Rayashi left in her wake four dead Israeli soldiers, two orphaned children and a society deeply divided over her act.

The unorthodox version of an incident that has otherwise played itself out hundreds of times spurred a myriad of unanswered questions among the people in Gaza.

Why would a well-to-do mother of two young children carry out such an attack? And why was she chosen to carry it out, given that there are in all likelihood hundreds of single female and male candidates that are available for such missions?

New direction

It was the first time Hamas had used a woman in its operations, and a married mother at that. 

Islamic groups like Hamas have previously opposed the use of women in operations, citing both religious and social reasons. 

With the advent of female bombers in Palestine, legal opinion on the matter seems to have adapted. Leading Islamic scholar Yusuf Qaradawi recently declared that “a woman may go out for jihad even without the permission of her husband,” and may even travel without a chaperone or a veil if necessary.

In an interview with Aljazeera.net, Shaikh Ahmad Yasin, Hamas’s spiritual leader, confirmed that the bombing marked a change in policy for Hamas.
 

What could cause a mother of two
to detonate herself?

“Jihad is a duty on every male and female Muslim when their country is being occupied. We always said we will leave women as a backup military. In the end, however, this is a decision that has been left up to the military wing, and whether they believe it is a necessity,” he said.

Yasin expressed sympathy with Rayashi’s children and regretted that she was a mother, but said he supports the attack nonetheless. 

Motivations

The profile of bombers is becoming increasingly difficult to predict. Many analysts have previously held they were all motivated by some sense of revenge, humiliation, or economic or mental desperation.

But Rayashi came from a well-off middle class Gazan family, and nothing to avenge, according to relatives. As a result, her actions have left many wondering about her driving force. 

“Suicide bombing has spread as an epidemic in Palestine. It used to be that we could identify certain indicators that seemed to make a person more susceptible [such as] poverty, depression, etc.

"But today none of these indicators help us – because we see people from all walks of life doing this,” said Jessica Stern, a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and author of “Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill.”

Seeking an explanation

"It used to be that we could identify certain indicators that seemed to make a person more susceptible [such as] poverty, depression, etc. But today none of these indicators help us – because we see people from all walks of life doing this.”

Jessica Stern,
a lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government

Reports coming from Rayashi's relatives and those who knew her have been inconsistent. Hamas maintains she was driven by the death of her brother-in-law, who was, they say, killed by the Israelis at the start of the Intifada, and by her long-held desire to become a martyr. 

Her family, on the other hand, has denied there was any such incident.

Local analysts say it's not difficult to understand Rayashi's motivations.  Regardless of what one's opinion is about the matter, her actions demonstrate the far-reaching effects of the occupation and how far Palestinians are prepared to go to avenge their sense of suffering, says Mona al-Farra, a political activist and a member of the Union of Health Work Committees. 

"This lends proof that those who carry out these operations are not just from families affected in a direct way by the occupation, such as having a family member killed. She was someone from regular Palestinian society who felt the daily effects of Israeli occupation as a whole,” said al-Farra.

“Her act shows that every [Palestinian] suffers and is prepared to sacrifice themselves. There is no difference between a woman, a man or a child because Israeli occupation targets all, regardless of sex or age. This is the reality that we live in.  From her perspective she was not simply the mother of two children - she was someone going on a national mission,” she said.

Shock

Rayashi’s relatives say they are deeply disturbed by her act, and have denied any prior knowledge of the operation. 

Witnesses saw Rayashi's husband, who worked as a lifeguard on Gaza’s beach, sitting and crying after receiving news of his wife’s death. 

Relatives pass a Hamas mural
dedicated to Rayashi's memory

In an interview with Al-Jazeera.net, Rayashi’s brother-in-law, Yusuf Awwad, said neither he nor his brother were aware of her plans.

“She was your classic housewife. We did not expect such an act from her at all - she was someone that was mostly to herself… a very normal, humble person who loved her children. In fact, she had only finished high school and did not even attend the mosque. She never left the house when she was living with us.”

Awwad said Rayashi, who along with the rest of her family lived with her father-in-law and brother-in-law for over two years, was a very “normal, humble” person who loved her children.

Anonymous sources close to Hamas’s military wing told Aljazeera.net that Awwad was recruited for the mission in religious gatherings she had attended during these last six months.
 
The sources added that she “passed all the tests", and that when considering a candidate for such an act, “fearlessness and fortitude”, not marital status, was the deciding factor.   

Priorities

Meanwhile, Hamas has been unwavering in its support of the young bomber. Thousands of men marched down Gaza’s streets in solidarity with Rayashi a few day’s after the attack.

“I pray for martyrdom, but my house comes first. As the Prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him - said, ‘priorities come first,’ and my home is my priority, my jihad”

Umm Bilal Abu Aish,
mother of seven
 

The rally eventually made its way to the funeral sitting of Reem Rayashi, sponsored by Hamas. A videotape of her final will was replayed on the outside wall of a mosque. 

In it, Rayashi professed to loving her two children but went on to say that her “desire to meet God in paradise was greater” and that she “had long dreamed of becoming a martyr", ending her testimonial with a bone-chilling smile.

Nearby, a few women observed dispassionately. Unlike their male counterparts, they were not so quick to hail the young mother of two.
 
“I pray for martyrdom, but my house comes first. As the Prophet Muhammad - peace be upon him - said, ‘priorities come first,’ and my home is my priority, my jihad,” said Umm Bilal Abu Aish, 32 and a mother of seven. 
 
The Prophet, she went on to say, once told a man with elderly parents to stay at home by their side, rather than fight, as this was the greater jihad in his particular situation. The same should apply to mothers like Rayashi, argued Umm Bilal.

Ironically, the men of the rally did not seem to agree. In this case, a woman’s place is not necessarily in her home, they said.

“Just as she has a mission to raise her kids, she has one to carry out jihad,” said bystander Jubair Humaid. “People are all too good at talking. Isn’t it enough that she sacrificed her life and left her family behind to answer the crimes that are happening?”