The Road to Martyrs' Square: A Journey into the World of the Suicide Bomber

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Combining in equal measure the critical and the compassionate, the tragic and the absurd, this memoir chronicles two interlocking, often clashing journeys--an exploration of the cult of martyrdom in the underground media of the intifada, on the one hand, and on the other, the struggle for friendship across seemingly impossible divides.
The authors lived for six months with a Palestinian refugee family in the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the intifada, and then for the next ...
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Cary, North Carolina 2004 Hardcover First Edition New in New dust jacket 0195116003. New in a New dustjacket B-81.

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Overview


Combining in equal measure the critical and the compassionate, the tragic and the absurd, this memoir chronicles two interlocking, often clashing journeys--an exploration of the cult of martyrdom in the underground media of the intifada, on the one hand, and on the other, the struggle for friendship across seemingly impossible divides.
The authors lived for six months with a Palestinian refugee family in the Gaza Strip at the beginning of the intifada, and then for the next six years, collected graffiti, videotapes, audiocassettes, posters, and other street media in over one hundred towns in the West Bank and Gaza. Their book is based on these primary materials (with 66 illustrations included) as well as dozens of interviews with leaders and followers, including a rare interview with a Hamas suicide bomber whose bomb failed to explode on an Israeli bus in Jerusalem. Dispensing with the cliches and platitudes surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the book provides access to materials hitherto unavailable and presents in a new and compelling voice the master scripts of the intifada and the rise of the suicide bomber. Disseminated by nationalists and Islamists alike, these materials make it clear that the suicide bomber is not just an Islamist phenomenon but rather a widely shared fantasy that skips across religious and political divides. Indeed, the fantasy of the suicide bomber, the authors suggest, is global in scope.
Here is an important and timely work that will challenge the way we think about the intifada, suicide bombers, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"In The Road to Martyrs' Square, their remarkable and creepy account of life in the Gaza Strip in the early 1990s, Oliver and Steinberg, who lived with various Palestinians there, give us a look at the Hamas milieu from within. It's a world where the cult of 'martyrdom' is celebrated in graffiti, videos, and posters, creating a toxic atmosphere of sadism, kitsch, and religious ecstasy. The book is valuable for its exhaustive documentation of the martyr cult's various uses of propaganda."--Christian Caryl, The New York Review of Books

"Knowledgeable, colloquial, relatively nonpartisan and deeply skeptical and smart, this book offers an intensive look at one of the major forces in Palestinian society, one that is as unsettling as it is penetrating.... Oliver and Steinberg offer a tremendous amount of anecdotal texture, giving a chilling sense of what it was like to live in Gaza as it was engulfed by an Islamism that professes 'not only not to be afraid of death, but to love it passionately.'"--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A deeply engaging firsthand account of the culture and mentality of Hamas.... Because the authors have lived near their subjects amid the squalor of refugee settlements in Gaza, their book blends daily misery and bizarre episodes in its careful depiction of a 'martyr' culture.... Has great value in explaining Islamic terrorism and the nature of conflict in the Occupied Territories."--Library Journal

"This beautifully written yet disturbing book offers a unique perspective on the intifada and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, written by authors who demonstrate great understanding of the Palestinians' internal and external struggles."--Washington Times

"Anne Marie Oliver and Paul Steinberg have produced an engrossing documentary account--psychologically and culturally rich, and often also poetical--of how despair, religion, and politics conspired to create Palestinians who regard death, and apocalyptic destruction, as redemptive." --Yaron Ezrahi, author of Rubber Bullets: Power and Conscience in Modern Israel

"An extraordinary ride through the culture of violence in Gaza and the Palestinian West Bank. Through the authors' dramatic narrative we see the world through the eyes of those whom outsiders regard as terrorists. It is based on one of the most formidable arrays of first-person material ever collected on the lives of Islamic suicide bombers-conversations with activists, interviews with their friends and families, videotapes of their last statements, and wall posters and graffiti describing their deeds. We now have a compelling inside view of the mindset and the worldview of one of the most volatile cultures of terrorism in the Middle East. Though it is highly informative, their narrative reads with an eloquence and immediacy that will captivate anyone concerned about world affairs, radical politics, and the potent mix of religion and activism in the contemporary Middle East." --Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

"A chilling look inside the mind of Palestinian suicide terrorists. Using a vast assortment of primary sources gathered in the region--from personal testimonials to martyr videos to posters and graffiti--Oliver and Steinberg reproduce the personal journeys and public expressions of martyrs and martyrdom in often shocking detail. This important book shows that support for suicide bombing in Palestine goes far beyond a tiny fringe and compels us to ask how such violent behavior can become acceptable and supported by a society at large." --Robert Pape, author of Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism

