Female Islamic Jihad fighters are trained to use firearms like Kalashnikov rifles and rocket-propelled grenades but they also learn to administer first aid in battle situations besides leading their families to safety if they come under fire. Image Credit: Nasser Najjar/Gulf News

Gaza It's not unusual to hear shots being fired and rocket-propelled grenades being launched in one of the training camps in Gaza strip. But it is unusual to hear female voices yelling "Allah Akbar" as they signal their intent to join battle.

Somewhere in the centre of the Gaza strip, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement is training some of its female members on how to handle direct-encounter scenarios with the Israeli army.

Shoot at targets

Across the green fields, around 20 women were being ordered to take their positions and shoot at targets. The women wore long skirts and veils as they wielded K-17 (Kalashnikov rifles) and rocket-propelled grenades among other weapons. The women are trained to use various firearms, administering first aid in battle zones and even in responding to conflict situations by leading their families to safety if they come under fire during an Israeli military operation.

The trainer of the female group said: "Women are involved as much as men in resisting the Zionist enemy. We take into consideration the differences between the men and women, but both must have the same spirit and will to fight against the enemy which is needed most in such a matter."

He added: "Although they have a duty to their families and society, they still come by themselves asking to be in the frontlines fighting the Zionists. We give them spiritual and mental courses along with the physical practice."

The society in Gaza is male-dominated and like other fields there are barriers in the movement the women must conquer.

Family support

The trainer said it was important for the women to have the support of their husbands or parents to be able to be part of the group. At the same time their involvement had to be kept confidential from wider society.

The women's main motivation to fight the Israelis seems more religious than nationalistic, since most of the women are members of this religious group.

Um Ahmad, a housewife and mother of two, said: "I came by my own asking for Allah's [approval] and knowing that I have a duty to my country. I'm not waiting to be a widow, crying on my husband when the Israelis kill him; I want to take a place fighting for our rights and for Islam. Everyone has to take a part in defending our land."

R.S., 20, who got engaged only recently, said: "I wish to be one of the martyrs while fighting the Israeli army. It's not that we choose to fight, we were forced to. Even if they did leave our land, we won't give up our weapons."

She added: "This might be confusing for some but I love life and I'm looking at it from the bright side."