Dr.Gerstenfeld’s interview with Rachel Avraham which was first published in Israel National News and republished here with the author’s consent.
THE BACKGROUND OF PALESTINIAN FEMALE SUICIDE BOMBERS
Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Rachel Avraham
“The first Palestinian female suicide bomber was Wafa Idris who blew herself up in Jerusalem in 2002 during the Second Intifada. She killed an old man and injured 100. Already prior to that several Palestinian women engaged in anti-Israeli terrorism. Leila Khaled was a member of a team that hijacked an airplane in 1969. Dalal Mughrabi was one of the terrorists who caused the 1978 Coastal Road massacre which killed 38 Israeli civilians including 13 children.
“After the Second Intifada in 2006, there were two more female suicide bombings. These stopped when suicide bombings ceased in general. From that point on, the Palestinians chose other tactics of fighting against Israel.”
Rachel Avraham was born in Washington, DC and has lived in Israel since 2009. She has a BA in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland. Avraham developed her MA thesis in Middle Eastern Studies from Ben-Gurion University into a book titled, Women and Jihad. She is a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent at the Israel Resource News Agency.
“In Palestinian and Muslim culture in general, women are viewed as the givers of new life into this world. They are supposed to be wives and mothers, not fighters. In the Islamist worldview, women are supposed to support the jihadists by raising the children to fight in jihads and to support the home while the men are away fighting. The Hamas Charter clearly demonstrates that the place of the women centers on the home and children, not doing the ‘masculine’ activity of fighting and blowing themselves up.
“Despite this, Islamist terror groups began to accept women suicide bombers mostly because they understood that women helped them to overcome certain strategic obstacles. Consequently, Hamas accepted Reem Riyashi, a mother of two small children, as a suicide bomber. This decision was very controversial in the Arab world. However, the majority of female suicide bombers were single women.
“During the Second Intifada, the eight Palestinian female suicide bombers caused many deaths and injuries. In 2003, law student Hanadi Jaradat blew herself up in the partly Arab-owned Maxim Restaurant in Haifa. Twenty civilians – among which four were children — were killed and 51 were injured. The security guard, an Israeli Arab, was killed in the attack. 3 other Arab employees of the restaurant were also killed. Jaradat obtained much positive publicity because Israel had killed her brother and fiancé, both Islamic Jihad members. On the popular American TV program, Nightline, Palestinian women claimed that she was more of a victim than the people she murdered.
“Studies have shown that Palestinian female suicide bombers receive eight times more publicity than their male counterparts. Moreover, this publicity is generally more positive than had the suicide bomber been male. The Western media often turn their Israeli victims, including children, into villains.
“The motivations of the Palestinian female suicide bombers of the Second Intifada varied and were sometimes due to a mix of factors. 5 out of the 8 female suicide bombers held nationalist beliefs. Other Palestinian women decided to become suicide bombers during the Second Intifada because they were barren or divorced, related to a suspected collaborator, had an extramarital affair, were traumatized by rape or were dishonored for kissing a man in public. It should also be noted that at least four female suicide bombers had a history of involvement in terrorism or had a relative who was active in terror organizations.
“MK Dr. Anat Berko interviewed many Palestinian women involved in terrorism. The findings are published in her book, The Path to Paradise. Her conclusions were that the main motives for female terrorism were religious and nationalistic. These combined to produce a fertile medium for terrorism. Other factors included the desire to revenge the death of relatives, hatred for Jews, and a loathing of the Western world. She implied that these attitudes often resulted from the terrorist subculture among Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and that the statements made by some of the female terrorists in the interviews may not 100 percent reflect the reality regarding their motivation.
“Arabic language media glorified the Palestinian female suicide bombers. Wafa Idris was compared to the Mona Lisa, Jesus Christ, Khadija — the Prophet Muhammed’s first wife — and Joan of Arc. In 2002, some American media justified the female suicide bombers actions’ in the name of perceived Palestinian grievances. Media also tended to portray them as liberated women rather than as terrorists. Only in some cases were media critical of female terrorists.
“The women who participated in the more recent Knife Intifada believed that it was possible to attack someone and come out alive. This results in a different dynamic from that of female suicide bombers.
“Female suicide bombers also exist in other societies such as in Syria and Iraq as well as in the PKK Kurdish movement in Turkey and among Chechens. The Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka were also infamous for their use of female suicide bombers. In addition, ISIS has used females in order to evade security measures despite initial opposition on the grounds of modesty.”
Avraham concludes: “No woman who resorts to terrorism is a normative person because these women do not confirm to the expectations that their society has for them. Instead of becoming wives and mothers, they engage in the masculine activity of fighting against Israel. They interact with men as part of their training and thus break the Arab honor codes. And if they fail as suicide bombers, they are considered a shame upon their society for they have failed both as regular women and as shahidas.”