Palestinian women are not a marginal part of the Palestinian struggle against the occupation, they are major participants in the Palestinian struggle for national liberation.“They are mothers, sisters, daughters and freedom fighters, their steadfastness is the steadfastness of the whole Palestinian nation, the Palestinian struggle for independence", says a report by the Palestine Solidarity Group released Tuesday in honor of International Women’s Day March 8th.
“When we are speaking about the role of women in the struggles for National and Social liberation, the role of women in the Palestinian struggle is something that the worldwide women liberation movement must study, understand, analyze and share experiences with.
“The struggle of Palestinian women against the occupation is the struggle of the Palestinian nation.”
Women in Palestine form more than half of the society in the West Bank and the Gaza strip, as well as being half of the diasporic population of five million refugees living in other countries outside Palestine.
Some of the early history of the women’s liberation movement in Palestine began in the 1930s and 40s, when attempts were made to organize women into associations and societies, mostly initiated by bourgeois class educated women, whose main focus was on the right of education and work for women, with rare discussions about political participation.
May (Mary) Ziyadah, a renowned writer, was one of the first women artists who held meetings in her house (in the thirties) for artists and poets. Her works represented an important part of the Palestinian revolutionary literature.
In 1948, with the creation of the state of Israel, and the subsequent forced displacement of more than 750,000 Palestinians to neighboring countries (nearly 90% of the population of the 1948 occupied region), the picture of the typical Palestinian woman became the picture of a refugee.
That same woman who had been living comfortably as a farmer or as a worker in urban societies, became a refugee facing poverty and exploitation as a factory worker or house keeper in wealthy homes in Lebanon.
Her critical mission was keeping the Palestinian National Identity intact. She had to heal the pain of displacement, re-unify the dispersed family, secure food on the table with her partner, and above all, keeping the memory of their homeland, Palestine, alive.
She told stories, sang and danced to keep the memory of the displacement, agony and transcended culture to the new generations. Palestinians raised in refugee camps, who never saw Palestine, thus have managed to maintain a very clear picture of their homeland, from the memories of their mothers and grandmothers, and the transcendence through generations continues.
When the late Egyptian president Jamal Abdul-Nasser became the president of Egypt, Palestinian women had a real chance for education. Nasser opened the education system for all, for free, under the auspices of Arab National Unity.
This opportunity brought out dozens of Palestinian women as writers, researchers, poets and higher participation of women in the national struggle.
Women in Palestine showed clear and direct presence in the struggle against the Israeli occupation after the outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987; they protested, called for boycotts of Israeli products, organized tax strikes, and hurled stones against the well-armed Israeli army occupying Palestine.
1800 women were trained as Health mentors in collaboration with the Union of Health Work Committees. Each one of these women then trains other women in their isolated, usually extremely densely populated communities, on Health issues. They have also maintained programs for young women to stay in school, for children to join summer camps (even under the extreme conditions of Occupation) to heal their psychological wounds and to help them recover from the pain of so many deaths due to the Occupation.
Cooperatives were formed all over the West Bank and Gaza for women, for embroidery making, environmental awareness and home economics. In cooperation with the Agriculture Work Committees, women were the main beneficiaries from training programs teaching the harvesting of olives for commercialization, and the raising of animals as a source for living and a mean to barter goods in exchange for other goods. The United Palestinian Women’s Association also cooperated with Al-Awda hospital in Gaza on an “At-cost hospitalization” program, which is by far one of the most effective programs, since the hospital is community-based, community-created and supported by the impoverished community surrounding it.
Women are also leading organizations that are not necessarily focusing on women issues. One such organization is Ad Dameer in Ramallah, led by Khalida Jarrar, which works on over 1600 cases of political prisoners. The organization is led and largely operated by women, and some of the women working there were themselves political prisoners, and continue to have their partners or family members in Israeli jails.