- The Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations
is a Beirut, Lebanon-based organization engaged in "strategic and
futuristic studies on the Arab and Muslim worlds, (emphasizing) the Palestinian
issue. In early 2010, it published the second of its series, "Am I
Not a Human," a report titled, "The Suffering of the Palestinian
Woman under the Israeli Occupation, " discussed below.
- In spite of their "exceptional suffering,"
Palestinian women display remarkable endurance qualities. Living under
stress in poverty, their homes destroyed, lands razed or expropriated,
children sick, husbands imprisoned, fathers killed, and more, they plant
seeds of hope, fulfill their daily social role, and participate in political
and every day resistance. Since the 1948 Nakba, they've been denied basic
human rights, security, free expression and movement, a safe and healthy
environment, and education. They became refugees in their own land and
abroad, bearing burdens beyond the capacity most women can bear anywhere.
- Under occupation, they struggle daily to endure, survive,
and provide the best for their families and children - as spouses, mothers,
caregivers, fighters, nurses, workers, and teachers.
- Annually on March 8, International Women's Day commemorates
their economic, political, cultural, scientific, and social achievements,
but for Palestinian women, it's more - their struggle under Israeli occupation,
their lost freedoms, and imposed hardships, testing them to the limit to
cope. For Gazans bordering on Israel, one mother said she:
- "sleeps with her eyes wide open, and lives with
her heart broken, expecting grief to be renewed at any moment."
- Another woman searches daily for a medicine her son Muhammad
needs, hospitalized without it. Some mothers have only photos of lost loved
ones, or others imprisoned out of reach.
- In Gaza, the burden is greatest. Also, however, after
Israel's 2003 law banning family unifications of Israeli citizens married
to Palestinian spouses in Gaza or the West Bank. It legalized Israel's
longstanding practice, forcing some women to live illegally as virtual
house prisoners to avoid arrest or deportation without their husbands and
- Other problems include poverty, unemployment, regular
violence, home demolitions, and the dilemma of living day to day in uncertainty,
a step away from enough essentials to survive. Too little of everything,
including few medical centers, endangers their health, especially when
pregnant or coping with serious illness.
- Maysoon Saleh Nayef al-Hayek described her experience,
- "It was 25 February 2002, not long after midnight,
I started having contractions. I woke up Muhammad, my husband, and we went
to his parents' house to call an ambulance. We couldn't get through, so
my husband took his brother's car and we set off for the hospital in Nablus.
My father-in-law came with us. We arrived at Huwara checkpoint (and) were
stopped by Israeli soldiers."
- "Muhammad was ordered out of the car and they checked
his papers. Then my father-in-law and I had to (show ours). Then the car
was thoroughly searched. We told the soldiers I had to go to the hospital
to give birth as soon as possible, that I was in severe pain. They first
refused, then told me to uncover my belly, so they could see I was telling
the truth. After all this (for about an hour), we were told to go ahead.
We drove on and after a few hundred meters I heard shots. There was heavy
gunfire coming from the front of the car."
- "The car stopped, and I saw that my husband was
hit and was lying on the steering wheel. He had been shot in the throat
and upper body, and was bleeding heavily."
- Her father-in-law was also hit in the upper body, and
shrapnel and flying glass injured her. Contractions were coming faster.
Soldiers pulled her out of the car, made her undress to be examined, then
left her on the ground, bleeding and in labor.
- When she finally reached the hospital, she gave birth
to a baby girl in the elevator. Her husband died. Her father-in-law remained
in a coma for 40 days. The incident irrevocably changed her life.
- Other pregnant women face similar situations, harassed
and forced to give birth at checkpoints with no adequate hygienic or medical
care to help. In February 2007, the UN Commission on Human Rights addressed
the matter in a report titled, "The Issue of Palestinian Pregnant
Women Giving Birth at Israeli Checkpoints," noting 69 cases from 2000
- 2006, according to Information Health Center of the Palestinian Ministry
of Health records.
- Among them, 35 newborns and five women died for lack
of care. In six other cases, Palestinian women were injured as a result
of being beaten, shot, or affected by Israeli fired toxic gas.
- Before the second Intifada, travel time to health facilities
was 15 - 30 minutes. Since then it takes two - four hours or longer, and
too often security forces prevent it entirely. As a result, many women
choose to give birth at home, especially in rural areas and villages, much
further away from medical centers and checkpoints needing to get through
to reach them - impossible at night for those blocked by the Separation
Wall. In all cases, harassment and abuse harm mothers and newborns, at
times severe enough to kill.
- Rula Ishtaya's birth was imminent, yet checkpoint soldiers
blocked her passage. She had to crawl behind a nearby rock to self-deliver,
yelling and screaming loudly without help. She survived, but her newborn
daughter died, a common experience for other women, making pregnancy the
third highest cause of death among child-bearing age women, instead of
a joy in anticipation of a new life.
- Even with successful deliveries, post-natal complications
add other risks, and under Gaza's siege, all of them are far greater, exacerbated
by other health problems, malnutrition, and shortages of virtually everything
let in, and lack of much more excluded.
- As a result, studies show women throughout the Territories
are obsessed about death, feel helpless and depressed, experience anger,
and have nervous breakdowns. In addition, extreme poverty forces them to
ignore personal health and focus on their children and families. Somehow,
they persist and endure.
- Education is another issue because of checkpoints, barriers,
and some schools turned into detention centers, among other issues. As
a result, many families keep their daughters at home to avoid harassment
and humiliation, and in other cases, they leave school before graduation
to help out financially, families prioritizing their sons, expected to
provide support when they marry.
