Photo Credit: Jamal Awad / Flash 90
Hamas supporters on the Dome of the Rock mosque in the Temple Mount compound on Ramadan, April 22, 2022.

*Editor’s Note: This is the ninth installment in ‘Setting The Record Straight,’ the most recent series of articles from Jewish Press Online contributor, Alex Grobman, PhD 

The “culture of death” Sheikh Hassan al-Banna created did not stop women from joining men in murdering Israelis, which is reflected in the recorded video messages by Hamas suicide bombers. Reem Rayashi, the first female Hamas suicide bomber, and the seventh female suicide bomber since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada in September 2000, left a three-year-old son and an 18-month-old baby girl behind. The 22 year old university student from an affluent Gaza family detonated a two-kilogram bomb at the Erez workers terminal in the Gaza Strip killing two soldiers, a border policeman and a civilian security guard. [2] She convinced the soldiers at border control that she needed a personal body check rather then pass through the metal detector, which would trigger an alarm because she had metal plates. While waiting for a female soldier to perform a body search, she set off the bomb. [3]  


A “Human Bomb” 

Dressed in combat fatigues with the green Hamas bandana around her head and holding an automatic weapon, she declared in her parting video that since she was in the eighth grade “I always wanted to be the first woman to carry out a martyrdom operation, where parts of my body can fly all over,” she said. “God has given me two children. I love them [with] a kind of love that only God knows, but my love to meet God is stronger still.” Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs brigade claimed the attack was a cooperative operation in retaliation for weeks of Israeli raids into cities in Judea and Samaria that left about 25 Palestinians dead. [4]  

Brigadier-General Gadi Shamni, the Gaza divisional commander, described the attack as a contemptible exploitation of his soldiers’ attempts to treat women with dignity. “We’re doing our best to be humanitarian, to consider the problems associated with searching women. She said she had a medical problem, that’s why the soldiers let her in, to check her in private because she is a woman,” he said. “That’s a very cruel, cynical use of the humanitarian considerations of our soldiers.” [5]  

Significantly, after Reem killed herself, Fatah personnel and representatives of the secular terrorist organizations asked in a Fatah publication, “Who issued a Muslim religious ruling depriving the baby of its mother? Who decided to add two more orphans to the list of Palestinian orphans? On the basis of which passages in the Qur’an and the Hadith does a young mother abandon her true jihad role, which is raising two children, one of whom needs her milk? By what right do they present us to the world as lacking the most basic human feelings?” [6]  

Exploiting Reem’s Children 

Tomorrow’s Pioneers, a Hamas TV children’s program, produced a broadcast in which her two young children, Muhammad and Duha, were invited to the TV studio to watch a video re-enactment of their mother’s suicide bombing along with children in the studio audience. Saraa Barhoum, the child hostess of the program, who wore a hijab, summarizes what occurred for the children and viewers: “These are the children of the Shahida [Martyr], the heroic Jihad fighter who sacrificed all that she had for the sake of her homeland. She cared less about her own flesh and blood, and for their sake, she sacrificed [herself] for Allah… We say to the occupier, that we will continue in the footsteps of the Shahida, the Jihad fighter Reem Riyashi, until we liberate our homeland from your hands, usurper.” 

In the video re-enactment, Duha promises to follow her mother’s lead by becoming a suicide terrorist. The video ends with Duha opening her mother’s drawer to pick up a stick of dynamite. The entire video was broadcast regularly from 2007 through 2009 on Hamas TV. [7]  

Response to the Mom Bomber 

What the media failed to reveal is Reem “was at odds with her husband and her family; at the same time, she was closely and intimately involved with a Hamas operative.”[8 A Hamas prisoner from the Gaza Strip was so repulsed that the situation had degenerated to such an extent where people in his organization were engaging in intimate relations with a married woman and sending her off to blow herself up. [9]  

