Army of Roses: Inside the World of Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers


When Yasser Arafat in January 2002 called on Palestinian women?his "army of roses"?to join in the struggle against Israeli occupation, even he was surprised by their swift and devastating response. Later that same day, Wafa Idris would become the first female suicide bomber of the Intifada. Tragically, she wasn't the last. In Army of Roses, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Barbara Victor profiles Wafa Idris and the other young women who have followed her violent lead toward a martyr's Paradise paved with personal ...

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When Yasser Arafat in January 2002 called on Palestinian women—his "army of roses"—to join in the struggle against Israeli occupation, even he was surprised by their swift and devastating response. Later that same day, Wafa Idris would become the first female suicide bomber of the Intifada. Tragically, she wasn't the last. In Army of Roses, Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Barbara Victor profiles Wafa Idris and the other young women who have followed her violent lead toward a martyr's Paradise paved with personal desperation and deadly political maneuvering.

In this astonishing exposé of the political and cultural forces now pressing Palestinian women into martyrdom, investigative journalist Victor identifies what she calls "a new level of cynicism" that has destroyed normal, everyday existence in the Middle East, along with the possibility for lasting peace. Tracing the roots of the women's resistance movement back to so-called personal initiative attacks and a brief period of empowerment in the 1980s before religious leaders clamped down, Victor shows how the current generation of Palestinian women has been courted and cajoled into committing these self-destructive and murderous acts.

By presenting the intimate personal histories of the first five female bombers who have succeeded in blowing themselves up, as well as the troubling stories of some of those who've tried and failed, the author reveals not only the crushing poverty and religious zealotry that one might suspect as motivating factors in their fall, but also a startling emotional component to their death wishes: their broken dreams and blighted inner lives. Victor shows, without dismissing or diminishing the horror of their actions, how far a person can be pushed when she is convinced she has nothing to lose.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Victor, a journalist with over 20 years' experience in the Middle East, delivers a jarring and intimate indictment of Palestinian society. The two primary crimes she charges it with are the exploitation of women and the desperate acceptance of a "culture of death." On January 27, 2002, these two factors began to overlap as Wafa Idris became the first female Palestinian suicide bomber. Victor (A Voice of Reason: Hanan Ashrawi and Peace in the Middle East) spent the next year interviewing leaders, historians, victims, psychiatrists and feminists on both sides of the Green Line. The most poignant passages come from the families of bombers-parents and siblings vacillating between grief and celebration. While she concludes that there are many ingredients in the "fatal cocktail" of suicide bombing-religious extremism, socioeconomic deprivation, nationalistic fervor and Israeli occupation-the book reserves its harshest criticism for manipulative male relatives who convince vulnerable and marginalized women to blow themselves up, and for opportunistic leaders-including Yasir Arafat-who encourage and reward such behavior. Victor is well versed in the intricacies of Palestinian politics and emotions, and her attempt to communicate her knowledge to the reader is-perhaps inevitably, given the complexity of the subject-a bit rambling, but ultimately convincing that a "misguided feminism" underlies actions like Idris's attempt to seek equality in death. Only hardened partisans (who may outnumber neutral observers, given the polarizing nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) will fail to accompany Victor on her journey from compassion to judgment. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A journalist and celebrity biographer, Victor tells the story of four female Palestinian suicide bombers whom she believes represent the new liberated women of Palestine. The irony of the situation, however, weakens her point: those women require permission from their patriarchal society in order to become examples of this new liberation. In certain sections, the author attempts to name religion and the exploitation of women as motivating factors behind suicide bombing, leaving much to be desired. Such factors occur beyond Palestinian borders, and one does not see other Muslim or exploited women strapping on explosives to claim their liberty. Victor's journalistic style is more typical of media reporting than serious, scientific research. Her book reads like a news report-full of observations that leave one with more questions than answers. An optional purchase for public and general interest libraries.-Ethan P. Pullman, Univ. of Pittsburgh Lib. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
An eye-opening view of a rising generation of would-be martyrs in Israel and Palestine. Though it’s more observation than interpretation, biographer Victor (Goddess, 2001, etc.) delivers a narrative full of fascinating and strange moments. In vignettes and slightly fuller sketches, she depicts a few dozen-odd young women who have, in the words of one, decided to call their Western counterparts on all their talk of equality: "Well, you can take a lesson from us Palestinian women," one tells her. "We die in equal numbers to the men." This "tragic view of women’s liberation," as Victor puts it, is widely shared in Palestine, at least among younger women who believe that by martyring themselves in suicide bombing attacks they will enter the heaven once apparently reserved for men who die in the service of Islam. That question has been hotly debated for at least a couple of decades, by Victor’s account; though the mullahs of Iran made no mention of women when they decided, in 1982, that the Lebanese Hezbollah’s use of suicide attacks was religiously justifiable, other clerics have followed to promise paradise to both genders—as did the Mufti of Saudi Arabia a few months after the September 11 attack when he declared, "In the Koran, the Prophet Mohammed instructed both men and women to die for the sake of Jihad." And so Palestinian women have been flocking to the bomb, assured, as one says, that "the Jewish die, but we live forever." Some, by Victor’s account, are ordinary fundamentalists; others are disaffected teenagers conversant in world pop culture but wedded to traditional notions of honor all the same; others are deranged, such as the murderer Amna’a Mouna, an effective politicalleader despite having been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic; and still others are firebrands whose fond hope is to shame their male counterparts into blowing themselves up, too. Sure-footed reporting of what one hopes will be a passing moment in history—though all the signs shown here suggest not.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781579548308
  • Publisher: Rodale Press, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/10/2003
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Victor has covered the Middle East for CBS Television and U.S. News and World Report. She was a contributing editor to Elle USA, Femme magazine, Madame Figaro, and Elle France, and is the author of A Voice of Reason, a biography of Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize; Getting Away with Murder, which called for a change in laws concerning domestic violence; and The Lady, a biography of Burmese Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. A frequent lecturer on women's issues as well as on the Middle East, Victor divides her time between New York and Paris.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2003

    An important book to understand a global threat

    Fascinating and terrifying. An unbiased view of what is really going on in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A must read for everyone who believes that all is what it seems on the surface.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2010

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