Palestine Update 415
Constructing shared stages against the Tyranny of women
Leila Khaled is a Palestinian refugee and member
of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
In mid September 2020, Leila Khaled was scheduled to speak at a virtual Zoom conference at San Francisco State University hosted by Professor Rabab Abdulhadi and Dr Tomomi Kinukawa. Following lobbying by the Jewish coalition group “End Jewish Hatred,” Zoom Video Communications along with YouTube and Facebook, prevented the conference from using their video conferencing software and platforms, citing compliance with U.S. export control, sanctions, and anti-terrorism laws. The event, titled “Whose Narratives? Gender, Justice and Resistance”, was sponsored by San Francisco State University (SFSU). It was blocked by the app citing dubious unease over Khaled’s reported affiliation with a ‘US designated foreign terrorist organization’.
“Palestine Updates” invited Aruna Gnanadason, an Indian ecumenist, and one the world’s foremost ecumenical feminist thinkers and writers, to draw the commonalities between the struggles of women and in India especially in the context of the suppression of the voice of a legendary Palestinian freedom fighter, Leila Khaled from a digital platform. Her discerning article is a must-read and should be widely disseminated not only among women’s movements, but also among all those who care and work towards a just world. Her analysis leads her to the conclusion that it is time when women must “recognize that our strategies and resistance will benefit other subaltern communities too”.
Here our paths cross – a case for greater solidarity
By Aruna Gnanadason*
From out of a complex reality, Palestinian women use powerful words to analyze their struggles for freedom. Theirs is a “feminist speak” that emanates from a context where multiple forces suppress the right to gender and sexual justice in Arab, Muslim and Palestinian communities. They also focus on the right to dissent against political repression. To their struggles against systems of injustice, must be added what is unique to their context “the machinery of settler colonial dispossession.” While such a reality exists in other parts of the world, the extent and intensity of occupation and dispossession is nowhere as insidious.
In such a context the blocking of the voice of the legendary freedom fighter Leila Khaled from a digital platform Zoom, is symbolic of the “attempts to silence Palestinian narratives – and specifically feminist narratives”. This the women strongly condemn. They recollect the pivotal and foundational role women have played in the historical struggles for the liberation of Palestine, as they call for a “a gendered analysis of (our) ongoing struggles for freedom from patriarchal violence” and against the occupation of their lands. They see the attempt to erase their narratives as being intimately connected with the attempts to erase indigenous history. The Israeli state’s involvement, in close cahoots with big business in the US, in whose control digital communication rests – Zoom, Youtube and Facebook- have been involved in the surveillance and repression of Palestinian free speech of Palestinians, living in the US. This due to the strong lobbying power of Zionists in the US.
The feminist movement in India in its context addresses another complex interplay ofpolitical and economic interests and social and cultural features, indicating the importance of what we can learn from the role Palestinian women are playing in their society. We ought to explore ways for strengthening solidarity links with them.
In India the feminist movement confronts a regime and political system where feminist dissent is curtailed by a fascist, neo-liberal nationalist government buttressed by a majoritarian Hindutva ideology, while systematically eroding the democratic and secular fabric of Indian society. In the last months of 2019, there were unprecedented, Muslim women led silent protests, 1000 women or more in each location in different parts of the country. The protests focused on the protection of the Constitution and to challenge the ruling dispensation’s plan to disenfranchise huge sections of the Muslim community by making religion and birth place, the basis for citizenship – even if those seeking the rights of citizenship have lived here and contributed to this country, that they see as their own, for several decades. Targeted communal violence backed by the ruling party was unleashed in response to this non-violent protest movement initiated by women.
As a follow-up, in September this year, a call for a day of resistance was announced by a small group of women. Within a few weeks over 600 women’s groups, LGBTQI communities, women farmers groups and environmental groups came together in a national campaign under the inspiring title, “If we do not rise”. The campaign had brought together women of all religious persuasions from every corner of the country with a commitment to rise and act. And yet in a Zoom powered webinar organized by Muslim women, there was the presence of a man in Hindu garb who could be seen prominently, so obviously surveilling the participants. It was then we realized that Zoom is not as “safe” and neutral as we believed. Just as the Palestinian women saw social media as a safe way to protest in these Covid infested days, here too ours has been a social media powered resistance movement. While we are not yet at the point at which the Palestinian feminist movement is being censored, we may reach that point soon. This, given the fact that Indian security personnel are being trained in Israel in the most sophisticated forms of surveillance – added to which the knowledge that India is the largest buyer of Israeli military and civilian monitoring equipment in the world. Additionally, Israel is the second-largest defense equipment supplier to India, after Russia.
