If we are serious about using International Women’s Day, held annually on March 8, to campaign for the freedom and equality of women and girls, then we should not ignore Palestinians.
The violence and discrimination that women all over the world experience is worsened in Palestine by Israeli occupation and apartheid practices that affect all Palestinians — but women disproportionately. One example of the violence of Israel’s occupation is its treatment of women Palestinian prisoners.
As International Women’s Day approaches, there are a number of women prisoners whose fates are uncertain at best.
Possibly the highest profile is 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi. Ahed remains in jail after being arrested in December for slapping an Israeli soldier during a protest against the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in her home village of Nabi Salih in the West Bank.
Ahed’s trial in an Israeli military court is closed to observers (ostensibly for her “protection”), making coverage of the trial almost impossible. She has also faced abuse from Israeli media.
In December, Israeli journalist Ben Caspit said of the Tamimi family’s protests, in comments later retracted, that “in the case of the girls, we should exact a price at some other opportunity, in the dark, without witnesses and cameras”.
Manal Tamimi is a less well known female member of the Tamimi clan and is no stranger to the brutality of the occupation. Despite efforts to sabotage her social media accounts, Manal manages to report on the routine violations of human rights that Palestinians living under Israeli occupation suffer.
Facebook apparently restricted Manal’s account after she livestreamed one of the frequent Israeli raids on Nabi Saleh on February 25, at which eight young residents were abducted. Those arrested included Mohammed Tamimi, a cousin of Ahed.
Mohammed’s arrest has caused widespread outrage, as he has one-third of his skull missing after being shot at close range by an Israeli soldier in December. This incident sparked the protest at which Ahed was arrested.
For their part, Rusaila and Sara Shamasneh are a mother and daughter from the Palestinian town of Qatanna. They were released from detention on February 25, but not before Rusaila had resorted to a hunger strike at being separated from her daughter.
Five days earlier, they had been sentenced to 40 days in jail for the loosely defined, catch-all charge of “incitement”. The charges related to comments made two years earlier at the funeral of son and brother Mohammed Shamasneh, who had been killed by Israeli soldiers.
Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour’s experience of Israel’s justice system is another case of its injustice. Initially placed under house arrest and barred from using the internet after she posted a performance of one of her poems, her detention and trial has so far taken more than two years of her life.
972mag.com reported in December: “For the past year and half, a strange and disturbing drama has been playing out in a Haifa courtroom. In the defendant’s seat is a poet, on trial for a political poem she wrote, performed, and published on Facebook. Whether she goes to prison for publishing that poem rests largely on how the judge ultimately interprets a few words translated by a [police officer] whose main qualification is that he studied Arabic literature in high school.
“Dareen Tatour, 35, is a Palestinian citizen of Israel from the town of Reineh, just outside of Nazareth. Her poem, ‘Qawem Ya Sha’abi, Qawemhum’ (‘Resist my people, resist them’), was published in 2015, at the height of Palestinian protests across Israel and the West Bank and a wave of so-called lone wolf stabbing and vehicular attacks against Israeli security forces and civilians, largely in Jerusalem and Hebron.
“A few days later, police stormed her house and arrested her in the middle of the night. She spent three months in prison and has been under house arrest ever since, pending the conclusion of her trial. She was charged with incitement to violence and expressing support for a terrorist organisation.”
The article noted: “Her arrest and political trial represent a terrifying new era in which Palestinians, and some Jewish-Israelis, are arrested and imprisoned by Israeli authorities, sometimes without trial, for things they write on Facebook...
“Nearly every Palestinian arrested these days in any context of political dissent or protest is asked by his or her interrogators to show them their social media accounts. The contents therein often become the ready-made substance of criminal charges, the severity of which is often calculated based on the numbers of followers, likes, and shares of whatever damning post is found.”
Tatour’s case has sparked protests by a range of high-profile writers and PEN International, an NGO supporting writers’ freedom of expression globally.
Khalida Jarrar is a senior lawyer with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the official representative body of the Palestinian people, and an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council for the revolutionary socialist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). She was sentenced to six months of “administrative detention” last July after being arrested in a pre-dawn raid in Ramallah in the West Bank. She was charged with “inciting violence”.
Administrative detention is a controversial measure that enables Israeli courts to hold Palestinians in jail without charge or trial. Despite not facing any trial over the “incitement” allegation, Jarrar had her administrative detention order renewed for a further six months in January, Amnesty International said.
Such orders can be renewed indefinitely without any need to charge the detainee.
Jarrar’s case is not as widely known outside Palestine as Ahed Tamimi’s, but Amnesty International has called for the release of both, as well as an end to the practice of administrative detention.
Adding to the profile of Ahed’s case, Jewish-American comedian Sarah Silverman has faced outrage from Israel’s defenders for calling for Ahed’s release. Silverman has previously called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine and for Jews to stand up for the same cause.
In a sign of the scale of international solidarity with Ahed and other Palestinian women prisoners, a coalition of women’s groups in India — representing about 10 million women — has called for her release and expressed its support for the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting Israel. The coalition also expressed its outrage that 500 Palestinian women have been killed by Israeli occupation forces since 2000.
International support for Palestinian prisoners is growing, causing Israel to go to sometimes bizarre lengths to discredit Palestinian dissidents. For instance, in what sounds like a claim from an obscure far right conspiracy site, Israel launched an official investigation two years ago alledging the Tamimi family — whose sustained protests were drawing attention — were in fact actors pretending to be Palestinians.
The Intercept reported on January 25: “Michael Oren, Israel’s senior official in charge of diplomacy, was roundly mocked on Thursday for admitting that he had opened a formal investigation of a family of Palestinian activists based on an internet conspiracy theory, which claims that they are not a real family but a troupe of actors paid to pretend that the occupation of their land in the West Bank upsets them...
“Asked to explain what led him to open a classified investigation of the conspiracy theory ... Oren told Haaretz that he suspected that ‘members of the family were chosen for their appearance,’ an apparent reference to the fact that Ahed and her younger brother Mohammed are blond and fair-skinned.
“He also found their clothing suspicious, calling their jeans and T-shirts ‘a real costume. American dress in every respect, not Palestinian, with backward baseball caps. Even Europeans don’t wear backward baseball caps’.
“‘It was all prepared. It’s what’s known as Pallywood,’ he added, referring to an American blogger’s conspiracy theory that all video documenting incidents in which Israeli soldiers are caught on video abusing Palestinians is staged fiction.”
Such claims mark Israel’s desperation to discredit peaceful dissenters such as Ahed. A January 15 Al Jazeera op-ed has suggested Ahed is becoming a “Palestinian Rosa Parks”, in reference to the famous African-American civil rights icon who famously refused to give up her seat for a white man in Alabama more than six decades ago.
Such desperate tactics show how the resistance of Palestinian women is terrifying Israel.