Palestinian youths are being urged to follow in the footsteps of Yahya Ayyash, a Hamas mass murderer who masterminded a wave of suicide bombings that killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis. Ayyash's expertise in manufacturing explosive devices earned him the nickname "The Engineer" and turned him into a hero in the eyes of many Palestinians. The bomb-maker was killed by Israeli security forces on January 5, 1996, thereby ending one of the bloodiest chapters of Palestinian terrorism against Israel.
Two decades later, this arch-terrorist is still being revered as a hero and martyr. His murderous legacy and personality are being glorified not only by his Hamas supporters, but also by the "moderate" Western-funded Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
A few years ago, the PA decided to honor Ayyash by naming a street in Ramallah after him. The street sign was posted in Ramallah, the headquarters of the PA where Abbas lives and works, and reads:
"Yahya Ayyash, 1966-1996, born in Nablus, studied electrical engineering in Bir Zeit University. Was a member of the (Hamas military wing) Iz ad-Din al-Qassam, and was linked by Israel to a number of bombings. He was assassinated by Israel in his Beit Lahia (Gaza Strip) home on January 5, 1996."
This week, Palestinians took to social media to glorify the arch-terrorist further, depicting him as a role model and urging youths to follow in his footsteps.
On Twitter, for instance, they launched a hashtag entitled, "Be Like Ayyash." The campaign encourages Palestinian youths to admire the bomb-maker and endorse his "jihad" (holy war) against Israel. Activists posted video clips, songs, poems and portraits praising and lionizing Ayyash and his terrorism. The campaign, according to the sponsors, is also designed to acquaint Palestinians with the "humane and leadership qualities" of Ayyash and remind them of his "heroic actions."
Unsurprisingly, the social media campaign has attracted the attention of thousands of Palestinians and Arabs, who heaped praise on the Hamas bomb-maker-turned-icon. Ayyash won his reputation on the murdering and maiming of hundreds of Israelis, most of them innocent civilians. Had he fought for peace and coexistence, Ayyash would have been condemned as a "traitor" and gone down in history as a "defeatist" and "surrenderist."
This Palestinian "engineer" is not being glorified because he used his expertise to help improve the lives of Palestinians. He is being lauded because he used the education he received to build bombs and dispatch suicide bombers to kill Israelis.
One activist hailed Ayyash as "The Master of Men and the Moon of Palestine." He added: "We are proud of you, Hawk of Iz ad-Din al-Qassam!"
Another activist posted: "Oh history take note – the engineer of Palestine used to divert the path of Zionist buses towards hell!" (a reference to the suicide bombings that targeted Israeli buses).
Here is what another Palestinian had to say about the mass-murderer: "Yahya Ayyash is an idea, and ideas do not die. Although the resistance in the Gaza Strip has developed its weapons, the bombing of a bus has a special flavor!"
Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi, Chairman of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, joined the chorus of terror glorifiers by offering his own post commemorating the anniversary of the death of Ayyash. "Yahya Ayyash did not die," wrote the leading Islamic scholar, considered the spiritual father of Muslim Brotherhood. "He is alive in the conscience of all Palestine. The mosque that produced the mujahed (warrior) Ayyash is continuing to produce heroes."
Sheikh al-Qaradawi is right in two important ways. The first of these is that Ayyash was indeed "produced" by a mosque. Those close to Ayyash describe him as a devout Muslim who used to spend much of his time in mosques, where he was undoubtedly exposed to anti-Semitic hate-speech and indoctrination at the hands of preachers and imams.
It is in these mosques that Ayyash was taught that Islam permits people like him to build bombs and dispatch suicide bombers to blow up buses. It is also in these mosques where he was taught that devout Muslims are best engaged in spilling Jewish blood.
Al-Qaradawi is also right when he says that the mosques are continuing to produce "heroes." This is true because incitement and anti-Semitism remains a main theme of the Friday prayer sermons. Children and youths who attend prayers at these mosques are being fed the same hate-speech rhetoric that their hero Ayyash was exposed to in his childhood. Hence it is no surprise that the mosques in the West Bank and Gaza Strip continue to this day to churn out new terrorists, many of whom aspire to become like Ayyash – mass murderers.
"Ayyash was only 29 years old, but he became a legend that instilled fear in the hearts of the Zionists," remarked another social media activist. "He was transformed into an exemplary engineer inspiring new generations."
Hamas leaders, for their part, chose to celebrate the anniversary of the death of their terrorist by voicing hope that Palestinian youths would look at him as their role model and follow in his footsteps. "The students of Yahya Ayyash are the hope of the Palestinians," said Hamas spokesman Hussam Badran. He said that Ayyash continues to serve as an inspiration for youths who wish to join the jihad against Israel.
That Ayyash was a Hamas member has not prevented the rival Fatah faction headed by Mahmoud Abbas from joining the campaign of glorification.
True, Hamas and Fatah are rivals and they despise each other. But when it comes to murdering Israelis, they wholeheartedly agree. In truth, Fatah would have preferred if Ayyash had been one of its own. Had that been so Fatah would have been able to boast (instead of Hamas) of the "heroic" attacks engineered by the beloved terrorist.
Still, in the eyes of Fatah, this Hamas arch-terrorist is a hero because he killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis. On one of its Facebook pages, Fatah had these words to say about Ayyash: "The revolutionaries never die; Fatah pledges to remain committed to the martyrs and the path of Yasser Arafat."
Thus, despite Fatah's double-talk about a two-state solution and "peace" with Israel, mass murderers still take top billing in its hall of fame. Fatah is also making it known that its former leader, Yasser Arafat, approved of such terrorism against Israel. This Fatah stance should not come as a surprise to those who have been following its leaders' and activists' statements and actions. The glorification of terrorists has always been an integral part of Fatah ideology. Most recently, Fatah celebrated its 52nd anniversary in a series of Facebook posts glorifying Palestinian terrorists.
Some would argue that the absence of education for peace with Israel on the Palestinian side is largely responsible for the failure of the peace process. However, this assessment falls short of the full truth. That truth is that the same Palestinian children who are not educated toward peace with Israel are educated toward killing Israeli civilians, as many as possible. The continued glorification of terrorists and the encouragement of youths to join the jihad against Israel and Jews, as well as the celebrations marking the death of Ayyash, demonstrate this truth. Where, the international community might ask, are the voices of the Palestinians who reject this education for wholesale slaughter?
Their voices are being marginalized by many European leaders comfortably doing business with the still-wealthy members of the Arab and Muslim elite who fund those imams and mosques. These European leaders wrongly image that if they get rid of Israel, it will be only Israel. They fail see that Israel is just the first course. They imagine that if they accede to Muslims' wishes, they will be safe. What they fail to see, as in France, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Britain, is that they will be next, and that what they have been seeing is just the start. That is how the Muslims in a few hundred years took over Persia, Turkey, southern Spain, all of North Africa, and most of Eastern Europe.
For anyone who treasures freedom – including many Arabs and Muslims who do not want to live under terrorist Islamic dictatorships but are strong-armed from speaking out - the United Nations is now poisonous place. It has been taken over by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) -- 56 Islamic countries plus Palestine. It is now the seat of the universal caliphate. In this, it is assisted by dictators, despots and the many dhimmi-European leaders who together command a permanent voting majority and have been lately been busy rewriting historical facts. Nothing good can come from it. Freedom-loving countries should run.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.