Women in Gaza
wouldn't be fair to repeat the argument which accuses the women's movement of
being the sole paralyzed social movement in the current circumstances. If this
is a correct observation, it pinpoints the crisis of all social movements in
Palestine, from the largest to the smallest, beginning with the historical
political parties, through the trade unions, and extending to the newly formed,
delicate civil society organizations!
new Intifada has revealed in such a painful way how poor we, who once believed
in people power, have become in terms of our approaches and activities. Thus, we
still have too far to go before we can achieve the first steps in building a new
popular social movement qualified to confront our abandoned regimes. And if I
may, I would apply this observation to the Arab popular movements as well.
might be watching TV and seeing what everybody else is seeing. The two main
scenes on the screen are either our children who are full of life, anger and
blood, or the politicians who are defending their political purposes and
preparing for the coming season.
feel so angry when I watch those flowers: our children. We carried them in our
wombs, we fed them with our blood and tears, we laughed with them, at them and
for them. We built our small houses, dreaming that they would be made bigger by
their laughter and noise.
dreamt that our children would look after us in our old age, knowing that there
would be no welfare state to ensure our well-being. Some of us built huge
castles in the air about their sons' future. What would he be like in the coming
years? What would his profession be? How many girlfriends would he have? And
which neighbour would be the best bride for him? We might have gone further and
thought about the expected mother-in-law and raised some reservations, but we
would then have reassured ourselves that this would be manageable, we would find
a way somehow.
mother informed me that a few days before her son's murder during the
confrontation in Khan Younis, she had found about his affair with a neighbour;
through some letters in his pocket and few flowers in his book. After his death,
she wanted to send them to his lover but eventually decided not to do so, as
this might complicate the girl's life. The girl couldn't even reveal her sorrow,
as the affair was secret.
mothers, where could you hide your sadness? How would you bury your love and
dreams? How many dreams do you have to bury? Generation after generation you
have developed a culture of silence and acceptance which has never been
appreciated. And when an elegant queen tried her hand in politics, she found no
one to blame but you; you are the murderers of your children, you have crossed
all the borders and thrown your children onto the Israeli streets to be killed.
You did that because you want to see your children on TV!
women here started their theorization about the recent events by linking the
large number of youthful martyrs to the increased level of poverty in camps and
villages, and arrived at this conclusion: Most of our martyrs come from the
camps and villages, their class background reveals a high poverty level, their
family size is high with the average household being around 12. Most of these
families live in a small single room which is used for living, eating, cooking
and sleeping. Therefore, children are participating in the Intifada because they
have nothing to lose, their lives have no meaning; children prefer a promised
heaven to the hellish life on this earth.
might agree to some extent with this analysis, but I am pretty sure that these
flowers were at their peak, they were full of dreams. Who knows how many dreams
those children have? Who can describe what was going in their minds when they
were throwing the stones? How did they overcome all their fears and go to their
death? Why are they smiling like angels? How can I count them? And when will we
stop counting our martyrs?
child was a gift for his parents; even with their poverty, mothers used to put
aside their needs and hunger to fill the empty stomachs of their birds. How can
we express this? What language can reveal the mothers' pain? How can we count
their tears? How can we count the uncountable? He will not quarrel with her any
more, she will not shout at him for not doing his homework. His girlfriend will
not receive his poetry. He has gone too early, he has not even tried his first
what is the impact of the Intifada on women? I haven't done a survey about it
nor have an intention of doing so, but I am sure that having 4000-5000 wounded
persons with their problems and disabilities would principally affect the
mothers' lives. The mother who used to send her son to the nearest market to
bring her bread or vegetables would find herself nursing him, and this might
continue for several years. The bird who used to jump everywhere around the
house and be very noisy, which made her beg him to be less active, is now
paralyzed and she is praying to God to let him move a single toe.
