Earlier this week, Mike Kelly wrote about looking into the bombmaker who built the bomb that blew up a bus on Jaffa Road in 1996 and his journey from 9/11 to Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road. His newest book, The Bus on Jaffa Road: A Story of Middle East Terrorism and the Search for Justice, chronicles the aftermath of the Hamas suicide bombing of a commuter bus in downtown Jerusalem on Feb. 25, 1996. The book traces the capture of the key bomb-maker and the efforts by the families of two Americans to hold Iran accountable for financing the bombing and training the bomb-maker – only to discover that the American government was trying to block them. He has been blogging here all week for the Jewish Book Council’s Visiting Scribe series.
Majid was was nineteen and learning to lay tile at a trade school. On a Friday in February 1996, his cousin – an older man with ties to Hamas – asked if he wanted to “do a mission.” Two days later, Majid stepped aboard a commuter bus on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road, carrying a duffle bag filled with twenty pounds of explosives and wired to detonate with the press of a button. After the doors closed, he stood, yelled “God is great” in Arabic and pressed that button. Twenty-six people died – twenty-seven if you include Majid.
Why did he do it? How did an otherwise ordinary nineteen-year-old Palestinian decide so quickly on a Friday to kill himself so brutally on a Sunday?
Those questions troubled me as I researched The Bus on Jaffa Road.
And so, on another Sunday, almost seventeen years later, I drove to Majid’s home in the Palestinian refugee community of al-Fawwar in the Judean hills near the ancient city of Hebron. Like any writer, I suppose I was hoping for some sort of clear answer to a crucial central question of why this young man killed himself. And yet, as I approached al-Fawwar, I sensed that such clarity may still be impossible.
I found Majid’s family home – actually a vacant lot now. Soon after he had been implicated in the Jaffa Road bombing, his home had been destroyed by the Israeli army. I asked where the family was now. A young man guided me through a series of narrow lanes and up a hill where I met Majid’s father, Muhammad.
I introduced myself and said I wanted to speak about Majid. Muhammad led me into his family’s new home, a two-story, concrete structure that sat on a hillside and overlooked a lush valley of small farms. We entered a room with only one photo on the otherwise bare walls. The photo was of Majid.
I asked Muhammad why Majid killed himself. Muhammad shook his head. He did not know why and explained that if he had known of his son’s plans he would have tried to stop him. He said he understands why some young men participate in suicide bombings. He cited the Israeli occupation, the lack of jobs and the overall feeling among some Palestinians that there is no future for them. But then his voice trailed off.
“As a father I couldn’t bear dealing with this issue.”
I pointed to the photo of Majid on the wall.
“Why do you keep his photo there?” I asked.
“Because he is my son,” Muhammad said.
Our conversation continues for another hour or so. Muhammad said that Majid would have been in his mid-thirties by now, probably married and the father of children.
“Do people in al-Fawwar talk about him?” I asked.
Muhammad shook his head.
“Not very much,” he said. “Things like that go into oblivion.”
For more information about The Bus on Jaffa Road as well as a video and an excerpt, please check out www.mikekellywriter.com.
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- A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism by Daniel Byman
- Living Beyond Terrorism: Israeli Stories of Hope and Healing by Zieva Dauber Konvisser
A journalist for more than three decades, Mike Kelly is the author of two books and many prize-winning newspaper projects and columns for the Bergen Record in northern New Jersey. His assignments have taken him to Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel, Palestine, and Iraq. He covered the 9/11 attacks, the cleanup of Ground Zero, and the 9/11 Commission hearings in Washington, DC, and has devoted much of his time to covering terrorism.