HEBRON, West Bank – Three homicide bombers who struck at Israeli targets over the weekend lived on the same hilltop street in this tense West Bank city.
One was a high school dropout. The others were first-year computer students. It's not clear how well they knew each other, but all three lived on al-Butne Street and all were recruited by the militant Islamic group Hamas (search).
Friends and relatives said the three were angry at the presence of Israeli soldiers in Hebron (search) — and may have acted in part because of peer pressure.
"A friend brings a friend," said Fadi Qawasmeh, 20, a relative of Fuad Qawasmeh, who blew himself up Saturday night a few blocks from home, killing an Israeli man and his pregnant wife.
Two days later, explosives laid by Israeli soldiers destroyed the hastily evacuated three-story house belonging to the bomber's family — a punishment meted out by Israel.
At sunrise on Sunday, Bassem Takrouri, 19, who lived up the road from the Qawasmeh family, blew up a bus in Jerusalem, killing seven people. Minutes later, on the same Jerusalem street, a third attacker from the Hebron neighborhood didn't make it past a police roadblock. The man, who has not been identified by officials, blew himself up; no one else died.
Residents said all three of the young men, like many Palestinians here, were provoked by their almost daily run-ins with the Israeli soldiers who guard Hebron's Jewish enclaves, where 400 Israelis live surrounded by 130,000 Palestinians.
Young Palestinians talk of being roughed up and sworn at while being frisked by soldiers. Troops searching their homes toss around furniture and smash windows, they say.
One of the bombers, Fuad Qawasmeh, was arrested during a military sweep last year and sent to the Ofer Camp, a filthy, overcrowded military detention center where he was held without trial for six months.
His cousin, Hamed, 33, said that until then Fuad had watched a lot of TV and cared nothing for politics or religion. He had dropped out of school and worked as a handyman.
It was in the Ofer lockup that Qawasmeh changed, his cousin said; at the time of his detention, many Hamas members also were being held there.
"I would think he would be subjected to an intense campaign — not brainwashing, but indoctrination: what it means to be a martyr," Hamed said.
Palestinians consider those who die in homicide attacks against Israelis to be martyrs, a distinction that brings prestige to their families.
When Fuad left the lockup, the changes were dramatic. He and a brother started praying regularly at the neighborhood mosque and blasting Islamic and Hamas music into the street, drawing complaints from neighbors.
"It was a Hamas house, that's for sure," Hamed recalled.
But in other ways, Fuad seemed to be getting on with life: He got engaged and enrolled in a hair-dressing course.
"They want to live like normal people," Hamed said of those who become bombers. "But here there are no avenues. So, they're always looking for something better. The Islamists promise paradise."
After the weekend bombings, Hamas released video footage of the men reading final statements.
One computer student, Takrouri, is seen taking various poses with an assault rifle and a pistol. Set to Islamic music, his movements almost appear like a dance. The weapons seem heavy in his thin, shaky arms.
In an odd contrast, the video cuts out, revealing that it was taped over an Israeli version of Barney the purple dinosaur.