Reem Raiyshi and her son (AP, via LGF)
Reem Raiyshi, the young Palestinian mother who murdered four people in a suicide attack last week, is being viewed as less than heroic by many Palestinians. This from the Philadelphia Inquirer, with thanks to Jean-Luc:
Wind whipped a chilly Gaza street, kicking up dust around Um Zayad, a Palestinian mother of four, as she shivered red-cheeked beneath a billowing black robe and wrinkled her nose in disapproval.
A few days earlier, another Gaza mother had feigned a limp as she approached an Israeli army checkpoint and was escorted inside a building for a security inspection. She blew herself up, also killing three soldiers and a security guard in yet another act of self-proclaimed martyrdom.
“It’s true, we should defend our country,” Zayad said, reacting to the Jan. 14 attack. “But I prefer to raise my kids. Women can also be fighters, but not women who have children to raise.”
The latest bombing – the seventh by a Palestinian woman since September 2000 – touched a nerve inside a society that normally celebrates the bombers as heroes. This time, as pride gave way to bitterness, many Palestinians expressed shock that Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, which took joint responsibility for the attack, would send a mother to her death, leaving two toddlers behind.
“Did she think about her children before she did this?” asked Um Wasim, another Gaza mother, rushing home last week from a secretarial job. “People are criticizing her because there really is no excuse for this.”
In a farewell videotape replete with Hamas banners and weapons, Reem Salah al-Raiyshi, 22, said she chose jihad – holy struggle – over motherhood, because she always wanted to turn her body into shrapnel that would kill Israelis.
“God gave me two children, and I loved them so much,” she said. “But my wish to meet God in paradise is greater, so I decided to be a martyr for the sake of my people.”
Dressed in a green Hamas bandana and cradling an assault rifle, Raiyshi told the camera she was confident God would provide for her 3-year-old daughter and 1-year-old son.
Hamas staged a high-profile funeral. Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the group’s spiritual leader, praised Raiyshi as the first Hamas woman in a coming onslaught.
But in a departure from tradition, Raiyshi’s brother Ayman spoke out immediately against his sister’s mission and the militants who dispatched her. “This destroys our life, our work and our future,” he told a Chicago Tribune interviewer. “It never occurred to us that she would do such a thing. If she had mentioned it, I would have prevented her, because of the children.”
Raiyshi’s relative Yusef Awad also condemned her act, saying her suicide detracted from the Palestinian national movement.
“The greatest jihad is raising your children,” he told the Tribune.
Surveys show a majority of Palestinians, especially those in the Gaza Strip, where the Islamic resistance group Hamas holds sway, support suicide bombings as a response to Israel’s occupation of Gaza and West Bank lands. In the last three years, there have been dozens of such bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis.
In recent weeks, however, more Palestinians have publicly questioned the bombings.
In the West Bank, criticism was voiced this month after Islamic Jihad operatives sent Iyad al-Masri, 17, on a suicide mission to avenge the killing of his brother Amjad, 15, who collapsed in his arms Jan. 3 after being shot by Israeli troops in a Nablus raid.
Detonating his explosives in an attempted attack on an Israeli patrol, Iyad Masri killed only himself on Jan. 11.
“It was wrong to send him to his death at a time when we were still mourning his brother. They must reconsider their tactics,” Masri’s father, Bilal, told Reuters.
Even among Palestinian media not known for publishing such criticisms, the issue has come to the fore.
Citing the possibility “of a strategic change in peoples’ perception of such attacks,” daily al-Ayyam columnist Hassan al-Batal praised the courage of the Raiyshi and Masri families for speaking out.
The Israeli daily Haaretz last week cited unnamed Hamas sources as saying the use of a female suicide bomber, even though the group had previously said a woman had no place in such attacks, was part of a larger power struggle within the organization over the next leader of Hamas’ political bureau, based in Damascus, Syria.
Yassin, Hamas’ spiritual leader, wants to play a pivotal role in selecting the bureau’s next chief. But in talks brokered by Egypt recently, he entertained the idea of a tactical lull in attacks on Israelis. For that reason, a Hamas source told Haaretz, Yassin was perceived by “external Hamas,” those not in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as too moderate.
“Now Yassin has to prove to the external Hamas that he’s just as tough as they are,” the source said. Using a mother to mount the next wave of attacks was a chilling way to send that message.