Palestinian teen girls play bigger role in terror attacks on Israelis – Michele Chabin/USAToday
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Dressed in skirts over their jeans and scarves on their heads, two teenage Palestinian girls from northern Jerusalem headed to downtown Jerusalem on Monday, took out scissors and stabbed a 70-year-old Palestinian man they had mistaken for an Israeli Jew. An Israeli security guard fatally shot Hadeel Awaad, 16, and a policeman shot and wounded her cousin, Norham Awwad, 14.
The attack is among more than a dozen carried out by female Palestinians in the past two months, as violence directed against Israelis has escalated. That amounts to roughly one in seven assaults by female assailants, including girls under 18, a statistic that is both a source of concern and respect within the Palestinian community.
“It’s not that as a society, we excuse what these girls are doing. They had their whole future in front of them,” said Suheir Farraj, director of Women, Media and Development, a Palestinian non-profit group that focuses on women’s empowerment. “But when there is (Israeli) occupation … and if we do not have a real peace based on equal rights and freedom, our young people have no hope.”
Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said security personnel “see an increase in female terrorists who have carried out attacks against innocent Israelis over the last weeks.”
Until the recent violence, attacks by Palestinian females have been relatively rare in recent decades, according to Devorah Margolin, a researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
Margolin said that from the 1960s through the early 1990s, nearly 100 women took part in hijackings and bombings. The emergence in 1987 of Islamic fundamentalist groups, such as Hamas, led to more stringent restrictions on activities by Palestinian women “and their participation in terrorism in particular.”
That is why the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, from 2000 to 2005 “was more male-dominated” than the first, from 1987 to 1993, she said.
Mahdi Abdel Hadi, who heads the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, said organized terror groups’ exclusion of women from the front lines led to stronger women’s resistance on the home front.
“They became the revolutionary cornerstone back during the first intifada, in 1987 and 1988,” he said. “It was the women who organized aid for the injured, hot food for the fugitives, distributing leaflets. This exposed the strength and power of Palestinian women. Today, they lead the movement to boycott Israelis’ goods and the push for a homegrown Palestinian economy.”
As much as women may be valued on the home front, women’s rights activists said, a number of oppressive Palestinian social policies, such as arranged and underaged marriages and difficulties in reporting domestic violence, may have prompted some women and girls to launch suicidal attacks to escape their unhappy lives without committing outright suicide — a taboo in Palestinian society.
“There’s a lack of freedom, a lack of movement, a lack of social freedom, of choosing your own future,” Farraj said. “Maybe some girls want to be admired, respected. Some want to run away.”
Haneen Zoabi, an Arab woman who is a member of Israel’s parliament, said Palestinian attacks, especially by women, “break Israelis’ routine and raise their consciousness of Palestinians. Israelis rarely feel the occupation.”
At the same time, Zoabi said, violent attacks “aren’t based on the values I want my people to preserve. We don’t struggle against human beings, we struggle against policies. We can’t change reality by targeting individuals. We must make Israel pay the price for its occupation through [non-violent] popular resistance,” such as economic boycotts.
n East Jerusalem, Haneen Maaly, 20, a university student, said attacks such as the one by the Awwad cousins “are a bad idea.”
“They didn’t accomplish anything, and while many Palestinians are proud of them, if my daughter wanted to do such a thing, I would feel like she wasted her life,” Maaly said.
Dima Nusseibah, a university administrator, said the Awwads’ attack was poorly planned and didn’t achieve its goal of targeting Israelis, but she said the teens’ motivation is justified. Nusseibah noted that Hadeel Awwad’s brother, Mahmoud, died in 2013, several months after he was shot and injured during clashes with Israeli troops in a refugee camp.
“She was the sister of a martyr,” Nusseibah said, “and now she’s a martyr.”