Aren’t Palestinians women too?
Thursday, November 2, 2023
The title of this piece is inspired by Sojourner Truth, and later bell hooks’, famous clapback: “Ain’t I a woman?”. Black feminists have always been asked to justify our tactics and sympathies to white women.
An article about us in the Jewish Chronicle asks: Why does a feminist group care about Gaza? What has bombs and genocide got to do with women and feminism? To our Black and migrant Sisters whose feminism has, by necessity, always been about more than domestic patriarchy, this is a familiar question. It translates roughly to: ‘why do you care about things beyond white Western women’s sympathies or concerns?’
This question sets up a false binary between two things conceived as being opposed to each other: justice for Palestinians on the one hand, and feminism on the other. This is an entirely disgusting and depraved juxtaposition, if you pay attention to conditions on the ground for women in Gaza. So in response we ask the Jewish Chronicle: aren’t Palestinians women too?
50,000 women in Gaza are pregnant. 5,500 are due to give birth in the next month. The collapse of the Gazan healthcare system due to Israel’s genocidal actions, and the lack of medicine and medical supplies as a result, means women in Gaza are facing medieval-style childbirths. We already know caesarian sections are taking place without anaesthesia, on the floors of hospitals. Hospitals that could at any second be blasted by Israeli missiles.
Women who give birth over the coming days, weeks and months will likely have no homes to take their newborn children to, nor can mothers produce sufficient milk to keep them alive due to Israel’s starving of Gaza. Feminists have long fought to improve the quality of, and ensure universal access to, women’s healthcare: today in Gaza the act of bringing life into the world has become a potential death sentence – for mother and baby.
We know that in times of human catastrophe and crisis, barbarity and oppression, women experience the brunt of violence: both at an interpersonal and institutional level. We know that with war comes brutal, unflinching gendered violence. These universal facts – that come out of living in a patriarchal and violent world – don’t change when the women are Palestinian.
More broadly, we know that the mutually sustaining systems of apartheid, settler colonialism and occupation, that keep Palestinians cruelly oppressed, have devastating effects on the psyche of women, and is incompatible with women’s liberation. This is why Palestinian women’s rights organisations and activists have themselves long insisted that women’s struggle and the struggle for national liberation are inseparable.
We know divisions of labour exist in Palestine in similar ways they do in the West: when Palestinian men are caged in Israeli jails, or killed by Israeli guns it is women who pick up the additional work to raise Palestinian families. Traumatised Palestinian mothers, having to raise traumatised Palestinian children, in conditions of inhumane oppression.
This is a dynamic too many Black women in the West know well: it is almost always Black women who run the justice campaigns, and are the ballast that holds a family upright, when a Black man has been murdered by police, or locked up due to the systematic targeting of Black men and boys in Western criminal justice systems.
It’s important to peer through a feminist lens when looking at the ongoing genocide and 100 year oppression of Palestinians. However, with reports of sexualised torture being used to brutalise Palestinian men and boys by Israeli authorities, long before this moment; silenced narratives of the rape of Palestinian women during the Nakba; reports of sexualised violence being meted out on Israeli women by Hamas; as well as the Islamophobic and racist weaponisation of sexual violence that presents it as an Arab, as opposed to a global, problem* there are multiple, overlapping ways feminists must speak out.
Yet, the bottom line is a fundamentally human one. We believe in freedom for all Palestinians.
Quite rightly, no people would ever accept being murdered, humiliated, dispossessed, racially targeted, oppressed, cleansed, exiled – and colonised – without resisting. This means lasting peace will only ever be possible when Palestinians are free. Period.
Freedom means Palestinians having full human rights; to live, love and laugh as equal human beings in a democracy, for all the people on all the land, built on equal rights – not demographic majorities and racial supremacy. This requires political, not military, solutions and that begins with a ceasefire now!
We care about Gaza because we care about women. And we care about women because we care about humanity.
*We added this following generous and loving feedback from our Arab/Muslim comrades – thank you.
2 – Pregnant women in Gaza reportedly being forced to undergo C-section deliveries without anaesthesia (Al Jazeera)
3 – EU must go beyond urging a humanitarian pause and call for a ceasefire to protect Palestinian civilians, says ActionAid (ActionAid)
6 – Suppressed Nakba memories in Palestinian female narratives : Susan Abulhawa’s The Blue Between Sky and Water and Radwa Ashour’s The Woman from Tantoura (Ingenta Connect)
7 – https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-what-is-a-war-crime-and-did-hamas-commit-war-crimes-in-its-attack-on-israel