Study: New book titled Women and Jihad exposes media bias in favor of Palestinian female terrorists

Rachel Avraham’s new book titled “Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media” exposes the rationale behind the utilization of Palestinian female suicide bombings during the Second Intifada despite inherent biases within Palestinian society against women’s involvement in terrorism.
Photo Credit: Gefen Publishing

During the Second Intifada, Israel was forced to deal with a wave of suicide bombers. These suicide bombings were sometimes carried out by female Muslim Palestinian terrorists, an element that attracted great media attention from international, Arab and Israeli outlets. Rachel Avraham’s first book titled Women and Jihad: Debating Palestinian Female Suicide Bombings in the American, Israeli and Arab Media focuses on this topic.

Among other matters, Avraham discusses in her book the stories behind these female suicide bombers, the coverage the suicide bombings carried out by women received and how journalists can stand up to terror appeasement. She explains how the three main Palestinian terrorist organizations of the Second Intifada viewed the use of female suicide bombers and what their objectives were when they used them.

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According to Avraham’s study, Hamas was reluctant to recruit female suicide bombers compared to the two other main terrorist organization of the Second Intifada, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The Hamas Charter clearly states that the organization believes that the women’s role is more traditional and is focused on breeding, guiding and educating the new generation. In other words, Avraham explains that Hamas views the female Muslim Palestinian as a mother who educates the next generation of jihadists, not a suicide bomber. This perception is widely held within Palestinian society, where women are supposed to be wives and mothers rather than to partake in the masculine role of engaging in terrorism.

In response to the 2002 suicide bombing that Wafa Idris carried out, which led to the murder of an 81-year-old Israeli man while over a hundred other people were injured, Hamas’ spiritual leader and one of its founders Sheikh Ahmad Yassin said: “We have no need for suicide operations by women now because preserving the nation’s survival is more important.” However, it is worthy to note that not all of Hamas members agreed with Yassin on this matter and Hamas’ view eventually changed. Moreover, even Yassin stated in 2004: “Women are like the reserve army---when there is a necessity, we use them.”

The PIJ was initially reluctant like Hamas to use women as suicide bombers due to the organization’s beliefs regarding modesty. However, as Avraham highlights, “about a year before Reem Riyashi blew herself up in 2003, the PIJ started accepting Palestinian female suicide bombings for strategic reasons due to Israeli security measures that made it difficult for male suicide bombers to enter Israel.” The PIJ then started to recruit female suicide bombers via the organization’s website. However, there are some PIJ senior level members who rejected female suicide bombers due to their gender.  Amjab Ubeida, a senior level PIJ terrorist, was against Hanadi Jaradat blowing herself up initially due to her gender yet in the end supported it due to her determination and reasons for carrying out the terror attack.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades had trouble finding suicide bombing recruits during the Second Intifada so it also turned to women. Idris was the first female suicide bomber of the Second Intifada and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for her terror attack. Two weeks after Idris blew herself up, Fatah’s armed wing opened a women’s suicide bombing unit in her honor- the Shawaq al Aqsa. Avraham notes that because the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades is a secular organization, it accepted female suicide bombers more compared to its Islamist terrorist counterparts such as Hamas and the PIJ. Indeed, 44 percent of Palestinian female suicide bombings both attempted and actual hail from secular organizations like the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. However, there were some members who were against it. Nasser Shawish, who dispatched Darine Abu Aisha to be a suicide bomber, stated: “I felt that she was a pretty and successful girl studying in the university, a future mother, who should marry and bear children, and help her people in other ways.” His position changed only when his best friend was eliminated by Israel.

According to Avraham, “Palestinian society has been reluctant to utilize female suicide bombers yet in the end did so because perceived advantages outweighed any other consideration.” However, Avraham continues, “due to the prevalence of patriarchal views within Palestinian terror organizations, many Palestinian dispatchers are reluctant to use female suicide bombers,” which could explain why there were not a great number of female suicide bombers during the Second Intifada. According to MK Dr. Anat Berko, “In Palestinian culture, men are defined as the protectors of women and children; women are perceived of as being in need of protection and therefore are expected to shy away from danger.”

Nevertheless, Avraham explains that despite these patriarchal beliefs that are widespread within Palestinian society, Palestinian terror groups still utilize women for they believe that the female suicide bombers are more efficient and more able to achieve positive publicity than male suicide bombers are. There are a couple of reasons behind this belief. First, most societies in the world view women as non-violent and the givers of life, not the takers, thus security forces tend to inspect and suspect males more than females. For example, the US Department of Homeland Security did not include women in their profile for terrorists following the September 11 terror attacks. “This significantly aids female suicide bombers to get past security and thereby carry out missions more efficiently than men could,” notes Avraham. Women can also conceal explosives better as they can pretend to be pregnant or wear Islamic traditional loose-fitting dresses. As one British report asserted, “A woman in traditional clothing could conceal up to twelve pounds of explosives on her body.”

Avraham also highlighted that some Middle East experts noted that female suicide bombers can spark shame among Israeli society for things have allegedly become so desperate that the women are fighting instead of the men. “Whether or not a significant portion of Israeli society is shamed because women rather than men undertake suicide bombing missions,” argues Avraham, “female suicide bombers may also be more efficacious than male bombers in arousing emotions in Israeli society in addition to spreading fear and grief among the target population.” Since Israeli society generally tends to allocate women non-violent roles, female suicide bombings shatter this perception of women, thus creating a sense of bewilderment among the target population.

However, the suicide bombings carried out by Palestinian females did not only impact Israeli society during the Second Intifada. It also had an effect upon the men within Palestinian society. According to Avraham, “the utilization of Palestinian female suicide bombings also attempts to shame and incite males within Palestinian society in order to spur them to take actions against the enemy population.”  As Ayat Al Akhras stated before she blew herself up in 2002, “I say to the Arab leaders, stop sleeping!  Stop failing to fulfill your duty! Shame on the Arab armies who are sitting and watching the girls of Palestine fighting while they are asleep!” This statement had a significant shaming effect upon Palestinian and Arab men.

Last but certainly not least, Palestinian female suicide bombers are more strategically attractive than their male counterparts. This is because female suicide bombers receive more media attention and thus their grievances are more likely to be covered by media outlets. Avraham backs up this claim by also citing that “women receive eight times the amount of media coverage as suicide bombings carried out by men” and their publicity is more likely to be positive from the perspective of the terror group than had the suicide bomber been a male. According to Avraham, “this disproportionate publicity in turn has the potential to stimulate worldwide sympathy for suicide bombers and can serve as a terrorist recruitment tool.”

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