Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)

between national and social liberation

The struggle of Palestinian women in the occupied territories: between national and social liberation

Souad Dajani

The momentous “breakthrough” in negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, that culminated in the signing of a joint Declaration of Principles in Washington, D.C. on 13 September 1993, caught veteran Middle East analysts by surprise. Observers immediately scrambled to make sense of these accords and to assess their implications. The possibility of peace “breaking out” and of Palestinians finally enjoying some sort of self-rule, which, if they played their cards right, could eventually result in full sovereignty, seemed to have left Palestinian women at the wayside. Talking about Palestinian women at this point appeared rather ridiculous and irrelevant. Or did it?

The task of national liberation remains far from over, even some would argue, increasingly remote. The struggle of Palestinian women for equality and social justice has likewise remained unresolved. The interim period affords Palestinians (and especially women) a unique opportunity to declare their preferences and define their future society. They can take advantage of the very fluidity of the situation before relationships crystallize into permanent structures to position themselves and their agendas at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle.

The purpose of this paper is to explore issues facing Palestinian women in their struggle for national and social liberation. By situating their experiences within a broader historical and theoretical context, we may better appreciate the factors that impinge upon their current agendas and affect their social movements. Given the location of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as a type of colony for Israel, the intersections between the internal and external, domestic and international, are readily observable and have discernible effects on women. By drawing on appropriate theoretical formulations that explain connections between gender, ethnicity, class, and the state, we can explore the impact of the occupation in general and the implications of interim self-rule on Palestinian women. From there, we can assess the possibilities and constraints surrounding women’s activism in the Occupied Territories.(1) This study is necessarily of an exploratory nature; the pace of events on the ground and the uncertainty of future directions and strategies make it difficult to do more than outline theoretical concerns and indicate issues to which Palestinians may want to direct their attention.

When Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, it extended its colonial domination over these last remaining areas of Mandate Palestine. Over the ensuing 27 years, Israel issued laws and implemented policies that progressively integrated the Occupied Territories into Israel and rendered them dependent and “distorted” in their indigenous productive sectors.(2) Characteristic of the dynamics of settler colonialism, the Israeli authorities expropriated wide tracts of land that it then used to settle its own population. Israel created two distinct societies in these areas; a Jewish settler population under the jurisdiction of Israeli civilian law, and an indigenous Palestinian population subject to Israeli military rule. This and other features of Israel’s colonial domination of the Occupied Territories depict the first level – the colonial settler state – at which external politics and relations are manifested internally. The impact of the occupation and resultant dislocations in Palestinian society are observable at virtually all levels, including the family and the role of women.(3) As Palestinians were increasingly dispossessed and proletarianized; in the Gaza Strip, among the huge refugee population, and among those whose village lands were confiscated, women too were “freed” from traditional structures and roles and forced into the public arena. Women emerged as participants in the labor force and as activists on behalf of the national cause. Gradually – and especially with the launching of the Intifada – Palestinian women became a force to be reckoned with, not only in the national struggle but in the struggle for social liberation as well.

Despite the differential impact of the occupation on Palestinian women, and despite Palestinian women’s visible role in both the national and social struggle in the Occupied Territories, their distinct concerns remain largely absent in both the theoretical literature on the subject and in the practical arena in which such struggles are generally played out.

Women around the world – and Palestinian women are no exception – have traditionally been left out of the sphere of international relations. This omission manifests itself at the level of the state and of gender relations and the state. Reasons for such exclusion varied: It was either assumed that women were non-agents, hence the affairs of state did not concern them, or that state affairs did not affect them. In other words, there was assumed to be no gender content or consequences to political actions and the policies and power relations of states. Over the last decades, both feminist scholars and women activists have been pushing the boundaries of these understandings and have been demanding inclusion. They have shown quite persuasively how state and society interact, with dramatic implications for women. They have questioned the omission of gender issues from the discourse over “national interests” and have analyzed sweeping national processes and state policies that impinge directly on women’s lives.(4) Much of the writing on these themes has expanded upon the idea of the international division of labor in which women worldwide are progressively pushed into a permanently exploited sector in the emerging global economy. This is a theme that remains largely beyond the scope of this paper except to point out that women have become increasingly attentive to the effects of various developmental policies and have urged greater attention to their precise impact on women,(5) If these issues depict a concern for the gendered effects of international relations, then a parallel level at which women have challenged prevailing constructs concerns internal processes at the level of domestic politics. In the case of the Palestinians, international relations and domestic politics converge even more clearly, as the “external” forms of direct Israeli political and economic control give way to and are transformed internally in indirect neo-colonial control during the period of interim self-rule.

