Presentation : Women Situation in Palestine and the additional difficulties caused by the context of occupation and their role in peace building

Women Situation in Palestine and the additional difficulties caused by the context of occupation and their role in peacebuilding

The title of this proposal provoked me because I am accustomed to titles that start with peace. In this part of the world, maybe there is no difference anymore … maybe the fundamental concept is fighting for peace, but it takes us to how we need to fight to achieve peace.

Studies and everyday life of Palestinians is a continuous witness to the brutal acts of occupation. Passing through a checkpoint every day is a striking reminder of what it means to be occupied and the humility it accompanies with each passing moment. But yet, I want to emphasize the darker occupation that animates us as Palestinian women … Patriarchal dominance.

I am, as usual, taken into two poles; I find myself writing about myself as a Palestinian and about myself as a Moslem.

Even though I try to put the role of the women on both sides, each time, it makes me more confused. Maybe being a Palestinian and an Arab Moslem is confusing enough, but being a woman in the middle of these two concepts is far too complicated.

I realized later that being a Palestinian is too close to being a woman, the same struggle for us as a nation is the same enduring life we live as women.

It is accompanied by pain, suppression, and injustice,

We as Palestinians have always felt, and I would quote here Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, “we are simultaneously shapes and victims of history. Interchangeably the affliction and the cure. …Palestinians have always been excessively prone to tragedy and nights of the soul, never beyond a bit of mischief-making “.

Being a woman by itself is a lifetime role, a role that starts with production, giving life, nourishing, raising, and handling life to a whole existence.

In my society, a woman is caught up between her responsibilities and obligations, between her privileges and her commitments. Between preserving culture and moving towards modernization

Women can easily understand what it is like not to be free. They know how it is possible to put on a brave face for the outside world when screaming for help inside.

Amid all this, we find ourselves trapped in a web of a patriarchal scheme that managed to manipulate us in all aspects of life. It managed to make us submissive to its power even though we are convinced of its impotence.

However, a Palestinian woman seemed to amaze me in her whole path of struggling towards her national cause.

But each time I surf inside this history, this life of ours as women, I come out with this short sentence,

This nation can never rise as long as its women are not liberated.

And women can never be released until they decide to liberate themselves.

Living in a liberated free society was a dream that was  nurtured up with us as we had our first gasp of air on this existence.
Residing in historical Palestine was what I sought to attain and wanted my children to grow up in the future.

When the first Intifada ruptured, I was besieged with the determination of my people, for the resistance, for the supremacy of the confrontation, the power of the stone.

I was around 15 then, to my mother’s luck, what should have been the explosion of a teen nightmare, thinking of boys, turned into a nationalist cause.

I remember sensations of the liberation of Palestine and ending the occupation through a spirit that was so expectant, prevailing, and so genuine that we were ready to sacrifice our souls for that national cause.

For all my life, I have been longing to say to the world without being scared that I am Palestinian, that I am from a place called Palestine without having to explain what and where is Palestine, and why I am holding a different temporary travel document.

My dreams of Palestinian youth were as uncomplicated as saying loud I BELONG TO THIS NATIONALITY. I am not Jordanian, Israeli, Egyptian, and Lebanese; I am a Palestinian.

But the most straightforward dream was and is still so hard to achieve.

As those years of adolescence moved to adulthood, so was the trance of liberation.

As a grown-up, my utmost disenchantment was Oslo, even though I was proud that lastly my delusion of seeing my flag in my country, even not in my home in Jerusalem, but over there so close in Jericho, finally, I could say I am Palestinian, and the world would comprehend

But I was so petrified of those Accords; Palestine for me wasn’t the green line borders, Palestine for me starts in Gaza and ends in the Galilee.

I was so concerned with those agreements, those negotiations about the refugees and Jerusalem, the settlements, about what to give up and what to keep.

I was always adage to, encompassing a peace treaty is fine, taking something back is also good, and having Arafat inside Palestine was far beyond my best imaginings. Still, I didn’t want them to give up what the future generation may be able to take back. I sought that the next generation would be able to assert its rights if it determined to.

It wasn’t Arafat or anyone’s right to decide what to give up, decide what Palestine is, and learn for the refugees.

I wanted my children to have a ground, a foundation, cause just enough to claim back.

But things never go as we aspire.

As a teenager, all that I bear in mind were those days that we were implicated in dreaming of our liberation; it reflected our behaviors, actions, our clothes, our lifestyle,

Life inside the Palestinian life would start every day at nine and ends at one noon. One could hear the clicks of the doors as they collectively open and close up at the same instance each day for years to come.

I had no idea if life was different from that of the intifada; whatever the older people recalled seemed to be a part of an Egyptian black and white movie.

When started, the uprising brought together seemingly incompatible components of Palestinian society, charging them with creating an alternative social, political, and national order, free of deformations of the Israeli occupation.

There was the rise of this human spirit that rejects intimidation and defeat.

It was only when we refused dehumanization that we placed the occupiers on a course of recognition. We hoped that ultimately it would understand that its freedom lay in affording ours.

