Mon May 27, 2024
May 27, 2024

Palestinian Women and the Gaza Genocide

By Soraya Misleh, Brazil

According to an article published by the Institute for Palestine Studies, entitled “The Women of Gaza during the Ongoing Genocide: Women, War and Resistance” (26/1/2024), written by Madlin al-Halabi, a Palestinian researcher and writer from Gaza, they are the “contour of society.” Consequently, as agents of the production and reproduction of life, they are central targets of Israel in its quest to wipe the Palestinian people off the map.

In addition to the threats of sexual abuse and rape that have been instrumental in these efforts, genocidal bullets and bombs target female bodies, as seen historically in the ongoing Nakba (Palestinian catastrophe whose cornerstone is the formation of the racist, colonial state of Israel on May 15, 1948), and now in its new phase: the advanced ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and the genocide in Gaza for the past five months. But existence is resistance for the Palestinian people under constant threat of elimination. And women, alongside men, are living up to the legacy that will inevitably lead this Zionist project’s failure.

Al-Halabi observes that genocidal action and rhetoric are part of the Zionist colonial project, quoting butcher Ariel Sharon’s statement in 1956: “Palestinian women and children are by far more dangerous than men because the existence of a single child means the survival of several future generations.” In their reports, Palestinian refugees from the Nakba in 1948 quote the words of another Zionist leader, Golda Meir: “When I see a pregnant ‘Arab’ woman, my head hurts.” It is also hers the famous phrase, repeated today without mincing words by her followers: “The Palestinians do not exist.”

This rhetoric of genocide has guided the speeches of Zionist leaders, including women, for the past five months: “Kill them all! Gaza, a cemetery! They are human animals!” This dehumanization is part of the incitement to genocide in Gaza, resulting in more than 30,000 Palestinians killed by Israel, not counting the thousands missing under the rubble, 70% of whom are women and children, in addition to more than 75,000 wounded. In the West Bank, pogroms and the shelling of refugee camps are part of the aggressive ethnic cleansing that, in the last five months alone, has killed more than 500 Palestinians, among them about 120 children, as well as wounded more than 12,000, among whom there are also many women.

The number of political prisoners has almost doubled in the last five months. Up to the beginning of October there were 5,000 and today there are a staggering 9,000 Palestinians, subjected to unspeakable torture. Testimonies of women imprisoned by Israel show that rape is used as a weapon by the racist and colonial state of Israel, which is nothing new: this was the case in genocides such as that of the village of Deir Yassin and Tantura in 1948.

Priority Targets

All this has led UN agencies to declare that this is a war against children and also against women. What is happening in occupied Palestine historically and especially at the moment shows that female bodies (and those of children) are the preferred target.

As a result, at least 9,000 Palestinian women were killed in five months of Israeli genocide in Gaza. One mother dies every hour and approximately 180 give birth daily amidst the destruction resulting from Zionist terrorist action.

With only 12 of the 36 hospitals in the narrow Strip partially functioning, without power, fuel or adequate supplies, many even face caesarean sections without anesthesia, and are being subjected to conditions conducive to infection and risk of death. More than 300 have suffered miscarriages in the last five months. This reality haunts more than 50,000 pregnant women.

Many of them have even given birth one day and cradled the lifeless bodies of their newborns the next. A Palestinian child is killed by Israel’s genocidal bombs and bullets every ten minutes. In addition to the 10,000 missing under the rubble, there have been more than 17,000 killed in the genocide to date, including 15 who died of starvation recently in northern Gaza, according to the local Ministry of Health. Several others are in critical condition for lack of food, due to the criminal blockade imposed by Israel as part of the carnage. Acute malnutrition affects one in six Palestinian children in the narrow Strip. And while men, women, elderly and children were trying to feed themselves by surrounding a humanitarian convoy in Gaza City, the genocidal State of Israel carried out the “flour massacre.”

The staggering data, presented by institutions such as the UN, reveal the pain faced by women and children in the new phase of the ongoing Nakba, in which Israel has felt itself free to pursue its “final solution,” backed by international complicity, arms, and billions of dollars from U.S., and also European imperialism. Women are among those who suffer the most, but, as members of the Palestinian people who do not give in, they resist being wiped off the map.

Sumud: Resilience and Persistence

The scenes in Gaza are of desolation, pain, blood, destruction, hunger and thirst, but also of persistence and steadfastness (resilience as resistance, in Arabic sumud). This is what even Palestinian women have been doing, amidst the fear of losing more than what has already been wrested from them. There are those who refuse the orders of the Zionist occupation forces to evacuate their homes, because they do not want to leave behind the elderly, the sick, and children. Thus, they face the criminal prisons and tortures. There are those who are determined to lessen the suffering in Gaza, transforming their own pain into strength.

This is the case of young Roya, who entertains Palestinian children in a refugee camp in Rafah, in southern Gaza, with the sound of her lute in the midst of Israel’s genocidal bombs. Psychotherapist Amani provides support in the midst of emotional and psychological trauma, while trying to protect her own family and coping with personal loss. Journalist Bisan joins the heroic army of media professionals to broadcast the genocide itself to the world, having already been displaced seven or eight times since her own home was bombed in northern Gaza. Her colleague Noor Harazeen crossed her five-year-old twins across the border into Egypt and then returned to resume her job of covering the ongoing carnage. Women’s organizations in Gaza refocused all their work to ensure minimal humanitarian, hygiene and health assistance, despite the enormous challenges to do so, in the face of the criminal Zionist blockade and with their offices also partially destroyed. Everything is lacking, from food to medicines and diapers.

