[Marxism] Occupation, Patriarchy, and the Palestinian Women's Movement

usman x sandinista at shaw.ca
Fri Mar 5 16:50:16 MST 2004

From http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=12&ItemID=4482
Occupation, Patriarchy, and the Palestinian Women's Movement
An interview with Hanadi Loubani

by Hanadi Loubani and Jennifer Plyler; AWID; November 10, 2003

Hanadi Loubani is currently a Ph.D. candidate at York University, and is a
founding member of Women for Palestine, a feminist, anti-racist Palestinian
solidarity group.  She is also a founder and member of a Palestinian/Jewish
women’s dialogue group in Toronto.  During August of 2002, Loubani
participated in a mission to Palestine and Israel entitled “The Peace
Makers: Women as Peace in Palestine and Israel”.

What is the Israeli military Occupation?

The creation of the Israeli state in 1948 resulted in the expulsion of
750,000 Palestinian refugees, who, along with their descendants, have been
denied the right to return to their homeland ever since. Of the Palestinians
who managed to remain within the new borders of Israel, many of them were
internally displaced and are denied the same rights allotted to Jewish
citizens. Following 1967, the Israeli state occupied by military force the
areas known as the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Since this time, Palestinians
living in the Gaza Strip and West Bank (also referred to as the Occupied
Palestinian Territories) have been denied a state of their own and continue
to live under a foreign colonial rule. The continued occupation of the
Palestinian Territories is maintained largely by foreign aid, particularly
from the US.

How does the Israeli military occupation of Palestine perpetuate patriarchy
within Palestinian society?

Generally speaking, the Israeli occupation of Palestine is not recognized
internationally as an important factor in the ongoing existence of
patriarchy in Palestinian society. However, numerous studies have shown that
the ongoing Israeli occupation is a key factor in the maintenance of
patriarchy in Palestinian society.

Israeli occupation has undermined the Palestinian right to self-
determination and has thus impeded the development of a Palestinian
constitution or legal institutions. In the absence of indigenous legal
institutions, Palestinian women have been governed by foreign archaic laws
and have been unable to use the legal realm as a means of gaining rights.

For example, the personal status law used in the Palestinian Occupied
Territories is a combination of repressive and outdated components of
Ottoman law, British Empire law, and pre-suffrage movement Jordanian law. In
addition, the components of the Ottoman law that are in use predate the
secular movement, and are thus based on sharia (religious) law. Without the
establishment of an independent state, it is impossible to develop an
indigenous legal framework that can defend Palestinian women’s rights- and
this is a direct result of the Israeli occupation.

In terms of labour, Palestinian women have always been very active in the
workforce, and are often the sole source of income for their families due to
the large numbers of Palestinian men who have been murdered, disabled or
imprisoned by the Israeli occupational forces. Like in any colonized nation,
Palestinian labour has been solicited and exploited to facilitate the
development of the colonial power. In this context, Israeli ‘middle men’
recruit Palestinian women within the Palestinian Occupied Territories to
work inside Israel. This work is both seasonal and contractual and thus
lends itself to exploitative working conditions. Palestinian women inside
the Occupied Territories, although denied the right to return to their
homeland to live, are recruited to cross the Green Line on a daily basis to
work in Israeli factories. In terms of pay, Palestinian women from the
Occupied Territories as a group are the lowest paid with Israeli Jewish men,
Israeli Jewish women, Arab Israeli men, Arab Israeli women, and Palestinian
men all considered more ‘valuable’ workers. Within this context, Palestinian
women have been unable to organize their labour or participate in unions.

Educationally speaking, Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories have
always been highly represented in Palestinian universities. However, this
number is dropping due to the illegal Israeli checkpoints that female
students, along with all other Palestinian civilians, are forced to cross in
order to reach their schools. Over the past two years, hundreds of Israeli
military checkpoints have been established throughout the West Bank and Gaza
Strip, limiting Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Women crossing
checkpoints are often subject to sexual harassment and intimidation by
Israeli soldiers, and as a result, many families are afraid to allow their
daughters to leave the home. Women living in rural areas, who have to cross
numerous checkpoints to reach urban areas, have particularly been denied
their right to education. For example, when a Palestinian woman is detained
or harassed by an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint, not only is she
victimized by the occupation soldiers, she also risks getting into trouble
with her family for arriving home late. In this way, the intersectionality
between occupation and patriarchy is explicitly felt in the bodies of
Palestinian women.

What is the history of Palestinian women’s political participation?

Palestinian women have always been extremely active politically, and this
involvement predates the creation of the state of Israel. The first Intifada
came to epitomize the political consciousness of Palestinian women and their
ability to organize and mobilize. The sustainability of the 1st Intifada was
facilitated by the resourcefulness of Palestinian women. Women were active
in many aspects of civil society and in the popular committees.

For example, Palestinian women took a leading role in the 1987 boycott
campaign against Israel products in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This
boycott initiative was incredibly hard to mobilize due to the lack of
indigenous Palestinian industry. In order to convince Palestinian families
to boycott Israeli products, it was necessary to provide them with
alternative sources of income and products. So Palestinian women began
establishing their own industries such as cheese making, jam making, bread
baking and community gardens, and in doing so were not only able to
encourage the boycott initiative but also develop the infrastructure-base
for a Palestinian economy.

