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Dr. Edmond Melhem – Palestinian Women – Part II

For a long time, the Palestinian people lived under occupation XE “Occupation, Israeli” and suffered a severe lack of power and control over their land and their social and national affairs. The occupiers tried to control the indigenous Palestinian population and its national spirit through humiliation XE “Humiliation” , daily harassment XE “Harassment” , curfews XE “Curfew” , arrests XE “Arrests” and deportation XE “Deportation” of activists, educators and leaders and through other repressive XE “Repressive” measures which included land confiscation XE “Confiscation” , military invasions of everyday life, collective punishments and economic inequities. One author has commented: “The more Israel XE “Israel” has tried to control Palestinian national feelings through harassment, arrests, and curfews XE “Curfew” , the more strongly these national sentiments have been expressed.”(1) After twenty years of living in humiliation and poverty XE “Poverty” under harsh military laws, the Palestinians in West Bank XE “West Bank” and Gaza XE “Gaza” Strip took to the streets in 1987, resisting the occupation XE “Occupation, Israeli” forces in an unprecedented uprising XE “Uprising” or intifada XE “Intifada” against oppression XE “Oppression” and occupation XE “Occupation, Israeli” . This intifada, unlike previous phases of resistance, adopted a wholly popular style of confrontation in resistance XE “Resistance” . As noted by one researcher, “it was a purely popular uprising, led and directed by the people with stones, demonstrations XE “Demonstrations” , and all forms of civil disobedience XE “Disobedience, civil” as its main tools of resistance.”(2)

Since this prolonged Palestinian uprising XE “Uprising” , which lasted for six years, Palestinian women began to participate in political and social activism XE “Activism” , organize themselves into independent political groups and economic cooperatives and occupy a dominant presence in the public sphere, which had previously been considered inappropriate. Women were required to assume urgent and unfamiliar roles “as political activists, political prisoners and the sole providers for the family.”(3) One Palestinian activist, Samira, described the involvement of the Palestinian woman in the national struggle XE “Struggle” :

Under the cover of the national struggle XE “Struggle” , you could say, women have been able to leave their traditional places, their incarceration, their homes. In many cases, when the husbands were jailed, the women have had to go out and work to support the family… But gradually, it become clear to me that the Intifada is a people’s war, and so women’s participation has become accepted. Before, the men looked upon women as weak. Now they’ve seen that women can stand up to soldiers, can face being wounded or martyred. Women have proved their ability to endure suffering, even more than men can if you ask me. All this has had its effect. Women have become freer now than they’ve ever been before.(4)

The physical involvement and participation of women in the intifada XE “Intifada” alongside men led to a major change in activities considered permissible for women. Their appearance in public political functions such as demonstrations XE “Demonstrations” or marches organized by the national movement and their roles as protectors of their men when the IDF soldiers attempted to arrest them “shook the old ideas of dependent women whose honour XE “Honour” lay in their remaining hidden from the public eye.”(5) Women rushed out to take part in demonstrations and clashes, throwing themselves between soldiers and the young men, trying to protect them from physical assault XE “Assault” or arrest. Their success in protecting men and children led one scholar to comment, “it has become dangerous for men to participate in demonstrations or marches in the absence of women.”(6) Women also engaged in well-organized marches and in spontaneous demonstrations of their own, “expressing their outrage at violence XE “Violence” by soldiers or Jewish XE “Jewish” settlers, at arrests XE “Arrests” or killings, at the deaths and wounding of women and children, and at the miscarriages attributed to tear gas released from canisters thrown into homes or hospitals.”(7)

1)Tamar Mayer, “Heightened Palestinian Nationalism – Military occupation XE “Occupation, Israeli” , repression XE “Repression” , difference and gender XE “Gender” ”, in Tamar Mayer (ed.), Women and the Israeli Occupation: The politics of change, London XE “London” : Routledge, 1994, p. 62.

2) M. A. Khan XE “Khan, Tahira Shahid” , The Culture of Martyrdom, op. cit., p. 104.

3) Jamileh Abu-Duhou XE “Abu-Duhou, Jamileh” , Giving voices to the voiceless: Gender-Based Violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, op. cit., p. 26. See also Taraki, L. Palestinian Society: contemporary Realities and Trends. Birzeit: Women’s Studies Programme, Birzeit University, 1997.

4) Quoted in Jamileh Abu-Duhou XE “Abu-Duhou, Jamileh” , Giving voices to the voiceless: Gender-Based Violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, op. cit., p. 16.

5) Philippa Strum, “West bank Women and the Intifada: Revolution within the Revolution”, in Suha Sabbagh (ed.), Palestinian Women of Gaza XE “Gaza” and the West Bank XE “West Bank” , Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998, P. 65.

6) Quoted in ibid., p. 66.

7) Ibid.

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