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‘No Free Homeland Without Free Women’: Palestinian Youth Movement celebrates International Women’s Day 2020

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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.

Artwork by PYM Michigan member Jenin from Nablus.

Artwork by PYM Michigan member Jenin from Nablus.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Confront Zionist, Orientalist, Imperialist and Islamophobic feminist appropriation of women’s rights discourse as a means to justify and normalize colonialism and oppression.
  3. 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

#InternationalWomensDay

#PalestinianWomen

#Tal3at

Palestinian Youth Movement

The Palestinian Youth Movement (“PYM”) is a transnational, independent, grassroots movement of young Palestinians in Palestine and in exile worldwide. Our vision is to mobilize Palestinian youth, strengthen our role and assume responsibility and accountability to our national struggle.

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3 Responses

  1. Misterioso on March 9, 2020, 10:11 am

    Women of Palestine:

    Remember, you have a courageous and determined ally in the United States, Congresswoman
    Betty McCollum, whose first concern is the welfare of your children. Reach out to her!

    Congresswoman Betty McCollum, an American heroine!!

    https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/i-have-right-speak-congresswoman-mccollum-standing-firm-against-aipac

    “‘I have a right to speak up’: Congresswoman McCollum not backing down to AIPAC”
    Middle East Eye, 29 Feb. 2020, By Ali Harb

    “Congresswoman Betty McCollum is not backing down from her criticism of AIPAC.”

    “After issuing a daring statement lambasting the pro-Israel group, the US legislator vowed to continue advocating for the human rights of Palestinian children and push against attempts to silence her.

    “In an interview with Middle East Eye, McCollum said AIPAC’s attacks on Israel’s Democratic critics in Congress prove that the organisation is not ‘inclusive or non-partisan’ as it claims to be.

    “McCollum’s remarks come as dozens of her Democratic colleagues gear up to attend the annual AIPAC conference that opens on Sunday. She said she did not ask anyone to skip the event. ‘Everybody has to make their own decision,’ but she herself will boycott the gathering.

    “‘I choose not to attend. Why would I go to an organisation that thinks I’m a terrorist, thinks I’m worse than ISIS… I am not going to look the other way and not acknowledge speech that is hateful which was directed towards me,’ said McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat.

    “The controversy started last month, when AIPAC – formally known as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – ran inflammatory social media ads against legislators it called ‘radical Democrats’. One of the posts featured McCollum along with Muslim-American congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

    “The post was accompanied with a petition suggesting that Congress members who oppose Israel are ‘more sinister’ than the Islamic State militant group, known as IS or ISIS.
    ‘I have a right to speak up’

    “On 12 February, McCollum issued an unflinching response accusing AIPAC of acting like a ‘hate group’ that is using incitement to silence debate.

    “‘Hate speech is intentionally destructive and dehumanising, which is why it is used as a weapon by groups with a stake in profiting from oppression,’ her statement said.

    “The congresswoman, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2000, appears to have zero regrets about confronting the pro-Israel organisation head-on.

    “‘I live in a country which values freedom of speech and freedom of opinion,” she told MEE, adding that it was important for her to reject attempts to ‘bully’ and ‘belittle’ those challenging governmental policies.

    “AIPAC’s recent attacks against McCollum seem to stem from her introducing a bill that would ban US aid to Israel from being used to detain Palestinian children.

    “‘I am free to criticize the actions of my government here as a member of Congress who supports the safety and security of Israel as well as the Palestinian people,’ she said.

    “‘If I think that there’s a policy decision that’s detracting from the safety and security of people, I have a right to speak up and speak out about it.’

    “The congresswoman also rejected accusations of antisemitism levelled against her, saying that making sure children are protected from the trauma of arrests and interrogations is the opposite of bigotry.

    “‘To say that it’s antisemitic to stand up for children’s rights and human rights, that has nothing to do with antisemitism,’ she said. ‘Antisemitism is wrong, but it’s not wrong to criticize a government’s policy of detaining children.’

    “McCollum’s bill is currently in the Foreign Affairs Committee, which will decide whether to hold a hearing on it. The committee is chaired by Elliot Engel, a staunch Democratic supporter of Israel.

    “McCollum said legislators take many factors into consideration before proceeding with a proposed piece of legislation, including its chances of passing.

    “‘We will, of course, be following up and asking for a hearing because we would love to shed light on to what’s happening to these young Palestinian children in detention,’ the congresswoman said.

    “The bill has 23 co-sponsors, so far. Still, two legislators who initially backed it have withdrawn their support.