These are some of the many examples of resilience as Palestinian women’s resistance, which make up reports to the UN and can be found on social networks themselves. A resilience under all forms and aspects of life that integrates a legacy of those who preceded them from the beginnings of the Zionist colonial project more than a century ago.

Anticolonial Struggle

As expressed by young activists, the resistance of Palestinian women makes it clear to the world that they are no strangers to anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles. They are not submissive by nature, an absolutely uniform mass hidden behind the veils imposed on them, as they are generally presented by the hegemonic media in the hands of the big capitalists, and which part of the feminist movement in the “West” corroborates, basing itself on stereotypes.

Under the pretext that these women need to be saved from their society and culture of origin, they end up serving colonial domination. This is a liberal feminism that does not see the relationship between exploitation and gender oppression, and that necessarily sees a symbol of oppression in the Islamic veil (worn only by Muslim women, and not by all). The problem is not its use, but its imposition.

The ideology that permeates these actions contrasts a “West” of civilized, logical, rational and peaceful people with an “East” of barbarians and violent by nature, as denounced by the Palestinian intellectual Edward Said (1935-2003) in his work Orientalism: The East as an invention of the West.

According to this representation, as backward peoples, they cannot govern themselves, must be feared and, therefore, controlled. In other words, colonized. Against such a caricature, in Palestine and in the Arab world as a whole, stands the so-called “anti-colonial feminism,” which fights simultaneously against male oppression and colonization. It considers gender emancipation inseparable from the liberation of Palestine. It criticizes and deconstructs orientalist, reductionist and generalist representations, and fills the void of a movement that diverts the gaze from the power relations underlying gender oppression. Part of the deconstruction proposed by “anti-colonial feminism” -which is in line with such strands as anti-racist and Islamic feminism- is to rescue the protagonism of Arab and Muslim women in history.

And at this moment, international solidarity with the Palestinian people has been highlighted as an inseparable part of the struggle of women around the world, demystifying the caricatures about Arabs, Muslims and Palestinians and vehemently exposing the Zionist false narrative for genocide, which includes in its propaganda fake news, such as rapes of Israeli women by the resistance on October 7. An ideological construct intrinsic to the Zionist project of colonization through settlements, which demands the extermination of natives as occurring in the ongoing Nakba and now, brutally and acceleratingly, in its new phase.

On the Frontlines

As the Egyptian feminist Nawal El Saadawi points out, in The Hidden Face of Eve: Women of the Arab World, Palestinian women were pioneers in the protests against the first Zionist settlements at the end of the 19th century – in the service of land colonization and labor conquest, which were part of the Zionist project of ethnic cleansing for the constitution of an exclusively Jewish state in Palestine (Israel). In 1903, a period that marks the beginning of the second wave of Zionist immigration, they created a women’s association.

In the 1920s their activities were strengthened and several popular committees were formed to coordinate protests and other actions of civil disobedience, as well as to ensure assistance to those injured in the demonstrations. In 1921, they formed the first Arab-Palestinian Women’s Union, which organized protests against the British Mandate, Zionist colonization, and the Balfour Declaration, in which England guaranteed the establishment of a Jewish national home on Palestinian lands.

From letters to battlefields, women used the weapons at their disposal. In 1948, Nariman Khorsheed (1927-2014) founded in the city of Jaffa – together with her sister Moheeba – the first Palestinian women’s brigade, called Al Zahrat al-Uqhuwan (Chrysanthemum Flowers), to fight against the expulsion from their land, by Zionist paramilitary forces. In the same year, other female brigades emerged, including a mixed group of 100 fighters, led by Fatma Khaskiyyeh Abu Dayyeh. In the 1936-1939 Palestinian revolution against the British Mandate and Zionist colonization – whose causes and analysis of the defeat are explained by Ghassan Kanafani in his book The 1936-1939 Revolt in Palestine (Sundermann Publishing House) – she was in command of the premises where the revolutionaries’ weapons were stored.

During this period, women organized large marches and popular committees. In addition to promoting protests, they raised funds to help the families of the dead and prisoners and helped transport basic supplies and weapons. In the villages, they fought side by side with the men to defend their land. One of these heroines is Fatma Ghazal, killed in combat on June 26, 1936.

Faced with the consolidation of the Zionist project, the General Union of Palestinian Women was created in 1965, linked to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of women took direct action in the face of international omission due to the daily violation of human rights and Israeli expansion, which in 1967 resulted in the occupation, by this military power, of all of historic Palestine. The best known worldwide is Leila Khaled. Then only 24 years old, she participated in the hijacking of airplanes in exchange for political prisoners and brought the Palestinian cause to the fore. She was arrested in one of the actions and was released after another similar operation.

In the Intifadas (uprisings) of 1987-1993 and 2000-2004, women again took to the streets. In the first one, to give you an idea, one third of the casualties were women. The number of women arrested increased from hundreds in the early 1970s to thousands in the 1980s. Since 1967, an estimated 10,000 have passed through Israeli political prisons and faced institutionalized torture, including threats and sexual violence. Today there are 70, including young girls under the age of 18, according to the Association for Human Rights and Support for Palestinian Prisoners (Addameer).

They are unsung heroines and for the most part have been rendered invisible by history, as happens all over the world, in all processes of struggle. Oppression occurs here and there, in the service of a capitalist/imperialist domination project. They – as well as Palestinian society as a whole – need active international solidarity, not “salvation.” Women’s movements in the region wage a double struggle against male oppression, colonization, apartheid, ethnic cleansing and genocide. So that we may all be free, let the Palestinian flag, symbol of the struggles against oppression and exploitation, fly in every street around the world on International Women’s Day.

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