"Oliver and Steinberg have written a book that guides us through the surreal but all-too-real world of Palestinian martyrdom, of the suicide-homicide bombers. They help us look, listen, hear, and even smell what would otherwise be awful and intolerable, but is so crucial for us to know. This book is a remarkable blend of personal memoir and deep immersion in all facets of the world they are witnessing, describing, and documenting. It is a presentation that allows the reader space for in-depth psychological and political analysis. Their account of the apocalyptic scripts and deeds of destruction, martyrdom, and access to Paradise are sobering, and yet they remind us of the need to find the more muted scripts of hope and empathy that are also there in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." --Roberta J. Apfel and Bennett Simon, editors of Minefields in Their Hearts: The Mental Health of Children in War and Communal Violence

"Of much interest to students of the Middle East, and of the psychology of cults."--Kirkus Reviews

Johann Hari
The Road to Martyrs' Square is a strange, seductive hybrid . . . captured in sparse prose refreshingly free of academese. Oliver and Steinberg have an almost Proustian ability to capture the essence of a situation through describing a simple sense experience or visual image. . . . The book is at its best when - along with its intellectual analysis - it also conveys the surreal, phantasmagoric nature of ordinary Palestinian life.
Independent columnist
Christian Caryl
"In The Road to Martyrs' Square, their remarkable and creepy account of life in the Gaza Strip in the early 1990s, Oliver and Steinberg, who lived with various Palestinians there, give us a look at the Hamas milieu from within. It's a world where the cult of 'martyrdom' is celebrated in graffiti, videos, and posters, creating a toxic atmosphere of sadism, kitsch, and religious ecstasy. The book is valuable for its exhaustive documentation of the martyr cult's various uses of propaganda."
The New York Review of Books
Financial Times
"A highly unusual and - its subject matter notwithstanding - thoroughly enjoyable book. Part memoir, part travelogue, part portfolio and review of street media - from graffiti to pre-mission videotapes - the book provides just what it promises: a journey into the world of the suicide bomber. . . . The second [part] introduces a unique and quite fascinating collection of major scripts of the intifada, replete with the symbols of self-sacrifice, martyrdom, jihad and victory. . . . Oliver and Steinberg are interested in drawing a portrait, not analysing a movement. They write with humour and often affection for their subjects, and keep their own personalities entirely out of the story. With a light hand they provide a cogent account of the distinctions and the tensions between the nationalists and the Islamists, and the gradual institutionalisation of Hamas over the course of the first intifada. They provide harrowing accounts of the interrogation of collaborators and the murder of an Israeli. They describe not a cult of martyrdom, but an entire social system that supports martyrdom. Without proffering analysis, they describe tight social networks, intense small-group loyalty and the motivating power of the desire for revenge. The presentation of the final video is riveting. The authors describe the irrational exuberance - or what they call the 'ecstatic obliteration' - of this group of young men, for whom life has never been better, more intense or so full of meaning, than on the night before they kill themselves and others. Far from being depressed, suicidal types, these are excited and happy young men revelling in being the centre of attention. Oliver and Steinberg write: 'What the rank-and-file [of Hamas] seemed to live and die for, in the end, was neither hospitals nor politics nor ideology nor religion nor the Apocalypse, but rather an ecstatic camaraderie in the face of death on the path of Allah.' . . . Riveting storytelling."
Washington Times
"[A] beautifully written yet disturbing book . . . written by authors who demonstrate great understanding of the Palestinians' internal and external struggles"
History Today
"An intense, street-level tour of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . . . [A] unique study"
Publishers Weekly
With the beginning of the first intifada in 1987, American scholars Oliver and Steinberg spent six years living in Gaza, collecting interviews and Palestinian political ephemera, much of it related to the multifaceted organization known as Hamas, which first carried out suicide bombings during that time. The pair characterize Hamas's ideology as schizophrenic; the book they have produced feels intentionally disorienting. Part one episodically traces Hamas's development through a political biography of its leader, Sheikh Yasin (who was killed by an Israeli missile last March). Oliver and Steinberg offer a tremendous amount of anecdotal texture, giving a chilling sense of what it was like to live in Gaza as it was engulfed by an Islamism that professes "not only not to be afraid of death, but to love it passionately." Part two offers an unprecedentedly extensive set of photos, translations and interpretations of Hamas graffiti; this section is horrifying and fascinating. Part three offers the most sustained and detailed views, in English, inside the preparation and deployment of suicide bombers, featuring extended exchanges with cell members and the families of the bombers themselves. Knowledgeable, colloquial, relatively nonpartisan and deeply skeptical and smart, this book offers an intensive look at one of the major forces in Palestinian society, one that is as unsettling as it is penetrating. (Jan.) Corrections: In the Nov. 22 review of America's Military Today by Tod Ensign, the author's current employment was misstated. Ensign is the director of Citizen Soldier, not of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network. Almost Paradise will, contrary to what's stated in our review (Dec. 13), include a chapter and epilogue dealing with the outcome of the trial of Daniel Pelosi for the murder of Ted Ammon.
Starred Review Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Of suicide as a way of life: a study of the culture of violence surrounding the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. When the intifada began in 1988, independent scholars Oliver and Steinberg moved to Gaza and lived with a Palestinian family to study the situation. "We gladly talked to anyone who would talk with us-nationalists and Islamists, leaders and followers, stone throwers and spokesmen, militants and bystanders," they write. Over the next years, some of those people talked with them reluctantly, while others were quite proud to speak openly of how they would "cut off the head of a Jew or a collaborator." Oliver and Steinberg are sympathetic to the plight of the dispossessed Palestinians, including the suicide bombers they take pains to humanize even while showing them to be automata trained by murderous masters. In a memorable sequence, Oliver and Steinberg recall the Hamas ("zeal") movement's spiritual leader: Sheikh Ahmad Yasin, the author of much of the rhetoric of Palestinian terrorism, who, "renowned for his asceticism, would in later years be seen driving around the camps of Gaza in a specially outfitted brown Range Rover, which some said was a gift from the Saudis, while others insisted it was from none other than Arafat." Image is everything, of course, and the authors work with a large collection of photographs and videotapes depicting such things as a knife-wielding giant hand stabbing an Israeli soldier "like a machine gone mad" and mobs of young children waving copies of the Quran while lionizing fallen participants in "martyrdom operations"-not all of whom seem to have believed that they would really earn martyrdom in the bargain. The authors also look closely at therhetoric of the suicide bombers and their coaches-for in such things as taking one's own life in the service of a cause, one Hamas leader tells us, "the importance of 'spurring on' cannot be underestimated."Of much interest to students of the Middle East, and of the psychology of cults.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195116007
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne Marie Oliver and Paul F. Steinberg are writers based in Portland, Oregon. They are Research Scholars in Global and International Studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara and former Visiting Scholars at the Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard.