Despite the pain, the anguish, the breaking of bones, the beating, and the killing that was endured by the intifada, there was a sense of high spirits that charged the atmosphere. We relished our power the strength of our will, which drew us together.

The intifada, uprising, or a shaking off, as if all of a sudden, one wakes up and shakes something off. This massive and spontaneous popular uprising released our hidden or suppressed resources and energies and transformed them.

Women reconverted from all directions, teenage girls, middle-aged women, middle-class women, professional women, older white-haired, all formed a chain of resistance in one voice, each from her place.

The woman proved to be a dominant component and asset in resolving the conflict.

She proved to have the power, capability, charisma, eloquence that once man only took charge of.

When the Palestinian-Israeli dialogue was developed in 1988, when communication inside a conversation was absent, when each side brought his insulating bubble to the meetings to make sure that their voices were garbled and that they never make any human contact, it was a woman who by exercising her option for directness and honesty, bringing with her an aspect of innocence of the intifada, its willingness to confront, to take the initiative, to assert itself, and not to succumb to intimidation, but most of all, bringing to the encounter, and subsequently to all others, that one essential component that was to become the most salient quality of Palestinian political discourse: the human dimension.

A woman was the creator and speaker of the new language of the Palestinians.

I was growing up walking on the same track my life in the intifada set me on.
I was utterly intolerant of the other side, hated the Jews, refused to acknowledge them, and thought they were only temporary in our lives. And our national struggle would take some time, but our cause is so, we will win in the end.

Oslo and the PNA normalized our realities,

Suddenly, the enemies of just yesterday became our partners in the casino, Israelis were dining in Ramallah, and Palestinian cars were driving in Israeli-dominated cities. Life was becoming in such a harmony that we were about to forget all those miseries we went through.

As I became a mother and my children were starting to grow,
I started looking back at my childhood; my sisters, who were younger than me, were experiencing different kinds of adolescence I didn’t know existed.

For me, their behavior seemed too explicit; their clothes, their hangouts, everything was bizarre to what was normal to me.

I saw a whole life ahead of me, different from how I thought it was.

I was starting to raise my children on the same intolerance I lived in when I suddenly stopped at that angle where I faced a new reality.

Those other non-existing people are getting closer and closer to my life; how can I keep ignoring them? We go to the mall; we exchange business with them, my children were dealing with them in the swimming, that mother was talking to me, she even agreed with me on the oppression and inhuman acts against my people from hers. Many interactions made me see things differently.

I couldn’t be a hypocrite; I couldn’t pretend they don’t exist and deal with them simultaneously; it wasn’t just business anymore; it was humanistic. It was human-like in the old days when I played with Tail and Sharon, my father’s friend daughters from Tel Aviv.


So many things passed by,

Dreams turned into nightmares by the realities we proved to be living in.

After Oslo and the break of the peace talks, what they called the Palestinian authorities gave Israel all the reasons to do what it means to be occupying.

Massive destruction, closures, killing, severe blockade, separation, oppression all came face to face with what it’s like to live under occupation. As they say, we saw the natural look of occupation in the past seven years, with the start of the second intifada.

As with every concept used in this conflict, all those beautiful words are so consumed that they get deprived of their beautiful meaning, like the word peace, so is the word intifada.

The second intifada was a consumed concept. That no longer stood for the same exquisiteness.

As years passed by, and as I saw my children growing up, I was getting closer to understanding my behaviors, my dysfunctionality as a mother.

Part of it is how much I want to save my children from facing the same life. I was thinking about how much motherhood is such a violent and keen act of subjugation that it takes my breath away at times. Our fear for our children makes us brave, and daring .and their vulnerability is our cowardice. When they hurt, we suffer beyond reason, and their joy is our delight.

I wanted my children to live in a better place. I wanted to provide them with safety. And security couldn’t come with denial.

I suddenly saw things differently; I realized that the intifada wasn’t as good as it seemed to be then. The intifada stole away what was supposed to be the best years of our lives.

I look at myself as a mother of a teenager, and I don’t know how to deal with her, and I really can’t remember how I behaved like a teenager, and the reason is simple, I was never a teenager.

The intifada created a gap between us and between what was happening out there in the whole universe. I have been moving around to come to what was occurring in the Palestinian streets some months ago.

In one day, the whole Palestinian struggle, cause, fight for liberation, and ending occupation went to ashes when faith and Hamas conflict came to a bloody shed.

For me, it wasn’t about analyzing the why’s and where’s; it was about what happened; it was all beyond justification and explanation.

We are a nation that only lived under occupation. We already know the trade schemes, their plans to destroy us, it is part of their mission, and it is their mission.

And it was obnoxious and intolerable to blame the occupation for what was happening.

It can never be justified that we kill each other in cold blood that we use the same tools the trade has been using against us for decades to do all that we present and bring the world to witness its brutality.

It could indeed be a very expected act.

