Female Bombers Show Shift in Thinking

Hiba Da'arma, who committed Monday's terror attack in Afula, was the fifth woman to become a suicide bomber since the intifada broke out 32 months ago - but she was the first to be employed by Islamic Jihad.

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Hiba Da'arma, who committed Monday's terror attack in Afula, was the fifth woman to become a suicide bomber since the intifada broke out 32 months ago - but she was the first to be employed by Islamic Jihad.

Like Hamas, Islamic Jihad originally raised both religious and social objections to female bombers. The other four female bombers all came from the ranks of the secular Fatah militias.

Even Monday's attack was a joint venture, in which Fatah supplied the bomber and Islamic Jihad supplied the explosives and transportation.

But it clearly demonstrates that the Islamic organizations have overcome their religious and social objections to using women. Even Hamas - which still says it would not use a woman as a bomber - has begun using women in supporting roles.

The religious justification for female bombers comes from a tradition of the prophet Mohammed, according to which, "if even one centimeter of Muslim land is conquered, participating in a jihad [holy war] becomes a fundamental obligation that is even equal to the obligation of prayer [which falls on men and women alike]. A child may go without his father's permission, a wife without her husband's and a slave without his master's."

Female suicide bombers have obvious military implications: They arouse less suspicion, because they do not match the "profile" of a bomber developed by Israel's security services.

But this development also has enormous social implications. Even among secular Palestinians, a woman is traditionally subject to the men in her life - first her father, and later her husband. Her simplest action - even going out shopping - requires written or oral permission from the relevant man.

But female suicide bombers undermine this social convention. The recruiter violates the social code by not asking the family's permission before approaching the potential recruit, and once she agrees, the family no longer has any control over her fate: It is her handlers who will decide where she goes and when, and even the date of her death.

It is still not known whether Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber, actually intended to blow herself up or merely to plant her bomb and depart. But the truth is irrelevant: Her success in blowing up a shoe store in downtown Jerusalem in January 2002 made her a heroine.

Idris, 27, was not chosen by chance. A divorcee who produced no children in nine years of marriage, suffering from bad relations with her elder brother (the dominant male in her life, since her father was dead), she was ready for any kind of escape. In traditional Palestinian society, a divorced, barren woman is a burden on the family and has no chance of ever remarrying.

Fatah recruiters quickly realized that women like Idris, whose family situations were nonnormative, made likely recruits, and began targeting this group. The second female suicide bomber, 22-year-old Darin Abu Aisha, was another divorcee, a devout Muslim whose ex-husband and brother had both recently been killed by Israeli forces.

But as with the ranks of male suicide bombers - which initially consisted exclusively of unmarried young men, but expanded to include older, married men as the societal taboos broke down - an abnormal family situation soon stopped being a requirement for female suicide bombers.

The third woman, Iyat al-Ahris, was an 18-year-old high school senior - an outstanding student, recently engaged to be married, with eight brothers and sisters.

Making a suicide bomber of someone like Ahris was harder for Palestinian society to accept - particularly when it appeared she had been recruited by her fiance. Indeed, her family publicly cursed the Fatah activists who handed out candy to children to celebrate her successful attack on a Jerusalem supermarket.

The family of the next female bomber - Andalib Takatka, a 20-year-old single woman - was similarly upset. After Takatka's attack, Hamas even publicly denounced Fatah for recruiting her.

But by the time Monday's attack occurred, the mood had shifted. Da'arma was also a 20-year-old single woman, a university student majoring in English literature, the sixth of eight children in a family from Tubas, near Nablus.

According to her brother, Sa'id, she was not a member of any organization and never discussed politics. Her attack shocked her family.

But none of this stopped Islamic Jihad from proudly claiming credit for her attack. Yesterday, it published a video of her discussing the planned attack that had the movement's symbols printed on the wrapping.

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