Anat Berko spoke about her research on suicide bombers, and more specifically about their use of women and children in terrorist plots in the Middle East, at Ohio State’s Hillel Center.
The Tuesday night event was sponsored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a media monitoring organization against anti-Israeli prejudice in reporting.
Berko, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Israeli military, holds a Ph.D. in criminology from Bar-Ilan University in Israel and conducted her research by speaking one-on-one with jailed Palestinian terrorists in Israel.
Women are convinced to become suicide bombers for extremist groups such as Hamas for a variety of reasons, Berko said in her speech.
In conservative Islamic states, a woman who has or is rumored to have had sexual relations before marriage can bring shame to her entire family. Terrorists will approach these women, promising them that becoming a suicide bomber is a way to bring honor back to their family, Berko said.
These “dispatchers,” as Berko referred to them, have different intentions though.
“Women can get through security easier. They are just being used because they won’t be searched,” Berko said.
She showed two short films during the event that documented two young girls who survived attempts by terrorists to force them into suicide bombing.
The first film was about a 15-year-old Afghan girl who talked about how her husband’s cousin strapped a bomb around her and drugged her in an effort to send her out to kill civilians. The bomb didn’t go off properly, however, and she survived.
The second video shared the story of a younger girl who was drugged and kidnapped on her way home from school. The captors gave her a vest and told her to stand by military personnel, but she was able to take off the vest and run away.
Berko said women who are convinced or forced into suicide bombings are often sexually exploited by their dispatchers, adding that the terrorists tell the girls they will be virgins again in paradise when they die.
The exploitation of children and women in terrorist acts has led to an outcry by families in war-torn areas of the Middle East, especially when the children of higher-up members of terrorist organizations are generally able to send their children to school and keep them safe.
“When I interviewed Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, founder of Hamas, in 1996, he said he would never send (a) child as a suicide bomber. Yet it is happening, it happens every day, but nobody speaks about it, not enough anyway,” Berko said in an interview with The Lantern after her lecture.
Carly Weintraub, a third-year in early childhood education who is actively involved with Hillel, said she came away with a new perspective.
“For me, (the event) was really eye-opening. I went to Israel with Hillel over the summer, and we heard about suicide bombings, but never heard about women and children,” Weintraub said.
Jacob Tepper, a third-year in strategic communication, said he was also glad he attended the event.
“The speaker was very compelling, and she offered a unique perspective on something very much non-mainstream and was able to put such a sensitive and political topic in layman’s terms,” he said.
Ila Rabinowitz, a fourth-year in marketing, said she enjoyed hearing from an expert.
“The presentation was fascinating, and the speaker was incredibly knowledgeable,” she said.