Wafa al-Biss, one of the female convicts freed by Israel in the prisoner swap for soldier Gilad Shalit told cheering schoolchildren in Gaza today that she hoped they would follow her example.
"I hope you will walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs," Wafa al-Biss told dozens of children who came to her home in the northern Gaza Strip.
In 2005, Biss was travelling to Beersheba's Soroka hospital for medical treatment. She was planning on blowing up the hospital that had treated burns she had received in a kitchen accident. Israeli soldiers at the Erez border crossing noticed she was walking strangely. They found 10 kgs (22 lbs) of explosives had been sewn into her underwear.
After she spoke, the children cheered and waved Palestinian flags and chanted: "We will give souls and blood to redeem the prisoners. We will give souls and blood for you, Palestine."
From an earlier interview with Wafa al-Biss
"She had never really wanted to become a suicide bomber, she told me tearfully. Life and bad luck had given her no choice. Born into wretched poverty in Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza, one of 12 children, she said that much of her body and fingertips had been burned in a freak cooking accident at home the year before her failed mission. She had been coaxed, no, coerced into becoming a martyr by "Abul Khair," an older man from the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade. "I wish I had never met him," she said bitterly.
With her lovely face and soft voice, Wafa al-Biss was not at all what I expected from what I had read about her and seen on videotape. Hours after her arrest on June 6, 2005 at the Erez crossing, the main transit point between Israel and Gaza, Israeli intelligence had hauled her before reporters to discuss her failed mission. Her neck and hands were still covered with scars and bandages from the kitchen gas explosion in her home months earlier.
`At the press conference, according to several articles, Wafa al-Biss was a study in defiance — the model would-be martyr. Her greatest wish, her "dream" since childhood, she declared, was martyrdom. "I believe in death," she told reporters. Her target was an Israeli hospital, perhaps even Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, where she had been treated for her burns, which had probably saved her life. "I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews. Yes!" she exclaimed, "even babies. You kill our babies!"
She might have succeeded had the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, not warned checkpoints to be on the lookout for a female suicide bomber from Gaza. When a soldier noticed something odd in the young woman's gait as she entered the transit hall, she was ordered to stop and remove her long, dark cloak. Stranded between a metal turnstile behind her and an iron gate in front of her, Wafa al-Biss found herself alone in the evacuated hall. As military surveillance cameras recorded her every move, a solider ordered her again to disrobe and drop her bomb.
Panicked and frustrated, Wafa al-Biss decided to kill herself anyway. Security camera video shows her reaching into her right pocket to pull the detonator string. But instead of exploding in a lethal mass of fire, smoke, and metal shards, the string came out in her hand. Again and again she thrust her hand into her pocket, pushing the detonator. The cameras dispassionately record her failed mission's final moments — Wafa al-Biss, alone in the hall, screaming and crying, clawing at her face — condemned to live.
"I don't care about Jews and Arabs," she told me in the prison; she had never been political. Israelis at Soroka, where she had spent three months with her burns, treated her with "respect and dignity," she said. "They had been very kind," she said. "But I still wanted to kill myself."
She had tried to do so even before the gas accident, on her birthday in November 2004, that had scarred her body, deformed the fifth digits of both hands, and left her fingertips and chin discolored. Long before that, she told me, she had been in despair. She had grown up desperately poor. Her father was "primitive." He rarely let her go out except to school or the mosque. He and her brothers beat her. She tried to throw herself out a window at age 18, but courage failed her. "Islam says you can't kill yourself. I was afraid of the shame for my family," she said.
"If my family had been normal, if I could have afforded to have been treated in America, if I could wear my hair and live my life like yours," she said, "I would never have thought about killing myself."
Instead, she said, she approached a group known to be associated with the "Resistance." Would they accept her as a martyr?
At first, the man she came to know only as Abul Khair, whom she met secretly at Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza, urged her to think it over. Despite the reverence that fellow Gazans showed martyrs and their families, she hesitated. She called him a week later to say she had changed her mind.
"But they hunted me like prey," she recalled. "Abul Khair kept calling," she said. "He told me a guy they were counting on had backed out of an operation; they needed me. ‘Look at your future,' they told me. ‘No one will ever marry you.' I knew it was true. I was not good at school. I had no future."
She agreed to meet him again, this time at the Haifa mosque. Would God grant her anything she wanted in paradise? she asked him. "Would he give me new skin?"
Yes, he told her.
"What did death feel like?" she pressed him.
She wouldn't feel anything, she quoted him as saying. "It's like a pin prick."
"I wanted to believe him," she told me. "He looked religious, like someone you could trust. He told me I was very brave. He made me feel important." She agreed to become a shaheeda.
When she returned home, upset and crying, her mother sensed something was wrong. "I lied and told her that my finger hurt. Her mother made her some food and told her it would be better soon, "inshallah," Wafa said. If her mother sensed what Wafa was about to do, she didn't let on, she insisted.
As the day of her operation approached, Wafa grew despondent. She had gone to a safe house in Gaza twice with young men who picked her up in a car on a corner near her home. Being in the company of men who were not family members was religiously and culturally forbidden in conservative Palestine. She initially feared they would "harm my dignity as a woman," she told me. Instead, they escorted her to a nondescript house on the edge of her city where she was asked to try on the explosive pants, test the detonator — a gift to the Al-Aqsa group from its ostensible rival, Hamas — and videotape a political statement about the need to kill Jews. "I didn't feel that way; I told them I wanted to say something else," she said.
Ultimately, however, she complied. She was taped reading the statement and holding a Kalashnikov — for the first time ever, she says. "It was heavy."
The day of her attack, June 21, 2005, "was the hardest day of my life." She had failed at this as she had "so many other opportunities in my life."
She expected little now, she told me. No one was helping her; no group was paying or supporting her parents, she said. One day, she hoped to marry, but her pained expression suggested she knew this was unlikely. "