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Recruiting Women For Terror By: Hillel Newman
Boston Globe | Monday, June 14, 2004


As Israel implements more effective security measures to protect its citizens, terrorist groups are searching for new strategies to get close to their victims. One of the most disturbing tactics is the recruitment of female suicide bombers. Since the beginning of the current wave of Palestinian violence, the trend of recruiting women for terror has grown increasingly common.

Terrorist groups have numerous motivations for exploiting women in this way. First and foremost, women raise less suspicion than men; it is easier for the female terrorist to blend in at Israeli cafes, on buses, and at checkpoints. Terror groups also use women to guarantee themselves a front-page headline. This reflects an alarming and sad reality: the plethora of suicide bombings by men has actually reduced their ability to shock the world.

Terror groups also take advantage of the compassion demonstrated by Israeli soldiers toward women. This was illustrated in January when Reem Al-Reyashi became the first female Hamas bomber by faking a medical condition at the Erez crossing. When she set off a metal detector at the checkpoint, she claimed to have metal pins in her leg and was allowed to move into the terminal while a female guard was called to conduct a search. It was at this moment that she detonated her explosive device, leaving her two young children motherless and shattering the lives and dreams of the four Israelis she murdered.

Such unthinkable crimes leave us asking the question: Why? Why would a young mother commit such a vicious act of violence? Deprived economic circumstances are frequently cited as an explanation, but statistics and profiles of suicide bombers refute any direct link between terror and poverty. For example, suicide bombings are rare in other poor societies, and Al-Reyashi - like the hijackers on 9/11 and countless others - came from the middle class.

Thus, we must look deeper for an explanation. According to numerous reports, Al-Reyashi had committed adultery and was given the terrible choice to die at the hands of her family or attain an "honorable" death by becoming a suicide bomber. Her lover, a member of Hamas, gave her the explosives and instructions for conducting the deadly mission, and her husband drove her to the Erez crossing to commit the heinous act.

Such deplorable tactics are not often publicized, but they pose a major threat to both Israeli citizens and Palestinian women themselves. Just last month, Israel prevented two young women recruited by the terror group Tanzim from executing attacks to "clear their names." The first woman, Tehani Zaki Ali Halil, was persuaded to carry out a suicide attack in Tel Aviv after being accused of infidelity. The other, a 19-year-old girl named Ramah Abed el-Majid Hasan Habaib, was recruited after accusations of premarital sexual relations.

From childhood, Palestinian girls are targeted by the same propaganda campaigns as their male counterparts: school textbooks teach hate, posters of male and female suicide bombers hang on classroom walls, and children trade "martyr medallions" like baseball cards. However, women in Palestinian society are especially vulnerable to such coercion due to their subordination, which is enforced both legally and socially. Terror organizations frequently recruit women with problematic social statuses, such as suspected adulteresses and rape victims. In fact, one of the most despicable methods used by Yasser Arafat's own terror organization, the Fatah, is to seduce young women or arrange their rapes and subsequently pressure them to rehabilitate their social status by becoming "martyrs."

Moreover, just as terror groups use mosques to incite anger and hate in Palestinian men, they exploit women's discontent with their inferior status by working actively to portray suicide bombings as a way to achieve equality.

For example, Islamic Jihad recently announced a strategic shift to a more "liberal" attitude toward women by accepting them as suicide bombers and has distributed promotional materials with statements like, "Our women are no longer the type of women who cry or weep. We have martyrdom women now." Underlying all of this is the disturbing notion that in life women are only women, but can rise to the status of "martyrs" in their deaths.

The use of emotional blackmail, coercion, and physical force to compel young women to kill both themselves and innocent civilians is an appalling violation of the most basic rights of freedom, equality, and life itself. Sadly, Israel is the only country in the Middle East where a girl can grow up to be anything she chooses. We do not see Israeli women blowing themselves up because they are valued by their society and taught that they can do more by living than by dying. Until the Palestinian Authority and Arab states sanctify life over hatred and offer their women fundamental human rights, the senseless deaths will continue.


Hillel Newman is Israel's consul to New England.


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