Zlikha Ishaq Abdel Qader Al-Shihabi
Zlikha Al-Shihabi was one of the pioneers and champions of the women's movement in Palestine. Her selfless edication and devotion to the cause of women in particular and to Palestine in general has left its indelible mark on Palestinian society and its institutions.
Al-Shihabi was born in Jerusalem in 1903 and attended the Sisters of Zion School, being one of the few girls to receive formal schooling in those days. Her activism and involvement in women's issues started in the year 1929, the year of the first Palestinian revolt or "Intifada" against the British mandate and its intentions to create a state for the Jews on Palestinian soil. Al-Shihabi and other prominent women of Jerusalem got together with the intention to prepare for a conference that would organize the women's movement in Palestine. This first Palestinian Arab women's conference was attended by at least 300 women, after which the women formed a motorcade of 80 cars to protest British policy. Three committees were set up to care for the martyrs" children, to collect donations and to train women in sewing and other vocations. The committee for martyrs purchased plots of land that were planted with vineyards and fruit trees and gave them to the martyrs" families so that they could make a living from cultivating the land. The executive committee that was formed was active in holding demonstrations and delivering letters of protest to the British high commissioner and to kings and Arab rulers urging them to mobilize for the Palestinian cause.
The women's committees played a prominent role during the general strike of 1936 that lasted for six months. For the first time in the history of Palestine women attended the trials of activists. They also helped prisoners and their families and provided care and shelter for orphans. The executive committee, of which Al-Shihabi was a member, asked the president of the Egyptian Women's Union, Huda Shaarawi, to convene an Arab women's conference to publicize the policies of the British mandate and its conspiracy to judaize Palestine. The conference was convened in Cairo in 1938 and was attended by delegations from most of the Arab world. At the issue of the conference, the executive committee dissolved itself and Zlikha Ishaq Abdel Qader Al-Shihabi established the Palestinian chapter of the Arab Women's Union.
During World War II, the British tried to stem the nationalist movement in Palestine and they imposed emergency rules that greatly curtailed the activities of the Women's Union, which had to be confined to charity work. The Unionexpanded its activities in 1945, establishing cultural and social clubs for women, including a sports club. The Union also established a clinic which dispensed medical treatment for free and offered assistance to orphans and needy children by enrolling them in schools. All along, the Union pursued its political agenda of urging Arab leaders to promote the Palestinian cause and alerting them to the threat of Zionism.
Under Al-Shihabi's leadership, the Union undertook many projects which included the establishment of Al-Doha School for nderprivileged girls, a well baby clinic and one for pregnant women, convalescence homes in the winter resort of Jericho, and a home for destitute women. She was instrumental in raising funds for the erection of the Union's headquarters inJerusalem, which were inaugurated in 1965.
Al-Shihabi was the first person to have the foresight to establish an emergency hospital at the present Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. She asked Dr. Ameen Majaj, a well-known paediatrician, to be in charge of the children's ward there. The hospital was later rented out to the UNRWA, which turned it into a hospital for refugees. Al-Shihabi was tireless in pursuing her social and political agendas. She travelled frequently to attend women's conferences in Lebanon, Russia and England. She also was a member of the Palestinian National Council. She was one of the first to be exiled from her homeland by the Israeli authorities in 1968 but was able to return at the intervention of international bodies. In addition to her political and national activities and her philanthropic work, Al-Shihabi was an artist in her own way. She learnt to do beautiful artificial flowers and to concoct scents and hand creams that she used to sell to fund her charitable work. She remained at the helm of the Arab Women's Union until her death in 1992.