Thursday, October 31, 2013

Palestinian Women: A Minority Within a Minority

Photo via Wikipedia Commons
By: Anna Rumer
Produced & edited by: Tim Tripp

  Countries such as the United States, India, and the U.K. often hail Israel as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, but this view often veils the truth of the violence, prejudice, and impoverishment going on inside its borders amongst one of the most discriminated against groups in the world: Palestinian women.
  For over 500,000 Palestinian women living in Israel and the Occupied Territories, this discrimination is the reality of their everyday life. Palestinian women must face the dangers of not only living life as a national minority but as a minority in gender.
  While the experiences of these women vary based on location and socioeconomic status, a majority live in peripheral communities with low income and level of education. This is in part due to the lack of employment opportunities for Arab women. 
  Israel National Insurance Institute calculates that only 18 percent of Arab women work compared to 55 percent of Jewish women. This is a lower rate of female employment than any Middle Eastern nation, including Oman and Saudi Arabia.
  Many of the issues that women face while living in these areas are shared with Palestinian men, such as the Absentee Property Law. This law states that any person living in a hostile country or in “the Land of Israel” not controlled by the State of Israel who owned property within the state, is considered an absentee owner. This means that his property can be transferred to the state’s Custodian of Absentee Property.
  Rasha Sansur, a Palestinian born in Jerusalem, has seen an increase in the implementation of this law. “You go into the old city, and that guy who was an Arab there, you see an Israeli flag outside of his house. Like someone just took over the house,” she said.

Palestinian Women Face Sexual Violence
  While fighting for the right to keep their land, Palestinians face harrowing checkpoints that pepper Israel and the Occupied Territories. 
  For women, these checkpoints are especially dangerous. Sansur faces up to six hours a day in checkpoints while going to work. “When it is hot they turn on the heat and when it is cold they turn on the air conditioning … because they love it when the Arabs start fighting with each other,” she said. “Sometimes people touch you; there are perverts everywhere.”

Western Wall in Israel. Photo via Wikipedia Commons

  This sexual violence unfortunately is not uncommon in Israel. Jewish women in Israel face this violence as well, frequently while attempting to pray and participate at Jewish religious sites such as the Western Wall.  However, Palestinian women face the brunt of the violence. In 2009, it was estimated by the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling that 60 percent of all murders in Israel are Palestinian women.
  Aya Mana’a, Palestinian activist formerly working for the Coalition of Women’s Peace, described the feeling that such violence brings. “We are more vulnerable … oppressed from the state and from the men. A lot of Arab woman are experiencing oppression, the feeling from fear.”
  Mark Thomas, Developments and Outreach Coordinator for Kayan-Feminist Organization, which aims to improve the status of Palestinian women in Israel, deals with this violence regularly. “Violence against women is prolific here,” he said. “Palestinians in Israel do face gender motivated murder, which is regularly excused or explained in the media … under the heading of honor.”
  For women wishing to fight this violence and other injustices, the legal system holds few answers. While civil laws are fairly progressive, they are sparsely enforced. For the real legal power, many look to the religious court systems, which are inherently racist and sexist. 
  Many of these courts are even placed outside of Israel and the Palestinian Territories in Lebanon, a country technically at war with Israel, which keeps Palestinians from arguing their case.
  Part of Kayan-Feminist Organization’s service is helping women to navigate court systems. “Many women don’t even know how [the courts] work, what the procedures are what the fee schedules are, because this stuff isn’t even published,” Thomas said.
  When organizations challenge things such as honor killing, they face anger from Palestinian men as well as Israelis.
 “There are very few domains of Palestinian social, cultural, and legal autonomy left in this country, and any threat or any change or any challenge to these systems that we might make on behalf of women will be perceived by the nationalist group … as undermining that national autonomy,” Thomas said.
  Despite this discrimination, there are many that fight back. Kayan-Feminist Organization helps train women at the grassroots level to become community leaders for community-based women’s associations, forming initiatives with measurable outcomes.
  In 2008, Thomas said that Kayan-Feminist Organization formed the Forum of Arab Women, which gathers leaders from around 17 community-based women’s associations to collaborate. Thomas compares their progress to the U.S. feminist movement in the 1970s. “We can see a critical mass building,” he said.
  Razan Kafiety Stiban, a Palestinian living in Jerusalem, describes the Palestinians in Jerusalem as determined. “All I can say about Palestinians in general … is that they are full of energy, patience, pride and power. They have been fighting for years and years for their land and for their homes with no boredom or depression,” she said in an e-mail.

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