Editor’s Note: The following is a statement from the Palestinian Youth Movement. Mondoweiss occasionally publishes press releases and statements from organizations in an effort to draw attention to overlooked issues.
On March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day to honor the lives of women throughout history. This International Women’s Day, we, the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM), pay homage to Palestinian women who have been pillars in our struggle for justice, liberation, and return to Palestine. We acknowledge that Palestinian women have been central political actors in the struggle to liberate Palestine, and have also selflessly sacrificed for the collective wellness of Palestinian society across decades. Building upon the history of Palestinian women’s movements, we believe that to achieve a liberated Palestine, we must realize the total emancipation of all our people from all systems of oppression. We believe that freedom entails the end of Zionist settler-colonialism, imperialism, gender-based violence, exclusion, inequity, and other forms of structural oppression that govern Palestinian land and life.
We are moved to action by the political principles advanced by Tal3at, a movement organized by Palestinian women within Palestine and in exile who have elucidated that there can be “no free homeland without free women.” We are committed to confronting gender-based violence, femicide, and Zionist settler colonialism as they are co-constitutive of one another. This sentiment is akin to the spirit of Tal3at’s mass mobilizations last September in response to the murder of Israa Gharib by her family, and the soaring rates of violence against women in Palestinian society. In these mobilizations, Tal3at protestors, both women and men, chanted for refugee return, freedom, dignity, and social justice, and insisted that national aspirations can and must be achieved through a feminist revolution. Also, Palestinian women, self-identifying as “the daughters of Palestine,” called for a revolution against “Masculinity, Patriarchy, Occupation, Zionism, Colonialism, and Oppression.”
We recognize the entangled relationship between Zionist settler-colonial gendered violence and the intra-communal violence Palestinian women endure. Since early phases of Zionist settlement in Palestine, acts and threats of sexual violence have been among the most instrumental weapons used to decimate Palestinian bondages to land and one another as part of the greater process of ethnic cleansing. Today, countless numbers of racist and gendered codes inscribed within Israeli law legitimize state-sanctioned violence and control over Palestinian women’s bodies, movement, economic sovereignty, and access to justice, particularly for Palestinian citizens of the settler-state. Under colonial siege in the Gaza Strip and occupation in the West Bank, pregnant Palestinian women are unable to access medical attention as a result of militarized roadblocks, checkpoints, curfews, and inaccessibility to hospitals resulting in chronic rates of mortality.
Not only are Palestinian women unable to produce life freely, but they are also barred from preserving life. Such was the case of 20-year-old nurse Razan al-Najjar who was deliberately targeted and shot dead by Israeli sniper fire on June 1, 2018, as she tended to the wounded during the Great March of Return in the Gaza Strip. Death, debilitation, and injury to Palestinian bodies have become quintessential characteristics of Zionist colonialism. Under an increasingly robust Israeli surveillance and security apparatus, Palestinian women are denied the right to safety both in public and private life; Israeli home invasions in the middle of the night that tear families apart, are but one illustrative example of the persistent torment Palestinians endure, and the various ways population control techniques reinforce the control of women’s bodies, relationships, spirituality, practices of intimacy, and home life. Furthermore, imprisoned Palestinian women and girls experience varied forms of psychological and physical torture that negate their humanity and weaponize gendered and sexual violence against them and their families.
As Palestinian women leaders such as Khalida Jarrar have argued, Palestinians exist within a domain of colonial occupation, in which all Palestinians are denied freedom, and whereby women within the Palestinian society are doubly affected by structural and intra-communal and interpersonal violence. It is in this context that we recognize the impossibility of addressing communal and intimate violence against Palestinian women without contextualizing the broader racial, economic, and colonial structural oppressions that condition Palestinian society. We recognize intra-communal/interpersonal violence within Palestinian society, including gender-based violence, as deeply entangled with Zionist militarism; an entanglement corresponding to what Black feminists have described as interlocking systems of oppression and/or intersectionality. These entanglements do, however, require political approaches to organizing that account for how and why many within Palestinian society have come to register phrases, such as “women’s rights,” as pseudonyms for neo-liberal Zionism and imperialism.
