Reem al-Riyashi was a normal-looking 22-year-old Palestinian woman. On Jan. 14, she strapped several pounds of explosives and nails to her body and approached an Israeli security checkpoint in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis usually forbid any Palestinian who sets off the metal detector from approaching further. But al-Riyashi, limping and weeping, pleaded with Gal Shapira, the commander of the watch. She explained that she had recently undergone surgery and had a metal plate in her leg that set off the machine.
Shapira told her to wait while he called a female officer to conduct a search. That act of compassion cost him his life. When al-Riyashi was ushered into a private room, she detonated her body bomb killing herself and four Israelis (including Shapira) and wounding at least a dozen others, including several Palestinians.
Her funeral was a gala affair attended by thousands. She was hailed as a heroine and honored for a particular distinction: Reem al-Riyashi was the first Palestinian mother to commit murder-suicide for Allah. She left behind a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. In her farewell videotaped message, al-Riyashi smiled as she proclaimed that she "always wanted to be the first woman to carry out a martyr attack, where parts of my body can fly all over. That is the only wish I can ask God for." Her act was sponsored jointly by Hamas and the Al Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, and her husband, a member of Hamas, drove her to the checkpoint.
In one way, however, al-Riyashi did not get her wish. She was not the first woman to commit such an act. That "honor" goes to Wafa Idris, who detonated herself on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem in January 2002, killing an elderly Israeli man and wounding many more. Her act was praised throughout the Arab world. Al-Quds Al-Arabi, a London-based Arabic language newspaper, hailed her for killing "in the heart of the occupied city." (Note well: the attack took place in West Jerusalem.) The Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, reports Memri (www.memri.org), praised "Her dreamy eyes and the mysterious smile on her lips, that competes with the famous smile some artist drew on the lips of Mona Lisa." A Jordanian Islamist wrote in the daily Al-Dustour, "Wafa carried her suitcase (of explosives) which is ... the most beautiful prize any woman can possibly win. Her spirit was raging, her heart filled with anger, and her mind unconvinced by the calls for peace and coexistence ..."