My Body is a Barrel of Gunpowder: Palestinian Women's Suicide Bombing in the Second Intifada
The suicide‐bombing by Wafa Idris in an Israeli grocery store on January 27, 2002, killing one Israeli, created excitement in the media over the perceived new phenomenon of Palestinian female suicide bombers. Palestinian women’s political and even violent participation in the national campaign is not, however, new. In fact, Palestinian female suicide bombing falls within the continuum of women’s political participation in the Palestinian struggle against Zionism and Israel. Many scholars have put forth gendered theories to explain the emergence of Palestinian female suicide bombing. One holds that women are trying to prove their equality with men and seeking to elevate women’s place in Palestinian society. Evidence shows that even as their participation reaches the level of suicide bombing, however, the women win social praise but no structural changes in Palestinian society for the betterment of women. Another explanation is the theory of individual redemption, which argues that the Palestinian women who become involved in suicide bombing do so because they are divorced, barren, adulterers or otherwise shamed or undesirable and their patriarchal society offers no alternatives for redeeming themselves. Contrary to this popular Western and Israeli belief, however, most Palestinian female suicide bombers do not fall into any of these categories of disgrace.
I argue that Palestinian society’s response to female suicide bombing and the backgrounds of the women show that, in fact, Palestinian women are not driven so much by a desire to advance women’s societal gains or individual redemption, but rather by the same nationalist motivations driving Palestinian male suicide bombers fighting against Israeli occupation and Palestinian suffering. I demonstrate the validity of my argument with an original chart in which I pull together both gendered and non‐gendered components of the female suicide bombers’ back stories. Once charted, the preponderance of possible political and nationalist catalysts is clear. Continuing to use gendered‐based theories to explain why Palestinian women become suicide bombers limits our understanding of the phenomenon and crucially hinders our thinking about how to overcome it.