Foiled suicide bomber on path from hatred to peace
Shifa al-Qudsi, a 37-year-old Palestinian mother, does not attract much attention when she walks down the street. But she has travelled a long and difficult path from would-be suicide bomber to peace-maker.
It was not so long ago that she was planning to strap explosives to her body and blow herself up in an Israeli supermarket.
“I called Fatah and told them I needed all the equipment but they just laughed and said you’re joking. I said if you don’t give it to me then Hamas will. They said think about it for a month. And then they called me a month later and said okay, everything is ready for you,” she told RT.
It was the Second Intifada or Palestinian Uprising. Already two of Shifa’s teenage cousins had been killed by Israeli soldiers while her brother was serving 18 years in prison for his part in a suicide mission.
“I’m a mother. I love my life. But I wanted to do it because the Israelis destroyed our cities. I wanted to destroy their arrogance,” she recalls.
Female suicide bombing is relatively new in the Palestinian world. Wafa Idris, a 28-year-old divorced paramedic from Ramallah, became the first woman to blow herself up in Jerusalem in 2002. Ten more women have since followed in her footsteps, pushed over the edge by different circumstances, explains Dr. Mary Totry, who studies the part women play in the Arab world.
“One of them is the woman that bombed in the Maxim restaurant. She was supposed to be a successful lawyer but she saw her fiance being killed in front of her eyes and also her father was a cancer patient. She was not able to get him to take the treatment so she really was pushed to the point where she wanted to end her life,” she explains.
Experts agree that the reasons that drive a woman to become a suicide bomber are complex. There is anger and bitterness towards the Israeli occupation forces.
There is also the patriarchal nature of Palestinian society, according to Dr. Anat Berko, who has written several books on the subject. Here, women suspected of sleeping with a man before marriage can be thrown out – or even killed – by their families.
“The rumors don’t have to be true, but in such a society that kind of rumor can kill – this is the way to get rid of women and let them solve a problem with dignity and honor and without humiliating their families,” she says.
But the irony is that while these women are hailed by some as martyrs, many religious leaders are reluctant to send their daughters to the frontline as bombers. And although Islam condemns suicide, it is acceptable when fighting colonization and occupation, explains chair of the Islamic Council of Jaffa, Sheikh Mahamid.
“The jihad doesn’t mean that we have to take our military weapons and kill people and go to the west, in America, in Europe. We have to understand that if there are some groups or governments, like USA or Israel, that is occupying our territory, then we will have to fight this invasion,” he said.
Shifa says her reasons were both political and personal. She was fed up with the bombs falling around her and ashamed that after just two years of marriage her husband had run off with another woman. Life had simply become too much.
Her plan had been simple. Shifa was going to pretend to be pregnant and hide 33 pounds of explosives underneath a maternity dress. She was going to come to Netanya, an Israeli town not far from her home and blow herself up among Israelis.
But her plan was foiled by a Palestinian informer who tipped off the Israeli army. Shifa was sentenced and spent six years behind bars.
Now back at home she says she regrets it and devotes her time to telling her story to both Israelis and Palestinians in the hope that both sides can come to better understand the other.
“Years later my daughter asked me who I was going to leave her with and I said with grandma. I didn’t understand at the time how much she and my parents would have suffered. I understand it now. I know that blowing myself up wouldn’t have changed anything. The only way to peace is for Israelis and Palestinians to work together,” she says, in what is a strong message from a rather surprising source.