|Palestinian Women in a demonstration. Photo by Basil Maqousi.|
|Palestinian women drawing a mural.|
Palestinian Women in Resistance
By Cairo Arafat
Hana rises early each morning. She lovingly, but hurriedly awakens her young children. She prepares breakfast and sandwiches for them. She makes sure that they have properly washed up and dressed for school. They all eat a very modest breakfast and rush out the door. The youngest one is dropped off at the preschool, while her eldest son runs to his school. Hana and her two daughters hurry on to the local primary school where Hana is a mathematics teacher. After teaching all day, Hana rushes home … many more chores and duties remain. She gathers up her children as they chatter about the day’s events and what they have to do for homework. She will be there to feed them, to help them with their studies, to listen to them, and to provide guidance. Hana and her children still live in a temporary shack that she and her husband built when their home was demolished by the Israeli Occupation Forces. Life goes on. Hana resists the occupation by maintaining her humanity, her insistence that she and her family have the right to life, education, and health despite the challenges and violations of Israeli occupation. They remain firmly rooted in their homeland and are preparing themselves for tomorrow.
Layla sits quietly by the window and gazes out at the hills around her. She stares at budding shoots of flowers and greenery that are in abundance due to the recent rains. She pulls out her little sketchbook and starts to draw them. Later on she will transfer the drawing to her book of squares. The flowers she has seen will be formed into patterns that she shares with other women who will embroider them onto dresses, tablecloths, pillows, and bookmarks. These women hope to be able to sell their handicrafts in local and international markets. The small xxxx’s of the cross-stitch provide meagre income for many women, but they persist. It is a cherished traditional handicraft. The colours, the patterns, and the women embroidering together, sharing their jokes and their resources, are integral to resistance. They will not be crushed. They continue to create and are creative and productive members of Palestinian society. They resist oppression by using the tools available to them to ensure their own livelihoods and the well-being of their families. Layla quietly rolls her wheelchair across the carpet and opens the door to greet her fellow embroiderers. Layla was injured while demonstrating in her village. Despite her physical injury, she continues to challenge the occupier’s attempts to take away her land - the source of her inspiration and being.
The occupation strives to kill the spirit of our people. It cuts people off from water, land, roads, services, and one another. People in villages such as Nabi Saleh and Walajeh are prevented from accessing their own springs and wells. Women wanting to harvest olives from their trees in the hills and valleys of Nablus, Ramallah, and Khalil do so at risk of being shot at by Israeli soldiers and settlers. Each day, thousands of young children are blocked from going to school by Israeli-imposed electric gates, checkpoints, closures, and the Wall. Pregnant women have to cross Israeli-imposed roadblocks and closures in order to reach their “local” health clinics. Nevertheless, women refuse to give in to these challenges. They still carry water from distant sources to be used at home, and they pick the olives from their olive groves. They work hard alongside their husbands, brothers, and fathers to ensure that they can provide the basic necessities for the family. They walk their children to schools and stumble over rock and cement barriers to reach their doctors. They defy the occupier’s wish that they desist in their love and steadfastness for Palestine, their homeland. This is resistance.
Resistance takes many forms. Palestinian women have been at the heart of sustainable development in Palestine. Although they only represent 15 percent of the official workforce, they provide a substantial contribution to the informal labour market. In addition, they are underpaid and are not equitably compensated when they provide the same services and contributions as men. They continue to be productive members of society, however, and are slowly moving towards greater representation and participation within civil, economic, political, legal, and judicial forums. These gains have demanded much effort and perseverance on the part of women. Despite the toll, women continue to persist in their demands to be heard and to be given equal opportunities to assist in the state-building process. These efforts have taken place despite the Israeli occupation, which attempts to disempower Palestinian women, men, youth, and children, and despite the negative social and cultural norms and attitudes that seek to limit women’s influence and participation within society.
It is easy to belittle the day-to-day contributions of average Palestinian women. Yet it is the small details of our existence that have allowed us to continue in our fight for freedom. It’s the young girls heaving their heavy schoolbags onto their backs and trekking long distances to reach their school. But they are rewarded. They find a classroom and a capable teacher who is eager to educate them. They can continue to achieve their dreams of becoming future teachers, engineers, and computer programmers. It’s the mother who has planted a small garden in order to provide her family with fresh vegetables to keep them strong and healthy. It’s the businesswomen who contribute to vocational training and awareness-raising programmes for other women. It’s the nurse and doctor who cross checkpoints to vaccinate young children living in isolated villages. It’s the mother who sells her last piece of jewellery so that she can fund her child’s operation. These actions have become the norms of our lives, but they are the foundations of our resistance. They are built on our humanity.
Resistance is embedded within all Palestinian women. Girls going to schools, youth going to colleges and universities, women doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, judges, farmers, caregivers, Palestinian women who are detained in Israeli prisons, those participating in demonstrations, visiting their families and loved ones imprisoned within Israel, and the infant girl born early this morning are all “resistance fighters.” They defy Israeli occupation by seeking life, liberty, and happiness within their homeland … Palestine.
Cairo Arafat works at Save the Children UK and UNICEF and has numerous years of experience in establishing national programmes to safeguard the well-being of Palestinian children. She has worked as the director of the National Plan of Action for Palestinian Children as well as with the Government Media Center and the Ministry of Planning. Her work has focused on children’s rights and children’s psychosocial well-being.