Elihu D. Stone

A Palestinian Vocabulary Lesson

The term “martyr” derives from the Greek: μάρτυς, mártys, meaning “witness”; and originally referred to somebody who suffered persecution or death for advocating, renouncing, (or refusing to renounce or advocate for) a belief or cause – usually a religious one. Typically, when we think of martyrs, we envision people who are killed by others or otherwise suffer persecution solely because they stand witness, against all odds, for the principles of their faith. Consider Christians thrown to the lions by the Romans or Jews slaughtered during the Crusades and the Inquisition. In short, a martyr is someone who is murdered for maintaining the courage of their convictions.

It is an inversion – indeed a perversion – of the word “martyr” to use it to honor someone who dies while murdering others in the name of faith i.e. by exploding himself or herself at a children’s pizza party, or on a crowded commuter bus during rush hour – or people who storm a synagogue during morning prayers, screaming “Allahu Akhbar”, while hacking and shooting worshipers to death.

Yet, the Palestinian leadership and media have inaugurated a tradition of presenting heinous villainy as heroism, touting murderers as “martyrs”. Izz Al-Din Al-Masri, who detonated himself in a Sbarro pizza shop in Jerusalem, killing 15, 7 of them children, was given a military funeral by the PA after Israel transferred his body to the PA in May of this year (2014). Reporting from the official military funeral, PA TV News called Al-Masri a ”Shahid” or “Martyr”.

This glorification of murder-dom is hardly a one-off. Not even close. It has become common in Palestinian society, both for so-called “radicals” and for purported “moderates” to lionize murderers as “martyrs”. Palestinian leaders maintain and teach that the killers of Israeli civilians in suicide terror attacks are performing a laudable act, that even overrules the general Islamic prohibition against committing suicide. Note that the armed wing of the “moderate” Fatah party is called the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades. This faction claimed responsibility for firing Grad and 107 millimeter rockets toward Israeli civilian population centers in Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot, Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha and at the Sufa Crossing from Gaza during the summer of 2014.The aim of this brigade is to kill Israelis – suicide is coincidental to that goal.

And what of the so-called “moderate” Palestinian leadership in recent months?

In October 2014, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas sent a condolence letter to the family of Mutaz Hijazi, who was killed following his attempted murder of Yehuda Glick – a Rabbi who has championed joint Jewish-Muslim prayer sessions on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem–. In the letter, Chairman Abbas specifically referred to Hijazi as a “Shahid” – a Martyr who “rose to Heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places.”

Shortly thereafter, a Palestinian named Abd Al-Rahman Al-Shaloudi intentionally slammed his car into a crowd waiting at a Jerusalem light rail stop, murdering three-month-old Israeli-American Haya Zissel-Brown, a 22 year-old Ecuadorian woman and injuring 7 others. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ advisor, Sultan Abu Al-Einein, glorified that murder on his official Facebook page – calling Al-Shaloudi a “heroic Martyr”.

This conflation of martyrdom and murder-dom has become a staple of Palestinian culture and a bizarre source of national pride: In November of 2014 a song urging Palestinians to use cars to commit terror attacks against Israelis became a huge hit on social media. The song calls explicitly for murder: “Run [them] over, destroy, annihilate, blow them up.” Palestinians are urged to “lay an ambush on the road and run them over.” One video version of the song “Run over [the settler]!” by singers Muhammad Abu Al-Kayed and Anas Jaradat garnered more than 385,000 viewings on the “Quds News Network” Facebook page in less than two weeks.

On November 6, 2014 another Palestinian, Ibrahim Al-Akari, rammed a van into a group of pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing a police officer. Following the attack, in a conversation with Ynet, Al-Akari’s 16-year-old son, Hamza, praised his father’s act. “I’m proud of my father. I’m not sad that he died a martyr.” Al-Akari’s wife also averred that her husband went to the location of the attack “to crown himself among the martyrs and heroes”.

On November 10th, still another Palestinian, Maher al-Hashlamun, tried to run down Dalia Lemkus, a 26 year-old occupational therapist, from Tekoa,  while she stood at a bus stop near the entrance to Alon Shvut in Gush Etzion. Al- Hashluman crashed his car after striking Lemkus, then got out of the vehicle and stabbed her to death; al-Hashlamun then attacked two other civilians before being shot by a security guard. The reporters of the Palestine News Network referred to al-Hashlamun’s rampage as an “Operation” and called him a “martyr”, too.

Then, on November 18th, two Arab terrorists, identified as cousins Uday and Ghassan Abu Jamal – one of whom worked in a grocery store meters from Har Nof’s “Kehilat Yaakov” synagogue –  carried out a massacre there, slaughtering worshipers with axes, meat cleavers and guns. Palestinian neighborhoods reacted to the murders by handing out sweets and parading with axes. Meanwhile, the Palestinian media celebrated with a variety of cartoons mocking those who butchered as they stood in prayer.

The families of the murderers also celebrated the killings- A cousin of the terrorists, Alaa Abu Jamal, had this to say:

“This occurred because of the pressures of the occupying Israeli government on the Palestinian people and in Jerusalem generally, and the ongoing harm to the al-Aqsa mosque; this act is something normal for any person who is connected to his people, to courage and to Islam.

We got the usual death notification and we shouted with joy, people here also handed out candies to guests who came to visit and were happy for the martyrs.” Again – that word.

If this behavior is considered “normal” by any society, it is well down the road to damnation. It is high time to call out those purveying this heinous semantic distortion – conflating “martyrs” and ‘murderers’ – who have driven the peculiar Palestinian culture of martyrdom to its ultimate conclusion. These people are most assuredly not going to heaven. They serve only to make this world a living hell and assure the ruination of another generation’s future.

About the Author
Elihu D Stone practiced law in Boston, Massachusetts and is currently a member of the Israeli Bar; He is involved in the Al Durah Project, an initiative dedicated to understanding and countering the dilemmas and vulnerabilities that face democratic cultures in this age of aggressive asymmetric and cognitive warfare. Elihu has been privileged to serve in leadership roles for a variety of Jewish communal organizations and is an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. The writer currently maintains a U.S. life insurance clientele and lives in Efrat, Israel
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