TEL AVIV – A new report highlights the Arab media’s response to the growing number of Palestinian women involved in the current wave of terror against Israelis.
The report, published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), says that young Palestinian women are taking a more active role in the violence, from carrying out stabbing attacks to being on the front lines of protests and violent clashes with Israeli security forces. As Egyptian daily Al-Watan put it, the uprising is “scented by the perfume of the young women adorned in the color of blood.”
This increased prominence for women has prompted Palestinian and Arab media to focus on the changing role of women in the Palestinian struggle. While many claim that Palestinian women have always played a role in the conflict, they argue that this time — during what they refer to as the “knife intifada” or the “knife revolution” — things are different because women have moved “from behind the scenes … to the forefront of the conflict.”
Many writers are lauding the women’s willingness to become martyrs for the sake of their cause, describing them as “the new Canaanite women” who are “the glory of Islam.” The editor-in-chief of Jordan’s influential liberal newspaper, Al-Ghad, asserts that they are “the beauty queens of the third intifada.”
Others, however, are demanding that women return to their homes because their activity – and the fact that some of them are not fully covered in traditional Islamic dress — might result in harm to their honor.
Palestinian journalist Naila Khalil published an investigative article in the London-based Qatari daily Al-Arabi Al-Jadid on the active role played by women in the current uprising. “I am certain that what I am seeing today is unprecedented in terms of the number and quality of women participants and the scenes I witness daily – such as on Friday at the funeral of the martyr Muhammad Al-Halabi [a Palestinian law student who stabbed two Israelis to death, where women led calls and the men responded to them. [This is] something we have not seen in the past.”
Khalil continued, “The sight of women leading the struggle has become an everyday occurrence in confrontations with the Israeli occupation at the points of conflict. The images of young women, their faces covered, throwing stones at occupation soldiers in Beit El, standing tall and knowing no fear, have been widely distributed by news agencies and on social media.”
However, she stressed that the phenomenon is not new. “During the first and second intifadas … the names of the female warriors who competed with the men, and even in some cases surpassed them, even in military operations, were well-known. … In the second intifada, [for instance], 27 women carried out suicide operations, and thousands were killed, wounded, and imprisoned.”
According to Khalil, the roles of women, “which have been the same throughout [all] the stages of Palestinian uprising, dating back to the Nakba [the 1948 creation of the State of Israel], have included: attempts to stab soldiers and settlers, making firebombs for young men at the points of conflict … collecting stones for the young men and [even] throwing them [themselves], and scouting out safe routes of passage for them.”
In the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood daily Al-Sabil, writer Ayat Al-Hawawsheh notes that during the first intifada in 1987, known as the “intifada of stones,” “a third of the martyrs were women.”
She claims that this time women have even surpassed the men: “It seems that the women’s role today has grown to transcend that of their male counterparts by several levels, to the point of attracting the attention of all, including the international media that has published many articles on the topic. … Palestinian women have moved from behind the scenes … to the heart of the arena and the forefront of the conflict.”
Jumana Ghunaimat, editor of Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, wrote: “Nothing is more exalted and lofty than mothers who dedicate their sons to the homeland. These are the ladies of the world, the ladies of Palestine. What they have sacrificed, and are still sacrificing, is the heaviest toll on Earth. …
“[She] carries on her shoulder a feminine handbag stressing love of life – while with her other hand she throws a stone against an [enemy] gun, because life must be lived only in freedom and honor. Another young woman made herself a slingshot in her determination to confront the oppressor by all means necessary.
“These girls have frightened the [Israeli] soldiers. They bravely faced the occupier and sowed fear in his heart without using a gun. [The occupier] fears not a gun, nor a primitive weapon, but a strong brave woman who believes that conflict is her fate and sacrifice is her duty – even if she sacrifices her only son.”
In the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour, Jamal Al-‘Alawi notes that the female combatants come from all sectors of society, both secular and religious.
“This is a group of new Canaanites, whom the third intifada brought to the public arena to defend Jerusalem. Some cover their faces, some wear a hijab, and some wear jeans and a keffiyeh. They are the flowers of the new intifada, the beauty queens of the third intifada. … the ladies of the field, of the battlefronts, of the war, and of the media.”
He bemoans the fact that so many in his country do nothing but watch TV while his sisters in Palestine have “occupied the public square and grabbed stones to confront the Zionists, the scum of our time.”
However, there are many conservative voices opposed to the idea of women leaving their homes to join the battle. Prominent Salafi sheikh Muhammad Al-Shalabi, aka Abu Sayyaf, said: “O honorable women of Al-Aqsa, the destruction of Al-Aqsa, God forbid, is less grave in our eyes than the harming of your honor, and your lives are more important to us than even our holy places. So return to your homes and do not expose our honor to harm by the despicable nation [the Jews]. And know that the spring of Islam shall undoubtedly come.”
In response, critics are arguing that Islamic texts are full of examples of women taking part in jihad. One writer asserts that “women are the key to change” and that as long as they are oppressed “there will be no change in our painful Arab reality.”
Meanwhile, Israelis are responding to MEMRI’s report with cynicism. In an interview with Breibart Jerusalem, 40-year-old Alan Moskowitz from Tel Aviv said, “It’s just ironic that they think that killing innocent people in cold blood by running a baby over or stabbing an 80-year-old woman in the back amounts to the emancipation of Muslim women.”