- For young girls, few opportunities for development, recreation
and participation are available, other than school. In other cases, families
have no choice but to pressure their daughters to marry early because of
poverty and deprivation.
- Despite all, learning and school attendance rates are
growing, showing where there's a will, there's a way. True also in the
labor force, a 2006 study indicating females comprised 14.5% of it. Because
of extreme poverty, many must work, though never easily given the high
unemployment rate. Others work unpaid in agriculture.
- Palestinian women become victims when their husbands,
sons or other relatives are arrested, killed or in any way harmed. They're
also detained and pressured to help security forces against their loved
ones, on threat of home demolitions or worse.
- 'Um Mansur Shreim's tragedy is typical. A single mother
of three detained sons, her husband died at an Israeli checkpoint en route
home from his only visit to one of them. He succumbed to a heart attack
because authorities delayed his ambulance. Earlier, the family home was
demolished after one son was arrested - how Israel punishes family members
when one is sought or detained. If one suffers, they all do, women always
harmed most if their husbands and sons are seized or killed.
- "Um Nasir Abu Hamid's story is also heartbreaking,
a mother of 10 sons. One was assassinated. Seven others are in detention,
denied parental visits for "security reasons." Four were sentenced
to life in prison, and her home was demolished twice.
- Despite it all, Palestinian women persist and endure.
"Um Nidal Farhat is one of many. Security forces killed three of her
sons. She wasn't deterred, sheltering others Israelis wanted in her home,
and being willing to sacrifice her own children for freedom and justice.
- Women are also politically active, participating in demonstrations,
marches, and other protests as well as providing medical and nutritional
aid to the injured. Even armed resistance for family and country at times,
putting their own bodies on the line at the risk of death or imprisonment.
- It's a tradition, going back to the 19th century, the
first one in Afula in 1893 when women demonstrated against the construction
of a new Jewish settlement. In 1929, British forces killed nine women in
al-Buraq Battle, the event called a turning point in the fight for economic
and political status.
- The first Palestinian women's conference followed in
Jerusalem, and the Arab Women's Association executive committee established
the Arab Women's Union in Jerusalem and Nablus.
- During the 1936 - 39 revolt against Jewish immigration,
transfers of land to Jewish owners, and for a new general representative
government, women participated valiantly, supplying food, arms, and taking
training to fight.
- Again during the 1948 war, women were active, trading
jewelry for a rifle, providing food, arms and other supplies, and at times
fighting alongside their men. One group of women from Jaffa formed a secret
women's squad called the Daisy Flower (Zahrat al-Uqhuwan), charged with
urging others to fight and provide aid to the resistance. Another Women's
Solidarity Association supplied medical, ambulatory and first aid services.
- Post-1948, refugees, especially women facing poverty
and deprivation, did whatever they could to survive and help their families.
The Nakba ignited their spirit and identity to struggle for the right of
- In 1964, the Union of Palestinian Women was founded to
"improve the economic, social, and health status of women, take care
of working women, and provide care for mothers and children." A year
later, the General Union of Palestinian Women and several charitable socities
followed after the PLO was established.
- After the 1967 occupation, activist women joined the
resistance, engaged in political and social work, and at times armed fighting.
- In December 1976, the Israeli military governor amended
the 1955 Jordanian election law, enabling all Palestinians aged 21 or over
to vote in municipal elections, including women. As a result, women, more
than ever, became politically active, causing hundreds to be targeted,
arrested or killed.
- During the first Intifada, women participated with men.
More than 500 arrests didn't deter them nor do they now. After the PA was
established in 1994, women worked in public ministries and institutions,
mostly in support roles as teachers, secretaries or other non-official
capacities, yet some became political candidates and five (out of 88) became
cabinet members. In 2006, it became 17 of 132 - representing Hamas, Fatah,
the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Third Way, and Independent
Palestine candidate lists.
- During the second Intifada, women participated actively,
including through heroic demonstrations - 163 paid with their lives. A
notable instance was on March 11, 2006 when Beit Hanun women rallied for
the release of 70 Palestinian resistance fighters besieged by security
forces in Nasr mosque.
- Without weapons, they faced down Israeli soldiers and
tanks, taking overhead gun fire and some direct, killing two and injuring
18 others, several severely. Among them was Jamilah al-Shanti who said:
- "The truth was greater and stronger than what you
saw on satellite TV screens....we were adamant on ending that Israeli besiegement
of the mosque even if it cost us our lives."
- Beit Hanun women volunteered to get others injured to
hospitals in spite of Israeli forces banning medical staff from helping.
Others confronted Israeli forces directly and were killed or injured -
similar to other incidents throughout the Territories, but never easily,
for women or men against ruthless forces not shy about gunning them down
in cold blood.
- A Final Comment
- Like heroic Palestinian men and children, women have
struggled for liberation for over six decades - socially, politically,
and at times militantly for justice, in spite of enormous pressures and
responsibilities as wives, mothers, caregivers, and, as needed, freedom
- They've endured poverty, deprivation, and enormous suffering,
struggling to endure while facing down Israeli aggression. They sacrificed
for their families, lost their children, husbands, and homes, yet they
persist as Um Leila explained, saying:
- "....in spite of all the obstacles, in spite of
the opposition from the men, the Palestinian women will participate in
the liberation struggle. Every day, people are killed amongst us, every
day produces a martyr. If people don't understand (our) situation....they
won't understand the pain that makes mothers wish, more than anything else,
for their sons to become commandos."
- That spirit won't die until a courageous people are free
again in their own homes, on their own land in liberated Palestine.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge
discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour
on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and
Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.