As women around the world prepare to celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 and continue the struggle against entrenched sexism, misogyny and gender-based violence, Palestinian women are doing all that with the added burden of living under Israeli occupation.
The simple act of attempting to travel for work, school, health care or to shop for household essentials is often made near impossible for those in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian women continue to be severely hampered by a network of military checkpoints across the West Bank and by the near total closure of Gaza due to Israel’s ongoing siege.
Travel across the Occupied Territories for whatever reason is severely restricted by the Israeli occupation. It is especially difficult for Palestinians seeking medical treatment — and doubly so for Palestinian women.
In separate cases in recent weeks, two women from Gaza seeking cancer treatment unavailable in the Strip due to Israel’s siege have been refused entry into Israel on the pretext of “security issues”.
It doesn’t matter how grim the health condition — Israel can, and frequently does, deny permission to leave Gaza for essential care.
It is difficult to gauge the numbers of preventable deaths, but it is clear that denying permission to travel for medical reasons is routine. The latest “security” related excuses are a sinister added burden on a community, and particularly its women, who can least afford it.
Visiting Palestine some years ago, I witnessed a clear example of how Palestinian women are impacted by the occupation. On a visit to the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, the women of the group I was travelling with stopped at the women’s bathroom to adjust hastily draped hijabs. The bathroom attendant was a single parent and breadwinner for four children. Her only income was what she received from maintaining the women’s bathroom at the mosque.
In a halting, brief conversation, we learned that the delays to her husband’s cancer treatment — caused by the difficulties in getting permission to travel and getting through Hebron’s heavily check-pointed roads — led to his early death.
The impact of the Israeli occupation on housing for Palestinian women is also severe. The Palestinian community of Humsah a-Tahta in the Jordan valley has been hit hard by Israeli demolition orders.
Across the West Bank, women’s access to land so that they can farm and earn an income is frequently, and in some cases permanently, undermined by the presence of the Israeli army. It can simply declare a live fire zone and prevent Palestinian families from rebuilding demolished homes, farms and communities.
Many Palestinian women have also suffered, or still suffer, in Israeli jails. MuslimGirl.com wrote last year: "Since the occupation began in 1967 (the actual diaspora began began in 1948), approximately 10,000 Palestinian women have been imprisoned. In 2015, a total of 106 women, girls, and children were held in prisons and detention centers. What began as approximately 20 imprisonments in January 2015, escalated to 60 by the end of February 2016 – 26 of which were arrested in this year alone. Many of the accusations are without evidence.."
The threat of violence by the Israeli army has an added dimension of sexual violence against Palestinian women. A visit to almost any checkpoint across the occupied Palestinian territories can also mean routine harassment and violence against women.
However, the Israeli army’s chief rabbi brings a whole other level of misogyny to bear against all women and Palestinian women in particular. The IDF’s chief rabbi-designate, Colonel Eyal Krim, has long been associated with anti-women statements — including the opinion that it is permissible to rape non-Jewish women in times of war.
Krim has also recommended that women should not testify in a court because they are “too sentimental” and that no male Israeli soldier should be expected to serve with a female commanding officer, because he would have to gaze at her.
Krim is not alone in his misogyny. While his recent appointment as IDF chief rabbi is disturbing, his opinions are hardly new or unique. The Israeli occupation has a long and sorry record of sexual violence and rape against Palestinians. It is common for an arrested Palestinian man to be told that his female relatives will be detained and assaulted.
As IWD nears, solidarity with Palestinian women is more important than ever. Gender-based violence and misogyny exists everywhere; it is particularly grim for Palestinian women already dealing with the strangulation of their homeland by the Israeli occupation.