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Down East Books
The Smarter Bomb
Women and Children as Suicide Bombers
978-1-4422-1952-6 • Hardback
October 2012 •
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978-1-4422-1954-0 • eBook
October 2012 •
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This compelling book offers a unique glimpse into the motivations of suicide bombers, especially women and children, and those who recruit and dispatch them. As a woman and a mother, Anat Berko was able to win the trust of imprisoned bombers and speak with them intimately. Entering Israel’s most heavily secured cells, she met with female and adolescent would-be suicide bombers and their dispatchers, lawyers, and interrogators. The personal stories are greatly enriched by the inclusion of the sketches and letters many prisoners gave to the author.
She explores vital questions: What leads individuals to place explosives on their bodies, kill and injure scores of civilians, and take their own lives? Do men really believe that death will transport them to paradise, where Allah, virgins, and wine await them? Are women victims of unbearable pressure to commit this act of terror? Can a woman be “good” according to the criteria of Arab/Palestinian society and a terrorist at the same time? Is involvement in terrorism a sign of the liberation of Palestinian women or another way of preserving their social inferiority, thus explaining their low status and the inferior rewards the families of female suicide bombers receive? Who are the dispatchers, and how do they manipulate and convince women and youngsters to go calmly to their death?
The answers to these questions offer a rare and candid portrayal that will be essential reading for all those wanting to understand the interior world of suicide bombers and how to communicate with terrorists.
holds a Ph.D. in criminology and served as lieutenant colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces. She is a research fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and also conducts research for the National Security Council. She is currently a visiting professor at George Washington University.
Introduction: "Good Enough to Die, Not Good Enough to Marry"
Chapter 1: “Just As Long As the Girl Doesn’t Make a Mistake”
Chapter 2: Hamas Deputy Prime Minister: “Whoever Sends a Woman on a Terrorist Attack is
Chapter 3: The Engineer: “A Virgin in Paradise Is Like a Little Girl”
Chapter 4: Shari’a Judge: “Women Lack Two Things: Intelligence and Religion”
Chapter 5: The Adolescent Terrorist: “You Go to Jail, You Can Study For Matriculation Exams, You Get Special Considerations If You're in Jail”
Chapter 6: Brother and Sister, Suicide Bombers
Chapter 7: Special Bonuses for Each and Every
Chapter 8: Terrorist to Her Dispatcher: “Why Did You Betray Me? You Know I Love You”
Chapter 9: Clerics on Women in Terrorism: “What Will She Get in Paradise, a Couple of Virgins?”
Chapter 10: Salima, Mother of Seven: “My Husband Only Thinks about Himself, I Don’t Love Him”
Chapter 11: Nawal, Palestinian Knife Wielder: “Jail in Israel Is Better Than Hell at Home”
Chapter 12: Women under Interrogation
Chapter 13: How to Talk to Terrorists
Chapter 14: Arab Lawyer: “Every Woman Involved in Terrorism Is a Romantic”
Chapter 15: Nabil, Dispatcher of Terrorists: “A Pity I Sent Her to Blow Herself Up, She Could Have Given Birth to Three Men Like Me.”
Afterword: Disrobe for a Terrorist Attack—Is the
Berko, an authority on terrorism and researcher for the National Security Council, explores primarily why and how Palestinian terrorist groups use women. Based on years of interviews with Palestinian leaders, the book attempts to answer the question: are women smart bombs or stupid ones? Mainly, Berko finds, they are desperate ones. Arab cultural attitudes about women directly influence terrorist attitudes toward the use of female suicide bombers. Male handlers often exploit women bombers sexually, and then use that exploitation and associated shame to both motivate and intimidate the women to bomb. Berko further reveals that terrorist leaders use female bombers only reluctantly, and that women bombers actually decrease their standing in Arab society because effective female suicide bombers challenge the cultural norm of male dominance. Female suicide bombers are very effective, Berko concludes, in this fascinating look inside terrorist practices.
