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Female terrorism: when the kamikaze is a woman

Monday, 29 May 2017 09:43
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by Melania Malomo (EPOS)
EPOS Insights


It was the 27th of  January 2002 when a Palestinian woman in a Palestinian Red Crescent’s ambulance passed through the Qalandiya checkpoint in the north of Jerusalem, coming from Ramallah’s hospital. She was carried in her backpack something like 22-pound of TNT packed into pipes. This type of bomb can be made easily at home by mixing acetone with phosphate and leaving it out in trays to dry. Then it is ground to powder, usually in a food mixer, and then put into metal tubes. The 28-years-old woman, who had probably used this “recipe” to make this explosive mixture, drove the ambulance in Jaffa Street and at midday approached it to a shoe store in the center of Jerusalem and then detonated the bomb, killing herself and a 81-years-old Israeli man and injured other 110 persons. The responsibility was claimed by Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. It is not sure if she was supposed only to plant the bomb, and then she blew herself up due to a mistake, or if she had to do what she had previously done in the first place. She was identified only three days later from her mother and her relatives by the pieces of her body scattered on the street.

This was the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that a suicide bomb attack was carried out by a woman. Her name was Wafa Idris and she was a volunteer in the Am’ari refugee camp in Ramallah where she gave her contribution as a paramedic. She was born in a refugee camp in the West Bank after her family was driven away from Ramallah by Israelis. Her father died when she was a child and one of her brothers, all three members of Al-Fatah, was imprisoned for a decade into an Israeli prison. Since she was 12, when the first Intifada broke out, she helped in food delivery and supporting prisoners’ family in her refugee camp and, in addition, she participated in the uprisings in the 1980s and 90s, in which one of her close friends died. She married her cousin when she was 16 and then, seven years later, they had a baby but the doctors said that she would not be able to carry a child anymore so her husband decided to divorce her and to marry again. She turned back to her mother house, where they lived in three rooms with a brother, his wife and five children. She was trained as a doctor in the Palestinian Red Crescent, an organization affiliated with International Red Cross, and she was concerned and shocked by the ongoing conflict and the effects of the war on the civilians.

This attack shifted media attention on the situation in Palestine when, for the first time, the terrorist was a woman. Arab press used to glorify Wafa Idris, a lot of articles and poems were written about her in which she was portrayed as a hero, an example for all young women. The Westerns’ opinion, even Israelis, were shocked in finding out that now the Palestinian’s terrorist actions were joined not only by men but even by women, by mothers. It was inconceivable to think that a person who carries a child can even carry a bomb in order to take innocent civilians’ life. Many started to think that this act was due to the escalation of the conflict to the point that terrorist group had to use women instead of men in order to pass easily the security at the checkpoint.

Historically, the extremist religious groups have always preferred not to train women for suicide attack but the situation in Israel changed when the security measures were reinforced and it became  more difficult for men to carry terrorist attacks while women were still less monitored. Women can join a terrorist group but their role in the organization is of the socialiser: they have the crucial duty of raising children who are going to become mujahideen and join the jihad. But gradually their involvement increased considering that women have always shown interest in the cause and their participation has always been as volunteers. So if initially many of these offers were rejected, when the situation turned into a desperate one in terms of security, the leadership started to accept all those women who volunteer themselves as suicide bombers. Maybe this is due even to the fact that women have lesser options to give their contribution and their support to their relatives and to the nationalist cause in general because they cannot serve as active combats. But in every case, women were sent only when they were really desperate and the advantage of using women was more than the senders’ moral reservations.

For what concerns the reasons why women decide to become suicide bombers, they have to be found mainly in their personal life and then for religious/nationalist motivations. In the specific case of Wafa Idris probably what she experienced in her life, such as the death of her friend, the imprisonment of her brother, the fact that she was hit by Israelis with a plastic bullet, the horrors that she had to see every day. In general, women are much more emotional and sensitive than men so they are more exposed to trauma and the consequent process of dissociation caused by the trauma itself, a dissociation that is aimed to operate as a psychological defense barrier but instead it makes them more vulnerable to follow terrorist ideology. Moreover, since the women give more important to relationships than men they tend to be more aggressive and to carry a desire for revenge if the death of a closer family member attacks them in their role of mothers, sisters, or wife. So very often recruiter play on this emotion in order to radicalize women.

In addition, a lot of women decide to become kamikaze because they have no other options in order to redeem themselves and their family for their “sins”, in the case in which they had a relationship that could have been in some way scandalous or illicit. They are in some cases victim of blocked roles because of infertility, divorce, rape and so they can be blackmailed and forced by circumstances to desire to become suicide bombers. But, even in this case, blocked roles are less greater motivators than the personal and the social ones caused by having reached the maximum level of trauma that they are able to pass through. Less greater motivation than the fact that they will become heroines and their families would be proud of them, for example.

But, overall, women are used in order to gain media attention. When we speak about terrorism we have to keep in mind that the aim of a terrorist action is mainly to spread the fear and the terror-producing effects, in fact, they use to report their action through technological devices in order to diffuse videos of their violence all over the Internet and hit the whole society. In addition, in these videos they speak with the auditor in order to show the inner motivation of the attack, focusing on what Western governments are doing in the Middle East to their Muslims brothers and sisters.

So considering that women are mostly portrayed as victims of abuse instead of perpetrators of terror, using a female as a suicide bomber is crucial if the terrorist group wants to make people questioning about the terrorist cause. The normal reaction to some kind of attack driven by women is to try to understand what could have been the reason that has brought her to blow herself act, so it is natural to start thinking that maybe her life was so awful because of the atrocity that she has to face every day that she decided to die in this way. But the reality is that even women are capable of atrocity and to carry out violence, even females can feel the desire of revenge and the will of making the enemy suffer in the same way they have suffered for the death of their relatives.

The mother of Wafa Idris was interviewed by BBC several times after the attack. She was horrified and shocked by the attack, she could not explain to herself why her beloved daughter had decided to become a suicide bomber: she was not so much religious and she did not apparently join any militant Palestinian organization. But, despite the loss, the mother was proud of her, she called her as a “daughter of Palestine” and she defined her as a really brave and heroic woman. She  declared she would have been proud of the other women that would have followed the example of her daughter. As it effectively happened.


DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect EPOS WorldView’s editorial policy

Last modified on Monday, 29 May 2017 09:57
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