Last Saturday the streets of Ramallah were charged with the energy of nearly three hundred Palestinian women and men, all demanding an end to the vicious Occupation of their homeland and asserting their opposition to a U.S. war on the people of Iraq. The demonstration, coordinated by women’s organizations such as the Rural Women’s Development Society, the General Union of Palestinian Women, and the Palestinian Working Women Society for Development, was in solidarity with millions of women globally calling for justice on International Women’s Day.
After rallying in Ramllah’s center at noon, demonstrators took their message throughout the city’s streets with signs reading “Occupation=Terrorism” and “We Love Life & Struggle for Peace” among others; dynamically the women chanted slogans demanding an equal and active role in Palestinian society, an end to the Occupation, and that the United Nations Security Council oppose any US attack on Iraq.
Listening to their words my heart was aware that indeed, Palestinian women know exceptionally well what a US led war on Iraq will mean for the Iraqi women; they are experiencing a US backed war on their land, in their homes, in the schools of their children…all in plain view of the international community.
The force of the women, confidently marching past the bustling shops and market, absorbed the attention of all bystanders. Despite the excitement of events my thoughts remembered communities in West Bank and Gaza Strip where I have been visited Palestinian women to learn about their daily struggles. My thoughts mulled over their resistance to the oppressive Israeli regime and efforts to change their conservative society. International Women’s Day focuses the ‘global struggle’ of women for justice; particularly in Palestine such recognition must go beyond this one day. For the majority of Palestinian women, whose days are consumed by continued repressive events, this internationally proclaimed day came and went just as every other. Walking in the protest I began to visualize many of the Palestinian women I have met and whose lives exemplify the struggle for justice.
Three weeks ago my friend Basma gave birth, in an ambulance, at the Huwara checkpoint after being held up by the Israeli army for over two hours. She and her son have survived and are both healthy despite the stressful event and minor complications. How fortunate they are considering that, since the beginning of the Intifada, 51 women have given birth at military checkpoints and 29 of their newborns did not survive the trauma. How ironic and outrageous that her situation is considered ‘fortunate’. Before arriving at the protest in Ramallah I stayed with Basma for three days. Already she continues to carry out all the household chores, prepare the meals, host guests, and, of course, give constant care to her new born child. I am amazed by her ability to balance such tasks, but really what are the other options?
Also facing unimaginable problems giving birth is Mirvat Taha, a prisoner detained in al-Ramla. While protests fueled the streets of Palestinian cities on International Women’s Day, Mirvat was immediately forced back to her prison cell after giving birth to her first child in a hospital a few kilometers away from the prison. She is denied minimal living standards, as are the other fifty some Palestinian women political prisoners detained by Israel. Mirvat is refused the necessary heath care for herself and newborn son. I wonder how she and her child will suffer and survive in this unwarrantable confinement.
After an hour of marching the demonstrators gathered around Ramallah’s minara for a speech. As the crowd congregated I knew the women living in the besieged areas of Tulkarm and Qalqiliya, where Israel is constructing its Apartheid Wall, were undoubtedly fraught by the stress of how to sustain their families in the face of forced
displacement and poverty. Israel’s seizure and destruction of their land and homes is rendering them unable to sustain themselves.
In Jayyous, a community close to Qalqiliya which is loosing all of its agricultural land to the Wall, the women are continually at the forefront of protests against the military’s devastation of their olive grooves and land. The voice of Sunah, an active member in village’s women’s club, reached me as I stood in Ramallah listening to speeches about freedome from the Occupation. Two months ago Sunah predicted that “Israel’s wall is taking all of our land, taking our livelihoods. It will oblige us to leave our homes, and be what- refugees in our own land.”
During the protest it was announced that there were similar demonstrations throughout Gaza’s war torn environment. How many women were able to join the events? How many women where searching for a place for their families to sleep as Israel’s aggressive policy of demolishing homes escalates? Who was grieving the loss of her child due to the most recent incursions? In Beit Lahiya, I have met an astounding women’s club which organizes numerous activities to cope with Israel’s inexhaustible incursions such as first aid courses, medical training to care for the disabled, and seminars to develop methods for helping children cope with violence. Their resilience in the face of Israel’s war on Palestinian communities upholds their families.
Throughout protest women called kull sane winti salme in honor of one another and in celebration for the event. Looking through the lens of my camcorder I watched the women in Ramallah amplify their voices for justice to Palestinian society and the international community. Will their messages be heeded? Who is listening to the thousands of Palestinian women who, beset with their daily struggles, are not able to participate in the global commemoration of women?
Robyn Long is a graduate student completing a one year Compton Fellowship in Palestine where she has been visiting rural communities througout the West Bank and volunteering for Palestinian organizations.