The Israel Police and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) are still not calling the last eight stabbing and shooting attacks in Jerusalem—along with dozens of other attacks and attempted attacks nationwide in the past 10 weeks—a terror wave. The Israeli public, on the other hand, has been forced to acknowledge that “shahada“—”martyrdom”—is experiencing a renaissance in Palestinian society.

The recent attacks have led to a greater focus on the shahid and their qualities in the Palestinian media. (This focus never shifted, but is now taking up more space.) The relevant quote from the Koran is also being thrown around frequently, both in the media and online: “And do not say about those who are killed in the way of Allah, ‘They are dead.’ Rather, they are alive, with their lord, and they have provision.”

The wills left behind by these terrorists, both those who died while committing attacks as well as those that survived, have much to teach us.

Former Mufti of Jerusalem Ekrima Sa’id Sabri explained during the Second Intifada (2000-2005) that “the Muslim loves death and martyrdom like the Jews love life.” The wills of the two most recent shahids illustrate Sabri’s remark; they both wanted to die. Mohammed Salima, who seriously wounded haredi youth Avraham Elmaliach  in the Old City of Jerusalem on Dec. 4 before himself being fatally shot by security forces, had previously posted on Facebook that he was “a martyr on the waiting list.”
Israeli security forces at the scene of a terror attack outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, on Dec. 4, 2021. Photo by Jamal Awad/Flash90.

“May Allah soon bring me to him,” Salima wrote, alongside a picture of another Palestinian, Sab Abu Abid, who was killed in clashes with the Israel Defense Forces in 2017.

Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, who murdered Eliyahu Kay near the Western Wall on Nov. 21, was also fatally shot by security forces. Before setting out to commit the attack, he left a much more detailed will than Salima’s, in which he claimed that “after years of work, study and teaching, there is no choice but to let the ship sail on our blood and serve as a practical example in the field of jihad.”

Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, seen here delivering a sermon in 2020, killed one Israeli and wounded four others in Jerusalem’s Old City on Nov. 21, 2021, before being shot and killed by Israeli security forces. Credit: MEMRI.

Until recently, Abu Shkhaydam, a member of Hamas, had a working relationship with high-ranking members of the Muslim Waqf on the Temple Mount, and only four months ago finished running a course offered by the Waqf titled, “The Battalion of Resilience and Ribat.”

He also took care to integrate “ribat“—an Islamic term that describes taking one’s place at the front of a holy war against infidels—in his will. “The best path for us in light of the abuse of our mosque [Al-Aqsa mosque—N.S.] is to redeem it with our blood. We have no honorable life so long as our mosque undergoes one failure after another and so long as the assaults against it increase. Therefore, prepare yourselves for ribat, for jihad, for sacrifice, and to give your life and throw off the bonds of this world,” he wrote.

Half of suicide terrorists leave wills

Nor are Abu Shkhaydam and Salima alone in leaving behind written statements. Looking through these documents reveals not only the terrorists’ stated motives, but also their need to share their “legacies” and win legitimacy for their deeds.

For Israel’s security forces, the wills are a treasure trove that enables them to heighten the precision of the system that tracks hundreds of thousands of internet users and social media participants each day, in the hope of thwarting similar attacks. Israeli authorities believe hundreds of attacks have been prevented in this way.

The wills often tell a story that is not religious or nationalist, but of personal distress. Mohammad Younis, who last week ran his car into a security guard at the Te’enim checkpoint near Tulkarm in Judea and Samaria, is believed to have argued with his father before taking his car without permission and deciding to become a “martyr.”

The scene of a car-ramming attack at the Te’enim checkpoint, near Tulkarm in Judea and Samaria, Dec. 6, 2021. Credit: Israeli Defense Ministry Border Crossing Authority.

Other times, the motive is revenge, or identification with other shahids; what the Shin Bet calls “copycat attacks” or “infection.” In the case of Tharwat Ibrahim al-Sharawi, 72, a mother of five who tried to run down soldiers near Halhul, the attacker had a sense that her death was approaching. She had told her relatives that if she was going to die, it would be better to do so as a shahid rather than “in bed.”

Approximately half of the terrorists who carried out or attempted to carry out attacks in the past few years left behind some kind of will. The most common motive documented in the wills is the desire to defend Al-Aqsa mosque from “Jewish invasion,” a reference to Jewish visits to the Mount. In Palestinian society, the Al-Aqsa shahids are considered the elite, celebrities in every sense, guaranteed a place of honor in the Palestinian pantheon of martyrs. Their wills are accordingly popular.

This is the kind of fame that came to Abu Shkhaydam, who wrote to his “brothers and comrades in dawa [Islamic missionary activity]” that “our blessed words and dawa, with which we have been busy since we were young, demand that we sacrifice and give our lives so that our words will not stay dead or without life.” (Translation courtesy of the Middle East Media Research Institute.)

A worker cleaning the street at the scene of a terrorist attack in Jerusalem’s Old City on Nov. 21, 2021. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Abu Shkhaydam even appealed directly to his students: “In every meeting, I was sorry [to hear] that someone had beat me to Paradise by attacking [the enemy]. I would tell you stories about them, from friends of the Prophet to the lions of Islam of our time. Long live Allah. I never ceased to weep when I would tell you about them, but I would prepare myself, and prepare to join them and follow their path. … I command every one of you to adhere to this path.”

One of the “lions of Islam” about whom he taught his students was Mesbah Abu Sabih, who left behind a chilling will of his own.

