by David Meir-Levi
One of the 1,027 Arab prisoners released in exchange forwas a young woman named Wafa al-Biss. Wafa lived with her parents in the Gaza Strip and was engaged to be married. In 2004, she suffered severe and life-threatening burns in a kitchen fire accident in her parents’ home. As a result, her fiancé promptly rejected her because she was now ugly.
In 2004-2005, Wafa’s life was saved by doctors at Soroka hospital in Beersheba, where over a period of six months she underwent a series of successful treatments for the massive burns that she suffered in the kitchen explosion. She developed a good relationship with the medical team. Israelis at Soroka, where she had spent three months undergoing treatment for her burns, treated her with “respect and dignity…..They had been very kind,” she told Judith Miller, who interviewed her in 2007 while she was still in prison. Her family was so appreciative that they wrote a letter of thanks and commendation to the doctors. It said “the care was wonderful and warm.” A Gazan gynecologist with whom she consulted between treatments was even more effusive in his letter to the Jerusalem Post: “I have nothing but praise for the doctors, nurses and other medical staff at Soroka hospital. They show compassion, sympathy and kindness.”
In between treatments, she returned to Gaza with a medical pass to allow her to enter Israel uninhibited at the Erez crossing point from the Gaza Strip in order to return to Soroka hospital for the necessary follow-up treatments.
With her life saved and her facial features partially restored, her homecoming might have inaugurated a return to normal life. But rejected by her fiancé, she had little hope of marriage and thus no hope of bearing children or raising a family of her own. Wafa’s society is an Arab, Muslim and strongly patriarchal society, one in which there is a deeply embedded inequality for women. It is a society which denies individual women the freedom to define their own future. For most women in Gazan Arab society, having no prospect for marriage renders a woman a source of shame to her family, and a financial burden as well. These bleak circumstances seem to have plunged Wafa into a severe depression, and she told her parents that she was contemplating suicide.
Word of her depressed emotional state reached Fatah recruiters for homicide bombers in the Gaza Strip. When they became aware of her mental state, members of the Fatah-controlled el-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade pounced. “They hunted me down like prey,” she recalled.
Al-Biss gave her Israeli interrogators a chilling account of the cynical tactics used by her terrorist mentor, “Abul Khair,” from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. “Abul Khair kept calling,” she said. “He told me a guy they were counting on had backed out of an operation; they needed me. ‘Look at your future,’ they told me. ‘No one will ever marry you.’”
They preyed upon her distressed emotional state and urged her to become a homicide bomber so that she could die with “honor,” as opposed to merely committing suicide and thus dying with “shame”. Since she wanted to commit suicide, they argued, she might as well do it in a way that would bring glory to herself and her whole family.
They enticed her with promises of Muslim paradise, where her beauty would be restored for all eternity; and they accosted her with brow-beating sessions where she was warned again and again that if she lived she would never know happiness, never find a husband, never have a family, and thus be an eternal source of shame to herself, to her parents, and to her people; so she might as well choose a death of glory and honor. She asked if God would grant her anything she wanted in paradise. “Would he give me new skin?” “Yes,” Abul Khair told her. “I wanted to believe him …. He looked religious, like someone you could trust. He told me I was very brave. He made me feel important.”Thus they recruited her to die as a “martyr” and take many of the “accursed Zionists” with her , even though these “accursed Zionists” would in all likelihood include other Gazan Arab patients at the Israeli hospital, the most certainly the doctor who saved her life, and nurses and other attendants, some of whom were Israeli Arab Muslims working at the hospital, who made her sojourn at Soroka hospital so comfortable.
The recruiters even convinced her parents, who eventually encouraged her “martyrdom”. A “farewell” video clip was taped in her home with the consent of her parents, and when it was time to put on her explosive-laden garments that weighed 10 kg (22 lbs), her own mother helped her dress and fixed a broken zipper.
On June 20, 2005, Wafa entered the Erez crossing ostensibly to travel to Soroka hospital for further treatment; but this time she hid an explosives belt in her underclothes, intending to carry out a suicide bombing at the hospital.
Her heavy clothing aroused suspicion at the crossing and when the explosive belt was revealed, she attempted to detonate it. The detonator failed to function.
Under questioning Wafa revealed that she had been instructed by the Fatah al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade to use her personal medical authorization documents to make her way through the Erez crossing without the usual careful inspections, and then carry out the suicide attack in a crowded portion of the Israeli hospital.
An NBC video clip captured the incident at Erez Crossing. Notice on the video how she screams in anguish because the bomb does not detonate. But then later she weeps and pleas for clemency protesting that she repents of her choices and actions.
One could perhaps feel some sympathy for her, vulnerable prey to the terrorist recruiters who exploited her depression and brow-beat her into submitting to a mission of suicide and mass murder. But now, after 6 years of imprisonment, she returns to her home in Gaza, hosts grade school children at her home, and urges them to: “…walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs.” The children respond with cheers and, waving Palestinian flags, they chant: “We will give our souls and our blood to redeem the prisoners. We will give our souls and our blood for you, oh Palestine.”
Now she is the recruiter, the one who preys upon the vulnerable, in this case impressionable young children, whom she prepares for their future recruitment into the ranks of homicide bombers and mass murderers.
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