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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Celebrating Mother's Day - 'Palestinian' style

Time Magazine has decided to show how the 'Palestinians' celebrate Mother's Day (Hat Tip: Nathan in Teaneck, New Jersey):

[This paragraph refers to the video above. CiJ] Abhorrent as such images might seem, the story behind them is even more wrenching. Aired on a TV channel run by the Islamic militants of Hamas, the two-minute re-enactment was based on the life of Reem Riyashi, 22, a Palestinian mother of two who blew herself up in a suicide attack against Israeli soldiers at a Gaza border crossing in January 2004. Riyashi is hailed as a courageous resistance fighter among Palestinians throughout Gaza and the West Bank, but the truth about what drove her to such a terrible act is much more complex. Palestinians in Gaza and Israeli internal-security experts who studied the background of her case say Riyashi's husband had discovered that she was having an affair with a senior Hamas commander. Among conservative Palestinians, as in other parts of the Islamic world, an adulterous woman is often punished with death. Riyashi was given a second option: she could become a martyr. In a video statement released hours before her death, Riyashi, garbed in a militaristic uniform and holding a semiautomatic rifle, sounds tough. "I have always wished to knock at the door of heaven carrying skulls belonging to the sons of Zion," she says. But the pained expression on her chubby, homely face conveys considerably more ambivalence about the idea of annihilating herself to kill Israelis and restore her family's "honor."

For Israeli counterterrorism officials, understanding the mind of a Palestinian woman suicide bomber has become an urgent priority. Since 2002, 88 Palestinian women have attempted suicide bombings, though just eight have been successful. Most were conducted during the height of the second Palestinian intifadeh, before Israelis launched a punishing war against terrorism and erected a security "fence" to separate themselves from the Palestinians. Since November 2006, Hamas, the ruling Palestinian party, has intermittently observed a "truce" with Israel. But on April 25, the militant wing of Hamas announced that it had abandoned the cease-fire. The militants oppose a move by Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, a moderate within Hamas, to form a unity coalition with President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Fatah movement, and to take steps toward negotiating with Israel. Now there are signs that armed cells within Hamas are gearing up their assembly line of suicide bombers. As a renegade Hamas military commander says, "We are preparing for the possibility of a third intifadeh."

If so, it's likely that more Palestinian women will end up meeting the same fate as Reem Riyashi. Though there were just six suicide attacks against Israelis in 2006, two were carried out by women. "There's a growing involvement of Palestinian women in terrorism, everything from scouting targets and smuggling guns and explosives to becoming suicide bombers," says Anat Berko, an Israeli counterterrorism expert at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, who spent 13 years inside Israeli high-security prisons interviewing convicted terrorists. And yet it remains difficult to pinpoint why certain women turn to martyrdom. Behind the motives of religion and rage at Israeli occupation, Palestinian women, far more than men, tend to choose self-sacrifice as an exit from personal despair, while others are pushed into it for having broken taboos in strict Palestinian society. "These women are both victimizers and victims," Berko says.

Until recently, most female suicide bombers were recruited not by Hamas but by Fatah's armed brigades. The fundamentalist leaders of Hamas, on the other hand, have a more protective view of women and at first were reluctant to sacrifice them. But the Riyashi video, broadcast on Hamas' TV station and produced by Hamas (it can be viewed on YouTube), may signal that the group is using Riyashi's martyrdom to advertise for new female volunteers. In Gaza on April 26, four hooded women in military fatigues announced to the press that they were suicide bombers and vowed, "We will turn Gaza into the Israelis' graveyard if they invade."


It is doubtful that all--or even most--of those Palestinian women who sign up to become martyrs do so voluntarily. Some fall prey to male recruiters, who approach them on campus or through Internet chat rooms, making romantic advances that the women fall for. Many other women point to "secret reasons" that have little connection with religion and everything to do with private tragedy or shame. Some see becoming a suicide bomber as preferable to an arranged marriage, common in the Arab world. One teenager volunteered for suicide duty because her father refused to let her marry a boyfriend. As a female student from Birzeit University says, "I'd rather spend my life in an Israeli prison than trapped with a husband that I didn't love."

A disturbing number of women captured and interrogated by Israel recount stories similar to that of Riyashi, of feeling compelled to carry out an attack to restore her family's honor. In one notorious case, Wafa Samir al-Biss, a 22-year-old burn victim from Gaza, went routinely to an Israeli hospital where she received free medical treatment as a humanitarian gesture. Militants convinced her and her family that since she was disfigured she would never get married and that she was better off becoming a martyr. A surveillance camera at Erez checkpoint captured al-Biss's anguish and desperation when her suicide belt failed to go off. Later, crying, she told journalists, "Maybe I have been used" by the recruiters. Al-Biss intended to blow up the very doctors and nurses who had been treating her burns.


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