    “‘A lot of people, when it comes to Middle East politics, they are hesitant to get involved because it is so complicated, and we have seen sometimes when you take a stand or make a step forward, there are people out there who are ready to vilify your action,’ McCollum said.

    “The Israeli military arrests as many as 700 Palestinians between the age of 12 and 17 annually, prosecuting them militarily ‘in violation of international standards’, the bill states.

    “The congresswoman introduced a similar measure in 2017, but after it failed to advance in the House, she reintroduced it to the new Congress last year.

    “‘As someone who trained as a teacher, I think children are important and if we want to have peace in future generations, that means we need to invest in education and health care and opportunities for children,’ she told MEE.

    “‘When it was brought to our attention in 2015 what was happening to the Palestinian children, I wanted to make sure that my country, my government, was good enough to protect children. And that’s how I started getting involved.’

    “Demand for apology”
    “From her early days in the House, McCollum has shown willingness to oppose AIPAC, leading her to cast some lonely votes.

    “In 2006, she was one of 36 House members to oppose a bill that would have cut aid to the Palestinian Authority. The proposal passed in the House with the backing of 361 legislators.

    “Her first run-in with AIPAC dates back to that vote. At the time, the congresswoman demanded an apology from the pro-Israel group after she said an AIPAC representative told her chief of staff that ‘support for terrorists will not be tolerated’.

    “‘This response may have been the result of extreme emotion or irrational passion, but regardless, it is a hateful attack that is vile and offensive to me and the families I represent,’ McCollum wrote in an open letter to AIPAC at the time.

    “Sixteen years later, the congresswoman is still as fierce in rejecting AIPAC’s tactics.

    “After the latest episode, McCollum said her colleagues from both sides of the aisle were outraged by the ads, and so were the people in her district. ‘My constituents have been absolutely marvelous,’ she said.

    “‘And I acknowledge and appreciate the support I’ve received from the Jewish community both nationally and at home in Minnesota.’

    “‘They may disagree with me on policy, but they don’t disagree that I have the right to criticize the policies of a government if I think that government is doing something that harms children.’

    “AIPAC eventually issued an ‘unequivocal apology’ for its posts, but fell short of addressing the concerns of the lawmakers who were targeted.

    “‘The ad, which is no longer running, alluded to a genuine concern of many pro-Israel Democrats about a small but growing group, in and out of Congress, that is deliberately working to erode the bipartisan consensus on this issue and undermine the US-Israel relationship,’ AIPAC said earlier this month.

    “McCollum said the half-hearted apology was not sufficient.

    “‘If they are to make an apology, it needs to be sincere, heartfelt, and it should come with a caveat – ‘We will not repeat this mistake again.'”

  2. Stephen Shenfield on March 9, 2020, 4:13 pm

    “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.”

    Does this mean that the concept of male and family “honor” residing in the conformity of female relatives to a strict code of sexual conduct has nothing at all to do with any part of the violence endured by Palestinian women? Or does it mean that this concept is not a “cultural dogma”? What is “cultural dogma” anyway? Culture is rarely embodied as dogma.

    “Religious dogma” — OK, that I understand. Holy Writ, such as the Bible and the Quran, is surely religious dogma. So does this mean that such widely studied texts have no social influence? Of course, it can reasonably be argued that other factors are much more important, but that is not the same as denying the role of religious dogma altogether.

    Is it really true that such “discourses” and “claims” always and necessarily come from people who ignore or justify Israeli colonization? Is it impossible to think that culture and/or religion may have something to do with violence against Palestinian women and at the same time condemn Israeli colonization?

    It is often said that an emphasis on male “honor” is a means by which Palestinian men try to defend their dignity and self-respect in the face of deliberate Zionist action aimed at their humiliation and emasculation (in Israel’s torture chambers, for instance). It is a defensive adaptation, often excused by the observation that they have nothing left but their “honor.” But it comes at the expense of Palestinian women, thereby dividing the Palestinian community and the Palestinian family. It is very convenient for Zionism that the arrow of resistance should in this way be deflected inward.

    • Mooser on March 10, 2020, 11:58 am

      “Is it impossible to think that culture and/or religion may have something to do with violence against Palestinian women and at the same time condemn Israeli colonization?” “Stephen Shenfield”

      Impossible? I should say not, you seemed to think of it very quickly.
      But I guess these things are obvious when you look at the situation from an elevated perspective. I am ‘culturally indebted’ to you for it.

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