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Wafa Idris. Her claim to fame? First Palestinian female suicide bomber

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

After introducing a spiritual dimension to Wafa Idris’ decision, Fatah, a major Palestinian Arab political party, began portraying her as a religious martyr, further enhancing her image. Eyad El-Sarraj, a prominent Palestinian Arab psychiatrist, who served as a consultant to the Palestinian Arab delegation at the Camp David 2000 Summit, explains the difference between a typical suicide and one motivated by religious belief. According to the Muslim religion, when an individual takes one’s own, the life belongs to G-d, not the person. “But if a person takes his or her life as a martyr, if they die for G-d, that is a different story. They are giving back to the owner, G-d, the life He lent her and that is highly glorified and brings the martyr to the status of prophet. [1]   


In interviews conducted with her friends, James Bennet, a former bureau chief for The New York Times, found that although Wafa was a Muslim, she was not especially religious, and therefore was “motivated more by nationalist fervor.” [2]  

“The female suicide terrorist is given preferential treatment in the Israeli media, while the man is judged harshly,” observed Avi Issacharoff, former Arab Affairs Correspondent for Haaretz. He pointed out that Wafa’s brother, who had served ten years in an Israeli prison, and founded al-Aqsa Brigades in the al-Amri refugee camp, had a “tense and stormy” relationship with her. “Is it possible,” Issacharoff asked, “that Wafa Idris, a paramedic in the Red Crescent, committed suicide this week on Jaffa Street mostly because her life was so miserable?” [3]   

Steven Pruzansky, an American Orthodox rabbi, notes Wafa was praised as a ‘beautiful flower,’ whose life’s work – so to speak – forced Israel to ‘revise their security considerations’ that had theretofore only guarded against male suicide bombers. Her great achievement involved sneaking into Jerusalem in a Red Cross ambulance while wearing her suicide bomb vest, violating another cardinal precept of civilized society, i.e., not utilizing hospitals, ambulances, schools and children as shields from behind which one perpetrates horrific acts of terror.” [4]  

Wafa, he adds, is “ Someone purporting to be a human being – presumably with a life to live and a family to love – willfully decided to insinuate herself into a group of complete strangers, who had never harmed her at all, and to end her life along with those of as many victims as she could take with her.” [5] 

To preserve Wafa’s memory and have her continue to serve as a model for other women to emulate, the Palestinian Authority has named places and events after her, including: a summer camp for young people financed by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); a Fatah women’s terror military unit for attacking Israeli civilians; a Fatah students’ group course on democracy and human rights; a university students group for Fatah members, a Fatah woman’s course, and a football tournament. There also have been public demonstrations to honor her. [6]  

Hamas Provides Theological Legitimacy to Murder: Hamas 

The concept of jihad and martyrdom, which had virtually been absent from Islamic teachings, and essentially ignored or regarded as irrelevant by Imams and preachers, was transformed into a fundamental religious principle of the Muslim Brothers by Hasan al-Banna. In 1928, al-Banna established the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Muslim Palestinian Arab movement, which reflected the revival of Islam as the primary basis of individual and collective identity in the Middle East. The Brotherhood’s influence extends to most Arab countries, Europe and North America. [7]  

The importance of the Brotherhood “to Islamism is comparable to that of the Bolshevik Party to communism: It was and remains to this day the ideological reference point and organizational core for all later Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda and Hamas,” according to political scientist Matthias Küntzel. [8]    

Al-Banna made this transformation by infusing death into a concrete religious belief, and by relating this creed with the possibility of death occurring at any point and at any place. In 1937, he authored an article about jihad called “The Industry of Death.” In 1946, the article was reprinted and entitled “The Art of Death.” He concluded that, “To a nation that perfects the industry of death, and which knows how to die nobly, God gives proud life in this world and eternal grace in the life to come… So prepare yourself to do a great deed.” [9]  

