In any conflict-ridden area, it is always the women who are the first point of attack. But I think the more that they have seen oppression and violence, they have gotten more brave, more strong, more fearless than they were. You can see their refusal to just keep quiet and do as you told.
The state of Palestine which has been undergoing settler colonialism since the past 73 years, has had a rich history of strong women resisting force and oppression. Since the beginning of time, women have played a major role in revolution around the world and Palestinian women are no less.
Be it in the West Bank region, the Gaza strip, or the recently much spoken of ‘Sheikh-Jarrah locality, Palestinian women have taken their equal share of roles in the fight on-field as well as off-field. But not only in these recent times or with the coming of modern age feminism have we seen the rise of participation of women, this has been persisting since the beginning of the Palestinian struggle.
Palestinians refer to it as “Al Nakba”, which literally translates as “The Catastrophe”. It refers to the mass exodus of at least 750,000 Arabs from Palestine. During which, dispossession and displacement of Palestinian society took place, in which between 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were destroyed. Families were forced to flee their homes and had nowhere to go, no place to live.
Post Nakba, when the British Mandate for Palestine came in to effect in 1923, Palestinian women had already began to publicly participate in demonstrations to protect their communities, creating women’s only unions that fought for economic, social and national rights. The first Arab Women’s Congress was established in Jerusalem in 1929 by both Muslim and Christian Palestinian women. They wrote petitions to the British High Commissioner calling for the annulment of the Balfour Declaration, as well as carrying out protests against the British Mandate.
During continued violence, rebellions and incursions throughout the first half of the 1900s, an increasing number of Palestinian women began forming local groups and organizations to support their communities. From providing an education to children, to distributing food and clothing as well as nursing the wounded, women began responding to the needs of their communities in some of the most volatile situations.
With hundreds of thousands of Palestinians facing dispossession, more and more Palestinian women, including those in rural areas of Palestine, began to work outside the home in order to mitigate the increasing levels of poverty their families were facing.
While breaking from tradition to find employment, many women did not stop the work they carried out at home, shouldering a huge double-burden. in such times of distress and hopelessness for the future, it was a real task to hold their families together. It is truly said that the woman keeps the family glued together even if it seems like she is falling apart herself.
A 31 year old Palestinian woman, Hind al-Husseini is widely known for saving the lives of 55 children who were now orphaned due to the conflict, they had no parents, no family ,no house and were all under the age of nine. She found them wandering near a church after having survived and been orphaned by a massacre in their village on the outskirts of Jerusalem, Deir Yassin. She risked her life and provided refuge to them and gradually started her own orphanage which by time had as many as 300 orphans residing.
As Hind was of the conviction that women had a right to “proper education,” she founded the Hind Al-Husseini College for Women in 1982 as a branch of Al Quds (Jerusalem) University. A social worker, educator, coordinator of the Arab Women’s Union in the 1940s and Palestinian National Council member, Hind dedicated her life to orphans until her death, even adopting several children who were left at the door of the school as babies. Also, two girls were brought to her by a Jewish woman, who said they had not been accepted in any schools. Hind took them in and they attended the school.
Oral History, and the Preservation of Memory
In her book The Folktales of Palestine, author Farah Aboubakr tells us about many untold stories of valor and perseverance of the Palestinians in times of crisis and statelessness. She then talks about how women played a major role in continuity and remembrance of stories to go on for generations. With the occupation and displacement removing Palestinians’ political agency almost entirely, one of the things that Palestinian women have power over is the stories they tell their children, shaping pride and identity in an impossible situation. Farah describes Palestinian women as “credible and powerful sources for preserving as well as transmitting Palestinian memory and identity.” Her research focuses on how women’s preservation of Palestinian folktales has contributed to the preservation of Palestinian history and also served as a link between the pre and post Nakba recollections.
In recent years there has been a concentrated effort to bring Palestinian narratives to the forefront, in order for Palestinians to tell their own story. Palestinians have been marginalized politically as a result of the international community’s refusal to support the right of return.
This marginalization created different strata within the Palestinian people, with varying degrees of isolation. Palestinian refugee narratives are less likely to be heard as the international humanitarian aid narrative took precedence. Yet another community of silenced voices is comprised of women who, incidentally, play a major role in the preservation of Palestinian heritage, memory, and culture.
Deprived of land, as well as of the opportunity to transition into a future in their homeland, Palestinian female narrators reinforce the importance of remembrance. Israeli colonization not only sought to appropriate land; it also imposed fabricated narratives to eliminate the Palestinian memory process. Oral history reclaimed the process of memory and created pathways through which the Palestinian people can identity and thus communicate and preserve their history.
”Every Palestinian woman is kind of a teacher of resistance and struggle. Every Palestinian woman is a symbol”Muna Al-Kurd
Participation in wars and uprisings
Even though primarily the image of resistance in Palestine has predominantly been consisting of young boys and men, women have had an active role in being the ones to defend the Israeli oppression and give back whatever they have been receiving. whether be it protesting or participation in the intifada (uprising), women have had a fair share.
While it may be tempting to argue that the participation of women in violence is a sign of a society that has lost its way, the reality is more complex. Many Palestinian women point out that their community is powerless; it has neither the political leadership nor the weapons to fight a conventional war. Instead, it relies on all its members to participate and “tell the world” what is happening to them.
By protesting at the Gaza-Israel border to mark the anniversary of al-nakbah (“the catastrophe”), Palestinians are reminding the world that they were dispossessed 70 years ago and this injustice has still not been remedied. Palestinian women, as much as men, have a vital stake in finding a solution to the conflict, that will provide safety and certainty for the next generation.
Women have played a key role in resistance in the first and second Intifadas — 1987 and 2000 respectively — as they have provided first aid, participated in protests and even undertaken militant operations. Palestinian women have always participated in the resistance, as during the first Intifada, but technological developments and social media have shed more light on their role,
Powerful images of Palestinian women masking their faces with the traditional keffiyeh and marching in the streets, schoolgirls throwing stones at occupation forces, and female citizens arguing and tussling with Israeli forces have been going viral.
“With the Israeli atrocities and human rights violations against us, we as Palestinian women have no other choice but to resist and refuse the colonization, occupation and humiliation, and participate in all resistance activities, whether violent or non-violent, side by side with men on the front lines,”a Palestinian woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.