January 27, 2004 Special Dispatch No. 651

Conflicting Arab Press Reactions to the Gaza Suicide Bombing

January 27, 2004
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 651

The Arab and Muslim debate over supporting suicide bombings has continued in 2004. This week, Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi, the Deputy Chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, stressed the need to differentiate between martyrdom, which is encouraged, and suicide, which is forbidden, saying, " I call on every Palestinian not to hesitate in carrying out such operations ." [1] The January 14, 2004 suicide bombing at the Erez crossing on the Israel-Gaza border that was carried out by female bomber and mother of two young children Reem Saleh Al-Riyashi drew conflicting reactions from Arab media and scholars. The following are excerpts of reactions from throughout the Arab world:

Egyptian Government Papers Praise Attack, Criticize U.S.

The day after the attack, an editorial in the Egyptian government daily Al-Gumhuriya stated: "The Gaza Shahida Reem Saleh Al-Riyashi, 21, yesterday provided new proof that the Palestinian people stands fast in the face of the Israeli plans that aspire to determine facts on the ground, to steal the Palestinian land, and to surround it with an oppressive fence.

"Yesterday [Ariel] Sharon stood before the Knesset threatening to impose his unilateral separation plan on the Palestinians within six months, as he relies on his accursed fence, his violent military forces, the international impotence to restrain his fanatical racist behavior, and the support of the international forces dancing to his tune accusing the Palestinians of terror.

"Reem, the girl from Gaza, came to answer those threats, to blow up the Israeli force at the Erez crossing, and to kill and wound. Does Sharon or any of his commanders or supporters have the courage to accuse this heroine of carrying out a terror operation?

"The entire world knows that resistance to the occupation is the legitimate right of all peoples, past, present, and future. [The entire world knows that] no force, whatever it may be, can deny this eternal right to the Palestinian people." [2]

In another editorial, published the next day, Al-Gumhuriya wrote: "The Palestinian people is required to quietly accept the daily blows of the Israeli forces upon its sons, its institutions, and its agricultural produce. [The Palestinian people is required] to accept that bloodshed and prison bars are the fate of every Palestinian who shoots at the occupation forces, even if [the projectile] is only a stone.

"If the Palestinian people does not accept this, [then] according to the American point of view the Palestinians are accused of carrying out violence and terror operations, and its leaders are [accused of] involvement in incitement to resistance…

"The American statements condemning Reem the Shahida of the Erez crossing at Beit Hanoun are amazing, because they did not refer to the reasons that led the mother of two children to martyr herself and blow herself up.

"[These statements] also did not refer to the operation's targets – they were not civilians but foreign occupation forces that are encroaching on the Palestinian land and setting upon it armed checkpoints to prevent the [free] movement of the Palestinian people, the owners of this land, [who may pass] only by the orders of those who plunder [the land]. [The American statements also did not refer to the fact that] the violent occupation force is responsible for all the crimes against the helpless Palestinian people.

"The American administration has remained silent for the past period, and has not condemned the shameful Israeli attacks [carried out] in view of all … until yesterday's statements condemning the sacrifice of the Palestinian mother who wanted the world to hear the cry of her people and stop the unceasing [Israeli] aggression." [3]

In the government daily evening paper Al-Masaa, columnist Al-Sayyid Al-'Azawi wrote: "… Last Wednesday, the [Israeli] security forces' sirens at the Erez crossing sounded when the Palestinian lady Reem Saleh Al-Riyashi approached them. She succeeded in deceiving the occupation soldiers who gathered around her, claiming that it was the platinum bolts in her leg that set off the alarm of the detectors. They gathered to check her thoroughly, but when she saw a number of soldiers around her, she blew herself up, causing the death and wounding of 14 soldiers. Reem met her death as a Shahida embracing her rifle, underlining with unprecedented courage her love for her two small children – her son of three and her daughter of a year and a half – martyring herself in defense of land, honor, family, and the [previous] Shahids.

"What is regrettable is that the only superpower [i.e. the U.S.] condemns the martyrdom operations, condemns the Palestinians every time, and places upon them the responsibility for [these] operations without noticing the double-standard policy that it employs. What is amazing is that it places responsibility on Arafat, who is captive and besieged, and what is even more amazing is that Sharon and his government continue with the barbaric operations and the siege operations… Ultimately, the Israelis will never enjoy security and stability as long as Sharon does not stop his bloody operations. He cannot suppress the will of the Palestinian people." [4]

Under the headline "Reem Al-Riyashi Is Not Just a Woman," columnist Ahmad Mansour wrote in the Egyptian weekly Al-Usbou' :