Since 2008, the Palestinian Authority (PA) adopted the Hamas position that this is a religious war noted Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch. Fatah, the ruling political party of the PA, directs a children’s movement called the Lion Cubs and Flowers, which publishes a magazine called Waed (“Promise”) for children ages 6-15. Waed is distributed throughout the PA areas, in PA schools, summer camps, and at Fatah events. Marcus, who published a report on Waed, says Fatah uses this “cultural-educational” periodical and the magazine’s website to explain that the conflict with Israel is a religious war for Islam. [10]  

Waed issue 41 states: “Almighty Allah commands that the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings remain under our guardianship forever and ever and that we shall protect it forever and ever. Prophet [Muhammad] prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque… We are trustees over this mosque until the day of Resurrection. Therefore, the Arabs always rush to defend the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the Zionist thieves, those who stole our land… We the Palestinian Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike, will defend our Jerusalem and our land, our mosques, and our churches, and we will redeem them with our blood.” [11]  

Children are assured that “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” and the “Zionist invaders will go to the garbage can of history.”  They are trained to embrace violence, terror, and “murdering Israeli citizens,” because it is “Our people’s right to wage an armed struggle to take back its stolen homeland, and [We] will fight the enemies until we achieve victory, liberate Palestine.” [12]  

In the pursuit of liberating Palestine, the children are taught not to fear prison or Martyrdom: “We do not care how many Martyrs will die,” since “We will die, and Palestine will live.” [13]  

 With this fanatical commitment to destroy Israel, Marcus asserts this “report on Waed should have far-reaching political implications and must be a wake-up call demanding a reassessment of the PA as a peace partner.” [14]  


[1] Barbara Victor, Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers (New York: Rodale, 2003),29-30); Victoria Brittain, “Eyad Sarraj Obituary,” The Guardian (December 19, 2013). 

[2] James Bennett, “Arab Press Glorifies Bomber as Heroine,” The New York Times (Febuary11, 2002); Victor, op.cit.50.  

[3] 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): 44-46. 

[4] “The Demented,” Rabbi Pruzansky’s Blog,” (February 7, 2013). 

[5] Ibid. 

[6] Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Palestinian center names football tournament after first Palestinian female suicide bomber,” Palestinian Media Watch (March 8, 2011); Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Fatah proud of suicide terrorist: Her pure body exploded into pieces in the Zionists’ faces,” Palestinian Media Watch (January. 29, 2017). 

[7] Abd Al-Fattah Muhammad El-Awaisi, The Muslim Brothers and the Palestine Question 1928-1947 (New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 1998) ix, 124-125); Zaki Chehab, Inside Hamas: The Untold Story of the Militant Islamic Movement (New York: Nation Books, 2007); Zachary Laub and Kali Robinson, “What Is Hamas?” Council on Foreign Relations (August 17, 2021); Jonathan Schanzer, Hamas VS. Fatah: The Struggle For Palestine (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Matthew Levitt, “Hamas from Cradle to Grave,” Middle East Quarterly (Winter 2004); John Calvert, Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010); Yehudit Barsky, “Hamas: The Islamic Resistance Movement of Palestine,” (New York: American Jewish Committee, 2006): 3-4; Patrick Kingsley, “Decimated Muslim Brotherhood Still Inspires Fear. Its Members Wonder Why,” The New York Times (July 15, 2017); Shaul Mishal, S. and Avraham A. Sela, The Palestinian Hamas. Vision, Violence and Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000). 

[8]  Matthias Küntzel, “Islamist terrorism and antisemitism: The mission against modernity (March 2008) 

[9] El-Awaisi, op.cit. 124-125; Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, Fourth Edition: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2017). 

[10] Itamar Marcus, “Teaching Terror to Tots: A Study of Waed – Fatah’s Magazine for Children Ages 6-15,” Palestinian Media Watch (August 2022): IX. 

[11] Ibid. 58; Waed, Issue 41, 12-13. 

[12] Ibid.11, 55, 57, 59, 64. 

[13] Ibid. 16, 57. 

[14] Ibid. 79. 



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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.