Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Suicide bomber wins muted praise

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

When Arij Joubeh's family says she knew nothing of her husband's intentions as he left to blow up an Israeli bus carrying religious Jews, it is easy to believe them.

She was clearly not prepared for the carnage exacted by Raed Mesk -- who disguised himself as an ultra-orthodox Jew so he could kill 20 people, including six children -- or she would already have packed.

On Wednesday, at a wake in Hebron for the bomber, the family said Mrs. Joubeh had heard the news of her husband's actions with alarm. Six months' pregnant, and with two children aged four and 18 months, she realized the first thing she had to do was to get out of her home in Hebron. The Israeli army routinely blows up the houses of suicide bombers.

Within a couple of hours the flat was stripped bare. By the time the troops did arrive, at 2am, neighbors had even chiselled out the window frames and stashed them for the family. The soldiers asked questions of the neighbors and left.

But the shock and desperation could not stop the widow from praising her husband's actions.

"Raed dreamed of being a martyr. That was God's wish," she said.

Other Palestinians in Hebron were more troubled. Praise for the mass murder was muted even in a city with a bitter history at the hands of a few hundred deeply religious and well armed Jews who have embarked on a kind of ethnic cleansing of the town center.

The hall hired for the suicide bomber's wake, without his body, was largely empty, perhaps in part because the army had arrested 17 relatives. It was also surprisingly devoid of the Hamas flags which usually adorn such events. In terms of numbers of dead, the Jerusalem bombing was the costliest attack on a bus in the past three years of intifada.

Yet many Palestinians kept their distance. Some said they feared the slaughter would mean an end to the six-week-old ceasefire and faltering peace process, which offers the only glimmer of hope for an end to the conflict.

Others privately speculated that the Hamas leadership had not authorized the attack, and that it had been carried out unilaterally by the Hebron faction.

But whatever the Palestinians' views on the bombing, there was common agreement that the Israelis had brought the attack on themselves.

"The ceasefire means nothing to the Israelis," said Abdul al-Nsary, an uncle of the suicide bomber. "The assassinations didn't stop, the barriers and roadblocks didn't disappear, the settlers are still attacking us. If only they stopped one thing -- assassinating militants -- the ceasefire would be a success. But the Israelis won't give it this chance."

Friends and family paint a picture of 29-year-old Raed Mesk that is now the classic portrait of a suicide bomber, particularly one from Hebron. No one believed he was capable, they said. People described him as a deeply religious man who was a preacher in the local mosque and just months from completing his degree in religion.

But deeper probing of Joubeh's family reveals a man angry with the world.

He had been in jail as a 15-year-old, during the first intifada in the 1980s, for being a member of Hamas.

"He believed there is one rule for the Americans and Israelis and another for people like the Palestinians," said a cousin, who declined to give his name. "He was very angry that the Israelis did not take the ceasefire seriously, that they kept on killing. The final straw was the killings of Kawasame and Sidr. He said the suicide action was in revenge for that."

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