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Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Female Suicide Bombers

The participation of women in Palestinian terrorism is increasing. Israeli security forces are aware of as many as twenty cases in which women were involved in terrorist activity against Israeli targets; some of these women acted as facilitators in planning and carrying out terrorist attacks, while others operated at the most radical level, carrying out suicide bombings.

Terrorist organizations have been quick to see the advantages of using females to perpetrate terrorist attacks, especially inside Israeli cities. Women are often perceived as “the gentle sex”, and are less likely to arouse suspicion than men are. Attacks perpetrated by women have tended to be those where the terrorist planners needed the perpetrator to blend in on the Israeli ‘street’. These female terrorists attempted to westernize their appearance, adopting modern hairstyles and short skirts.

In most of these cases, the women involved were from two extremes of Palestinian society; they did not fit the image of the traditional Palestinian woman. Some of them were professional women with education and training far beyond the average, while others were common young women with neither education nor career. All these women were united, however, in carrying a large amount of personal “baggage”.

Much can be learned from studying and interviewing women who attempted to carry out suicide attacks but were caught before they had a chance to actualize their plans. It should be noted that the current phenomenon of involving Palestinian women in terrorist activity is not new. A prominent example is Atef Eleyan, a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad activist who planned to perpetrate a suicide attack using a car bomb in Jerusalem in 1987. Atef was jailed in Israel for ten years and was released in 1997.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s efforts to recruit women for suicide attacks begins with the identification of potential candidates in northern West Bank Universities, as well as in towns and villages. Once a prospective suicide bomber is found, the organization invests considerable effort in convincing women that this kind of activity does not contradict the Islamic principles nor “the daily duties of the Muslim woman”.

Unlike Hamas, which has not used women suicide attackers, Islamic Jihad earlier this year launched a public campaign to recruit women. The PIJ had taken a strategic decision at the beginning of 2003, upgrading its operational capabilities by the introduction of a new form of “modus operandi” to elude Israeli efforts to thwart and profile suicide attackers.

The PIJ was and is focusing its recruitment efforts in the northern part of the West Bank, particularly and Jenin region in particular, and has established a well-trained network of operatives, including some highly-skilled women. The organization’s first success in recruiting women was Heiba Daragmeh, a 19 year-old student in Quds Open University from Tubas village in the Jenin district. On 19 May 2003, she detonated an explosive devise strapped to her body in front of a shopping mall in Afula, killing three civilians and injuring 83.

The PIJ suicide attack in Haifa

The Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the latest suicide attack carried out by a woman—the bombing of the Maxim restaurant in Haifa on October 4, 2003. The bomber was identified as Hanadi Jaradat, 29, a trainee lawyer from Jenin. Family members said that Jaradat, a single woman, was the sister of Fadi Jaradat, an Islamic Jihad militant who was killed, along with a cousin, Salah Jaradat in June 2003 during an IDF operation to arrest them. Israeli sources had identified the two as PIJ operatives and said they were planning a terror attack inside Israel.

Jaradat was the sixth woman suicide bomber in the past three years, though only the second to commit an attack for the Islamic Jihad.

Jaradat’s background

According to the a statement issued by the Islamic Jihad, Jaradat was borne on 22 September 1975 in the village of Silat Al Hartiya of Jenin district (The village where Abdullah Azzam, the spiritual mentor of Bin Laden, was born). She was said to be religious; she prayed daily and read the Quran. She had graduated Fatima Hanuon elementary school and Al Zahara high school in Jenin. In 1999 she had graduated Jarash law school in Jordan and returned to the West Bank. In the last two years she worked at a Jenin law office as a trainee lawyer.

According to a childhood friend, Jaradat was a very determined woman, self-confidant, and even stubborn, in the pursuit of success and personal achievements.

Based on all these partial descriptions, one can assume that something went wrong between her return to the West Bank after graduating law school and June 2003, when two of her family members were killed. There seems to be a great disparity between her professional achievements and her personal life. In a traditional orthodox society such as Palestinian society, a woman of her age (27) who is still unmarried inevitably faces the question of why she is still single. How did this affect her psychological predisposition to solve her personal “unfinished business” by her willingness to be a suicider and escape her dead end?

Added to this, the death of two family member at the hands of Israeli forces. This was no doubt the trigger—the catalyst for her final act. So far, there is no evidence of how Jaradat came to be involved in the mission. According to Israeli sources, she was recruited by a female PIJ operative from the village of Arabeh. It would appear that she was approached by the organization during the period of mourning for her brother and her cousin. From past cases, it is well known that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad use funerals and mourner’s booths as a potential platform for recruitment. These organizations are able to exploit the emotionally loaded circumstances, when feelings for revenge are high for their own ends.

It is clear that Jaradat’s personal grief was manipulated by the PIJ to serve the organization’s own agenda. Her emotional predisposition and her status as a misfit was well known in the village. Those around her have remarked that she was “easy prey” for PIJ’s “sharks”. As has happened in previous cases, the manipulation of her emotional state was not difficult.

The real motive for her fatal decision will remain forever unknown, which is unfortunate; one of the crucial elements in understanding and combating terrorism is motivation.


The tactical and operational modus operandi of Palestinian suicide attacks is well understood and has been mapped in its all shapes and forms, including the chain of events from recruitment throughout preparation and launching of the attack. The Israeli answer to this threat is excellent intelligence combined with real-time operational capabilities.

Understanding the motivation of the female suicide bomber is much more difficult. Past experience shows that there is generally no single overriding motivation for her action, but rather a number of motivations working in concert. These motivations interact with the potential attacker’s emotional predispositions, creating an explosive mixture that needs only some traumatic event to release all its hidden destructive energy. A skillful terrorist operative can easily identify a candidate in this emotional state, and coolly manipulate her into becoming a weapon for his organization.