Also during the 1st Intifada, Palestinian women led a campaign to reopen
schools (which had been closed by the Israeli army). During this campaign,
Palestinian mothers established underground community schools that their
children could attend. This campaign, along with many others, was in
addition to their street activism directly confronting the occupational
forces. When the Israeli soldiers would arrest a child, Palestinian women
would come out en masse and demand that the child be released, all claiming
that the child was their own. With dozens of women demanding the return of
their ‘own child’, the soldiers often felt pressured to release the child
they had in custody.

When you examine the history of Palestinian women’s activism, you see that
it is has been based in grassroots needs, creativity and non-violence. This
is not to say that Palestinian women have not been active in the armed
resistance against colonialism, because they have. But Palestinian women
have realized that if armed resistance against occupation is a right under
international law, then non-violent resistance is a duty.

How has Palestinian women’s political participation changed during the 2nd

When I went to the West Bank in August of 2002, I really went looking for
Palestinian women political activists, those who had been such leaders
during the 1st Intifada. I was distraught by the fact that Palestinian women
’s political participation was the lowest it had ever been. It became clear
to me that the Oslo Accord had a lot to do with the ever-shrinking political
participation of Palestinian women in the national liberation struggle. The
platform of Oslo, while reducing Palestinian grievances to the issue of land
occupied in 1967, did bring international attention to the fact that
Palestinians are living under occupation. Thus, at the same time that Oslo
brought recognition to the occupation, it also made the occupation the only
issue on the agenda. Hence, there was a massive mobilization of NGO interest
in the Occupied Territories. Oslo brought hope of a Palestinian state (which
was never delivered) and with that came an international attempt to help the
Palestinians build the political, economic and social foundations of a
future state.

The irony is that the international NGO industry (that is dominated by the
West) is also dominated by a liberal paradigm, which cannot include national
liberation priorities in its rationale. So in helping to build the
foundations for a state, NGOs have done so from a strictly humanitarian
focus, without recognizing that the Palestinian people are an occupied
people, and that the lack of state infrastructure is in fact a direct result
of foreign occupation. Thus, NGO initiatives have sought to address the
symptoms, not the cause.

This problem is particularly pronounced within international women’s
organizations. International women’s NGOs give funding to further
Palestinian women’s rights and gender equality issues without recognizing
the link between Palestinian patriarchy and Israeli occupation. What is
happening now is that international donors are forcing a de-linking between
the feminist struggles and national struggles of Palestinian women.
Palestinian women’s organizations that hold true to the link between
patriarchy and occupation do not receive funding from foreign donors who
will not recognize this link. As a result, international NGO funding works
to further separate the connection between feminism and national struggle
and this has led to a depoliticizing of the Palestinian women’s movement and
a type of ‘schizophrenic existence’, where they know that the link between
patriarchy and occupation is very real, but they are denied the space to
articulate that link and organize around it.

How can we improve our work to support the Palestinian women’s movement?

I deploy a concept called ‘discontinuous responsibilities’ in referring to
the differences in responsibilities we must shoulder depending on our
differences in locations of power. International women’s organizations and
funders, who are genuinely interested in participating in eliminating the
oppression facing Palestinian women, must face the fact that they are
currently misusing their power to depolitize women’s movements in the global
south, including the Palestinian women’s movement. They must start thinking
about what it means to incorporate the experiences of Palestinian women into
their analysis. Doing this means recognizing the connection between
patriarchy and occupation in Palestinian women’s daily lives, and
incorporating this connection into the theory, practice and agenda of
international feminist organizations.

Palestinian women living in Diaspora have the responsibility of liaising
with the Palestinian women’s movement within the Occupied Territories and
the international women’s movement. We should not try to speak for
Palestinian women living under occupation, but rather act in liaising and
translating between the local and international. As activists we must really
think about the ethics and sustainability of our activism, so that we
continuously keep our activism relevant to the needs of Palestinian women
struggling against patriarchy and occupation.

Lastly, Palestinian women living under occupation have the responsibility of
fighting for recognition of the link between patriarchy and occupation, and
to resist the temptation of international funding that depoliticizes their
agendas. This is of course very hard given the dire economical situation in
the Occupied Territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip where financial
support is so desperately needed. For example, many Palestinian women’s
organizations write several different funding proposals and then set their
agenda depending on which proposal receives funding from international
donors. How can Palestinian women’s organizations maintain a coherent women’
s movement that defends the interests of Palestinian women when their agenda
is determined by international funders who seek to depolicize?

Local Palestinian women’s groups must continue resisting depoliticiziation,
and demand funding that actually has the ability to change the oppressive
realities under which Palestinian women live- the realities of patriarchy
and occupation combined. The dream of gender equality and a Palestinian
state will never be realized if the priorities of our struggle are
forgotten, that is, if we divorce politics from the personal.

We all have to face these challenges together, but in doing this we must
realize that we have different responsibilities and roles to play.

Where can readers go online for more information?

The Jerusalem Centre for Women www.j-c-w.org/

Bat Shalom of the Jerusalem Link www.batshalom.org/

Z-magazine www.zmag.org

Jennifer Plyler is an activist based in Toronto.

"The obstacles are ideological rather than political. It is the expression
of patriarchal thought that permeates everything, that makes for a one-sided
vision of society ... Not only is there tremendous ignorance of a feminist
agenda, but when it is addressed it is addressed paternalistically,
condescendingly, in welfare terms. We are lacking in
profound and serious reflection on the subject." -Sofia Montenegro,

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