Women in Gaza


Nahda Sh’hadaIt

wouldn’t be fair to repeat the argument which accuses the women’s movement of

being the sole paralyzed social movement in the current circumstances. If this

is a correct observation, it pinpoints the crisis of all social movements in

Palestine, from the largest to the smallest, beginning with the historical

political parties, through the trade unions, and extending to the newly formed,

delicate civil society organizations!

The

new Intifada has revealed in such a painful way how poor we, who once believed

in people power, have become in terms of our approaches and activities. Thus, we

still have too far to go before we can achieve the first steps in building a new

popular social movement qualified to confront our abandoned regimes. And if I

may, I would apply this observation to the Arab popular movements as well.

You

might be watching TV and seeing what everybody else is seeing. The two main

scenes on the screen are either our children who are full of life, anger and

blood, or the politicians who are defending their political purposes and

preparing for the coming season.

I

feel so angry when I watch those flowers: our children. We carried them in our

wombs, we fed them with our blood and tears, we laughed with them, at them and

for them. We built our small houses, dreaming that they would be made bigger by

their laughter and noise.

We

dreamt that our children would look after us in our old age, knowing that there

would be no welfare state to ensure our well-being. Some of us built huge

castles in the air about their sons’ future. What would he be like in the coming

years? What would his profession be? How many girlfriends would he have? And

which neighbour would be the best bride for him? We might have gone further and

thought about the expected mother-in-law and raised some reservations, but we

would then have reassured ourselves that this would be manageable, we would find

a way somehow.

One

mother informed me that a few days before her son’s murder during the

confrontation in Khan Younis, she had found about his affair with a neighbour;

through some letters in his pocket and few flowers in his book. After his death,

she wanted to send them to his lover but eventually decided not to do so, as

this might complicate the girl’s life. The girl couldn’t even reveal her sorrow,

as the affair was secret.

Women,

mothers, where could you hide your sadness? How would you bury your love and

dreams? How many dreams do you have to bury? Generation after generation you

have developed a culture of silence and acceptance which has never been

appreciated. And when an elegant queen tried her hand in politics, she found no

one to blame but you; you are the murderers of your children, you have crossed

all the borders and thrown your children onto the Israeli streets to be killed.

You did that because you want to see your children on TV!

Some

women here started their theorization about the recent events by linking the

large number of youthful martyrs to the increased level of poverty in camps and

villages, and arrived at this conclusion: Most of our martyrs come from the

camps and villages, their class background reveals a high poverty level, their

family size is high with the average household being around 12. Most of these

families live in a small single room which is used for living, eating, cooking

and sleeping. Therefore, children are participating in the Intifada because they

have nothing to lose, their lives have no meaning; children prefer a promised

heaven to the hellish life on this earth.

I

might agree to some extent with this analysis, but I am pretty sure that these

flowers were at their peak, they were full of dreams. Who knows how many dreams

those children have? Who can describe what was going in their minds when they

were throwing the stones? How did they overcome all their fears and go to their

death? Why are they smiling like angels? How can I count them? And when will we

stop counting our martyrs?

Each

child was a gift for his parents; even with their poverty, mothers used to put

aside their needs and hunger to fill the empty stomachs of their birds. How can

we express this? What language can reveal the mothers’ pain? How can we count

their tears? How can we count the uncountable? He will not quarrel with her any

more, she will not shout at him for not doing his homework. His girlfriend will

not receive his poetry. He has gone too early, he has not even tried his first

kiss.

Now,

what is the impact of the Intifada on women? I haven’t done a survey about it

nor have an intention of doing so, but I am sure that having 4000-5000 wounded

persons with their problems and disabilities would principally affect the

mothers’ lives. The mother who used to send her son to the nearest market to

bring her bread or vegetables would find herself nursing him, and this might

continue for several years. The bird who used to jump everywhere around the

house and be very noisy, which made her beg him to be less active, is now

paralyzed and she is praying to God to let him move a single toe.