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Table of Contents

1 Welcome to planet X 3
2 Look with your ears, my friend 6
3 Lunch with Hasan 8
4 A complete darkness 10
5 The disciple (HAHAHA) 14
6 A minor jihad 17
7 The Gharqad tree 19
8 The evil incident 24
9 The brotherhood 27
10 Splits in the brain 30
11 The miracle sheikh 32
12 The mechanical waving hand of a keffiyah-clad manikin 36
13 Soldier in Chinese hat, planning escape 39
14 The sweet girl 42
15 The antidote 45
16 A babe in the womb 46
17 The crazy girl 50
18 The dark room 53
19 Walls, maze, prison 58
20 An entire cosmology 61
21 A question of style 63
22 It doesn't matter when or how I am killed 68
23 Martyr on a black horse 72
24 Terror in their hearts 76
25 We are worth nothing without a machine-gun 80
26 Children, but they are men and heroes 82
27 Al-Aqsa massacre video 85
28 Blood, blood, blood 90
29 A collaborator breaker accused of something close to collaboration 93
30 A daring shock of jet-black hair coyly peeking out beneath her veil 97
31 Monkeys and pigs and servants of evil 101
32 The mad dogs of language 103
33 A notice of the end of the world 107
34 The green line 113
35 The fixer 114
36 Ghosts with guns 117
37 The last words of Mahir ("Hamza") Abu-Surur 119
38 The smile of the martyr 121
39 A still blue river 124
40 The killing of Haim Nachmani 127
41 The last words of Salah Mustafa 'Uthman 129
42 A happy man 131
43 A happy man (continued) 137
44 The last words of Muhammad Hasan al-Hindi 145
45 Intimate of heart 148
46 Al-Hindi and Abu-Surur meet 151
47 Circle and vow, the trainer's soliloquy 153
48 A tourist in the Dunya 158
49 A khanjar, floating 161
50 A second appearance 165
51 Any number compared to infinity 169
52 The paradise hotel 173
53 The gun dance 177
54 A few hours later; or, the trail of a dagger 180
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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2005

    A Passport to the Middle East Conflict

    This book is phenomenal! I have to say I never had any interest in traveling to the Middle East given all the unrest and turmoil that seems never ending. I never had a true understanding of the origins of the Israeli Palestinian conflict or what day-to-day living was like until I picked up The Road to Martyrs Square. Being a visual artist I was intrigued by the imagery and meanings. Oliver and Steinberg made me feel as though I was there with them walking through the shuq, living as an expatriate discovering fresh graffiti and getting inside the mind of the cult of the suicide bomber. It has truly changed my perspective. I hope there will someday there be peace and understanding in the region and I too will have the opportunity to walk the same streets with the knowledge of what used to be.

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