“The Women of Palestine Fear Nothing”


The recent bombing in Jerusalem has redefined the laws governing the Intifadha and the 17-month conflict in Israel and the Occupied Territories.

On January 27, Wafaa Idriss, a 27-year old Palestinian woman with flowing auburn hair walked into an Israeli-owned shoe store in Jerusalem, looked about nervously, and detonated a bomb strapped around her chest. In addition to killing herself, one Israeli was killed and more than 140 others injured.

The bombing signaled a dangerous new trend in Palestinian defiance of Israeli occupation of post-1967 Palestine, and may have given the Israeli public food for thought. In the aftermath, “she has become a symbol of nationalist sacrifice and desperation, a warning of what is to come. To Israelis she is a sign of the conflict’s radicalization and a trigger for tough new security measures” (Washington Post, Palestinians Hail a Heroine; Israelis See Rising Threat – Suicide Bomber Elicits Pride and Fear January 31, 2002).

The Washington Post report describes Israeli desperation to try and calm its public by approving “a multimillion-dollar program to fortify the city with fences, ditches and roadblocks. Security officials said they would have to rethink procedures so that Palestinian women were scrutinized as thoroughly as men.”

In the past 17 months, there have been 30 suicide bombings inside the Occupied Territories and Israel exclusively carried out by young men between the ages of 18 and 30. Idriss’ bombing may signal that the conflict has entered a final, desperate stage. Palestinian National Authority officials say that they have persistently warned that Israeli roadblocks, army checkpoints and siege of Palestinian West Bank towns is aggravating the situation and enflaming Palestinian anger and frustration.

Between October 14, 2000 and December 13, 2001, 20 Palestinin civilians died while waiting for Isreali clearance to travel to medical facilities outside their towns. ‘Ala Hamdan ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Ahmad, age 10, from as-Sawiya, Nablus district died when her appendix burst before Israeli soldiers who prevented her father from taking her to a hospital in central Nablus (source: Red Crescent Society).

Daily incidents such as these, completely ignored by Western media, are slowling stoking Palestinian resignation that Israel does not want peace, but rather the eradication of the entire Palestinian peoples.

“Ms. Idris’s central, violent role appeared to be a sign of the growing desperation of Palestinians, and the growing willingness of Palestinian militants to deploy women who can slip past Israeli security. Even some well-educated, relatively wealthy young Palestinian women speak these days, like Palestinian men, of a willingness to die for the cause (New York Times, An Unusual New Palestinian ‘Martyr’: A WomanJanuary 31, 2002).”

To her family, Idriss had been a volunteer in the Red Crescent, and tended many wounded Palestinian youth. “Four days before she blew herself up, she had tended to a 15-year old Palestinian boy who had been shot in the head, parts of his brain on her hands.”

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, more than 17,000 Palestinian civilians have been wounded by hostile Israeli fire since September 2000. Of those, 21 percent were wounded by live ammunition, 31 percent by rubber bullets, 28.3 percent by tear gas, and 19.7 percent from other methods including beatings, bomb fragments, and shrapnel. During the same period, 949 Palestinians have been killed.

Have Palestinian women had enough?

Since 1967, Palestinian women have stayed at home while their husbands, brothers, sons, fathers and uncles died while fighting occupying Israeli forces. According to sociologists in the Middle East, Palestinian women have played the role of homemaker and ensuring that the dream of an independent homeland stay alive, bringing up their children to never forget that their lands were stolen and usurped, that their kin were killed. It is Palestinian women that have had to rebuild their shattered lives, often without their husbands and male support. Sources of livelihood have been destroyed and often, the very houses they built were demolished by Israeli bulldozers and tanks as punishment.

Eight thousand homes and shelters have been destroyed by Israeli forces since 1967, leaving 40,000 Palestinians homeless (Guardian, January 29, 2002).

“During one of Israel’s home demolition campaigns-morbidly entitled “Operation Enjoyable Song”-more than 32 shelters, housing some 400 people, were demolished April 11, 2001″ (Sherri Muzher, Business and Peace Don’t Mix: Caterpillar’s Role in Israel’s Demolition of Palestinian Homes, WRMEA.com Feb 02, 2002).

According to Ha’aretz, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert has vowed to make hose demolitions a weekly sport. “Every week the Jerusalem Municipality plans to demolish buildings,” said Olmert (February 7, 2002).

Consequently, Palestinian women have started to voice their frustration. Palestinian women until now joined emergency medical teams, organized non-violent demonstrations, visited the injured and sometimes even hurled stones at Israeli soldiers.

“The women in our society have the same desire to resist the occupation and to fight against Israel,” Itaf Yousef editor of a women’s newsletter in Nablus called “The Voice of the Women told the Christian Science Monitor.

Leila Khaled, who helped hijack airliners in the 1970s to raise awareness of Palestinian suffering, told an Al Jazeera interviewer that the brutal occupation of Palestine does not distinguish between gender: “Bombs do not choose gender, bullets do not choose gender…they kill indiscriminantely é both men and women suffer from occupation. Consequently, it is to be expected that women are now taking a more active role.”

According to an Al-Jazeera poll 82% of its viewing public believe that it is legitimate for women to actively resist Israeli Occupation through armed means. Some respondents went so far as to say that “we in the Arab street are learning about resistance from the courage of the Palestinian woman”.

The Israeli public is reacting to recent developments; Israeli army reservists have noted Palestinian suffering and have challenged traditional IDF policy by refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories.

“More than 100 Israeli Army reservists signed a statement published today saying they would refuse to continue serving in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because Israel’s policies there involved ‘dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people.’ The statement, by combat officers and soldiers, amounted to the largest organized refusal by reservists to serve in the West Bank and Gaza in the last 16 months of violence” (New York Times, February 2, 2002 Reservists Balk at Occupation, Roiling Israel).

An IDF Lieutenant, Ishai Sagi, told the Independent that “he was ordered to open fire at Palestinians who picked up stones for throwing at the troops. There were no specifics about whether [the person] was a child, a woman or an elderly man… there were no specifics as to where to shoot [the person].”

“Everything that we do in there é all the horrors, all the tearing down of houses and trees, all the roadblocks, everything é is just for one purpose, the settlers, who I believe are illegally there. So I believe that the [orders] that I got were illegal and I won’t do them again.” (February 6, 2002)

Earlier, the Speaker of the Israeli parliament, Avraham Burg, had declared that he sought to address the Palestinian Legislative Council in an attempt to promote peace. This angered right-wing Israeli MPs who called for his resignation and dismissal.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may have also reacted to the recent sugre in violence. Reports emerged last weekend that Sharon had met with three of Arafat’s advisors for the first time since he took office to discuss potential peace discussions.

A non-violent demonstration in the West Bank commemorated Idriss’ actions as young girls were overheard chanting “the women of Palestine fear nothing”.

In the end, the Butcher of Beirut may not be defeated by any one man but by the defiance of a woman.

Firas Al-Atraqchi is a Muslim Canadian journalist living on the Pacific Coast.

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