The Making of a Human Bomb

An Ethnography of Palestinian Resistance

The Making of a Human Bomb

The Cultures and Practices of Violence

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Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 9 illustrations Published: July 2009

Author: Nasser Abufarha

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Middle East Studies, Politics

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.


“[A] very good ethnography, richly documented and theoretically informed, which should be read by anyone interested in the anthropology of violence or the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.” — Eyal Ben-Ari, Social Anthropology

“[A]n important contribution to the understanding of this bloody chapter in the history of Palestinian resistance, as it addresses the issue from the perspective of the Palestinians themselves.” — Asa Winstanley, Electronic Intifada

“[Abufarha] offers a holistic and multi-tiered approach to account for the cultural meanings that underlie and extend beyond the political instrumentalities of using ‘human bombs’ to destabilize Israeli society. . . . Recommended. All levels/libraries.” — B. Tavokolian, Choice

“[T]he book makes an exceptional contribution to our understanding of martyrdom operations. The author’s focus on the cultural discourse of martyrdom allows the reader to understand the self-sacrificial ‘system of motivations’ for such acts; an understanding missing in English terms such as ‘human bomb’ or ‘suicide bombings’.” — Leonardo A. Schiocchet, Interventions

The Making of a Human Bomb by Nasser Abufarha is required reading, for it links the 21st century’s leading sociological perspective (culture) with the new century’s quintessential form of political violence (suicide bombers, or SBs).” — Albert J. Bergesen, American Journal of Sociology

“[Abufarha’s] research is extensive and his thesis powerful. . . .” — Steven E. Levingston, Washington Post, Short Stack blog

“[T]he best book I've come across on explaining the source of conflict. . . . 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.” — Debbie White, Different Time Different Place blog

“Abufarha can hardly be blamed for this apparent disconnect between his strongest material and his analytical conclusions. It results from writing perhaps the most difficult kind of ethnography imaginable, one whose physical subject has vanished and been replaced by competing ideologies. Abufarha deserves credit for rising to this challenge and writing an insightful, passionately researched, and consistently provocative if analytically uneven book. He has broken new ground; may others join him in tilling it.” — Diana Allan, American Ethnologist

“With this book, [Abufarha] has made several incisive contributions, and not only towards understanding the suicide bombers of the Intifada. Yet non-Palestinian scholars invested in research and reading about Palestine should read Abufarha’s book not only for his insightful analysis but also for the value of his reportage of the ‘on the ground’ perspectives of Palestinians in the northern West Bank. On both accounts, and various mixtures thereof, this is an important book I highly recommend.” — Les W. Field, Journal of Anthropological Research

The Making of a Human Bomb is a powerful book. Reflecting on suicide bombings, Nasser Abufarha explains more: the collective state of mind of the Palestinian population since the Oslo process broke down in 2000. His book will be quite useful for anyone seeking to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as perceived from the Palestinian side.” — John Quigley, author of The Case for Palestine: An International Law Perspective


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nasser Abufarha is the Founder and Chair of the Palestine Fair Trade Association, based in Jenin, Palestine. He has a doctorate in anthropology from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

1. Introduction 1

2. Histories and Historicities in Palestine 26

3. State Expansion and the Violence of "Peace Making" in Palestine 64

4. The Carrier 99

5. Dying to Live 136

6. The Strategies and Politics of Martyrdom in Palestine 189

7. Conclusion 224

Appendix 243

Notes 245

Bibliography 259

Index 269
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4439-1 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4428-5
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