In India too, the branding of dissenters as “terrorists” is the norm – voicing dissent has become dangerous so here too we share a common reality – but of course for Palestinian women the threat is amplified by the fact that the US and Israel have legitimized their brutal use of state power as “defensive and legitimate”. For Palestinian feminists there is a genuine concern that “the current attempts to pervert and dismiss histories of struggle as “terroristic” as part of an ongoing legacy aimed at achieving our indigenous erasure.”
So, what next for the feminist movements? First, to recognize that our strategies and resistance will benefit other subaltern communities too as Palestinian feminists in the US have recognized. Second, Palestinian women are “acutely aware of the systemic logic of racism inherent in digital technologies for racialized communities”, even if “they also produce opportunities of sociality in the face of erasure”. It is indeed the same in India – here too “the digital platforms continue to have the power to dictate the terms of the conversation”. The digital divide is so wide in India it is still a domain of a privileged, upper caste and class of women. And third, it fills one with hope that the common strands in feminist struggles will draw us together across the nation to develop more possibilities for actions of solidarity.
*Dr. Aruna Gnanadason served the World Council of Churches in various capacities, particularly in directing the programme on Women in Church and Society; and in the Justice, Peace and Creation work. She now lives in Chennai, India and offers her services to the churches and the ecumenical movement in India and globally in speaking, writing and reflecting on the role, the challenge and the alternative visions offered by the gospel. She is presently National Convener of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement a movement of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Church women.
Murder of pregnant Palestinian sparks protest against domestic abuse
The murder today of a pregnant woman and mother of two in the north of the West Bank has raised the concern of Palestinian rights organizations. Palestinian police spokesman Loai Irzeiqat said that the body of a 24-year-old woman was found in her house in the town of Nabi Elias in the north of the West Bank. Human rights organisations are protesting about domestic abuse following the murder of a pregnant woman in the occupied West Bank, Wafa news agency has reported. According to police spokesman Loai Irzeiqat, the 24-year-old mother of two was found dead at her house in the town of Nabi Elias. Unconfirmed reports said that the victim’s husband is being held for her murder. He is reported to have been drunk at the time of his arrest, and is a known drug addict.
The Palestinian Network of NGOs has expressed alarm at the murder, calling on politicians and civil society to take all necessary steps to protect Palestinian women from domestic abuse. Violence against women in Palestine has been on the rise for the past decade. According to the UN Population Fund, 29 per cent of Palestinian women within occupied Palestine reported psychological, physical, sexual, social or financial abuse by their husbands at least once in 2018-2019. At the same time, there are major concerns that many cases of domestic violence go unreported. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has left women even more vulnerable to abuse across the region. The Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs described the killing as a “heinous murder” and said that it will do what it can to prevent violence against women in Palestinian society.
Government and Partners Discuss Women’s Rights in Palestine – UN Women Press Release
The General Union of Palestinian Women and the National Women’s Coalition for the Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in Palestine, with the support of UN Women, convened a roundtable discussion entitled “Palestinian Women’s Rights between Accession and Implementation.” The roundtable focused on the findings of the report on Violence Against Women and Girls during the outbreak of COVID-19 submitted by the State of Palestine to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, and the parallel report to the Government’s follow-up report submitted to the Convention’s Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
The Round Table agreed that Palestinian women are facing domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic with all its social and economic implications. They also face violence by the military occupation, and the “deal of the century” with the threats it brings to Palestinian rights. The Palestinian government has expressed support for the adoption of laws that guarantee the protection of women, foremost among which are the Family Protection Law, the Penal Code, and the Personal Status Law, in addition to working on amending the Civil Service Law and the Labor Law.
Minister of Social Development Dr. Ahmad Majdalani, said that the State of Palestine was adamant on adopting laws that protect Palestinian women’s rights despite vociferous objection by certain elements in the Palestinian society, stressing the government’s commitment to follow up on the implementation of international conventions and providing social protection for all sectors of society, especially families headed by women. He also called on women’s organizations to unite with the government toward improving the status of women.
Head of General Union of Palestinian Women, said that the Palestine report submitted to the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women reveals an increase in violence during the COVID-19 pandemic because of the practices by the occupation, and the lack of sensitivity to gender-based violence by the official Palestinian establishment. She demanded that the PA take protective measures that address women’s economic and social needs, and to ensure justice for women based on legislation corresponding to the modern era.
General Secretary of the General Union of Palestinian Women presented the parallel report prepared by the National Coalition for the implementation of CEDAW in Palestine. She highlighted how the military occupation remains the major impediment to attainment of women’s rights. She demanded national legislation against discrimination and modern civil status and family protection laws.
At the event, the General Union of Palestinian Women and the National Women’s Coalition for the Implementation of the Convention launched the CEDAW Palestine Website (www.cedaw.ps), which provides information on the convention, national and civil society reports to the Committee on the convention, advocacy materials and profiles of all Coalition member organizations in the West Bank and Gaza.