with the 1996 closure, and when the unemployment rate reached its highest peak,
women tended to carry on their small, pitiful business because the unemployed
father could no longer provide an income. They used to freeze vegetables or sew
clothes and then sell them either directly to the consumers or through the
merchants in order to feed the family, including the man who was considered the
subsistence provider of the family. Now, with a disabled child, the mother would
find herself suffering under the 24-hour presence of the unemployed frustrated
father, taking care of the household, nursing the newly disabled child, and
finding a way to retrieve a work. Put aside the problem of water shortages and
the electricity being cut off daily. These women can't be seen on the TV screen,
the media comes to greet them only when they are supposed to play the role of
the martyr's or the wounded person's mother. But after that, everybody forgets
them because the list is pretty long and every day we have new problems to deal
this context, you might find a stupid interviewer asking some women
representatives: what have women done to support men in the Intifada? What makes
his question more tragic is the representative's answer, telling him with all
her pride that we are doing everything to support our men. She does not even
protest against the way the question was constructed, thanks to the movement's
failure to develop a discourse that clearly reflect women's roles and pains.
makes me even more sick is the way some of the elite ride the wave. They are
talking as if they have really paid the same price. Here I remember a friend's
story. At a public meeting he narrated a story which is very significant:
was once a Christian village where there were no Muslims. One day the Church
appointed a new priest to look after the religious needs of the villagers. After
a while, people started complaining about his behaviour. They sent letters to
the capital, pleading for him to be transferred, but in vain. Then they raised
their voices and sent a delegation to Rome to discuss the issue with the Pope.
Here they also received a disappointing response.
several years, they felt unable to tolerate the priest any more; worse, they
felt that the top people in the main church had not paid enough attention to
their complaints. They called a meeting and discussed all sides of the issue and
finally they decided to go to the Islamic mufti in the nearby village to convert
the villagers went there, with great hopes that the Shaykh would be better than
their current priest. They reached the mufti's house, only to find to their
surprise that their priest had preceded them and changed his religion. The mufti
had nominated him as the Shaykh for the new converts.
masters before Islam are our masters in Islam. Now back to the Intifada. Our
masters in previous years are the same as those in the Intifada. Moreover, they
have changed their discourse to suit the new circumstances and to secure their
is a saying in Arabic; each period has its own leadership. However, the current
leadership has been leading us for more than 30 years, although lots of water
has passed under the bridge. And the circumstances are worse for women; our
masters in all eras are the patriarchs who define every part of our lives. At
times of crisis, women's conditions deteriorate drastically, and now we are
facing the question of articulating women's specific problems.
is the main activity nowadays. It is highly encouraged by everybody because it
proves its eligibility and success in combating our enemy's extra use of
violence. How can a young man differentiate between interaction with an enemy
and interaction at the social level? How can we maintain such a double
discourse, encouraging violence against our national enemy and simultaneously
disqualifying it as a practice to resolve social conflicts? Are we able
theoretically and politically to accomplish such a task? And who would lead such
really feel helpless in trying to answer these questions. I am pretty sure that
violence is practised more frequently in the domestic sphere, given that so many
houses have been demolished and consequently so many families have moved to live
with their relatives. Moreover, the rise of unemployed men, especially among the
poor families, adds another problem.
a situation raises the question of domestic violence and sexual abuse. How can
15 to 20 people live together in an extremely small space and maintain healthy
relationships within such a difficult environment? How would men deal with this
and how would women bear it?
because the nationalist discourse is the prevalent one, no woman can raise her
voice about the abuse she faces whether sexual or not. Women have to confront it
silently, and those who are supposed to represent them are either busy with
other activities or fear the shame of discussing such divisive subjects. I fully
agree with the argument that asserts we have to focus our efforts on driving out
the occupation. However, we have to remember that while some of us are throwing
stones at the occupier, social relations based on power relations continue to
have an impact on the most vulnerable people. I have already met a martyr's
widow whose children have been taken away from her by her husband's family and
she has been sent back to her family's house.