In the month of May 2019 Staat van Beleg could list 603 human rights violations (and 193 reports/ analyses). (see our archive) This month a focus on the women of Palestinian resistance.
In his book about the village of Baqa al-Gharbiyeh, the Palestinian historian Subhi Biyadseh recalls an event the villagers told him. During the British Mandate era in Palestine, the English shelled the village of Baqa al-Gharbiyeh in 1936. The army then took all of the men of the village prisoners. The women responded by descending upon the military barracks at night with their children, armed only with rocks, demanding the army’s release of their men, which they succeeded in achieving. This short story highlights the prominent role Palestinian women have engaged in when it comes to resistance against the foreign occupation of Britain and then Israel. In the following decades we saw many Palestinian women engaging in armed resistance and nonviolent resistance within and outside the political spectrum and we will name some of them.
“Palestinian women have always been an integral part of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and liberation. They have always been men’s partners in resistance and in fighting Zionist occupation and colonization, whether as villagers, as workers, as teachers, as activists or as freedom fighters. The Palestinian history of resistance is full of names of heroines, activists who refused to remain silent or inactive while Palestine was being colonized. But in addition to the many names that are recorded in Palestinian history, there are the thousands and thousands of unnamed heroic women, the activists and the fighters whose names we will never know, but who will always be part of us because they are our grandmothers, our mothers, our sisters, our friends and our comrades. And that’s also an important point to make. We don’t do this for the fame or the protest photo; we struggle because our lives depend on it.”
Eman Khaleq during a speech at a meeting of the Union of Palestinian American Women on Nov, 2015
An educator, an activist and an armed fighter Moheba Khorsheed (1921-2000) was from the coastal Palestinian city of Yafa (also known as Jaffa), which was home to one of the major ports in Palestine, and is credited with founding the first official armed women organization Zahrat al-Uqhawan (the Chrysanthemum Flowers). This society was in charge of collecting funds to buy weapons and providing relief to Palestinian families who were already displaced. The Chrysanthemum Flowers transformed into an all-women armed organization after Khorsheed witnessed a British sniper shoot a ten year old Palestinian boy in the head who died in his mother’s arms. She played a leading role and was involved in organizing and implementing operations and gathering guns for use. Zionist propaganda denounced and incited against her, whereas the Arab media praised her and compared her to Khawla Bint al-Azwar, a revered and legendary woman from the early history of Islam who fought many battles disguised as a man. After the ethnic cleansing of Yafa, during which over 50,000 Palestinians out of a population of 70,000 were forcibly displaced from their homes and driven to the sea, Khorsheed settled in Egypt and married, leading the rest of her life as a refugee, never allowed to return.
Another freedom fighter is Leila Khaled who, a refugee herself, was forced to flee Haifa as a young girl in 1948 and later became the first female member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1967 and remains a member in the PFLP Leadership Council. Khaled put herself and Palestine in the front pages of newspapers by hijacking two passenger airplanes in 1969 and 1970, under the PFLP motto “Going after the enemy everywhere.” Up to this day Leila Khaled is active for the Palestinian cause, traveling around the world to raise awareness.
The First Intifada, which the Western media represents primarily with the image of young men throwing stones, women played also a significant role. In the movie The Wanted 18, women explain how they bought colored cloth and sewed the Palestinian flags that people flew at rallies. Flying the flag was one of the more defiant, and empowering, actions of the First Intifada. Another movie, Naila and the Uprising, directed by Julia Bacha, shows that women were the backbone of the Intifada, the spine that held it together.
When we talk about nonviolent resistance we think about women from all over the world speaking up for the Palestinian cause during demonstrations, marches. lectures, Twitter campaigns etc. We think about the women participating in the Great March of Return in Gaza and the other weekly marches in different places of the occupied West Bank.
A largely nonviolent Intifada (or “uprising”) began in 1987. Women, men and children combined efforts to resist the 20-year occupation of their land. They did so in innovative ways, for example by establishing alternative educational facilities for children after all the schools were closed, creating an alternative economy based on home produce, as well as engaging in large-scale protests.
There were also attempts at dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli women. For example, in July 2006, members of the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace (IWC) convened an emergency meeting in Athens. They urged the international community to intervene.
But not only inside Palestine women are active in resistance. Within the many refugee camps outside Palestine women stood up against the harsh lives they were enduring within the camps, experiencing oppression, violence, poverty and wars. One of these refugee camps is Shatilla in Lebanon. Palestinians in Lebanon have faced nearly two decades of uncertainty and daily violence. Refugees since 1948, most have been born in an exile that has involved successive uprooting from one camp to another as an escape from violence or as part of transfer policies to contain Palestinian resistance and fragment a large, once politically powerful community. While the Palestinian resistance movement, headquartered in Beirut, drew many younger activist women into its ranks, older women did participate.
One of the women organizations that is currently active outside Palestine is Code Pink which was founded by Medea Benjamin and based in the US. The organization’s program call for support of the Palestinian cause from one side, and cessation to US wars on the other. Its members were repeatedly assaulted due to their positions and protests in support of their goals.
