Suicide attacks get personal

JENIN, WEST BANK — JENIN, West Bank - Because she was a woman, Hanadi Jaradat had a relatively easy time slipping through the tight security net that the Israeli army drapes over the northern West Bank to prevent suicide bombers from reaching Israel.

The 27-year-old apprentice real estate lawyer got through the first army checkpoint, on a road into Israel from the largely Palestinian West Bank, by waving her Jordanian passport. The female soldier assigned to the second blockade wasn't at her post, and because male soldiers are prohibited from searching women, they simply let Jaradat pass on that fateful day last fall.


Safely inside Israel and wearing a belt packed with explosives, Jaradat took a taxi to the Maxim restaurant overlooking the glistening Mediterranean Sea at Haifa in northern Israel. It was a bright October day, and patrons crowded the entrance waiting for seats. The security guard gave her a cursory search and ushered her inside.

She bought her driver lunch, for $20, took it to his car, and returned to the restaurant, where she paused near a group of baby carriages and blew herself up. She and 21 patrons died in the blast, including a family of five.


She was the sixth of the now seven Palestinian women to attack Israel by blowing themselves up. In the past three years, there have been 129 suicide attacks by men against Israel.

Palestinian militant groups are recruiting women for suicide bombings, despite a tradition that sees women as keepers of the home and family. As Israel tightens security, focusing on young men, the taboos against using women in violent attacks have been slowly eroding.

The first militant group to use a woman was the secular Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, which sent a woman medic into Israel using an ambulance as cover in 2002. Then, the Muslim Islamic Jihad followed suit.

Last Wednesday, Hamas dispatched its first female bomber, Reem Raiyshi, a married mother of two from Gaza, who killed three Israeli soldiers and a security guard in Gaza.

Unlike men, who tend to be motivated by national pride, the women more often act out of personal loss and family pressures, Palestinian and Israeli experts say.

Jaradat was angry at Israel, and possibly unhappy at home. At 27, she was not married, an unenviable status in Palestinian society. Israeli soldiers had killed her cousin and brother in August. Ten times, her family said, she tried, unsuccessfully, to get a permit so her father could visit an Israeli hospital to treat a failing kidney.

"Women are essential to the resistance," Jaradat's father, Tayseer Jaradat, said during an interview in his temporary home in the center of Jenin's old city - the Israeli army destroyed the family house to punish them for the bombing. The dirty, crumbling streets outside are ruled by roving gangs of gunmen and have produced an inordinate share of suicide bombers.

Jaradat's mother, Rahma, described her daughter as a strong, confident person "who knew what she was doing" when she carried out the attack.


The bomber's parents sat in a small living room, an old office converted into an apartment for them by the Palestinian Authority. They share it with their six remaining children, including a daughter whose prospective husband was arrested by Israeli troops last week.

"The Palestinian women are losing their husbands and their fathers and their children," the 51-year-old Jaradat said. "The women like my precious daughter probably feel that they have nothing else to lose."

Though as far back as 1987, Israeli authorities arrested a female Islamic Jihad activist who planned to die in a car bombing, women have been largely kept behind the scenes until recently.

They sew suicide belts. They act as lookouts; occasionally, they accompany bombers on their way to Israel, on the theory that Israeli soldiers are less likely to suspect Palestinians traveling with women. Gradually, the lines have blurred.

Israel finds Raiyshi, who blew herself up last week, particularly troubling. Her bombing is a signal that Hamas, the most active and lethal militant group, has added a new dimension to the conflict, forcing Israel to re-evaluate and change its security procedures.

Only last year, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas, criticized the use of women in suicide operations, saying it was forbidden under Islamic law. There were more men willing to kill themselves than there were bombs, he said.


But after Raiyshi attacked a Gaza terminal used to process Palestinians seeking permits to work in Israel, Yassin said women were needed to bypass Israeli security measures. A holy war, he said, "is an obligation of all Muslims, men and women."

In a video aired within an hour of her death, Raiyshi is shown wearing a black head covering, holding an M-16 rifle in one hand and a Quran in the other. A grenade launcher is on the table in front her, and a large green flag of Hamas hangs behind her.

Smiling, she said she wanted to be the "first woman to carry out a martyrdom operation, where parts of my body can fly all over. That is the only wish that I can ask of God."

Israeli intelligence officials said that the 21-year-old woman, a member of a wealthy Palestinian family that ran a battery factory and had business interests in Israel, had been caught in an extramarital affair. The reports said that her husband, a Hamas activist, forced her to carry out the attack as a form of honor killing.

"Unlike the case of male bombers, most of the women have personal reasons to do what they do," said Boaz Ganor, the director of the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism based in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

"Some of them had a pregnancy out of marriage, a death penalty in that society. Some of them had severe sicknesses or a bad situation in the family. With suicide, they see a concrete reason for them not to waste their life, but rather a chance to be recognized as martyrs."


Until Raiyshi's attack last week, Hamas had not carried out an attack in four months. Israeli security agencies have argued over whether it stopped of its own volition or had been disabled by an Israeli campaign to assassinate its leaders.

"This is another proof for the deterioration in Hamas' operational capability," Ganor said. "They are probably having a problem trying to recruit, train and launch male suicide attackers. Therefore, they decided to use women."

Fathi Flefel, a psychologist for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, the Arab equivalent of the Red Cross, said that women played a pivotal role in the first Palestinian uprising, in the late 1980s. They organized protests and sent their children out to throw stones at Israeli soldiers.

Now, he said, women might be seeking another way of contributing, but it is a method that is not accepted by mainstream Palestinian society, which was shocked by the latest bombing.

"The woman in Gaza, she had two kids," Flefel said. "How can a woman with children do something like this? It's not only that they want to fight occupation. They of course have some kind of personal issues."

Back in their cold, dark, unheated room, the Jaradat family listened to the sounds outside, where a small rally by Islamic Jihad was shouting for more attacks. Gunmen fired into the air as a procession marched through the streets of central Jenin in a drizzly rain. Young boys still in grade school were dressed as suicide bombers, parading down desolate streets.


Jaradat's mother bowed her head. "Maybe she just decided that her life wasn't worth anything," Rahma Jaradat said. "As she had lost her loved ones, maybe she thought the Israelis should lose theirs."