A Suicide Bomber in Training

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Charles Dharapak / AP

Photographs of Palestinian "martyrs" are displayed for sale in Gaza City

Switching cars three times and traveling at night over the West Bank's pitted back roads, TIME correspondent Jamil Hamad was taken to a safe house where he met with a young Palestinian suicide bomber-in-training, whom we shall call simply "A." In his early twenties, the youth was clean-shaven, neatly dressed, and courteous. But his anger soon flared as Hamad, also a Palestinian, challenged the logic behind his deadly choice.

TIME: Why did you decide to become a suicide bomber?

A: In school, I was good in science. I wanted to become an electrical engineer, but I come from a village near a Jewish settlement and we had many clashes against the settlers and the army. Once, we were throwing stones, and an Israeli soldier shot my best friend. The scene of him lying on a stretcher in a coma, dying, turned by life inside-out. From then on, I became committed to the idea of revenge against the Israelis.

TIME: How did you sign up?

A: I volunteered. But it wasn't so easy. People told me that my reasons for becoming a suicide bomber weren't good enough. They asked me to study the Koran — before that I wasn't especially religious — and to start praying and fasting and living according to Islam. They also told me to study the history of Israeli injustice to the Palestinians.

TIME: And what did you learn?

A: That peace with Israel when we Arabs are weak is an illusion. It's a fact: Nobody can deny that Israel wants to kick out Palestinians from the West Bank.

TIME: Okay. But why kill yourself? Why not continue with your studies and try to persuade the Israelis through non-violence?

A: I believe that a suicide martyr is the most noble resistance.

TIME: But will this resistance change Israeli minds?

A: The situation now looks difficult, but if you see it in historic terms, we'll win. We'll defeat Israel and restore our rights.

TIME: Are there many volunteers like you?

A: The resistance now is bigger than it was 10 years ago. The so-called 'peace camp' among Palestinians has come up with empty hands.

TIME: What rewards do you expect after death?

A: Look, I don't want to go into the details — the women in paradise, things like that. But after I carry out an operation, things will be in the hands of God. That's enough for me.

TIME: But who gives you the authority to take life or even to interpret the Koran?

A: Don't you believe in martyrdom?

TIME: To me a martyr is someone who fights the enemy in battle, defending his dignity and his country. Not someone who kills civilians.

A: (Angrily) What about the Israeli army? They're killing us. Why start crying when a few Israelis die but keep silent when Israelis are killing Palestinians?

TIME: You go into a restaurant and blow yourself up. That's not normal. People are accustomed to killing each other in wars — not in restaurants.

A: That's the difference between you and me. You're not a committed Muslim.

TIME: How can I make you change your mind? Don't you deserve life with all its pleasures?

A: You can go to the Israelis and tell them to leave our country.

TIME: Would you be willing to live with Israelis?

A: As individuals, I have nothing against them. Islam offers equality and security to other faiths.

TIME: Have you ever spoken to an Israeli?

A:I have no relations with Israelis. I've never been there. I know where it is on the map. That's enough.