Palestinian activists Manar Raje and Haya Abu Shukhaidem speak to Oisin Challen Flyn about the growing movement over violence against women in Palestine.
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Across Palestine a new slogan resonated last September: “You can’t liberate the land and not women.” Activists gathered in cities across Palestine to protest violence against women. The protests were called after the murder of Israa al-Ghrayeb by family members in a so-called “honour killing”, and against the Palestinian Authority’s handling of the case, which looked at the time as if the killers would escape sentencing.
As a result of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank that began in 1967, the Palestinian legal system remains fragmented and outdated, with laws dating back to Jordanian and Ottoman rule of Palestine creating loopholes such as the ones Israa’s killers attempted to use to escape justice.
The political situation in Palestine means that it is very difficult to organise any form of resistance to women’s oppression. The Israeli Occupation brutally crushes political expression. Unlike Israeli citizens, who are subject to civil law, Palestinians living in the West Bank are ruled under military law, meaning harsh sentences and repressive measures for activity deemed “terrorism”, including protesting.
Activists are regularly arrested, tortured and held in administrative detention without trial, even targeted for social media posts critical of the Israeli government or their prop, the Palestinian Authority. In recent years, Israeli attempts to impose control on the region have intensified, with increased evictions of Palestinian homes to clear space for Israeli settlers. Donald Trump’s symbolic moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem has only emboldened these efforts.
In this environment of fear, there is very little space to organise against violence against women.
We spoke to Manar Raje and Haya Abu Shukhaidem who were involved in the movement following Israa’s death which attempted to challenge this fear.
How did the protests start?
Manar Raje: A few months ago a girl from Beit Sahour “mysteriously” died. According to some Facebook pages, Israa al-Ghrayeb, a 22-year-old woman who was working as a makeup artist and DJ passed away from an aneurysm caused by domestic violence. According to what was reported by her unknown friend, she was hit by her brothers and her sister’s husband who broke her spinal cord.
I believe that no one has the right to discriminate against anyone and no one has the right to take someone’s life or freedom for any religious or political reason. As a person who has suffered mentally from hearing similar stories, I had to make the first move by organizing a protest in Bethlehem. Over 70 people assembled and demonstrated with posters and written words against domestic violence, especially against women.
After this event, everyone was inspired and encouraged to act and demand justice. My event echoed a louder voice. More people gathered together from all around the world to protest together against violence. A series of protests were launched all around the West Bank and in Occupied Palestine.
What are the connections between violence against women and the Israeli occupation?
Israeli policies implement discrimination against Palestinians in the lands it has militarily occupied since 1967, but this is part of a larger colonialist programme. Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, Palestinian citizens who are inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders face policies that limit and contain the Palestinian population in order to create and maintain a Jewish majority country that privileges Jewish citizens over non-Jewish ones.
Although they have the right to vote, they won’t be able to change much as Palestinian citizens of Israel (who comprise about 20 percent of the population) face widespread systematic discrimination in virtually every aspect of life, including loads of laws that give Israeli Jews preferential treatment in dealing with everything from land ownership and housing, to education, employment, health care, and family reunification.
If you do not have citizenship, you are not allowed to ask for the rights you need. Obviously the message is clear! Palestine has been harmed just like our dearest Israa.
Women have played a key role in the recent wave of mass protests around the world. Does this bring you any kind of hope?
Egypt, Morocco and Iraq and other countries in the Middle East are facing extensive use of force and torture. This includes use of excessive force against protesters, sexual harassment, and many other attacks and offenses, as well as restrictions on freedom of expression and discrimination against religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups. Those who stand up for human rights across the world are often acting in difficult and dangerous circumstances.
But this movement, this power, and this fight for justice can’t keep growing towards a better society without more people. We must be united against racism, violence, discrimination, occupation and war. We must be ones to bring about a better version of this world.
Who organised the demonstrations for Israa?
Haya Abu Shukhaidem: The protest on 31 August 2019 in Bethlehem was not organised by an official party. It was an initiative from us, young Palestinians, because we believed that we shouldn’t remain silent and thus we demanded justice for Israa.
Later protests were organised by a new Palestinian movement called Talaat. Their main message is that there can’t be liberated Palestine without liberated Palestinian women.
They have been defending all Palestinian women; prisoners in Israeli jails, the oppressed, the ones who were killed in “honour killings.” They organised demonstrations in Palestine, Lebanon and Germany. I participated in the Ramallah demonstration because I believed that every Palestinian man and woman should support their movement and be part of it.
What do you see as the roots of violence against women in Palestine?
Occupation tends to create a more violent environment here, where people are pressured and humiliated. However, I don’t believe that this is an excuse for men to victimise women because both men and women in Palestine are exposed to the same oppression and humiliation.
The situation in Palestine is also similar to the situation in any other non-occupied Arab country, so I blame the Arab patriarchal culture and the out-dated Ottoman and Jordanian Laws that are still applied in Palestine.
As far as I know, there are no laws in Islam or Christianity that allow “honour killing” or encourage violence against women.
Are you having an effect and changing people’s minds?
People didn’t talk about the killing of women before. It was as if they took it for granted and didn’t think it was wrong. I have noticed that now people have started talking about it, and more and more people are protesting against it. Some people only post about it on social networks but still I believe that this is a big step.
Manar Raje and Haya Abu Shukhaidem are activists living in the West Bank.