"Every girl dreams about becoming a mother and enveloping her children with motherly warmth, tenderness, and kindness, and caring for their development just as the farmer cares for the seedlings. But Reem Al-Riyashi decided otherwise. After realizing some of every mother's dreams, she had to realize a childhood dream that haunted her; to become a human bomb and to blow up part of the dreams of the Israeli plunderers who made the lives of Palestinians hell. Despite her strong motherly instincts… Reem Al-Riyashi had a heart that was bound to a greater emotion than her feelings towards her children, one that not every woman can bear and implement… She looked at her place in paradise and at the long columns of children martyrs and their parents and decided not to falter, because after all she would be a source of pride for her own children…

Before Reem Al-Riyashi there were six female martyrs… Certainly each one of them had the same emotions as all other women, but they were not interested only in matters that occupy women in the here and now, they were human souls walking among human beings and carrying within them the traits of angels and supreme human aspirations…" [5]

Palestinian Writers: Disagreement About the Dispatch of a Mother On a Suicide Mission

In his daily column, the editor of the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Hafez Al-Barghouti, wrote: "It is our right to wonder about what made Hamas urge a mother of two to carry out the operation, even though Hamas is not the first [movement] to do so. But the other factions stopped pressuring women into carrying out operations of this kind because they are likely to increase the abuse of women by the occupation.

"It is true that the Palestinian women have always been victims of the occupation by losing their sons, brothers, and husbands, or been victims of abuse at checkpoints where they miscarried, gave birth, or died. But pushing them to participate in operations will increase the acts of oppression against them…

"In effect, the occupation wants us to behave like it and respond. It has already been proven that being like it will bring disaster upon us, and that preserving our humanity, which the occupation wants to destroy, is more important than small victories in the field." [6]

Palestinian columnist Hassan Al-Battal wrote in the PA daily Al-Ayyam: "Should we hope that the two suicide operations, in Jinisfut [near Qalqiliya, by Iyyad Al-Masri [7] ], and at Beit Hanoun [the Erez suicide bombing] will constitute a turning point in this type of operations…?

"Regarding the operation at Jinisfut, the family of the youth Iyyad Al-Masri showed moral and human courage by condemning what it called 'a pointless death.' With regard to the Beit Hanoun operation, the family of the woman who carried out the attack, Reem Al-Riyashi, refused to erect a mourning tent…

"… The women's organizations must not stop with copious sentiments for the two orphans [left by Reem Al-Riyashi], but must raise their voices and declare that the obligation of motherhood and breastfeeding comes before the obligation of fighting.

"If society does not act courageously like these families, we are likely to see in the near future teenage children or pregnant women strapping on explosive belts…

"How can the Palestinians persuade international peace activists to sacrifice more than their annual vacations for the obligation of human solidarity with us, to the point of endangering their lives, if we begin dispatching children and mothers with explosive belts…?

"What interests us … is that we not sacrifice our humanity, whatever the circumstances of our national just struggle and its demands." [8]

Similar criticism came from columnist Ziyad Abu Al-Hijaa, in an article in the Gaza-published Fatah Supreme Council's Information and Cultural Bureau paper Al-Karama: "Yes, the occupation is responsible for all our suffering in Palestine and outside it. But the method of resisting the occupation is not to be decided by any organization or any faction. Rather, it is the responsibility of the people. No one has the right to cause tragedies and other troubles and to harm the legitimacy of the Palestinians in the eyes of the world.

"A 22-year-old [sic] mother of two children, one an infant boy and the other a girl [sic], carried out a martyrdom operation. Who issued a Fatwa taking an infant's mother from him? Who decided to add two more orphans to the list of Palestine's orphans? On the basis of which Qur'an verses and Hadiths does a young mother leave her true place of Jihad, which is raising the two children, one of whom needs her milk? By what right do they present us to the world as lacking the most basic of human emotions?

"The sages of Islam and particularly the sages of Palestine must clarify to all Islam's position regarding the martyrdom operations and the most recent operation in particular…

"The Palestinian intellectuals, particularly the shapers of public opinion among them, must note the flaw in Palestinian popular culture... Who has forgotten the poems published decades ago, such as: 'Whet my bones, whet them like swords;' 'Bring the Shahid to his mother's and father's rejoicing;' 'Oh mother, ululate with joy [at your son's death as a Shahid],' and dozens of similar odes and poems. Who can believe that a father or mother rejoices at the martyrdom of their son? Allah's Messenger wept over the death of his son Ibrahim, and did not rejoice over the martyrdom of his cousin Ja'far but ordered his family comforted…

"May Allah have mercy on the heroine Shahida, the victim of the Zionist occupation and the victim of a political ideology that excessively despises the humanity and the supreme cultural values of the Palestinian people, headed by the values of Islamic Shari'a [law] that requires the woman to breastfeed her little children. Oh sages, raise your voices! Oh intellectual writers, raise your voices! There can be no more silence. These people must be prevented from tunneling under their own feet on the deck of a ship struck by waves." [9]

PA Official Praises the Bombing

PA Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Adli Sadeq praised Al-Riyashi's act and expressed disapproval withits critics. In his column in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida he wrote [10] :

"… [Let us assume] that behind, before, and flanking every woman was an enemy that hunted and killed people, and that it then became known to [this woman] that she would be killed suddenly, in front of her children. What must she do? Must she wait until she dies terrifyingly in front of her children and family, or must she stride towards death and strike at the enemy without her children being tormented by watching her final moments…?!

