Anguish, Not Pride, Fills Parents of Suicide Bomber

TIMES STAFF WRITER

By the norms that exist in Palestinian society after 11 months of bloody conflict with Israel, Shuhail and Fatima Masri should be proud. Their son, Izzedine, became an instant Palestinian hero the day he walked into a pizza restaurant crowded with families in downtown Jerusalem and detonated explosives that killed him and 15 other people.

But the mood in the Masri household is one of profound sorrow at the terrible way their child chose to die.

"There is no mother who wants to see her son lost," Fatima Masri said. Any mother who says she rejoices in her son's death does so only because "she is obliged to say such things" by a society that celebrates such attacks as the ultimate patriotic sacrifice, Masri said.

"If he would have come to me and told me of his plans, I would have locked my arms around him and stopped him from doing this," she said. "I would have told him: 'I don't want Palestine. I don't want land. I just want you with me.' "

Shuhail Masri, a wealthy man who owns restaurants, shops and land around the West Bank city of Jenin, said he grieves not only for his son but for his son's victims.

"This wound is so deep in me," he said. "I didn't wish this on anybody--not on Jews, or French or English.

"As I feel the pain of the loss of my son, I can imagine how the parents who lost children that day feel for their children."

The Masris' expressions of grief and empathy are rare in a conflict that has so polarized Israelis and Palestinians that each side has difficulty seeing the other as anything but an enemy and itself as anything but a victim.

To Israelis and the outside world, Palestinian suicide bombers commit acts of inexplicable viciousness against innocent civilians. But to increasing numbers of Palestinians, the bombers are the ultimate patriots.

They are respected not only for being willing to die for the cause of liberating the Palestinians, but for inflicting pain and suffering on Israelis. The death tolls from their attacks--even if they include children, as in the pizzeria bombing--are seen as a grim evening of the score for the hundreds of Palestinians who have died and the thousands who have been injured since fighting broke out in September.

Hamas Carries Out Majority of Attacks

Activists from the militant Muslim organizations Islamic Jihad and Hamas boast that they have more volunteers for suicide missions inside Israel than they can handle. There have been more than 20 suicide-bombing attacks on Israelis since September, the vast majority of them carried out by Hamas. Dozens of people have died in these attacks, and hundreds have been wounded.

"These are not acts of suicide--they are martyrdom," said Mahmoud Zahar, a Hamas spokesman. "Someone who commits suicide does so out of deep frustration, deep depression. They are disgusted with life, so they want to cut short their lives to end their suffering. In the case of martyrs, they are serving a national goal. Most of them are young people, and they do not suffer from any psychological or social troubles."

Typically, parents, other relatives and friends of suicide bombers say they are proud of the bomber's final act. His sacrifice, and the terror he inflicts on Israelis, brings honor to his family, his village and his people. Although Islamic scholars continue to debate whether Islam allows such attacks, large segments of Palestinian society believe that the bomber's act earns a spot in paradise for him and dozens of his relatives. Palestinians rarely express remorse for the civilians who die in the attacks.

Those who attend a bomber's funeral are supposed to display happiness, not grief. Groups of young men dressed in white to signify their readiness to perform their own suicide attacks are always in attendance.

After Izzedine Masri carried out his bombing, in which half a dozen children were among the victims, Palestinians celebrated by passing out sweets in Jenin, the town closest to his village. Hundreds of people crowded into his family's home to congratulate the parents and their remaining 11 offspring.

The crowds helped because they kept his mind off his loss, Shuhail Masri said, but he was not comforted by their approval of what his son had done.

"A son is very dear to you," Masri said. "I tell my children now, from the youngest to the oldest, 'We just want you to go on with this life.' Those men who strap bombs to our children--why don't they do it to themselves? Why do they ask our children to kill themselves?"

The 22-year-old Izzedine had no record of what the Israelis call "security offenses" before he walked into the Sbarro restaurant at the intersection of King George V Street and Jaffa Road during the lunch-hour rush Aug. 9. His parents say that the day before the bombing, he spent the night away from home for the first time in his life.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack and published posters of the young man in military gear, brandishing a pair of rifles.

Shuhail Masri said his son looked like a stranger to him in the picture. As far as he knew, Izzedine didn't know how to use a gun. Their son, the Masris said, was deeply religious. He prayed daily at the village mosque with his father and recently took to listening to tapes of Koranic verses at home. He grew a beard a few years ago and shrugged off his mother's pleas that he shave it off.

Her son swore to her that he was not involved in any political organization or militia, she said, and he had recently asked her to start looking for a bride for him. But he had also taken to talking of how beautiful paradise is and how important it is not to be attached to the things of this world.

Although he didn't finish high school, Masri worked in one of his father's restaurants in Jenin and was expected to one day run a restaurant on his own. His father's prosperity assured him of a secure future and a position of respect in their village. Unlike many of the young men who have grown up impoverished in the refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Masri could hope for a better life.

Fatima Masri said she was surprised when her son told her he was going to Ramallah to visit a friend Aug. 8.

"But I thought he must have made a friend at the restaurant," she said.

Hours after the family heard on the radio that there had been an attack in Jerusalem, a relative phoned to say that Hamas was claiming that Masri was the bomber. Fatima Masri said the shock was so great, she went momentarily blind and collapsed on the floor of her home.

"The leaders, Israeli and Palestinian, should find a solution to prevent this sadness that is inflicted on the hearts of mothers," she said. "If they gave me the whole world now, would I be happy again?"

'Was He Brainwashed? I Don't Know'

Shuhail Masri said he has racked his brain trying to figure out when and how his son could have been recruited into Hamas. He has agonized over the fact that Izzedine never hinted to him that he was considering carrying out a suicide mission. He is convinced that it was religious conviction that led his son to carry out his attack.

"Izzedine did not lose any friends or relatives in this intifada," he said. "But he was aware of these killings taking place, of the massacres by the Israelis, of the pain and the fear of his people.

"Was he brainwashed? I don't know. He had religious conviction. He believed that God will take him into paradise if he did this thing. I don't believe that he was right, but I pray that God will grant him paradise."

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