Anat Berko’s highly insightful . . . book focuses on the motivations of Palestinian suicide bombers, especially women and children . . . two groups that are especially exploited in patriarchal Palestinian society. [Berko] has spent many years interviewing Palestinian security prisoners at their Israeli jails, including the operatives (whose suicide missions failed) and their dispatchers. Fluent in Arabic and Arab culture, she was able to speak intimately with the prisoners and gain their trust. Their identities are disguised to elicit the most candid observations and to protect them. . . . [R]eaders nevertheless will benefit from the wealth of personal, cultural and operational details revealed by such firsthand field work. . . . For the light it sheds on Palestinian society and how its most vulnerable are exploited,
The Smarter Bomb
is highly recommended. A peaceful accommodation between Palestinians and Israelis will not move forward as long as large swaths of Palestinian society are manipulated and directed toward violence.
The Washington Times
Berko . . . has been given unprecedented access to numerous terrorists and would-be terrorists in the country’s prisons, and she has apparently won their trust. In interview after interview, men and women open up to her and relate the most intimate details about the phenomenon of female suicide attacks against Israel during the second intifada. . . . Berko set out to understand why women became involved in suicide attacks, and also to understand the different terrorist organizations’ viewpoints on using women in their war against Israel. . . . Her book is full of fascinating stories and insights precisely because she lets the people speak for themselves. . . . This remains one of the most interesting studies on terrorism to have been produced in recent years.
The Jerusalem Post
The book contains a wealth of information, much of it presented as raw data in the form of reports on conversations. Others can benefit from Dr. Berko's valuable work to draw their own conclusions.
Middle East Forum
Dr. Berko’s chilling analysis of the phenomenon of Palestinian women and children forced by societal factors to become suicide bombers, for lack of any other options, makes for riveting reading.
Dr. Henry A. Kissinger
Anat Berko reflects a unique combination of both a senior experienced practitioner and an established academic who has provided novel and authentic insights into the world of suicide women and children bombers emanating from the Muslim world. Her narratives and studies illuminate concrete threats that could turn up on the doorstep of every one of us wherever we are, and should be compulsory reading for professionals and the public at large. The fruits of her labor have not only contributed to a better understanding of the issue, but have already become life-saving factors in the constant struggle against terror.
Ephraim Halevy, former head of Mossad
This book is a remarkable contribution to explaining the unexplainable, to understanding the inexplicable. It takes us to the next level of scholarship about suicide bombers who are not men, but rather are increasingly women and children. Anat Berko helps us to see through their eyes, to think as they think, to feel their hearts beat in their chests as they prepare to push the button.
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus, The George Washington University
In this fine book, the Israeli forensic specialist Anat Berko focuses on the special psychology of female and adolescent suicide terrorists. She convincingly demonstrates that in a disintegrating society, female Muslims suffer from a double oppression—political and gender. Exposed to the media revolution, they find liberating the role of
and even the prisons in which Berko met with them. A gifted interviewer, Berko’s book overflows with rich and riveting material.
Jerrold M. Post, The George Washington University; author of The Mind of the Terrorist
Anat Berko's thrilling research exposes how terror groups exploit women and children to achieve their goals. This is the first attempt of its kind by an Israeli author to explain to the outside world the phenomenon of brainwashing and recruiting women and children. The exclusive interviews with the women, as well as the face-to-face meetings with Hamas and Islamic leaders, offer a unique insight into the world of terrorism.
Khaled Abu Toameh, veteran reporter and commentator on Palestinian affairs and correspondent, The Jerusalem Post
Anat Berko gets into the mind of the female suicide bomber through direct interviews with those who have been captured. Her work is critical for the war against terrorism, which will only be won if the true motivation of suicide bombers is deciphered, as it is in her book. For this reason, her work is not only fascinating, but it also makes vital reading for anyone seeking to understand the sources of the new terrorism that the world has been facing since 9/11.
Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations
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