The Path to Paradise

The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers

by Anat Berko

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Abortion in the United States

April 2007


Pages 216
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Security Studies/Terrorism

Suicide bombers are often compared to smart bombs. From the point of view of their dispatchers, they are highly effective, inexpensive forms of weaponry, and there is no need to invest in their technological development. Suicide bombers are in fact smarter than smart bombs because they can choose their own target—and they can react to circumstances on the ground, changing their target, or their timing, in an instant, to ensure the maximum damage, destruction, and death. Of course, unlike smart bombs, suicide bombers think and feel, they have histories, stories, beliefs, desires—in short, they have an inner world. Exploring the inner world of suicide bombers has been the focus of Anat Berko's research for years. She has worked to understand the thought processes of a people who can choose to place explosives on their bodies and kill themselves, taking as many other people with them as they can.

Do male bombers really believe that death will transport them to a paradise where they will be greeted by virgins? Are they victims of unbearable pressure to commit this act of terror? What are female bombers promised in the hereafter? Is there something that links all suicide bombers? Berko also explores the world of those who drop the smart bomb—the dispatchers: who are these people who persuade others to go calmly to their horrific deaths?


  • To learn about the inner world of suicide bombers and their dispatchers, Berko entered Israel's most heavily secured prison cells and conducted intensive and extensive interviews with male and female suicide bombers who had failed their missions, as well as with their dispatchers—including former Hamas spiritual and operative leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (later assassinated by Israel).


"Berko has written an interesting book that departs from many of the typical studies of suicide bombers. Her research involved frequent and extensive conversations with Palestinians jailed by Israel for attempted suicide terrorist attacks; the author recounts, in some cases transcribes, these discussions. Equally interesting is the author's emphasis on women's roles in suicide bombing and, more broadly, the role that gender plays in shaping the logic and motivation of terrorism against Israel. As always, the issue of bias in the scholarship on the Arab-Israeli conflict is something to consider here, as the author was previously a career officer in the Israeli Defense Forces. However, that does not undermine the value of her interviews, which flesh out and reflect similar studies of terrorism that emphasize the role of humiliation and gender. The book is a fascinating look at the individuals who carry out suicide attacks, and helps us understand the people, arguments, and emotions that give rise to this form of terrorism. Highly recommended. General readers, upper-division undergraduates through practitioners."—Choice

"This book, written by former Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Anat Berko, is an exploration of the world of suicide bombing. With unparalleled access to some of Israel's most heavily guarded prisons, Berko conducts interviews with suicide bombers who were stopped before they could carry out their attacks, and also with their handlers."—Middle East Journal

"For those dealing with terrorism this book is a must read."—International Institute of Security & Safety Management Newsletter

"This book is probably one of the best I have seen on the subject since the terrorists she interviewed either were arrested prior to getting to their targets or changed their mind prior to blowing up their targets or were the dispatchers who sent other suicide bombers."—Specialized Consulting Services

"Berko entered Israeli prisons and interviewed failed Palestinian suicide bombers and arrested bomb dispatchers. Here, she reports on those interviews, including one with the late Hamas leader Sheik Yassin, in order to explore the motivations of these figures, as well as how suicide bombing attacks against Israel are organized. In much of the work, she stresses the religious aspects of the phenomena and downplays the political and military realities of the Israeli occupation. (If she is familiar with the work of political scientist Robert Pape whose comprehensive study of suicide bombings world-wide led him to conclude that there is little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any one of the world's religions. Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland she does not reveal it."—Reference & Research Book News

"Anat Berko's The Path to Paradise: The Inner World of Suicide Bombers and Their Dispatchers is one of the most revealing, compelling and insightful books written about Palestinian suicide bombers and the men who dispatch them on their missions. What distinguishes this book is the author's unique access to Palestinian prisoners who failed to carry out their suicide bombings or were arrested for organizing terrorist operations. This has enabled her to open a window into the inner world of these men and women....The book contains a wealth of information about Palestinian society, such as the impact of polygamous families and arranged marriages on the sons and daughters who decide to become suicide martyrs. The Path to Paradise is essential reading for understanding Palestinian suicide terrorism and the measures required to resolve it."—The Washington Times

"From her tightly written case notes of incarcerated bombers, Berko provides a cultural look at the men and women who choose their route to paradise by becoming a shaheed or a shaheeda (a Muslim willing to die as a martyr for the sake of Allah)."—Security Letter

"[A] rare first-hand account of the motivations and feelings of suicide terrorists, both men and women, and the whole frame of reference for their acts."—The Institute for the Study of Religion, Violence & Memory

Series Description

Praeger Security International

As the world gets "smaller" through technology and globalization, the security risks we face grow and multiply.

International security in the 21st century is not a topic that can be adequately addressed in nightly news soundbites or online articles intended to be relevant for 24 hours or less. Comprehending these complex issues requires insight from foreign policy specialists, diplomats, military officials, peace scholars, historians, and security experts—participants and observers on all sides of each conflict. This series provides the tools for understanding security issues in our uncertain, unstable world.

Written by subject experts and well-known researchers, the books in the Praeger Security International series give readers access to carefully considered and highly informed viewpoints on the critical security issues that threaten to destabilize our world. With titles authored by diplomats, first responders, economists, journalists, civil servants, military leaders and combatants, legal experts, psychologists, and other knowledgeable specialists, these books offer in-depth reflections, thorough analysis, and international perspectives that are unavailable in mass media. These titles represent an invaluable resource for students and researchers as well as anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the complex issues that affect our lives and future.


  • Provides reliable, comprehensive information on all matters relating to security that is ideal for students, teachers, researchers, and professionals
    Offers insightful commentaries written by a diverse group of scholars and experts who provide interdisciplinary treatments of newsworthy events and important historical occurrences

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Intelligence and Human Rights in the Era of Global Terrorism cover imageDenial of Sanctuary cover imageThe ETIM cover image
Political Terrorism and Energy cover imageWomen as Terrorists cover imageCounterterrorism cover image

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