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Paramedic Razan al-Najjar, in death became a martyr and inspiration (Image via Flickr)

Large scale protesting and the death of an innocent paramedic are lighting the fires of empowerment in Palestinian women, writes Dr Ibrahim Natil.

Women’s active engagement in Gaza “Great Marches of Return”

Women’s active participation at the Gaza Great Marches of Return has been visible since 30 March 2018, despite the iron fists of the Israeli occupation and social conservatism. Palestinian women have already engaged in non-violent struggle or at least “mother activism” as a part of their contribution to national liberation and freedom, however, there have been a small number of women involved in armed resistance.

In the meantime, this engagement in non-violent resistance activities also contributes to promote their active participation in the decision-making of politics and social life. It also gives them a platform to decide on the political and social changes of their society in the current extreme harsh humanitarian circumstances in the Gaza Strip.

Humanitarian resistance

Thus, women have the power to contribute to their society by participating in non-violent actions, as well as being a part of humanitarian resistance. 

Since the launch of the current marches in March, Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old female paramedic, has been a different symbol of peaceful defiance and humanitarian resistance. Razan was killed by Israeli soldiers while carrying out her humanitarian duties with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) during protests along the separation fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel on Friday 1 June. Her image have been circulated actively online to expose the immorality of the Israeli occupation.

Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator, said:

“It is very difficult to see how Razan posed such a threat to heavily-armed, well-protected Israeli forces in defensive positions on the other side of the fence.”

Women have always been subject to Israeli violence. For example, a report by the Ministry of Health during the 2014 Israeli assault called Operation Protective Edge on the Gaza Strip, 316 women have been killed and 1,498 wounded by Israeli occupation forces. Razan’s case, however, during this time of the Great Marches of Return represents a new approach of humanitarian resistance, defiant resilience for many Palestinian woman against the Israeli occupation who have already lived through various cycles of violence, siege and inhuman security circumstances. Killing Razan, who was assisting and rescuing the injured, is a clear violation of the international humanitarian law.

Jamie McGoldrick confirmed:

“Healthcare workers must be allowed to perform their duties without fear of death or injury.”

The Great Marches of Return have already provided an essential platform for many young women who have taken a very active role in processes of events and resistance.

New approach

The generation of young women like Razan who were born during or after the failed “Oslo Process” between PLO have been experiencing bitterness of inhuman circumstances, owing to collective Israeli iron fist policies on the Gaza Strip, including the rapid expansion of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Women’s engagement in non-violent, popular resistance takes on various tasks and duties, including active participation in the confronting and protesting against the Israeli settlements and the separation wall in the West Bank. They participate in planning and coordinating the activities of non-violence in the field at the front lines and provide necessary logistics. They are active in social media, addressing the public locally and internationally. They also participate at international conferences, sharing their stories of resistance and challenges, and highlighting the importance of non-violence to contribute to the goals of the Palestinian struggle and liberation to end the occupation.

In spite of these challenges, women’s active engagement in non-violent activities has already achieved some changes in Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which can be summarised as follows:

  • Women activists have broken the wall of fear, shame and taboos, while the images of active women were being circulated via new and traditional media. This encourages women to attain a little of their basic rights in resistance. This also encourages men to support their existence in all forms of resistance. Women’s active participation in non-violent activities against both the separation wall, and expansion of settlements between 2002 and 2014 encouraged many women to participate in the latest wave of popular resistance.
  • They also persuaded their families of the importance of their participation in non-violence activities. Women’s leaders invited the mothers of martyrs to participate in the various events of non-violent resistance. This encouraged some families and parents to accept their women taking an active role in the activities.
  • Women’s success includes initiatives to resist occupation and support Bedouin families by exercising their rights of existence on their lands in Area C of the West Bank in particular.
  • They also contributed to the campaign of boycotting Israeli goods and played an effective role in the dissemination of this culture among many Palestinians in the West Bank.

In other words, they succeeded in contributing to a number of community grassroots and social solidarity activities, which encourage the next generation of women to become engaged in non-violent resistance, politics and women’s political empowerment.  

These success stories of women’s active engagement in and contribution to non-violent events indicate that young Palestinian women have the potential power of resilience and defiance to challenge the inhumane circumstances of many years of struggle. The images of women’s participation in resistance have been visible, side-by-side with young men who challenged the Israeli soldiers at the checkpoints in the West Bank, and the security fence or the buffer zone in the Gaza Strip, throwing stones and chanting national slogans.

Their participation was a gesture to change the situation via engagement in the various waves of peaceful resistance. Women’s participation in great marches in the Gaza Strip represents essential seeds for Palestinian resistance and its contribution.

Dr Ibrahim Natil is a Fellow at the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction at Dublin City UniversityHe is a human rights campaigner and was a nominee for the Tällberg Foundation Global Leadership Prize, 2016. You can follow Dr Natil on Twitter @Natilibrahim.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

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