The Human Spirit: Women and children

Whether it’s a Gaza-bound flotilla of so-called women activists or a cell block full of women prisoners, they should be dealt with no differently than a mixed gender or all-male party.

palestinian woman 311 (photo credit: AP)
palestinian woman 311
(photo credit: AP)
A women’s flotilla. What a brilliant public relations move. Images of women sailing the seas excite our imagination. Named for the Virgin Mary, the ship was christened at a shrine to make its passengers appear to be the envoy of sanctity and maternal love. I’m reminded of a breakfast I was privileged to take part in more than a decade ago at a Jerusalem hotel. The guest of honor was Harvard law professor and jurist Alan Dershowitz. I came away with two important thoughts that have remained with me. The first was the realization that no matter how horrendous their crime, the guilty among this famous defense attorney’s clients always rationalized their actions. The second was Dershowitz’s correcting someone who used the phrase “women and children” in its clichéd sense, as in “women and children stood in the front rows of the demonstration facing the cameras.”
“Why group women and children together?” asked Dershowitz. “If women are indeed equal to men, they should not be grouped with children. They’re adults and make their own decisions.” Point well-taken. You either want women to be full-fledged grown-ups responsible for their decisions or not. Whether we’re speaking of a flotilla of so-called women peace activists sailing toward Gaza or a cell block full of women prisoners, there should be no different procedure in dealing with them from a mixed gender group or all-male party.
NONE OF us old enough to identify the names Baader-Meinhof, Red Brigades or Leila Khaled without typing them into a search engine would be naïve enough to think for a moment that women are incapable of terrorism. Let us not forget that there was also a widely reported alert earlier in the year that al-Qaida was sending trained non-Arab women terrorists to attack the West.
To elevate the image of the Mariam, it is purportedly carrying cancer medications. This alleged cargo creates the cynical and false impression that Israel would deny tomixifin or herceptin to Palestinian women.
According to press reports, only women who comply with the dress code designated by the male sponsor can take part in the so-called sacred journey. No licentiousness allowed.
But modesty offers no guarantee of innocent intentions. Remember, please, Hamas-emissary Reem Riashi. In January 2004, this mother of two told the security checkers at the Erez exit from Gaza that the metal plates in her supposedly crippled legs would set off the security alarm. Sensitive to Riashi’s need for modesty, she was asked to wait on the side so that a woman security guard could search her discreetly. That’s when Riashi detonated a two-kilogram bomb, killing two people and wounding 11 Israelis and Palestinians. Fellow Gaza resident Wafa Samir Ibrahim al-Biss, 21, was injured in a cooking accident in her home in Jabalya in January 2005. She was admitted for treatment at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, where the patient physicians and nurses eventually sent her home. She continued to receive treatment as an outpatient, crossing also through Erez. On one visit for treatment, she was found to be hiding 10 kilograms of explosives in her underwear. On Israeli TV she admitted that she had planned to explode the bomb in the hospital. She explained to other reporters that she yearned to murder as many children as possible.
INDEED, I had a personal encounter with female terrorism. On the sunny afternoon of January 27, 2002, I was hurrying toward my cousins at a shoe shop on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem when a young Palestinian woman blew herself up between us. She was a Red Crescent professional named Wafa Idris. I escaped harm, but one person was killed and scores of others, including my cousins, seriously wounded.
Like Dershowitz’s high-profile clients, terrorists also justify whatthey do. More so with women terrorists. Not only do they justify theiractions, but the media are obsessed with figuring out why a woman – asopposed to a man – would blow herself and others up. Such a decision iscounterintuitive to every feminine and maternal stereotype. Even ourown Foreign Ministry Web site oddly offers speculation about how andwhy the infamous terrorists of the intifada were drawn to theirdiabolic roles. Maybe Idris committed murder because she’d been hit byrubber bullets. Another woman terrorist had been taken advantage of byher boyfriend. Another supposedly couldn’t stand living at home.
All this said, if we find it harder to understand that women wouldchoose terrorism, it is indeed easier to believe that the women espousepeace. For all the public relations nastiness, there is somethingfascinating and hopeful in a women’s flotilla. In the bleak MiddleEast, we have experienced a dearth of women’s voices at the peacemakingtables.
Here’s my fantasy: I’d like the Mariam to sail intoAshdod. While the cargo is being examined, the women should gather afew minutes away from the port in the all-women’s secluded beach whereno men are allowed. Having nearly been blown up by Wafa Idris, I wouldappreciate security checks and am willing to undergo one, too.
There they could meet with us Israeli women to talk about regionalproblems. I would hope that Aviva Schalit would be there to insist thatvisiting her son would be an indisputable part of the agenda. I wouldhope the Lebanese women would invite her to join them in Gaza and seehim there.
Since the flotilla women are interested in treating cancer,international aid for Palestinian women who are not getting referralsto Israeli hospitals would be an important subject to discuss. We allknow that treating cancer is a complex process which requires far morethan a medicine cabinet full of medication. Israeli medical centersfunction at a high level of cancer treatment that doesn’t exist in thePalestinian Authority. A mechanism to ensure that funds for needypatients are not diverted already exists through the Peres Center forPeace.
Perhaps the Lebanese women would join the Komen Race for the Cure onOctober 28, when women of every ethnic group here will march inJerusalem. Wouldn’t that be a step in the right direction?
At the Ashdod segregated beach, there would be actual and figurativejellyfish tentacles to avoid, of course. The brave might dip their feetin the water.
The author is a Jerusalem writer who concentrates on the wondrous stories of modern Israel and its people.