What would the world expect from imprisoning a whole nation, boycotting an entire government, closing borders, prescribing an overall economy?

And yet, it is unjustifiable.

After the second intifada, women’s role was remarkably held back. And took its old position of being behind the shadow of society.
The same resisting woman was home submissive to a patriarchal system that starts with a husband and ends in a five-year-old boy.

The once strong woman who faced a bulldozer and an army was driven back home by absolute weakness.

Women on the political level were held back; the once leading politicians whose views and words were beautiful TV screens became another political echo of patriarchal autonomy once again.

Even though more women’s voices and roles are taking more places, their effectiveness is disappearing, .like every other effect in society.

As a Moslem, I was raised believing that Islam came up to the world with enlightenment after an entire era of darkness, jahiliyyah. Islam supported women’s issues, saved women from being buried alive, and bestowed respect while denounced and deprecated.
Our Prophet PBUH was married to Khadija, who was 20 years older than him. He respected her, loved her, and she was his only wife until she died.

His next closest to his heart was Aisha, who was blemished by him and loved, who conceded after his death his Shari’s through the colossal hadith that she shifted and explained.

Islam mentioned many remarkable women who marked the birth of Islam, such as; ‘that innitakayn,’ Asma bin Abi Bakr, Fatima, the daughter of the prophet.

We grew up memorizing how women were granted justice because of Islam,

The prophet mentioned the women three times in his last speech before he died, asking the nation to care for women.

Growing up in a patriarchal society was something I could not experience through my father, but I saw it through my uncle, through the words my mother stuck into our brains ever since we were children.

My mom’s motto was male dominance everywhere, and the only way out of it was through education.

It is strange bewilderment to grow up believing in certain things; it is like real brainwashing. I grew up as a good Moslem the Koran is my book, Mohammad Is my prophet, and Islam is my religion. The more I learned about it, the more I grew fonder of that beautiful religion. I read the Koran daily for over twenty years of my life, even though I never made it in the Shari’ law for the whole four years in my university studies except through the second make-up exam, but yet Islamic and Shari’ law remained my much-loved subject. I read all those books about Islam about the greatness of Islam, the virtues, the morals, how to be a good Moslem, and how to reach out to God and your Islam.

Also, the role of the woman was always preserved in the right sacred place that God gave.

I lived in acceptance of the fact that the wife should obey her husband unconditionally, the saying that says that if the woman is to worship anything after God, it should be the husband,

I followed without hesitation. In my opinion and my teaching, the role of a woman starts from building a healthy family, Islam virtue the woman in making her stay home and raise her children; she has been entitled to carry the future with each child she brings to this world.

Women’s struggle seems to be endless; women in some parts of the world are still practicing customs, which amounts to slavery for millions of women. Where women are sold as children into prostitution or marriage. Child brides are sent to their husbands when the girls are eleven; they are given no choice .they are only handed over by their fathers to the fathers of their future husbands.
Most of these girls go on to lead the life of a slave. They provide sexual services, which endanger their health, and they bear children long before their bodies are ready. They work from morning to night to serve their men and the other elders of the communities, and they become aged before their times.

Luckily, we are given many rights. We are given the right to education, which helped us reach out to seek other rights.

However, when it comes to marriage, even when it is our sole right, the dregs of society are much different than those extreme examples. But women are still enslaved in their daily lives by the patriarchal systems that rule.

I cannot move to women’s role in her fighting to build when women still don’t have the freedom to behave as equal human beings. We are still granted whatever we receive, and we should act with gratitude towards our provider (man).

However, women manage to slip into their freedom when time allows.

Women’s right is not a grant men give to us; they are natural rights, not a gift that man condescendingly bestows.

Our nation needs to liberate itself from within, and liberating cannot start as long as women are enslaved, granted rights.

Internal reform is the key to absolute freedom, .and we can never move towards any change as long our homes are still occupied by patriarchal structures that incarcerate and serve as correctional officers to the women.

We must have the courage to free ourselves from within as we struggle with external oppression.

Actual slavery comes not from colonialism but our attitudes and internal disunity and corruption.

And as long as women are not rising towards what is their right by nature, not by gratitude, we can never liberate ourselves.

The liberation struggle is long and complicated.
And to build a nation, what is needed is not that every Palestinian trust and recognizes one another. Still, a mindset, commitment, and a political will take the necessary and proper decisions and make the inevitable and critical compromise.

It is not a question of principle or dignity; it is more of a threatening indication of a pattern of behavior, which leads through time to prove man’s stupidity and the cruelty of submissive women.

We want to save lives, not to be patronized into submission. We do not want to be alleviated with a kind word; the hard truth would have been more helpful.

Women have the vision and courage to take the first step and the will and nerve to make a difference.


Nadia Harhash

Al Quds University

First written in 2007

updated version in 2010

One comment

  1. The last few paragraphs are strong and sadly apply to many women around the world, even here in the US. The most important sentence is this one, “We must have the courage to free ourselves from within as we struggle to free ourselves from external oppression.”

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