Jerusalem Women : The Growth and Development of Palestinian​ Women Movement during the Mandate Period (Book Launch)


The  book is an outcome of my MA Thesis in Jerusalem Studies.

The research discusses the development of the women’s movement in Palestine in the early British Mandate period through a photo that was taken in 1945 in Jerusalem during a meeting of women activists from Palestine with the renowned Egyptian feminist Huda Sha’rawi.

The photo sheds light on a side of Palestinian society that hasn’t been well explored or realized by today’s Palestinians. It shows women in a different role than what today, by some is constructed as the “traditional” or “authentic” one.

The photo gives insights into a particular constituency of the Palestinian women’s movement : urban, secular-modernity women activists from the upper echelons of Palestinian society of the time, women without veils, contributing to certain political and social movements that shaped Palestinian life at the time, and connected with other Arab women activists. Veiling or unveiling of the women, is often analyzed through the frames of ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’, where for modernists unveiling women represents progress and modernity, while the veil becomes the symbolic locus of tradition, backwardness and gender discrimination[1]. A shift in the way women dressed indoors and outdoors, publically or privately might indeed be read as telling something about the margin of freedom women had, and hence the contradictions women encounter in the society, but the veil must not be simplistically equated with tradition or religious conservatism. Modernity and education, often represented as vehicles of empowerment, have in fact also had a regulatory and disciplinary effects on women’s lives- they are not a panacea for women’s emancipation.[2] Consequently, analyzing women’s movement in Palestine as elsewhere, must be set within a wider frame that analyses the politics of modernity, and the rethoric of binary discourses juxtaposing ‘tradition’, ’modernity’, ’East’ and ‘West’ by different political actors on the ground engaged in processes of modern-state building.

Palestinians have been doomed to face the challenges of liberation. That time was no exception. This exploration delves into those activities and the roles women helped to form in that period.

Women’s roles were part of a collective forgetfulness due to the brutal decades of the end of the Ottoman era—a forgetfulness that resulted in a total amnesia regarding positive acts of that era. When people remember stories of forced militarization and collective punishment, massacre, poverty, and illnesses, such negative aspects overshadow the reality of the life of that era.

Hence, the thesis attempts to explore how the political disputes, national consensus effected the development of an effective social feminist agenda.

The thesis will examine the question of whether the rise of women’s movement was part of the rising modernist middle or /and elite class, due to the natural development of the period, including education, political activism, etc. within the mandate period; or it was as well, a collective awareness within the society and it’s different classes.

[1] Abu Lughod, Lila. (Ed) Remaking Women. Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East. Princeton University Press. NJ. 1998.

[2] Abu Lughod, Chapter 3. Afsaneh Najmabadi: Crafting an Educated Housewife in Iran .

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