Writing in the Palestinian Arab newspaper Al-Ayyam, Hani al-Masri, a political analyst, journalist, and columnist, told the Associated Press that the decision by Hamas to release the pictures of Reem hurt the Palestinian Arab cause. “I think the military operations are not attracting large support from Palestinian people as before, so I think this factor will not work for Hamas’s interests,” he said. But Hamas defended the publication of the photographs  since they pictures illustrate the depth of anguish among Palestinian Arab women and their determination to overthrow the occupation. [10]  

As friends, relatives and well-wishers offered Reem’s brother Ayman al-Riyashi condolences about her death, he said, “I’m very angry. The individual who dispatched her to die “took my sister, my soul, and when you take someone’s brother or sister, they don’t come back.” [11]  

He added, “This destroys our life, our work and our future. It never occurred to us that she would do such a thing. If she had mentioned it, I would have prevented her, because of the children.” He described his family as “peaceful people. We go from home to work, and from work home. We are victims.” 

Youssef Awad, her brother-in-law-also condemned her act. “This is against our customs and traditions, and we don’t support it,” he said. “It’s wrong, whether someone has children or not. If we had known about it beforehand, we would have nipped it in the bud…. The greatest jihad is raising your children.” [12 

Umm Nidal: Khansaa Falastin 

After Reem was chosen for the assignment, hundreds of young girls complained to Mariam Farhat (Umm Nidal) known as ‘Mother of Martyrs,’ after three of her sons died in attacks against Israel, that Reem had been selected ahead of them. They were envious of Reem and pleaded to be the first to follow her. Nidal understood their impatience. On March 7, 2002, Nida’s 19-year-old son Mohammad killed five 18-year-old boys and wounded 23 others in the beis medrash (study hall) in the Gush Katif settlement of Azmona. Nidal remarked how she “was his partner in jihad. It is a normal thing. It is not as remarkable as people think.” [13] (  

“Jihad is one of the elements of the faith,” Nidal said, “and this is what encouraged me to sacrifice Muhammad in Jihad for the sake of Allah. My son was not destroyed, he is not dead; he is living a happier life than I. Had my thoughts been limited to this world, I would not sacrifice Muhammad….The atmosphere to which Muhammad was exposed was full of faith and love of martyrdom. I maintain that a man’s faith does not reach perfection unless it attains self-sacrifice…”[14]   

Not long before the attack, Nidal made a video in which she appeared with Mohammad to show support for him becoming a martyr. “I wish I had 100 boys like Mohammad,” she declared. “I’d sacrifice them for the sake of God.” Three of her sons died as suicide bombers. She had four daughters and six sons. [15]  

Arab journalist Zaki Chehab asked Nidal, who was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006, if she advocated women suicide bombers. She replied, “Jihad is open to everyone. No one should hold back a man or a woman destined for jihad. The support of women carrying out operations is unconditional. If any of these operations need a female, then there will be opportunities for women to take part.” She added, “we should not ignore the influential role women are playing in supporting role—by giving birth to her kids for instance who are willing to die for the cause.” [16]   

Chehab quoted Nidal because her statement “would seem incomprehensible to most parents, but I think it is important to document it as it shows the extremes which make this conflict so difficult to understand.”  [17]  

Sheikh Ahmed Yassin 

In response to Reem and other women members of Hamas involved in “martyr operations,” Sheikh Ahmed Yassin said, “The fact that a woman took part for the first time in a Hamas operation marks a significant evolution for the Iz a Din al-Kassam brigades. The male fighters face many obstacles on their way to operations, and this is a new development in our fight against the enemy. The holy war is an imperative for all Muslim men and women; and this operation proves that the armed resistance will continue until the enemy is driven from our land. This is revenge for all the fatalities sustained by the armed resistance.” [18]  

According to Sheikh Yassin’s daughter  Miriam, every time the sheikh heard of a suicide bombing, he would say, “This is the only way to free Palestine. Unfortunately without blood we can achieve nothing.” [19] In 2001, he boasted, “The Israelis … will fall to their knees. You can sense the fear in Israel already; they are worried about where and when the next attacks will come. Ultimately, Hamas will win.” [20]  

Yassin recognized that few in the West would understand the importance of martyrdom. “I doubt that they will be willing to understand your explanations,” he said to a reporter. “Love of martyrdom is something deep inside the heart. But these rewards are not in themselves the goal of the martyr. The only aim is to win Allah’s satisfaction. That can be done in the simplest and speediest manner by dying in the cause of Allah. And it is Allah who selects the martyrs.” [21]  


[1] Anat Berko, The Smarter Bomb: Women and Children as Suicide Bombers (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012),9; Arnon Regular, “Hamas leader: Jihad Is an Imperative for Women Too,” Haaretz (January 15, 2004). 