In Israel we also see a lot of women active for the Palestinian cause. Gaby Lasky is an Israeli attorney and feminist human rights activist who is a central pillar for activists in Israel and the occupied territories, who works tirelessly to protect their rights, often without any compensation. Nurit Peled-Elhanan is an Israeli professor of Language and Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a human rights activist. She is known for her research on the portrayal of Palestinians in Israeli textbooks, which she has criticized as being anti-Palestinian. Born in Jerusalem Amira Hass writes since 1989 for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. She reports on the Israeli occupation and the effect of it on the Palestinian territories. Hass lived for three years in Gaza where she wrote her book “Drinking the Sea at Gaza”.
Hanan Ashrawi, was born in Ramallah and became an educator and spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to Middle East peace talks. In the late 1960’s Ashrawi joined the General Union of Palestinian Students while attending the American University in Beirut. Unable to return to her hometown after the occupation of the West Bank by Israel during the Six-Day-War in 1967 she went to the United States and earned a doctorate in English Literature. Upon her return to Ramallah in 1973, she joined the faculty of Birzeit University as a professor of medieval and comparative literature and also served as dean of the School of Arts until the Israeli army closed the university in 1988 after the outbreak of the first Intifaḍa among West Bank Palestinians in December 1987. Though Ashrawi had long been a supporter of the PLO, it was during the Intifaḍa that she became prominent internationally through frequent appearances as a guest commentator on American television news programs, on which she presented articulate appeals to the world to recognize Palestinian rights. She held several positions within the Palestinian Authority during the 1990’s and briefly served as the Arab League’s first commissioner for information and public policy, a position to which she was appointed in 2001. Ashrawi participated in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections as one of the leaders of the newly formed Third Way, an independent alternative to both Fatah and Hamas that captured a very narrow proportion of the vote. Despite her efforts and international reputation the United States recently denied Ashrawi a visa to enter the country.
Khalida Jarrar, a prominent leftist lawmaker who was in charge of the Palestinian Legislative Council’s prisoners committee has been imprisoned by Israel several times. She spent years documenting various violations against Palestinian children and injured prisoners, both as a parliamentarian with special responsibility for prisoners, and in a previous role as director of Addameer. She has also collected hours of testimony from prisoners during her time behind bars and helping women detainees to better themselves in prison through education.
Haneen Zoabi who in 2009 became Israel’s first female Palestinian member of the Knesset will not run in the next elections. If anyone thought that she was stepping back in any way from her political activism, they would be wrong. Zoabi wants to use her experience to develop a theoretical strategy, to rethink their political struggle as Palestinian citizens, and to meet and learn from others who face or have faced similar liberation struggles. That struggle and goal are clear: to end the occupation and siege of Gaza, to ensure the right of return, and to view the fight within Israel as part of the whole Palestinian liberation struggle.
Resistance through arts and crafts
Before the Euro Vision Song Contest over 50 Palestinian women artists wrote a joint letter to Madonna to “support us now in our quest for freedom, justice, and equality — and the right to thrive as artists.”
In July 2018 Dareen Tatour, a Palestinian poet, was sentenced to five months in prison after posting, among others, a poem titled “Resist, my people, resist them.”
Embroidery became a symbol of identity, revolution and resistance in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. A Palestinian woman wearing an embroidered ‘thobe’ became a symbol for the nation in paintings and poster art depicting power and resilience. Embroidery exhibitions travelled the world as backdrops for important political meetings. Later and during the first Intifada, women embroidered Palestinian flags, doves and rifles on their ‘thobes’ as acts of resistance.Today, and despite the evolution of embroidery into a commodity, it remains a symbol to a great extent. Like many forms of Palestinian culture and heritage, Palestinian embroidery has been subject to consistent attempts of appropriation but has resisted and endured. In the documentary Stitching Palestine twelve women from disparate walks of life: lawyers, artists, housewives, activists, architects, and politicians stitch together the story of their homeland, of their dispossession, and of their unwavering determination that justice will prevail. Through their stories, the individual weaves into the collective, yet remaining distinctly personal.
The Palestine Hosting Society is a research project founded by Mirna Bamieh, an artist and cook from Jerusalem, that examines Palestinian food practices. Bamieh began her research in 2016 after noticing that restaurants in Ramallah tended to serve a limited menu of Palestinian foods. “For me, restaurants and going out to restaurants is a way of practicing your identity publicly” says Bamieh. This limited offering was a reflection of a misconception held by some Palestinians that their cuisine was not diverse or unique. This misconception, which grew from the restrictions of Israel’s military occupation, is what Bamieh seeks to challenge in her work. The project has evolved over time but usually begins with research into a city or family’s food practices and culminates in a hosted “table,” where this research is presented to a group of 50 to 60 invited guests in the form of a meal and performance by Bamieh. While the first table focused on the food practices of five individual families, more recent tables have been centered on cities (Hebron and Nablus) and specific crops, such as a recent table at the Palestinian Museum that focused on wheat.
A new generation
And now a new generation of young strong women is taking over. We can see them during peaceful marches and protests in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The young women on the front lines, supported by their families and often accompanied by them. They are the new voices of resistance. Not only in speaking but also in action, as we witnessed with volunteering medics at the Great March of Return risking their lives and even losing a life to save others. We recently saw a promising Ahed Tamimi leading a peaceful march in London, determined as ever to continue in resisting the occupation.