Review of Nasser Abufarha's Book on The Palestinian Culture of Violence / Anat Berko

The Making of a Human Bomb
An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance (The Culture and Practice of Violence)
Nasser Abufarha
Durham: Duke University Press, 2009. 277 pp. $84.95 ($23.95, paper)
Reviewed by Anat Berko
Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya and George Washington University

The Making of a Human Bomb looks at suicide terrorism from the perspective of the perpetrator and the society from which the phenomenon emerges. The intersection of culture and violence is a significant marker of Palestinian society as evidenced by the brutal Fatah-Hamas rivalry, the long tradition of blood feuds, and "honor killings" of women; an analysis of that society would make for a compelling and valuable contribution to the literature. As a product of Palestinian society, Abufarha could have brought a unique viewpoint to the table with an ability to offer an insider's view of a group of people so often discussed but so little studied.

Such hopes are misplaced: Abufarha has wasted this potential by normalizing violence in Palestinian society and repeating tired tropes about colonialist victimization to rationalize acts of mayhem. Despite his cultural, religious, territorial, and social accessibility to the region of Jenin, home of many a suicide bomber, the genuine insight of an academic is absent from the book. Whatever ethnographic research is present, it is filtered through a deeply subjective and selective outlook, riddled with holes and resulting in a series of historical and scientific inaccuracies that conform to a political agenda and create problems with validity and reliability.

Thus he can write, "Killing celebrated by individuals, groups, and communities does not represent a psychological pathology, but rather a cultural expression." He refers to Israelis as "Zionists targets" or "immigrants" and to Israel as a "colonial" and "expansionist" state and portrays the Palestinian fellaheen (farmers) as fighting against "colonialist Israel." This, in turn, allows him to portray the indiscriminate killing of Israeli civilians as justified behavior: "Palestinian groups developed Palestinian martyrdom operations as a means of resisting state expansion and asserting Palestinian identity and rootedness."

It is unfortunate that the author's deep emotional involvement and identification with one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused him to abandon his role as a researcher of the Palestinian suicide attack phenomenon and instead present his research as a moral justification of this form of terrorism. Beyond the Israeli victims, it is the Palestinian children who are harmed by such socialization and indoctrination, preparing them to become shaheeds (martyrs), leading them and their society to a literal dead end.

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