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​.mikekel​ly​writer​.com.

Relat­ed Content:

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.