"It is our right to ask those who bemoaned the [loss] of mothers and were opposed to Reem's operation – who was it who killed children, fathers, and mothers, and orphaned children, Reem or the murdering occupiers?

"Perhaps Reem astounded us by her moves when she went to the Hereafter, but who knows? Perhaps she saw in a dream that if she did not go, then death would come to her threshold, she would die in vain and then be forgotten by those opposed to her [act] and even by the mourners – and therefore wanted to die for a price.

"Perhaps Reem wanted to choose between two options for her children: between the tragic loss of a peace-seeking mother, or the painful loss of a warrior-mother. Reem chose for her children the second option. Who has the right to object to Reem's choice? [What woman] has the right to claim that her own maternal sentiments are stronger than Reem's?

"Someone who is convinced in the depths of their soul that they want to contribute their soul, in the framework of the public struggle of their people, is most certainly [also] a wonderful father or enchanting mother in their private family framework… In spite of everyone's opposition, Reem is one of our Shahid symbols."

Lebanese MP: Riyashi Took the Correct Path

Lebanese MP and head of the Lebanese Progressive-Socialist party Walid Jumblatt said: "Yesterday, the Palestinian mother Reem Al-Riyashi sacrificed herself, and by so doing joined the columns of the brave Jihad warriors and broke the atrocious and troublesome Arab silence, the helplessness, and the retreat that precede failure and disintegration. She offered hope in a sea of complacency, indecisiveness, and fear. It is a new Intifada. It is the Intifada of the revolutionary Palestinian woman and of the land, opposing the 'Jewification' [of Palestine], the Jewish reality, and the Arab regimes. Did it come out of despair?

"No, and again no. It is an act of belief and it is the correct path, because the fall of one Jew, whether soldier or civilian, is a great accomplishment in times of decline, subservience, and submissiveness, as a way to undermine the plan to 'Jewify' all of Palestine." [11]

Lebanese Columnist: The Mission Attests to Hamas's Impotence

In contrast, columnist Sate' Nour Al-Din wrotein the Lebanese pro-Syrian daily Al-Safir: "… This operation was exemplary: [The Erez crossing] is the crossing of daily humiliation and insult to thousands of Palestinians. Her timing was precise: [This] is a response to the Israeli boast that the Palestinian is on the verge of collapse and submission under the weight of the war of annihilation. Its results were ideal: four killed and 10 wounded, Israeli military personnel specializing in humiliating Palestinian workers seeking a crust of bread.

"[However], with regard to the means, it caused [this] important Palestinian achievement to be missed. Not only was it carried out by a young woman, but she was also the mother of a young boy aged three and a half and an infant daughter aged one and a half who cannot express their longing for the bosom of their mother who suddenly decided to abandon them…

"Many mothers wish to walk the path of the Shahida Reem Riyashi, 21, as they saw before them the deaths of their loved ones … but in the past and in the present, political Palestinian logic has prevented, prohibited, or simply objected to turning to such a final 'weapon.'

"No one can know the wisdom of the Hamas leadership in agreeing to permit a woman who had not experienced [even] four years of motherhood to sacrifice herself and thus send several negative messages [about the movement] – one of which was that the members and youths of the movement cannot get past the Israeli fortifications and military positions, and that no path remains to them but to deceive the Israeli soldiers in this 'intelligent' way. [It will] result only in greater Israeli violence, particularly against Palestinian women, and the Israelis will not be deterred from killing the children of the Shahida, Reem…" [12]

[1] Islam Online, January 27, 2004.

[2] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), January 15, 2004.

[3] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), January 16, 2004.

[4] Al-Masaa (Egypt), January 17, 2004.

[5] Al-Usbou' (Egypt), January 19, 2004.

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), January 16, 2004.

[7] Iyyad Al-Masri, 17, was killed when his explosive belt blew up prematurely at Jinisfut, on his way to carry out a suicide bombing. His family criticized the Islamic Jihad movement that recruited him for the mission while exploiting his mental state, as he was mourning the recent death of his brother Amjad, 15.

[8] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), January 17, 2004.


[10] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 24, 2004.

[11] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 19, 2004.

[12] Al-Safir (Lebanon), January 15, 2004.

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