Muslim Zealotry, incitement on social media and the woman’s changing role in Palestinian society are generating more female terrorists.
When Palestinian youths began a wave often suicidal stabbing terror attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians over three months ago, it wasn’t his three sons that Ramiz Hassoneh was worried about — it was his daughter.
Ignoring her father’s warnings, 20-year-old Maram took a kitchen knife to an Israeli military checkpoint on December 1 and was shot dead as she tried to attack the soldiers.
The deadly mission put her among some 20 females who have been involved in attacks on Israelis in recent months — a new trend that has confounded both Palestinian families and Israeli security officials.
While battling Israel was once a role restricted to Palestinian males, the current wave of violence has seen an unprecedented spike in female involvement. And where the few women who did engage in attacks in the past were typically underprivileged females seeking redemption after being rejected by their families, the terrorists are now largely ideological, educated women from supportive homes, as is the case with males as well.
The Rise of Islamic Zeal in Palestinian Society
Palestinians consider the trend to be a combination of rising Islamist zeal, the growing role of women in the conservative society and the brewing desperation of a younger generation with few prospects.
In Maram’s case, her family said she had a burning drive to resist what they term as “the Israeli occupation” somehow. A top English student at An-Najah University and a devout Muslim, Maram was supposedly deeply troubled by TV images showing the death of Palestinians killed in attacks and clashes with Israel.
She had memorized the entire Quran and cited religious and nationalistic motives for her desire to strike at Israelis. Unlike her younger brothers, who busied themselves with daily life, her father said Maram was an independent thinker who couldn’t be swayed from her convictions, even after serving six months in prison for another unsuccessful stabbing attempt on a soldier two years earlier.
“Girls are more sensitive to the occupation. They are more emotional about these things,” said Hassoneh, sitting in his Nablus home under a large poster of his late daughter wearing a headscarf. “She believed that she would inspire the boys to do something … She looked at me and said: ‘When our men who sit in coffee shop see (a girl) killed, they will move.'”
His wife, Hanan, sitting next to him with a gold necklace featuring Maram’s image, said her sorrow was mixed with pride. “I’m happy she is a martyr, but I miss her a lot,” she said.
Social Media is a Vehicle to Promulgate Terrorism
Since the violence erupted in mid-September, 24 Israelis one American Jew and a Palestinian have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists, mostly in stabbing attacks carried out by Palestinians in their late teens or 20s
Israel says the violence is the result of incitement by Palestinian leaders and on social media sites.
In previous rounds of violence, women were expected to stay home while the boys fought. But women’s increased presence online, where most of the rallying cries to violence take place, and general advancement in society have emboldened many to partake in the “national struggle,” said Jihad Harb, a Palestinian researcher and commentator.
“Social media has opened a new horizon for the new generation. They interact and build their thoughts in a new way that gives girls the same chances of boys,” he said.
The Israeli military says that of 152 attacks recorded, 22 were by women. It attributed the rise to a new, bolder generation of Palestinian women that did not belong to the established military organizations and did not ask for anyone’s permission to act.
One of the most notable incidents involved a pair of female cousins, aged 16 and 14, who stabbed an elderly Palestinian, mistaking him for an Israeli, with a pair of scissors near a popular Jerusalem marketplace. A police officer shot one of them dead and wounded the other.
Ibrahim Awwad, the father of 16-year-old Norhan, who was wounded, said he was shocked by their botched attack and could only speculate that they were driven by the daily life in the Qalandia refugee camp north of Jerusalem.
“If I knew they were going to carry out an attack, I would have tied them up in the house,” he said. “But everything was normal. There were no signs.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that because females didn’t fit the typical profile of a terrorist they aroused little suspicion and had an easier time getting around Israeli checkpoints. That has now changed.
Hanan Ashrawi, the most senior female Palestinian official, asserted the surge in attacks reflects an overall more active political approach of the younger generation.
She also conceded that a deeper religious devotion was also a factor.
Like Father, Like Daughter
Taha Qatanani said his 16-year-old daughter Ashraqat’s greatest wish was to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, and when he was unable to get her the necessary permits, she accused him of letting her down. Tensions at the site and lies and rumors spread by the Palestinian leadership that Israel was trying to expand its presence there enraged her, Qatanani said.
On November 22, she pulled out a knife at the entrance to a military base when an Israeli driving by veered off the road and struck her with his car. A soldier then shot her dead.
“As long as there is occupation there will be resistance,” said Qatanani, who served several stints in Israeli prisons for his terror activity in the Islamic Jihad movement.
In the family living room on the outskirts of Nablus, there was a makeshift shrine to Ashraqat featuring her image against a backdrop of Al-Aqsa and a wooden carving in her honor with a bloodied knife piercing through a map of historic Palestine.
“I would have much more relief if my son had done it,” Qatanani said, pointing to 18-year-old Yassin. “My masculine mentality says the man should do it. But I consider the girl doing it a much stronger message … when it gets to the degree that a girl carries out an attack it means there is nothing else.”