(Image via globalteacherprize.org)

Despite ongoing trauma and marginalisation, women are leading relief, development and human rights programs In the aftermath of war torn Palestine. Dr Ibrahim Natil reports.

WOMEN ALWAYS pay high prices in the conflict zones of Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya Iraq and Palestine.

We have seen the images of women who escaped with their children the devastating conflicts in these areas by taking death boats via the Mediterranean.

Unfortunately, many died at sea and are lost in the mass grave of the Mediterranean Sea where they lost their lives. Women have also remained, however, in their homes in the conflict zones for a number of reasons including a lack of access to boats.

These women attempt to change their lives despite the miserable and inhuman circumstances in which they live. They embrace resilience and empowerment although they are the most vulnerable segment of society due to a culture of extreme conservatism and violence.

Violence

The long history of conflict in Palestine/Israel has forced women into a position of resisting increased domestic violence against women since the Israeli 1967 occupation of the Palestinian occupied territories. They have been living in very severe circumstances with an absence of peace, a lack of security at all levels, no economic development and the continuation of the Palestinian division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Their suffering in the Gaza Strip has increased since the 2014 war. It was reported that 26,733 women lost their homes due to the Israeli-wrought destruction. In addition, around 929 women in the Gaza Strip lost their husbands, in Israeli attacks during the same period.

The Ministry of Health reported that 2,168 women were injured and about 600 women had miscarriages during the this 2014 Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, codenamed Operation Protective Edge. This escalated the suffering of women, in which 316 women were killed and 1,498 wounded. 

Those women who were displaced have been psychologically distressed, coping with personal trauma and are primary caregivers to at least 425,000 children — also in need of psychosocial support. 

The Israeli occupation also uses violence against women (and men) through arrests which breach the Geneva Convention of protecting civilians under occupation. More than 15,000 women have been arrested since 1967 — 70 women including 17 girls still under 18 years old remain behind bars in Israeli jails in very miserable conditions.

They are mainly held in Hasharon and Damon prisons, both of which are located outside of the 1967 occupied territory, in direct contravention of the fourth Geneva Convention, which states that an occupying power must detain residents of the occupied territory in prisons inside the occupied territory. In 2015 Israeli forces detained 106 women and girls — an increase of 70 per cent over cthe number of women and girls arrested in 2013. 

Defiance and Resilience

Palestinian civil society organisations and women’s organisations, in particular, have been active contributors to relief, development and human rights since the beginning of the Palestine/Israel conflict. They have done so despite social, cultural, economic and political challenges. They have a long history of organising themselves and leading civil society organisations. A number of active civil society organisations are also empowering women's equal political participation through grassroots networks supporting the endeavours of women. 

This includes broadcasting and circulating materials and organising activities to foster a free press and civic engagement and participation in the public policies agenda. Their various missions aim for women’s civic rights, public freedoms and contribution to society — despite living under occupation.

Empowerment and Contribution

Despite the fact of an environment of destruction and despair, women are still persisting to create a new life of hope. Fida Amer leads the Voice Foundation local project, in partnership with the Human Rights and IHL Secretariat to raise the voices of victims who lost their homes during the 2014 war. Fida is the mother of six children, but spends eight hours daily on the project. Her project aims at working with displaced families and understanding their issues. Active listening to displaced women is a crucial point of understanding their needs and voices.

Haneen Al Samak, a mother of four children and primary school teacher, has been working to visit displaced families. She leads local research and advocacy work to report the challenges facing the reconstruction process. Haneen attempted to visit most of women and their families who lost their homes during the war. 

There have been, however, a number of women who made an exceptional contribution to their society through education as Hanan Al Hroub did. Palestinian women employed education to make social and culture changes in society at large. They used education to achieve peace building and advocate non-violence. Education is a significant tool for the Palestinian to struggle peacefully and represent their identity, country and society in the international arena.

On 13 March 2016, Hanan al-Hroub who grew up in a refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, won the Global Teacher Prize for teaching excellence. She competed against 8,000 international applicants to win the $1 million prize, presented to her at a UAE ceremony. She will use the funds to support education initiatives as well. 

Despite violence and marginalisation, women’s successful stories of empowerment and contribution have already made a big difference in establishing viable grassroots engagement, which reaches local people and enables women to gain a voice, despite living under the longest occupation in contemporary history.

Dr. Ibrahim Natil is International Human Rights Campaigner. He also is a visiting Fellow at the School of Politics and International Relations, University College Dublin (UCD).

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