[2] Zaki Chehab, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement (New York: Nation Books, 2007),88; “The involvement of women in suicide bombing attacks,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S), Special Information Bulletin (March 2004). 

[3] Chehab, op.cit. 88. 

[4] Chris McGreal, “Human-bomb mother kills four Israelis at Gaza checkpoint,” The Guardian (January 14, 2004; Chehab, op.cit. 88. ) 

[5] Ibid. 

[6] Avi Issacharoff, “The Palestinian and Israeli Media on Female Suicide Terrorists,” in “Female Suicide Bombers: Dying for Equality?” Yoram Schweitzer, ED The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies Memorandum Number 84 (August 2006): 48-49. 

[7] Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Hamas TV: Kids shown video of their mother’s suicide bombing death,” Palestinian Media Watch (July 9, 2009); Chris McGreal, “Bomber’s family hits out at Islamic Jihad: Don’t use children on suicide missions, parents plead,” The Guardian (January 15, 2004); “Hamas TV Children’s Show Encourages Killing Of Jews,” MEMRI Daily, TV Clip Number 4265 (May 8, 2014); Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Hamas warns Israelis to leave or die, in latest Hamas video taunting Israelis and Jews: Animated video sung to tune of Israel’s national anthem promises Israelis will be expelled to Germany and Russia,” Palestinian Media Watch Bulletin (May 8, 2014); Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Abbas’ advisor honors terrorist Dalal Mughrabi, killer of 37: “I salute her soul… [she] who established her Palestinian Republic in her own special way Bulletin Palestinian Media Watch (May 9, 2014). 

[8]  “The involvement of women in suicide bombing attacks,” op.cit.; Chris McGreal, “Palestinians shocked at use of suicide mother,” The Guardian (January 26, 2004). 

[9] Yoram Schweitzer, “Palestinian Female Suicide Bombers  in “Female Suicide Bombers: Dying for Equality?” Yoram Schweitzer, ED The Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies Memorandum Number 84 (August 2006):29. 

[10] McGreal, “Palestinians shocked at use of suicide mother,” op.cit. 

[11] Ibid. 

[12] Joel Greenberg, “Family irate relative used as bomber,” Chicago Tribune (January 16, 2004); McGreal, “Palestinians shocked at use of suicide mother,” op.cit. 

[13] Chehab, op.cit. 86-88; William Yardley, “Mariam Farhat, Known as ‘Mother of Martyrs,’ Dies at 64,” The New York Times (March 20, 2013). 

[14]  “An Interview with the Mother of a Suicide Bomber,” MEMRI Special Dispatch No.391 (June 19, 2002). 

[15] Chehab, op.cit. 85; William Yardley, “Mariam Farhat, Known as ‘Mother of Martyrs,’ Dies at 64,” The New York Times (March 20, 2013); 

[16] Chehab, op.cit. 87; Andrew G. Bostom, “Meet Candidate “Martyr Mom,’” (January 5, 2006); “’Mother of martyrs’ runs for Hamas,” Al Jazeera  (December 8, 2005). 

[17] Chehab, op.cit.87. 

[18] Arnon Regular, op.cit. 

[19] Chehab, op.cit. 121. 

[20] Bruce Hoffman, “The Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” The Atlantic Monthly Volume 291, Number 5, (June 2003). 


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Dr. Alex Grobman is the senior resident scholar at the John C. Danforth Society and a member of the Council of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East. He has an MA and PhD in contemporary Jewish history from The Hebrew university of Jerusalem. He lives in Jerusalem.