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A young Palestinian-American woman responds to the feminist resistance to Arab norms

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Lately I asked the young Palestinian-Californian woman I've called "Seven" (because her awareness about the evils of occupation began when she was 7 and saw her grandfather being assaulted by an Israeli soldier and her father and brother did nothing) about secular American resistance to the Palestinian because because of feminist concerns. A Jewish friend of mine whose main issue is feminism said she is wary of the pro-Palestinian narrative because she
feels that Arab society casts women back in traditional ways that she
rightly regards as unfair. For myself, this is not the main issue. I regard human rights issues and broader civil rights issues as more fundamental– from physical abuse to denial of free movement to denial of any representation in the politics that decide your fate. But I recognize that these issues keep some gays and feminists out of this area, especially as Israel shines in these areas. And I do respect Israel's civil institutions, press, courts, transparency–as they operate for Jewish citizens anyway. Below is Seven's response. –Phil Weiss

Are you looking for a miracle answer from me to make your
feminists friends happy?  Cause I don't have one.  But I do reject the
idea that Arabs must conform to Western mores before they are able to gain
the support of American feminists.  American feminists usually end up
making me feel really uncomfortable.  A lot of them just don't get how
out of touch they are with the reality of most Arab women living in war
zones or under oppressive regimes (which are for the most part aided by
the U.S.).  I can't really speak for Arab women though. I was born here
in the U.S. and my reality is so different than theirs. 

That being said, all of the people who define themselves as
feminists who I know who are living in Palestine are primarily
concerned with ending the occupation as a means to restoring the rights
and dignity of women in the territories.  They feel that the occupation
is the primary source of the oppression of women.  Women are suffering
directly from the occupation because they are in the line of fire, they
are suffering direct violence from the IDF against them, and because
their freedom of movement is restricted, which makes it incredibly
difficult for them to go out and earn a living and thus gain some
independence.  Palestinian women have a certain amount of autonomy
already but they aren't really free to exercise it under occupation. 
For example they want the right to go out and work just like American
women do but because of the myriad of checkpoints that they would have
to go through while at the same time trying to maintain a semblance of
normalcy in their family lives, this is just not feasible.

But most women just want to protect themselves and their children
and ensure that their family unit remains intact. It's difficult to
focus on promoting equality of the sexes when you need to make sure
that your child gets to school safely every single day and then returns
home safely.  Do you head on over to the local Ramallah
NOW office and conduct workshops or do you stay home to try to prevent
your kid from throwing rocks at soldiers so that they don't get shot in
the face? 
…And so you don't have to hear the American media
talk about how Palestinian parents "let" their children throw rocks at
soldiers because they don't love them…

I know you didn't mention violence against women in the Arab world
but it invariably comes up with the whole feminist conversation.  First,
let me say that I don't think that the prevalence of spousal abuse in
the Arab world is more rampant than it is in the U.S. I know that's
hard for a lot of Americans to believe because the only images of Arab
men that they have are either: terrorists or wife beaters.  But I've
never been exposed to it, never seen it, never had anyone confide in me
that it's happened to them but it certainly exists because I know that
some men like to beat their women and that this happens all over the
world.  Is there a country filled with peaceful non-violent men?  Where
is it?  But as far as Palestinian men are concerned I firmly believe
that there is a strong correlation between what a soldier at a
checkpoint does to a man who is on his way to work every day and how in
turn that man goes home and behaves towards his wife and children.  I
am not attempting to justify the abusive behavior of some men, but, I
am not willing to sell men down the river and pretend like their
actions happen in a vacuum because they are "violent".

I mean, have you been paying attention to the news here the U.S. about how many soldiers returning from home are committing suicide
or getting arrested for beating their wives and girlfriends?  The
numbers are actually quite astounding.  And Phil, this is happening to
soldiers born and raised in the U.S. who are going to Iraq and Afghanistan
for year-long rotations.  They can't handle the violence, and they are
flipping out when they come home.   So it kind of makes sense to
extrapolate on why some Arab men treat their women poorly. 

It took the United States a very long time to grant women the right
to vote and it wasn't really a gift from the elite in this country to
women; it was something that women in this country fought for.  And
thank God that those women didn't have to struggle for equality under
apartheid.  Can you imagine struggling for basic human rights, trying
to prevent your kids from getting killed or arrested daily AND working
to shift the mentality of men around the issues of equality?  Sometimes
I think that Americans are just looking for any excuse not to support
the Palestinian struggle for independence. But it's especially sad to
hear that women place these unreasonable expectations of what other
women should be doing in the name of equality while under the boot of a
very violent occupation, as those women live in comfort and freedom in
the U.S..  Your friend's inability to view the Palestinian issue
outside of her narrow reality as an American feminist is why most
Arab-American women I know tend to avoid this topic with non-Middle
Easterners.  It always feels like an assault against our men without
ever trying to understand the root causes of violence or oppression in
any society.  

And besides what is your friend's idea of equality? Should
Arab women follow the American paradigm?  Because honestly, I wouldn't
want that.  I have many criticisms about the treatment of Arab women in
Arab society but I also have many criticisms about the treatment of
women in the U.S., mainly the objectification of women in this society. 
Can someone explain to me how it legal for the paparazzi in this
country to stalk celebrities, take pictures of their vaginas and then
splash them all over the internet and television?  Why isn't the law
involved in stopping that sexual harassment in this country?  Why won't
anyone in law enforcement or any government official say "you know it's
wrong to take a picture of that woman's vagina without her consent…  if
you do that again, we're going to throw you in jail."  Isn't anything
sacred, really?  Why isn't there outrage about that?  It's always about
how lacking in class the woman photographed is but never about the men that
prey on their alleged lack of class in order to dehumanize them. When are the
feminists going to sue TMZ or Perez Hilton
I'm not trying to get into this whole "East vs. West" thing here or prove
that the treatment of women in one place is better or worse, it's not
my point.  I'm just reminding people that the treatment of women in
this country isn't so shiny.

If Canada started bombing the U.S. tomorrow, I'm not going to
say, "you know I want to feel bad for what Americans are going through
but I won't take a position until they stop airing superbowl ads that
are anti-women."

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of

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