OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES: Palestinian Women Call for Justice on International Women's Day

Wednesday, March 9, 2011
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All across the occupied Palestinian territories, women took to the streets on Tuesday in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

In Gaza city, an estimated 500 women marched through the city center calling for national unity and an end to the rift between rival political factions, Fatah, which governs the West Bank, and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip. Women called for a unified Palestinian voice, while hoisting a 10-meter long Palestinian flag, as a necessary step in resisting Israel's expanding settlement project that includes the ongoing judaization of Jerusalem.

Palestinian women also led protests across the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In Beit Ummar, north of Hebron, dozens of women blocked an Israeli bypass road – a crucial piece of the transportation infrastructure built to connect Israeli settlements, a transportation system to which Palestinians have limited access – in protest of Israel's vast system of roadblocks that limit Palestinian movement.

At Qalandia checkpoint, a monstrosity of a checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, 150 Palestinian women demonstrators attempted to pass through to Jerusalem. Israeli border guards formed a human wall to prevent the women from proceeding through the checkpoint, demonstrating Israel's restriction of Palestinians' movement, including the denial of access to areas supposedly under Palestinian control such as East Jerusalem.

In Hebron, a broad swath of women's civil society, including representatives from non-governmental organizations, schools, labor unions, and women's cooperatives organized to distribute flowers to a large number of women across the city.

The Palestinian human rights organization, Al-Haq, released an excellent video for International Women's Day highlighting the ways that both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli occupation are responsible for the suppression of Palestinian women's rights. Alongside the video, Al-Haq released a statement reminding the world that the “struggle for the fundamental human rights of Palestinian women” is severely jeopardized by a “belligerent and unrelenting occupation”:

"Throughout the OPT, women's access to educational institutions, places of employment and healthcare clinics is severely impeded by restrictions on Palestinians' right to freedom of movement. While the repressive and discriminatory policies exercised by Israel against the free movement of Palestinians have had a devastating effect on the entire population, the disproportionate impact on Palestinian women, who are denied the most basic economic and social rights guaranteed to them by international law, cannot be overstated."

Attending a protest in occupied East Jerusalem, Fadwa Khader, women's activist and member of the Palestinian People's Party, accentuated the point that women's rights are routinely trampled by the unrelenting Israeli occupation:

"Today is a celebration of International Women's Day and the Palestinian women of Jerusalem are raising our voices and calling on the world to show solidarity with us and help us get rid of the Israeli occupation.

Part of the women's rights issue is the harm caused by the Israeli occupation. Can you imagine women being woken up and kicked out of their homes in the early morning so their homes can be demolished to make way for settlements?

We are talking about human rights and women's rights."

Too often we are quick to sound the alarm on the plight of women in the Arab world, often citing (by default) the role that Islamists play in the suppression of women's rights in the Middle East. We routinely fail to listen to Arab women – in this case, Palestinian women – who clearly identify the obstacles that stand between them and their rights. On March 8, across Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian women identified the U.S.-supported Israeli occupation of their land and livelihood as the biggest impediment to the realization of their rights.