Illustration by Tala Nassar
2:56 a.m. 2:57 a.m. 2:58 a.m. 2:59 a.m. Time finally creeps to the most unwelcome moment of the night: 3:00 a.m. Each and every night, at this excruciatingly early hour, thousands of alarm clocks screech into the otherwise quiet night, pulling 60,000 Palestinians out of their beds and into the hostile night. They embark on their daily routine of standing in long queues at checkpoints established on their occupied land. Holding special permits, stamped by the Occupation’s authorities, they wait to enter land that, as recently as their parents’ parents’ generation, was labeled as their own. Thousands are crammed and crushed into thin hallways of ghastly purgatory.
The first things to check: your dignity.
This all began when Israel took over the land in 1948. Then, in 1967, upon its victory in the war against its Arab neighbors, Israeli Occupation forces expanded their claim to the West Bank. The 2.5 Million Palestinians residing there are supposedly governed by the Western-backed Palestinian Authority. But the Israelis control who and what goes in— and who and what goes out. In a word: everything. They control destinies.
The restriction on freedom of movement, however, seems to be harsher on Palestinian men than women. While women require the same paperwork as men, anecdotal data shows that they have more leeway to move around. By having gendered policies towards Palestinians, the Israeli Occupation combines classic universal dehumanization with the divide and rule mechanism. They dehumanize Palestinians as people by continuously violating their basic human rights while also constructing gendered identities for Palestinian men and women that enforce a traditionally patriarchal Palestinian society.
The systematic control of occupied Palestinian territories intensified after the start of the second intifada, as the Israeli occupation formalized an internal system of movement restrictions on Palestinians through permanent checkpoints, roadblocks, gates, closed roads, barriers and the Wall. Those checkpoints control the travel of Palestinians within lands under the alleged civil control of the Palestinian Authority, as well as to cities under the full control of the occupation. The latter cities include Jerusalem or the Holy Land.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, the occupation renders those roadblocks as “necessary to protect Jewish settlers and other Israelis who are subject to periodic attacks by Palestinian armed groups”.
To target men more than women in this context is to label them as more active, violent and hostile towards the occupation. It is to perceive them as the main leaders of the cause. By giving women a relatively easier time, Israeli soldiers perpetuate gender inequities. They create a distinction that becomes engraved in the new generation’s minds: men are to be feared, while women need not be. Men are active leaders of resistance and women are passive onlookers.
These ideas of traditional gender roles— passive women and leading men— were never a part of the Palestinian resistance. While Palestinian society was not at all free of the plague of patriarchy in the 1960’s, the Palestinian liberation movement did not follow that patriarchal structure. Their struggle was about the loss of their home and a movement towards liberating it; it transcended gender, age and religion. The first Palestinian uprising was named intifadat atfal al-hijara, the uprising of the children of stones, referring to the Palestinian children who took to the streets, throwing stones at tanks and soldiers to defend their homes from being demolished and their land from being taken. Elderly farmers clung to olive trees with all the might left in their aging bodies, protecting their land against tanks. Palestinian women assumed various roles within the resistance movement, from protesters to nurses to armed militants. Fatima Bernawi, Dalal Mughrabi, and many other women joined the military and political resistance against the occupation. Leila Khaled, the first woman to ever hijack a plane, hijacked TWA Flight 840 on its way from Rome to Tel Aviv. Khaled ordered the pilot to fly over Haifa so she could see her birthplace.
By allowing women more freedom of movement in their daily commutes, the occupation can seem to have a gentler approach to women; yet, the reality is, women do not escape unharmed. Fleeing war zones with their families, watching their homes fall to the ground within seconds, or bearing life’s greatest agony— the death of their children. Those gendered policies also don't stop soldiers from assaulting, humiliating or arresting girls and women. Female prisoners “suffer from harsh imprisonment conditions including medical negligence, denial of education, denial of family visits, including for mothers with young children, solitary confinement, overcrowded cells which are often filled with insects and dirt, and lack of natural light. Personal health and hygiene needs are rarely addressed by prisons authorities, even in cases involving the detention of pregnant women.”
Pregnant women have been featured on T-shirts with slogans reading, “one shot, two kills”, among other horrifying examples of this gendered violence. Statistics show that 10 percent of Palestinian women traveling to give birth at hospitals get delayed by Israelis, resulting in over 69 births between 2000 and 2007 happening at checkpoints. There has also been, “a dramatic increase in the number of home births, with women preferring to avoid road trips while in labor for fear of not being able to reach the hospital in time.”
The separation of the way genders are treated under occupation is belittling to women in more ways than treating them as incapable of resistance and allowing their free passage. Treatment of opposition activists is also gendered in that it exploits gender norms. They exploit the traditional honor culture in some Middle Eastern cultures in which an honor of a man is associated with the chastity of the women in his family. Female Palestinian prisoners have given accounts of being threatened by Israeli interrogators to be raped in front of their families if they do not confess, often to crimes they have not committed. The threat was carried out in many of the cases across the history of the occupation. The phrasing of this threat suggests the use of rape not only as a way to deeply violate, torture and permanently scar a human being, but also as a way to exploit this patriarchal view on honor, which the new generation is trying to move away from. It uses rape to hurt women using their own womanhood and destroy female activism among Palestinians.
That is not to say that Palestinians did or do not struggle with gender identities when it comes to resistance. In an interview with The Guardian, Leila Khaled talked about how women in the revolution wanted to be like men, even in appearance, in order to prove their capability. But her views have since changed.
“I no longer think it’s necessary to prove ourselves as women by imitating men. I have learned that a woman can be a fighter, a freedom fighter, a political activist, and that she can fall in love, and be loved, she can be married, have children, be a mother…,” she said in the interview.
The reality is, gender inequities are pervasive in our daily lives, and it is the prerogative of the occupier to use it to divide the occupied community. When we need to deal with hardship collectively, though, those identities become trivial. The occupation has not distinguished between men and women in displacement, demolition, arrest or death. The need to resist comes from this shared suffering. The commitment towards that resistance, however, comes from raw love. And love is not gendered.
Dana Abu Ali is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]