner] develops certain theories that fit into its world outlook, but do not always represent the reality.”

While The Attack is fiction and was written by a man not directly connected to the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is truly insightful in understanding the complicated motivations of both sides of the war and in particular the suicide bomber. Amin was completely oblivious to his wife’s unhappiness with their wealthy and comfortable life and that she had reconnected with her Muslim and Palestinian roots. While Amin was somewhat aware of the pain and suffering of his people, he had chosen to remain neutral and to live the life of a doctor and “care for patients”. However, Sihem’s suicide and his gradual understanding of her reasons for doing so drew him back to his people and appear to have removed the sheen that blinded him from delving deeper into the issues. In his search to understand her motivation he sees, as does the reader, that both the Israelis and Palestinians are suffering and fighting for the same almost elusive entity – a homeland.