Previously,

with the 1996 closure, and when the unemployment rate reached its highest peak,

women tended to carry on their small, pitiful business because the unemployed

father could no longer provide an income. They used to freeze vegetables or sew

clothes and then sell them either directly to the consumers or through the

merchants in order to feed the family, including the man who was considered the

subsistence provider of the family. Now, with a disabled child, the mother would

find herself suffering under the 24-hour presence of the unemployed frustrated

father, taking care of the household, nursing the newly disabled child, and

finding a way to retrieve a work. Put aside the problem of water shortages and

the electricity being cut off daily. These women can’t be seen on the TV screen,

the media comes to greet them only when they are supposed to play the role of

the martyr’s or the wounded person’s mother. But after that, everybody forgets

them because the list is pretty long and every day we have new problems to deal

with.

Within

this context, you might find a stupid interviewer asking some women

representatives: what have women done to support men in the Intifada? What makes

his question more tragic is the representative’s answer, telling him with all

her pride that we are doing everything to support our men. She does not even

protest against the way the question was constructed, thanks to the movement’s

failure to develop a discourse that clearly reflect women’s roles and pains.

What

makes me even more sick is the way some of the elite ride the wave. They are

talking as if they have really paid the same price. Here I remember a friend’s

story. At a public meeting he narrated a story which is very significant:

There

was once a Christian village where there were no Muslims. One day the Church

appointed a new priest to look after the religious needs of the villagers. After

a while, people started complaining about his behaviour. They sent letters to

the capital, pleading for him to be transferred, but in vain. Then they raised

their voices and sent a delegation to Rome to discuss the issue with the Pope.

Here they also received a disappointing response.

After

several years, they felt unable to tolerate the priest any more; worse, they

felt that the top people in the main church had not paid enough attention to

their complaints. They called a meeting and discussed all sides of the issue and

finally they decided to go to the Islamic mufti in the nearby village to convert

to Islam.

All

the villagers went there, with great hopes that the Shaykh would be better than

their current priest. They reached the mufti’s house, only to find to their

surprise that their priest had preceded them and changed his religion. The mufti

had nominated him as the Shaykh for the new converts.

Our

masters before Islam are our masters in Islam. Now back to the Intifada. Our

masters in previous years are the same as those in the Intifada. Moreover, they

have changed their discourse to suit the new circumstances and to secure their

interests.

There

is a saying in Arabic; each period has its own leadership. However, the current

leadership has been leading us for more than 30 years, although lots of water

has passed under the bridge. And the circumstances are worse for women; our

masters in all eras are the patriarchs who define every part of our lives. At

times of crisis, women’s conditions deteriorate drastically, and now we are

facing the question of articulating women’s specific problems.

Violence

is the main activity nowadays. It is highly encouraged by everybody because it

proves its eligibility and success in combating our enemy’s extra use of

violence. How can a young man differentiate between interaction with an enemy

and interaction at the social level? How can we maintain such a double

discourse, encouraging violence against our national enemy and simultaneously

disqualifying it as a practice to resolve social conflicts? Are we able

theoretically and politically to accomplish such a task? And who would lead such

a mission?

I

really feel helpless in trying to answer these questions. I am pretty sure that

violence is practised more frequently in the domestic sphere, given that so many

houses have been demolished and consequently so many families have moved to live

with their relatives. Moreover, the rise of unemployed men, especially among the

poor families, adds another problem.

Such

a situation raises the question of domestic violence and sexual abuse. How can

15 to 20 people live together in an extremely small space and maintain healthy

relationships within such a difficult environment? How would men deal with this

and how would women bear it?

Furthermore,

because the nationalist discourse is the prevalent one, no woman can raise her

voice about the abuse she faces whether sexual or not. Women have to confront it

silently, and those who are supposed to represent them are either busy with

other activities or fear the shame of discussing such divisive subjects. I fully

agree with the argument that asserts we have to focus our efforts on driving out

the occupation. However, we have to remember that while some of us are throwing

stones at the occupier, social relations based on power relations continue to

have an impact on the most vulnerable people. I have already met a martyr’s

widow whose children have been taken away from her by her husband’s family and

she has been sent back to her family’s house.

 

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