‘My identity as a woman is not detached from my identity as a Palestinian, so I can only rally behind a movement that calls to free women from all systems of oppression.’
By Maryam Hawari
I first encountered Alice Miller v. Minister of Defense in my first year of law school. In 1994, Miller took the Israeli army to the High Court of Justice in a sex discrimination case, challenging its policy banning women from combat roles. The court found the ban to be unconstitutional, and the case was a significant development for gender equity in the Israeli army. Jewish Israeli feminists still considers it a defining moment for the movement, but even then, I could feel that this “revolution” did not represent me.
On Tuesday, a coalition of women’s organizations declared a general strike to protest the government’s inaction toward violence against women in Israel. The strike came a week after the murders of 16-year-old Yara Ayoub from the village of Jish, and 13-year-old Silvana Tsegai from Tel Aviv. It garnered the support of hundreds of organizations and institutions, including municipalities, unions, and corporations. But still, to this day, I don’t feel that this revolution represents me.
It’s important for me to note that violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse and femicide, is a problem that crosses nations, socio-economic backgrounds and age, and must be denounced from its root. I have no doubt that the organizers of the strike had good intentions. They protested under the seemingly-inclusive banner of “Stop the murder of women in Israel” in the hopes that anyone would feel welcome to participate, regardless of their religion, race, gender, or ideology.
But this oversimplified slogan is at the heart of the problem.
I believe that the personal is political. As a Palestinian woman who is inseparable from the rest of the Palestinian people, I can’t isolate the murders of Palestinian women in Israel from the context of the imbalance of power that Israel created and has been consolidating since 1948.
I can’t express solidarity with Israeli women as they stand in solidarity with me, I can’t subscribe to a slogan as abstract as “stop the murder of women in Israel” because I can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that the murder of women here is not only a criminal offense, it is also politically motivated.
Palestinian women are not only murdered at the hands of Palestinian men. Women and girls in Gaza and the West Bank are also killed by Israeli soldiers — both male and female. They are sexually harassed not only by Palestinian men but by soldiers at checkpoints. They are not only discriminated against in Palestinian society, but are invisible to Israeli decision-makers.
The protest on Tuesday culminated in a mass rally in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Some of the activists who attended spoke against the occupation, and included Palestinian women in the occupied territories when they spoke against violence toward women. They mentioned how discrimination, the Gaza blockade, and Israel’s military rule over millions of Palestinians are inherent to the problem of gender violence.
But they stood side by side with female soldiers, police officers, and politicians who support racist laws, and who endorse the occupation and the siege of Gaza — the very women who view me, a Palestinian, as an existential threat.
This is why the nature of the current wave of protests indirectly — if not purposefully — excludes me. It only wants to save Palestinian women from the injustices and patriarchy of Palestinian society, while totally disregarding state-sponsored segregation and discrimination in education, the allocation of resources, health care, land expropriation, police brutality, silencing dissent, unrecognized villages, and the lack of access that Palestinian women have to public transportation, in case, say, they would have liked to join the rally in Tel Aviv.
This protest dehumanized Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and pushed Palestinian women in Israel into the shadow of Jewish Israeli women.
I’m not arguing that Palestinian women are not in need of protection — it’s our right to receive the protections we deserve. But my identity as a woman is not detached from my identity as a Palestinian, so I can only rally behind a movement that calls to free women from all systems of oppression. I can only relate to an act of protest that undoes the privileges that other women enjoy as a result of my oppression. It begins with a recognition of the ongoing injustice and “state of emergency” that we, Palestinian women, have been enduring for 70 years.
Maryam Hawari is a lawyer and a political and social activist. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.