With her textured handbag, heavy mascara, and a veil revealing only her eyes, Alaa Awdeh sounds like the ultimate feminist. Women, she believes, should have equal rights in Palestinian society, especially the right to die in the armed struggle against Israel.
''That's what I am looking for, to sacrifice my life," said Awdeh, 18, an Islamic studies major at Al Najah University in Nablus and enthusiastic member of the youth wing of Hamas, the radical Islamic group.
Islamic women like Awdeh have redrawn the debate over women's rights in Palestinian society. In the past, the fight was between secular feminists and men who wanted to protect their monopoly on political and social power. Now the debate is between Western-style feminists and religious women who want to share political power without changing the traditional role of women in the family.
This month's campaign for the Palestinian legislative election set for Wednesday has thrust that debate into the open.
''It is your role to fight corruption, make reform, and avenge humiliation, like the women who took revenge on the streets of Tel Aviv, Netanya, and Jerusalem," university professor Mariam Saleh, a Hamas candidate, exhorted an all-women Hamas rally in Nablus, a week before the Palestinian vote, in an apparent reference to female Palestinian suicide bombers in those cities.
In a fiery speech, Saleh said women were more pivotal than men because women serve as doctors, scientists, holy warriors, and the heads of families whose men are in Israeli prisons.
About 400 women, most of them professionals, attended the rally. Awdeh, the college student who yearns for a role in Hamas's military wing, marched through the convention hall with a few dozen members of the women's youth wing.
They all wore white headscarves and lime-green vests emblazoned with a pair of fists and the slogan ''One hand builds, the other hand fights."
''If they ask me to be a martyrdom fighter, I will not hesitate. I will respect the call of God," Awdeh said before a more senior Hamas member silenced her.
''Sorry for the misunderstanding," said school administrator Hutam Umm Mohammed Salameh, 41. ''Some of our young people do not know how to express themselves, and give a distorted view of what we are about."
It sure doesn't sound like a 'misunderstanding.