In Jenin, Palestinian Women addresses the concerns of women as they face problems of raising a family and preparing for jobs when the home no longer has a man to support them.Unless you travel throughout the West Bank, you cannot realize the difficulties faced daily by ordinary people who must live each day not knowing what the day will bring. Will there be a curfew, a new checkpoint or a delay getting to a job? Each person asks, Will I be arrested, suffer hours of interrogation or perhaps be killed? They are questions that begin each day for every Palestinian. And for Palestinian women, they are real concerns that demand immediate preparation. The General Union of Palestinian Women addresses the concerns of women as they face these problems and works to take immediate action in non-violent ways.

I had the opportunity of meeting with this dynamic group of women when our Siraj group stopped in Jenin last Saturday, August 2, 2008. Our bus trip took us to the Women’s Center to meet and talk informally with members of The General Union of Palestinian Women. The Union is non-political and is one arm of the PLO, but welcomes women from other parties to join as well. Women helping women, the goal is to develop the role of women on a national level. Support for women in prison and psychological support for women left with families to care for when husbands are imprisoned or killed are important concerns. Gathering signatures to protest the occupation and the building of separation walls is another goal. Social education to make women aware of their rights and duties is a major part of the program that offers women training in computers and gives practical information such as the formation of farm cooperatives.

Women face a problem when husbands who had the responsibility for the financial support of the family are imprisoned. Most Palestinian men and some women have spent time in prison. Though the figure changes each day, an estimated 11,000 remain in Israeli prisons today. Some have been incarcerated for years. Every day, citizens of Jenin face the possibility of detention or of being sent to prison. One woman said that sometimes children are taken to jail for “bravo talk,” for throwing stones or for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. “It is a constant worry.”

The General Union of Women asks, what can we do to overcome our situation of being left alone with a young family to raise? How can we use our skills and what new skills are needed to carry on? The Union is a cooperation of women. Some are skilled in farming, others in crafts and some have sound educations and advanced degrees who can teach the others. The skills of all are utilized.

Tamam Qnawei is President of the Jenin Union. She described the events of the second Intifada that took place in 2002 and the changes that led to the current situation. In Jenin, it resulted in a particularly harsh crackdown. “Israelis killed children, mothers and the men,” said Tamam, “but we are stronger and they didn’t kill our minds.” She characterized the resistance that began in 1967 as a “grass roots” peaceful resistance. But the second Intifada, which began in 2000, took on a political nature and turned violent. The visit by Sharon to the Al-Aqsa Mosque touched off riots and rounds of retaliations.

Israeli response was especially strong in Jenin. F-16s demolished neighborhoods. All buildings were closed and the insides were ransacked and destroyed. The men were killed in front of the women and children. “Seeing their fathers and brothers killed in front of their eyes, the children began to see how to act,” Tamam said, “husbands were imprisoned and the women were not allowed to visit. “It fostered retaliation.”
“Today there is poverty and unemployment, the wall and no travel and fewer women [are able] come to the Union.”

The Siraj visitors wanted to know what message the Union women wanted to take back to the United States. Tamara responded.
“We love to live in security, to travel freely and to teach our children. We want healthy living, a decent life with a good economy – not one that is dependent upon Israeli economy.”

Amneh Darymeh, teacher at the Open University in Jerusalem (Al-Quds Open University) said, “We want people to hear our point of view, not just one side.” She added that it’s very important to know where funding is coming from and what conditions are attached for receiving them.”

The women in the Union said they have a vision that someday they can create a city that serves the needs of women with shops that sell products, Internet connections, a library and television station and a bank to give loans to women.
“Israel should give us a chance to live with the help of all people who love peace,” Amneh added.