Activista palestina Nadia Harhash: «el tribalismo y la religión oprimen a mujeres y niños»

We have known your profile through Khaled Abu Toameh’s description in his article published in Jpost. According to the article, you are a journalist who has the courage to denounce the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and fight for the rights of women and Palestinians in general. What kind do you write in? What solidarity support do you have in Palestinian and Israeli society?

I write about different topics that maybe relevant to the Palestinian context in particular, within the focus on social, cultural, and political context. As Corruption, patronage and absence of Rule of Law are dominant in the Palestinian everyday living, so this topic becomes a focus. Women’s Rights are at stake as much as everyone else’s rights. The violations and the deterioration of Palestinian women status is nothing but a reflection of the deterioration of the overall Palestinian situation. Minorities suffer, youth suffer, different marginalized groups suffer, children suffer. The system seems to be in a destruction mode: health, education, economics, jurisdictions, rule of law. Spread of violence, political and geographical fractioning, split, and a delegitimized system of power. On top of all, an ongoing state of occupation with a non-stop expansion and swallowing the maximum of the land with more dominance and coercion. 

  You declare “Ideologies covered with fundamentalist and religious slogans have infiltrated our society in the last decade. When we look around us, we see a whole different set of rules that are imposed on us. It’s as if we’ve been hijacked by edict norms that became the law; tribal norms have become part of the law. One can only imagine where women are situated in such a set of rules, where patriarchy is the only given rule.” What are the reasons for the rise of fundamentalism in Palestinian society? Is strengthening tribal norms a consequence of tribal standards or is it an independent phenomenon?

The absence of the Rule of Law, its weakness, the lack of sovereignty, and once again corruption. People don’t trust the system. Somehow, such laws can serve a lot in situations as such. People tend to hold on to a trust system, and the tribe seemed to offer it, at least to one side of a situation. It solves problems faster, more efficiently, costly yes, but at least people feel that there is a place where they can salvage to when the system fails to help. 

Of course, once cannot ignore the rise of fundamentalism in the last decade. Sympathies that were established by the fall of the Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt, the Turkish promised Califate anticipation, Isis. The overwhelming media engine that is sponsored by such groups who try to picture themselves either as the Saviors of Islam or the marginalized protectors who are threatened by the Western Secularism.

When I think of this tribal phenomenon, I feel at owe. I just can’t believe that we became this. When did we become people of tribes? People could take me back to a fifteen hundred years back in history to illustrate this as an only reality. Tribe – framed with religion-, not surprisingly, become the opium of the nation. But again, whatever is happening is not isolated with the spread of fundamentalism in the region. It is not just Islamic fundamentalism, the world is turning more into a fundamental world, each party is against the other. We are either right or left. We are either together in one unit- tribe- or against one another – rivals. 

 What prospects of change do you see in Palestinian society? What do you think it takes for them to be concreted?

The young generation is growing up differently. I believe youth will have an important input to the future. They are not satisfied with the situation. They are critical. They want to live as the rest of the world. Good education is a key. Constant awareness. Reviving, involving, promoting and encouraging culture and cultural activities are major. 

We need to build in better educational system. I believe the current educational system is contributing to the problem. Schools are not equipped well, teachers are underpaid, and demotivated, private schools make another split in the society by creating another layer \ class that puts society into two different loops. 

Outside Israel/Palestine, the main focus is on conflict between the two peoples, perhaps obscuring the fact that both peoples are much more than their political leaders. What would you advise those who support a solution to the conflict from the outside but do not know the internal social challenges experienced by both peoples?

One thing for sure is true, people are not necessary their political leaders. This applies everywhere, I guess. In the absence, of a serious diplomatic representation on the behalf of the Palestinians, I believe we lost a lot of support. We got to a level where we really try to get us- the people – away or out of the official representatives. As we Palestinians are struggling coping or wishing to get rid of the internal corruption, and praying for a change, attempts to organize the Palestinian house is prohibiting us from even thinking of the other side. Israeli are also busy with their own mess. While we suffer from lack of elections, they suffer from excessive elections. Four elections in two years and a fifth may be in the horizon is an exhaustive situation. People both sides have no time or energy to think of what is going on the other side, as long as no one is seeing, interacting, or effecting the other. 

But settlements are increasingly expanding in the heart of the West Bank. You rarely hear Israeli serious objection, and Palestinian. 

To those who are looking the situation from outside it becomes more complicated to understand. People see Palestinians as one block, with no differentiating with the leadership, and this seems to affect the overall support to the Palestinian cause. 

The Israel occupation however, remains, and still workday in day out to maintain a status quo of less Palestinian sovereignty and land. Making sure that checkpoints are turning into border points. Settlements becoming neighborhoods, wall a defacto, and a complete matrix of control that manages to regenerate itself. 

It is important that those who look at the internal situation within the Palestinian authority to take into consideration that first look is not the rea look. It’s a maze with not a single possible exit. Survival is the only exit plan that people use… in hope for an exit to be found. 

 Please explain a little more about the situation of Palestinian women, What are the most important challenges in both the economic, political and cultural aspects? 

Women in the Palestinian society comprise of half of the population. The situation of women is directly affected with the general situation. However, the challenges imposed and faced by women are enclaved with a heavy patriarchal structure overshadowed by a continuous colonial occupation. Women find themselves absorbing the frustrations that men face while they pass checkpoints or suffer in order to make their daily livelihood. While working women find work both in and out and need to take the additional burden of waiting for a husband who might come back crossing a checkpoint with a soldier taking charge of his life.

The rising atmosphere of tribal and religious led environment also put another level of restrictions and challenges on women. The woman has to make sure that she behaves well at home, look according to the new imposed conventional norms in the street, and maneuver around a reality under occupation. Last year marked a slap into the women’s movement- feminist groups- upon the enormous rejection of CEDAW, claiming that such conventions are “western” imposed to change the cultural identity of our nation. I believe women movement need to reevaluate their approach towards society and work on bridging the relationship between notions and relevance to the ground. 

On the economical level, women are still more dependent on men. Payrolls of women are less than that of men. Job opportunities for women are also less than man. Higher Education for women, however, is higher than men. 

Political engagement remains limited when it comes to serious impact. Having a Quota system secures having women in certain places, but yet it is not genuine. Even though, Palestinian women are strong minded, have strong leadership capabilities, but yet, women need to fight for their way in taking adequate position in political engagement and decision making. 

The call for elections also brought in quite a good number of women to the frontlines of all the lists. Quota though, is still what makes the participation possible. 

Why is there still no generational change in official Palestinian leadership? What do you think is the factor that inhibits the emergence of new political voices? 

The call for elections stirred out way more than the expectations. 36 lists entered the race to the PLC with over 1350 candidate. Out of which are approximately 30 lists of independent groups. IF this says something if says that the consensus has voted out the current situation. The current dominance of the two major parties and the existing ones. If it says something it says out loud that people are telling the leadership that they no longer represent them. People were by all means waiting for this opportunity to come. Almost 15 years without elections, appx 1.5 million eligible voters are voting for the first time in their lives. People are fed up and express resentment to the ongoing situation of continuous deterioration of the Palestinian situation on all levels. 

Before the decree, people were refraining from expressing their views. They were subjected to harassment, jail, and threats. Somehow, a margin towards a space of expression has been allowed through the call for elections that people found as a unique opportunity to say their word.

At the same time, things are not all hopeful, as the appetite to a position in the PLC or a role in the new formation of the government cannot be excluded from some. 

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