Attard, Joseph (2019) Perceptions of Palestinian Shaheeds: Personality Characteristics, Religiosity and Family Relationships. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The Palestinian conflict has existed for generations. It has been characterised by conventional wars but also with guerrilla warfare by the Palestinians who feel that their fire power is not comparable with the Israelis. This guerrilla war has taken many forms. Often the aim is to disrupt Israeli activity rather defeat them in an asymmetrical conflict. One such tactic has been suicide terrorism. Whilst recognising that there are profound and complex political issues that underpin suicide attacks there still remain important questions about who undertakes such attacks and what are their characteristics.

Within their social context suicide bombers are referred to as ‘martyrs’ (in Arabic Shaheed), yet despite this acclaim from their community there are still three psychological issues that it is fruitful to explore. One is whether they have any particular personality characteristics that relates to their activity and thus may make them more vulnerable to the pressures to act. A second, within the Muslim context of their actions is whether there is some aspect of religiousness that makes them particularly open to martyrdom. A third is the issue of the kind of family relationships that are conducive to a person deciding whether to undertake a suicide terrorist operation.

It is extremely difficult to study the characteristics of suicide terrorists in any theatre of war and the Palestinian conflict has its own particular challenges. However, through the development of careful relationships it was possible to oversee interviews conducted in the West Bank, Palestine among 24 families. From each family a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 3 members completed interviews and questionnaires about a member of their family and their family relationships. 12 Palestinian Shaheed families participated. Members from these families went on suicide operations in the first or second Intifada during the early 90s and 2000s respectively. The other 12 families constituted the comparison group, as they did not have a Shaheed in their family. Religiosity, personality and family relationships were studied in both groups using a tailor- made questionnaire specifically drawn up for this study, adapted versions of the Muslim Attitude towards Religiosity Scale (MARS), the Fundamental Interpersonal Relationship Orientation-Behaviour (FIRO-B) and the Brief Family Relationship Scale (BFRS). The BFRS indicated that at least in the Palestinian context and in the time period of the first and second intifada Shaheeds came from families with a lot of cohesion. Members pertaining to these families were able to express themselves and their opinions. These families were lower than the comparison families as regards to expressing anger. Perhaps unexpectedly they were peaceful families. It was also found that Shaheeds were perceived by their families to be lower on Received Control on the FIRO-B and higher on Religiosity by the MARS than the non-Shaheeds in the comparison families. The FIRO-B also indicated that Shaheeds were perceived to be both high on Received Inclusion and Expressed Inclusion.

Case studies of a selection of individuals and their families helped to elaborate the results from the comparison of the results of the questionnaire study. These demonstrate that within the Palestinian culture that sees itself as under a harsh occupation many families could accept that one of their members could become a Shaheed. However, those families who are particularly open to discussion and religious may be more likely to implicitly or explicitly support one of their members to make the ultimate sacrifice for their cause.

This study intended to put forward a list of indicators whereby families at risk of having a member contemplating to commit an act of suicide bombing belonging to a society similar to the Palestinian society would be able to realise that a member is at risk of committing such a suicidal attack. Individuals undertaking suicide operations seem to be high on Received Inclusion on the FIRO-B, this means that these people are quite popular hence they should be encouraged to go into politics in order to bring change in socially acceptable manners. This coupled with the fact that Shaheeds were also found on the FIRO-B to appreciate Expressed Inclusion, wanting to be popular does help a person who decides to go into politics. The fact that Shaheed families are very strong in cohesion, expression of opinion in the family, and low on anger may be conducive so that family members will be knowledgeable of the wishes or intentions passing through the other member’s mind. Similarly to prior acts of suicide being committed, during certain political scenarios words and other parlance relating to suicide operations should not be ignored. However, the fact that Shaheeds seem to be low as regards to Received Control on the FIRO-B means that they may be convinced that the only way a change can be brought about is by a suicide operation. In addition to this it may be difficult to change their cognitive patterns especially due to the fact that this is coupled with a strong element of religiosity, hence the individual may see his suicide operation as a vocation or as wanted by a higher entity since Allah hu Akbar (God is Great). This research project pinpoints factors and possibly proposes intervention strategies that will help families of Shaheeds to channel the energy and will of the members to commit a suicidal operation into another act leading towards alternate behaviour that is less destructive but nonetheless will help his/her aggravated community with much less destruction albeit with great might.

FINAL THESIS - Attard.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (4MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email