Randa Harara is adamant that she will stand up to Israel’s forces of occupation again – once she has made a recovery.
On 11 December, Randa – aged 21 – was shot by a sniper hiding at Nahal Oz, a military checkpoint separating Gaza from Israel. She was taking part in a protest against the announcement by Donald Trump, the US president, that he recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“My injury will not prevent me from taking part in further clashes [with Israel],” said Randa, who was wounded in the left leg. “This is our duty towards Jerusalem.”
An accountancy student at Al-Azhar University and a campaigner with the Progressive Student Action Front in Gaza, Randa knows that the cost of confronting Israel can be high. “But that doesn’t mean that women should be absent from the battlefield – especially when it comes to the issue of Jerusalem.”
Randa has the backing of her family.
“Cause headaches for Israel”
“I have given my daughter full freedom to do what she believes in,” said her father Kamal, who has accompanied Randa to some of the protests at the boundary area between Gaza and Israel. “We can’t give up our land. It is important to put pressure on and cause headaches for Israel.”
Ahed Tamimi, who turned 17 on 31 January, has come to epitomize the courage of women and girls who challenge the Israeli military. Here in Gaza, many people admire Tamimi for demonstrating her anger at soldiers who suffocate her home village, Nabi Saleh in the occupied West Bank, by slapping one of them.
Leila, a 14-year-old from Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, used to mainly check social media websites for fashion tips. More recently, she has been searching the Internet for updates on the detention of Tamimi and her trial in an Israeli military court. She has also begun to read more widely about Palestinian politics.
“Ahed is my hero,” Leila – not her real name – said. “I wish I could be like her – an influential person in our struggle with Israel.”
Leila wishes to take part in the protests held along Gaza’s boundary with Israel each Friday. Yet she does not have parental permission to do so. “My mother says it [protesting] is like suicide,” Leila added.
With Israeli forces frequently opening fire on protesters, confronting the occupier can be fatal. Eight protesters from Gaza were killed by Israel along the boundary area in December 2017 alone. More than 480 were injured during that month, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.
It would be wrong to claim that people in Gaza are generally enthusiastic about the idea of women and girls confronting the Israeli military.
I asked a sample of 26 people – equally divided between men and women – their views on female participation in such confrontations. Around 80 percent of respondents were opposed to women taking such direct action.
“These women are mothers, wives, daughters and sisters,” one person responded. “We don’t want to lose more people for nothing.”
Others pointed to the conservative and patriarchal nature of society in Gaza.
“There’s no need for female participation in clashes with Israel,” said Mahmoud Abu al-Eish, a 56-year-old Gaza resident. “This should be limited to men who can handle such tough situations. Female participation [in protests] is outside our customs and traditions.”
“Motherland for everyone”
That view is disputed. Iman al-Haj, a journalist, recently pointed out that women have long been involved in the Palestinian struggle. “Female participation is a national duty at a time like this,” al-Haj said.
Al-Haj noted that she had “shared my anger” with other protesters by directly confronting the Israeli military on a few occasions. “I will participate again and again,” she added.
Mariam Abu Daqqa, a prominent figure in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), argued that “women have stood side by side with men” since the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine. “The motherland is for everyone,” she said.
Abu Daqqa has suffered hugely for her political activities.
She was the first woman living in Gaza to be forced out by Israel because of her involvement with armed resistance.
After being arrested in 1969, she was detained for two years and then exiled to Jordan. In 1975, she moved to Lebanon, where she joined the PFLP.
It would be 1995 before she could return to Gaza. By then, her parents were dead.
“I had not been able to see them since 1969,” she said. “I only had my sister left. And she was sick with cancer and died after about two years.”
More recently, Abu Daqqa has set up a studies and training program for former female prisoners.
She notes that women who confront Israel have to overcome a number of barriers. Such barriers have become higher due to the siege Israel has imposed on Gaza, as well as the three major Israeli bombardments the coastal strip has suffered within the past decade.
The losses incurred by each of those attacks all place “an extra burden on women and this burden restricts their ability to take part in confrontations and have a vital role,” she said.
Women played an important role in the first intifada, which began in Gaza 30 years ago.
Hania Aqel, a 64-year-old woman from Rafah, near Gaza’s border with Egypt, made a number of daring attempts to rescue Palestinians after they had been captured by Israel.
Each time 25 to 30 women would assemble “like a human fence,” she said, “and grab the men who had been arrested” from Israeli vehicles.
The efforts were sometimes successful, albeit at a price. Once, Hania managed to help her son Talaat – then aged 18 – to escape.
“I poured hot water on the soldiers who were arresting him,” Hania said. “I was able to save him but I was shot in my leg by another soldier.”
Samira Mousa, a resident of Jabaliya camp, was active in the Union of Health Work Committees during that rebellion.
Along with many other women, Mousa provided practical support to families of people imprisoned or killed by Israel. That included giving food to families in need.
One of the first people killed by Israeli troops in that intifada, Hatim Abu Sisi “died in front of my house,” Mousa – now aged 57 – recalled.
“His blood filled the entrance of my house,” she said. “That scene affected me a lot and motivated me to provide any help I can to my neighborhood. I planted a tree at the place he was killed. And I’m still taking care of this tree.”
Sarah Algherbawi is a freelance writer and translator from Gaza.