Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Making of a Human Bomb by Nasser Abufarha

The Making of a Human Bomb

The Making of a Human Bomb:
An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance
by Nasser Abufarha

Trade Paperback: 296 pages
Publisher: Duke University Press
First Released: 2009

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Source: ARC from publisher

Back Cover Description:
In The Making of a Human Bomb, Nasser Abufarha, a Palestinian anthropologist, explains the cultural logic underlying Palestinian martyrdom operations (suicide attacks) launched against Israel during the Al-Aqsa Intifada (2000–06). In so doing, he sheds much-needed light on how Palestinians have experienced and perceived the broader conflict. During the Intifada, many of the martyrdom operations against Israeli targets were initiated in the West Bank town of Jenin and surrounding villages. Abufarha was born and raised in Jenin. His personal connections to the area enabled him to conduct ethnographic research there during the Intifada, while he was a student at a U.S. university.

Abufarha draws on the life histories of martyrs, interviews he conducted with their families and members of the groups that sponsored their operations, and examinations of Palestinian literature, art, performance, news stories, and political commentaries. He also assesses data—about the bombers, targets, and fatalities caused—from more than two hundred martyrdom operations carried out by Palestinian groups between 2001 and 2004. Some involved the use of explosive belts or the detonation of cars; others entailed armed attacks against Israeli targets (military and civilian) undertaken with the intent of fighting until death. In addition, he scrutinized suicide attacks executed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad between 1994 and 2000.

In his analysis of Palestinian political violence, Abufarha takes into account Palestinians’ understanding of the history of the conflict with Israel, the effects of containment on Palestinians’ everyday lives, the disillusionment created by the Oslo peace process, and reactions to specific forms of Israeli state violence. The Making of a Human Bomb illuminates the Palestinians’ perspective on the conflict with Israel and provides a model for ethnographers seeking to make sense of political violence.

I probably have a better understanding of the history and reasons behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the average American, but I learned a lot from The Making of a Human Bomb. It's the best book I've come across on explaining the source of conflict. I knew the least about what apparently most Palestinians-in-occupied-areas assume Americans know: what daily life is like for the average person in Israeli-occupied Palestinian areas. Reading this book really helped me understand the deeper reasons behind the conflict, why peace seems unreachable, why suicide attacks are used, and why they're used against civilian populations.

While parts of this book are rather technical in language (especially the introduction and conclusion, which basically state what aspects the book covered and how the author went about his research), the great majority of the book is in conversational language and easy to follow. I found the conversational parts extremely interesting and enlightening.

Since the book intentionally focuses on how Palestinians view the conflict with Israel, Israel doesn't come off as looking very good. However, the author simply presents the facts and does a good job of leaving it up to the reader to judge whether the actions on either side are moral or not. I never felt like this was a "bash Israel" or "pro resistance" book. It came across as an objective look at the problem, how it developed, and the underlying cultural motivations behind the popularity of suicide bombs as a means of Palestinian resistance.

The author does a very good job of presenting a complex situation and making it understandable. It's a powerful book. I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in the core reasons behind the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, understanding the Palestinian use of suicide attacks on civilians, and/or understanding some factors which drive the acceptance and use of suicide bombs in any culture.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from Chapter Six
[This is from page 208. Since the excerpt comes from such a late chapter, I'll define some of the language. "Martyrdom" here refers to suicide attacks. "In the imaginary" refers to in a person's mind. As in, they are constantly aware of the violence that might happen.]

Martyrdom is the form of violence that projects terror on the Israeli public as a whole. As Reda stated, an operation does not have to be "successful" to project fear. As long as some operations are "successful," any attempt has an impact as a form of violence in the imaginary that projects fear among Israelis. Strategies oriented to the "balance of fear" aim to bring a level of fear among the Israeli public similar to that prevailing among the Palestinian public under Israel's occupation. Anwar explained that there was a conscious decision in Hamas to achieve a balance of fear: "There are missiles, tanks, weaponry that terrify the public. The behaviors of the [Israeli] soldiers, the roadblocks, the militarized scene in general scares the public...Hamas's role in martyrdom operations, exploding buses and public places, is asserting to them as we are not safe in our homes you are not safe in your homes."

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