Small World

Jewish World Review August 9, 2001 / 20 Menachem-Av, 5761


By Douglas Davis -- AN ALERT security guard at Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station averted a major human tragedy last Friday afternoon when he spotted a 23-year-old Palestinian woman, Imman Ghazawi, carrying a large package. Challenged, the woman attempted to flee, abandoning the package in her haste.

When it was opened, the guard's suspicions were found to have been well-placed: the package contained no less than 13 pounds of explosives and a quantity of nails that would have been transformed into a cluster of lethal darts if the explosives had been detonated on the station's busy concourse.

Foiling such terrorist acts has, sadly, become the stuff of everyday life in Israel. What makes this episode so unusual is that the would-be perpetrator of indiscriminate mass-slaughter was a woman.

Islamic clergy have debated for months whether women should be used for such operations against Israelis. The answer came just two days before mother-of-two Ghazawi set out on her mission when the High Islamic Council in Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa [religious decree] exhorting women to become suicide bombers.

Since then, scores of Palestinian women are reported to have volunteered for "martyrdom" and Israeli security sources believe that many more will seek to translate their ferocious religious zealotry into what they perceive as heroic death.

This will significantly raise the stakes, say the sources, as Arab women are able to disguise explosives strapped to their bodies under their heavy, long, shapeless garments far more effectively than men, who raise instant suspicion if they wear more than a light cotton shirt in Israel's sweltering summer heat.

"It will leave us with an almost impossible task in trying to prevent atrocities," said one source.

But according to Palestinian spiritual leader Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, the arrival of women on the battlefield is perfectly justifiable: "Israel has issued a death warrant against the Palestinians," he says, "and now the women will also fight. The Palestinians prefer to be killed at the front rather than wait and be killed at home."

He described how Palestinian women wear white shrouds at funerals -- a sign they are ready to die as "martyrs" -- and how they implore their male counterparts to "make a bomb of me."

"Israel has the Dimona nuclear plant, but we Palestinians have a stronger Dimona - the suiciders," said Sheikh Darwish. "We can use them on a daily basis."

Palestinian women, however, are not being perceived solely as suicide bombers: more benign Arab intellectuals are increasingly calling on them to become "biological bombs" -- in order defeat Israel by outbreeding them in the maternity wards.

They point to a report on population projections recently presented to the Knesset [parliament] which shows that Arabs will outnumber Jews within the pre-1967 "Green Line" within 35 years and that there are already as many Arabs as Jews when the West Bank and Gaza Strip are included.

And noting that the Palestinian birth rate is far outpacing that of the Jewish population, they see the best hopes of a Palestinian victory against Israel through demography rather than violence.

Writing in the London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat last weekend, Egyptian intellectual Dr Wahid al-Magid noted that "the way to end the Arab-Israel conflict is through changing the demographic balance within the Green Line.

"It will not be long before the Arabs become the supreme decision-makers who control the conflict," he wrote.

This is not this just wishful thinking. Israel's leading demographer, Haifa University's Professor Arnon Sofer, agrees that the trend in Arab birth-rates poses what he describes as "a threat to Israel's existence," pointing out that 50 percent of the Arab population is under the age of 15 and that the Arab population will double every 17 years.

Nor is the high birth rate within the Arab community the only source of population increase: In recent years, some 100,000 Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians have illegally settled in the predominantly Arab areas of Israel.

This did not escape the attention of Dr al-Magid, who noted that "the demographic weapon does not derive only from the high birth rate," and that the mass infiltration of Arabs into Israel "create facts on the ground."

Such pronouncements serve to demoralize still further the "peace camp" in Israel: "Finally we are seeing that even moderate Arabs do not want peace. They want Israel," noted veteran Peace Now activist Yael Cohen.

"The whole premise of the Oslo accords was land for peace, not a phased plan to destroy Israel. Now, after we have already withdrawn from most of the Palestinian-populated areas in the West Bank and Gaza, we realize we have been tricked."

Woman are rare, but not unknown, in the annals of Palestinian terrorism. Serial airline hijacker Leila Khaled, famously photographed with a clutch of hand- grenades and rifles in 1970, was, after all, one of the earliest and most potent emblems of Palestinian militancy.

But the prospect of Palestinian women suicide bombers, explosives strapped to their bodies under flowing galabiyas, has struck a chord of horror among those charged with keeping the streets of Israel safe.

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© 2001, Douglas Davis