A would-be suicide bomber in Bethlehem. She’s still very much alive.

20 February 2018 By Paul Martin

“My hero blew up nine people last week – and I am ready to join him,” she once said. What has happened to this would-be suicide bomber?

We have been back to Bethlehem and have found her. Watch this space for photos and story on how correspondent.world found the new Senabel and what she now says.

Here’s the original story from 2002:

MY HERO BLEW UP 9 PEOPLE LAST WEEK … AT 15 I’M READY TO JOIN HIM AS A MARTYR.  WHY A TEENAGE PALESTINIAN LONGS TO DIE KILLING ISRAELIS.
By Paul Martin in the Sunday Mirror.

In a narrow Bethlehem street, a schoolgirl looks up adoringly at a poster of a handsome young man brandishing a Kalashnikov.

With all the devotion of a teenage pop groupie she stares into his defiant face and declares: “He is my hero. He gave everything for his people. One day, as soon as I can, I will do that too.” 

Senabel Abdul Jawad El Farajieh is just 15, but she already knows she wants to die like her hero in the poster, Mohammed Daraghmeh, an 18-year-old suicide bomber. 

In this city that lies close to Israel’s capital Jerusalem, the young girls don’t worship pop idols or movie-stars. They idolise the suicide bombers – or as they call them “martyrs”. 

Mohammed blew himself up two weeks ago in a quiet Jerusalem religious neighbourhood, killing nine people including a baby and a toddler in a pushchair. He was one of 56 suicide bombers who have killed 109 Israeli civilians and five security personnel in the last 17 months. 

And Senabel too believes that sacrificing her life will make a better future for the Palestinian people. “This is the only way that will make it possible for us to live in peace,” she says. 

Senabel knew Mohammed well enough to believe he acted with the best of motives. 

“Mohammed was a brave strong guy who carried out a brave and heroic act and didn’t fear Israel. It was a fair response to atrocities we’ve suffered since 1948. 

“We want heroes, just like other countries have heroes. But our heroes are not soccer players or movie stars any more.  I’m just one of the girls who’d like to carry out the same act as Mohammed.” 

What makes Senabel’s determination to become a suicide bomber even more remarkable is that as a member of a dance troupe she was once involved in a peace initiative with Israeli children. She performed her national dance to a Jewish audience in America in 1999. 

Now she says: “When I do my act of martyrdom I don’t care if I kill Israeli children. They are all going to be soldiers one day.”

As if to justify her attitude, she shows me a wall adorned with posters of dead former school-mates. And she says: “I wish to God to be like these martyrs.”

Senabel’s bitterness, like that of most Palestinian Arabs, started early. She’s the daughter of journalist Hassan Abdul Jawad, who has been imprisoned 13 times for his anti-Israeli activities. And she is a member of a dance company called the National Dance Troupe – for which suicide bomber Mohammed was a drummer.

The troupe is rapidly becoming “a school for martyrs”. Senabel’s dance partner Hamed, who like her is 15, also aspires to become a suicide bomber one day. “I love life,” he says. “But if I have to sacrifice myself so Palestine can be free and the people can return to their land, I will do that, without fear.”

Senabel lives in the Deheisheh refugee camp, a dusty cramped warren of narrow alleys housing 11,000 people in half a square-kilometre of mud-brick houses. When she was young her parents were exiled to Jordan after her father Hassan was jailed, then expelled by Israel.

The songs they sang in their refugee camp were often about lands lost to the “hated Jews”. Children as young as seven were picked out by militaristic youth movements, attending camps with assault courses and chanting slogans like “with our blood and our souls we will liberate Palestine”.

To Westerners – and to some Palestinians who find this indoctrination hard to swallow – Palestinian leaders retort: “What other weapons do we have than our sons and daughters? When the Israelis have so much power and we have nothing?” 

They insist that it is only right that they have their own Palestinian state – and the bombings are the only means of attaining that. In the week since Israeli soldiers rolled into Bethlehem in their tanks, homes close to Senabel’s have been set ablaze. Scores of Palestinians have been shot.

She says: “I am even more determined now I’ve seen the Jewish soldiers face-to-face.The Jews have no right to Palestine. I would kill them and me today if I could.” 

Meanwhile, on a hilltop inside the camp, Mohammed’s parents and relatives sit on plastic chairs in a narrow alley, receiving a stream of well-wishers offering condolences and congratulations. 

His elder brother Ala, 22, says that no one had expected the act of mass killing, though they have since watched a customary pre-bombing video, recorded by Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian movement. 

Ala says: “I think what made him finally flip was watching the gruesome TV pictures of Israel attacking another refugee camp.” His close friend Luay Al-Haj, 20 adds: “Just before it happened, Mohammed seemed like he had no care in the world: he was happy, as if going to a wedding or he’d just won lots of money. 

“He had his head shaved, and told me it was cool that way. I should have realised then what he was going to do.” ‘

Living martyrs’ – the status given by underground movements to youngsters after they’ve done a video swearing to die – usually go shaven-headed as a sign of purity. 

Mohammed, dressed as a religious Jew and carrying a bomb with nails and bolts inside for maximum havoc, was smuggled into Jerusalem. He blew up the bomb just after dusk. 

Wall-posters and leaflets printed by the Fatah movement exulted in his death, declaring: “We are glad to announce successful operations of the hero and colossal martyr Mohammed.” 

They also contained a famous verse from the Koran: “Reckon not those who are killed in Allah’s way are dead; nay, they are alive and are provided sustenance from their Lord.” 

Psychiatrist Eyad al-Sarraj, who regularly has to deal with the families the suicide bombers leave behind says: “In my teenage time, my symbols were body-builders and movie-stars and singers.” 

He blames the change partly on the incessant images of death and destruction played on the Palestinian official TV channel. Pictures of children being shot, especially 12-year-old Mohammad al-Dura dying in his father’s arms, are played repeatedly, with a child actor showing how he’s gone happily to Paradise. 

“It’s really horrific,” says Sarraj, who has tried in vain to get the showings stopped. 

He believes many of the bombers turn to violence as an act of rebellion against their parents, who seem helpless in pushing the national struggle forward.

Some young men also believe they can overcome shyness or feelings of weakness by becoming the heroes they worship. Some are motivated by religious indoctrination. Others are made to believe their sacrifice is for the sake of the entire nation. 

“Still, it’s a huge leap from saying you want to die, to actually doing it,” says Sarraj. 

For Senabel there is time to reflect and change course. But she is becoming a very valuable commodity. 

The men who plan the suicide bombings know women and girls will bring far greater publicity than male killers. Which explains why the first female suicide bombers have recently appeared. 

And Senabel says: “Of course girls should play a full role in the struggle in life and in death. I want my poster up there too.”

Sun, 17 Mar 2002 03:17:25 -0800  

VIDEO: Mohammed’s brother Ala; DEADLY OBSESSION: Senabel gazes at a poster of her suicide bomber hero; SUICIDE BOMBER: Mohammed Daraghmeh was only 18 when he died; DEATH WISH: Senabel’s dance partner Hamed dreams of martyrdom too.