Haderech Lagan Eden [The Path to the Garden of Eden]
by Anat Berko
Tel Aviv: Yedi'ot Aharonot, 2004. 214 pp. $24.95, paper.
Reviewed by Asaf Romirowsky
Middle East Forum
Middle East Quarterly
What makes a woman become a suicide bomber? Berko, a retired Israel Defense Forces lieutenant colonel, explores the recruitment of Palestinian women and the codes that allow them to blow themselves up and kill Israeli civilians.
Berko attempts to see if womanly heart-to-heart conversations can explain the mutation of maternal instinct and the urge to give up family, love, career, and life for the sake of political aims. She expresses surprise learning that the recruitees' moral judgment towards Israelis softened once they were able to see Berko herself as a mother with children, which reminded them of their own families. This in turn enabled the Palestinian women to start seeing the victims as real human beings.
In Berko's view, the concept of martyrdom is deeply rooted in Islam and glorified as an unequaled act of true and total commitment. There is no greater devotion to God than giving one's life in His honor. Reinforcing this is a self-congratulatory process among the recruiters and those individuals who call the shots before a homicide bombing actually takes place, that further induces women to abandon this world for the next.
Generally, homicide bombings are initiated by securely run groups that recruit, indoctrinate, train, and reward the bombers and their families in this world and promise rewards in the next. These groups do not seek unstable people for their missions; to the contrary, the women are useful precisely because they are strong-willed and normal. In addition, some mothers even encourage their children to sacrifice their lives to kill Israelis.
Berko's book allows readers to enter the world of female suicide bombers and learn some of the complexities faced by Palestinian women associated with different terrorist groups. In the end, her interviews should be highlighted as an illustration of how women have evolved within an Arab society, finding equality not in life but in death as "martyrs."
Related Topics: Palestinians, Terrorism | Asaf Romirowsky | Fall 2006 MEQ
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