We are sorely aware of the ways that “women’s rights” have been appropriated by the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Palestine, as well as, in liberal Zionist, Imperialist, Islamophobic and Orientalist feminist discourses that reproduce racist notions of Arabs and Muslims. These discourses underly the notion that the violence Palestinian women endure is resultant of cultural and religious dogma. Such claims ignore, even justify, the violence of Israeli colonization. These agendas have had a chilling effect on Palestinian society whereby grassroots Palestinian demands for gender and sexual justice are seen as “Western” concepts and delegitimized as inauthentic to Palestinian cultures. As a collective of Palestinians, we reject all forms of pseudo-feminist solidarity with Palestine and simultaneously assert that ending violence against women is a Palestinian national aspiration alongside aspirations for return, freedom, and dignity.
Furthermore, for Palestinians in the U.S., any meaningful acknowledgment of Palestinian experiences – let alone Palestinian women – has been suppressed within US mainstream feminist spaces as a result of the too-long accepted ambivalence to Zionism as a structural form of gendered and sexual violence and oppression. As the movement for justice in Palestine has grown exponentially within the U.S., it has also been met with excruciating repression campaigns that aim to stifle dissent. While women of color have long expressed – and continue to demonstrate – their solidarity with Palestine, it is disheartening that many women’s movements and discourses continue to silence Palestinian women and calls for freedom in Palestine.
Only last year, the United States Women’s March expelled Muslim American advocate Zahra Billoo from the board due to her support for Palestine. Conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is but one way Zionists have worked to exclude justice in, and for, Palestine from the intersectional vision that must drive the Women’s March forward. The growing Zioness movement, for example, aims to normalize Zionist “feminism” as part of contemporary movements for women’s liberation. We state clearly so the misconception is impossible: there is no way for a “women’s movement” to be feminist and liberatory if it protects and defends ethnic cleansing, military occupation, and the degradation of an entire people and land.
We understand that Zionist settler-colonialism is also a project of capitalist accumulation, not only impacting Palestinian bodies but also our ancestral land as a resource for extraction, decimation, and ‘development.’ We recognize that Palestinian women have been instrumental in defending the integrity of land and the life it nurtures. Borrowing from the learned lessons of women involved in land-based struggles from Turtle Island and the Kingdom of Hawaii, to the Philippines, we believe in the land as a provider of life rather than a site of extraction and aim to refortify reciprocal relations of care, love, and appreciation, for land as part of our political ethos. We recognize that unabated capitalist accumulation has resulted in global crises of displacement, fascism, xenophobia, environmental degradation, and violence against women. We honor and join women from across the global South who are rising against gendered violence, dispossession, authoritarianism, masculinist militarism, class warfare and in the protection of land. We unwaveringly affirm our commitment to transnational solidarity.
We envision a future where all our people can be free from prisons, occupation, refugeehood, economic, gendered and sexual violence, and landlessness. We trust in the power of grassroots liberation organizing and we refuse to accept injustice in the name of prioritizing one cause above another. Women’s liberation is not secondary to national liberation. We look to Palestinian women’s movements deeply embedded in our histories for guidance and inspiration as we build upon their legacy. We borrow from the profound lessons of Arab and Muslim women’s movements throughout history and the radical collective traditions of Black, Indigenous, and Third World Feminisms. As Palestinians in the U.S., our work to advance an inseparable social and national liberation struggle is thus guided by the following goals:
- End all forms of gender-based violence, exclusion, and inequality and center gendered and social liberation as a critical component of our vision, discourse, strategy, and methods to achieve national liberation.
- Confront Zionist, Orientalist, Imperialist and Islamophobic feminist appropriation of women’s rights discourse as a means to justify and normalize colonialism and oppression.
- Uplift the participation of women in our local communities, wherever we reside, in the broader movement against both gender-based violence and Zionist colonialism.
With love, solidarity, and a tenacious hunger for freedom, we salute Palestinian women today and every day, and we commit our lives to political and social liberation as one people and one struggle.
Until Return and Liberation,
The Palestinian Youth Movement