Abu Sabih, known to his admirers as the “lion of Al-Quds,” murdered Levana Malichi and Yosef Kirma in Jerusalem in October 2016. Abu Sabih was also a member of Hamas. He also wanted to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount. Like Abu Shkhaydam, he taught Koran at a mosque, and the writings he left behind predicted what was to come, but were not identified in time.

‘A revolution has begun in Jerusalem’

Abu Sabih, whom Abu Shkhaydam admired, admitted he envied shahids and wanted to be like them. Among other things, he wrote that “Al-Aqsa Mosque is awash in blood,” “was burned every day for 47 years and awaits someone who will put it out … do not abandon Al-Aqsa mosque.” In his will, he pleaded, “On Judgment Day, we will be asked what we did for Al-Aqsa mosque to keep it part of the faith of every Muslim in the world.”

Without Al-Aqsa, he warned, “There will be blood. There are men who will redeem Al-Aqsa with their blood. Jerusalem sits on the mouth of a volcano that is about to erupt. Al-Aqsa mosque is closed and the murderers of children invade it every day.” But, he wrote, “In Jerusalem, a revolution has started that is not a revolution of rocks alone.”

Abu Sabih, who was a violent type with a criminal past, and Abu Shkhaydam, supposedly more learned and gentle, wrote nearly identical things. So did Mohammed Tarayreh, 19, who murdered Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, while she was sleeping in her bed in her home in Kiryat Arba in June 2016.

The bedroom of Hallel Yaffa Ariel, 13, in Kiryat Arba. In 2016, a 17-year-old Palestinian broke into the Ariel family home and stabbed her in her sleep, killing her. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Omar al-Abed, a resident of Kobar who in 2017 stabbed three members of the Salomon family as they were gathered around the Shabbat table in their home in Halamish, left a “last will and testament” on Facebook an hour and 40 minutes before setting out to commit the murders. His writings also dealt with the “bitter fate of Al-Aqsa.”

Emergency services and police at the scene of a triple murder in Halamish, July 22, 2017. Three Israelis were murdered and one seriously wounded by a Palestinian terrorist who broke into their home during Shabbat dinner. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90.

“The mosque is being defiled and we sleep,” al-Abed scolded. “It is a disgrace for us to sit and do nothing. You, who pull out guns only at weddings and celebrations, are you not ashamed of yourselves? … All I have is a honed knife and it is answering the call of Al-Aqsa. I am going to Paradise, my home is there. I want nothing beyond that. Allah will judge whoever does not carry out my will. Put a band of Al-Qassem around my head and on my chest, a picture of Abu Amar [Yasser Arafat]. I will take them to the grave with me.”

Omar al-Abed is brought to the courtroom for his trial at Israel’s Ofer military court near Ramallah, on Aug. 17, 2017. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

‘The noose is around my neck’

But it’s not all about Al-Aqsa. Ibrahim Halas, who in April 2020 ran down a police officer at a checkpoint in Abu Dis, connected his act to criminal troubles. “They set the entire world against me, they ruined my life. The noose is already around my neck. From the time I was young, I drank alcohol and used drugs, but I am an honest and fair person and want to divorce my wife for these reasons, which have brought me to the edge,” he wrote.

Nimer Mahmoud Jamal, who was 37 when he murdered three Israelis in Har Adar in September 2017, also cited personal problems as his motivation. He had a long string of violent criminal offenses on his record, mostly domestic violence, and in his will he told his wife that she should not be troubled because of his actions. “You have nothing to do with what I am about to carry out. I was a bad husband and a bad father and you were a good wife and a caring mother. I tried to mend my ways, but I never could. You deserve a better life than the life you had with me,” he wrote.

There are also attackers driven by revenge. Ayman Kurd, 20, who stabbed two police officers near Damascus Gate after his cousin Ramzi died in a shooting in Hebron, wrote to his mother: “Be sure that I did not do this because of anyone, but of my own will. I thought about it even before my brother Ramzi died a martyr’s death. … Bury me in the shahids‘ graveyard near my brother Ramzi.” Kurd even asked that his death be celebrated: “I want them to have a party for me.”

Ayman Kurd at the Jerusalem District Court on Feb. 13, 2018. Kurd seriously wounded two police officers near Herod’s Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem on Sept. 19, 2016. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Longing to die 

Abada Abu Ras, the son of a senior Hamas official who was deported to London in the early 1990s, was responsible for a terrorist stabbing in Givat Ze’ev in January 2016. Two weeks earlier he had written: “I long for an event in which I will lose my life.” Abu Ras posted a picture of his inspiration: Mohand Halabi, who had murdered Nechemia Lavi and Aharon Benita three months earlier.

Fuad Abu Rajab a-Tamimi from Issawiya in eastern Jerusalem, who opened fire on two police officers, also said in his writings that he sought to become a martyr. “My death was to sanctify and glorify Allah … Don’t spread hatred in the hearts of my brothers after my death. Let them discover the religion and their own path, so they can die for the purpose of being a shahid and not as revenge,” he wrote.

Qutaiba Zahran, 17, from the Tulkarm region, who stabbed a Border Police officer near Tapuah Junction, wrote a long post on Facebook titled “The will of a shahid,” in which he bid farewell to his family and explained that the attack he was about to perpetrate was to avenge the blood of “Palestine’s shahids.”

The many wills and posts that the attackers prepare show that most assume they will die in the attempt to carry out their plans. The message Yasser Arafat made popular years ago—”Millions of shahids are marching toward Jerusalem”—is being voiced again now.

If this is the case, then it’s hard to discuss deterrence. What’s more, Palestinian society for the most part embraces the “martyrs” and even praises them. In a reality like this, security forces’ main focus is on preventing attacks through human intelligence as well as electronic means, and by being on the alert.

Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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