A central focus of these concerns is the area of civil society and the role women can play as agents of social change. In the Arab World, one can point, for example, to the role of women’s organizations in challenging various Islamists’ views of society and in checking their inroads into policy-making.(6) In the Palestinian case, given the situation where the governing Palestinian “authority” has not been yet institutionalized, the institutions of civil society can still play a critical and dynamic role in challenging and checking the incursions of both the transitional Palestinian authority and the domination of the Israeli colonial state. The role of Palestinian women in mobilizing and strengthening the institutions of civil society may also empower them to influence processes in favor of women’s rights, democratic participation and social reform in general.

It is this last issue that draws together the various strands of theoretical and practical concerns outlined in this essay. Herein lies the point of distillation and intersection between state and civil society, domestic politics and external relations, and the role and fate of women at and across these levels. Throughout the occupation, and particularly during the years of the Intifada, Palestinian women have been a major force behind the creation of “alternative” structures in the Palestinian community. One could argue that Palestinian women have been instrumental in defining the parameters of these institutions. It was these structures that in turn contributed to the Palestinians’ ability to check and resist the encroachment of the Israeli colonial state into the Occupied Territories. Drawing from the terminology and parlance of the field of nonviolent action and nonviolent civilian resistance, such structures of civil society are basically synonymous to “centers of gravity” located in each of the resistance (in this case, Palestinians) and the opponent (that is, Israel).(7) For the Palestinians, these centers of gravity denote the very foundations of their unity and resistance to occupation. Their strength rests upon the existence of viable social networks for Palestinians to fail back on for support and subsistence. Such civilian based societies can exist at both official and unofficial levels and across different sectors. They comprise such institutions as family structures, grassroots organizations, economic and productive ventures, and other organizational settings that enable Palestinians to sustain a livelihood and resist occupation.(8) By virtue of their diffuse and decentralized nature and civilian based character, such institutions can mobilize people to wield a certain degree of influence and pressure against the total control of the state. The efforts of Palestinian women to mobilize themselves and others in grassroots committees, to participate in other organizational activities and frameworks, enable them to position themselves in precisely these “alternative” civil structures that could in turn wield influence in a forthcoming state or in the interim self-rule administration.

The more specific links between “state”‘ and “society” that prompts such an investigation of gender issues and the inclusion of women in this discourse, pertain to some of the social relations that are foretasted in the course of the implementation of self-rule. These exist at two levels, each of which has special implications for women: within Palestinian society itself (internally or domestically), and between the Palestinian entity(s) and Israel (externally, in the context of colonialism or neo-colonialism). While trends cannot be predicted with complete certainty, it does appear that relations between Israel and the Palestinian “autonomous” region(s) will acquire these general features, each with its own dramatic impact on women:

(a) The continued “integration” of the economy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip into that of Israel, and the ongoing dependence of the Occupied Territories on the economy of the latter. Israeli officials have begun drawing the outlines of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian region. This would resemble a neo-colonial model, one very similar to the relationship between the U.S. and Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). In this scenario, the Palestinian region will continue to supply cheap labor for the more advanced Israeli economy. Its resources (especially water) will continue to be controlled by Israel, its productive sectors will be encouraged to develop only in so far as they do not compete with Israeli products or challenge significant Israeli economic interests in the region (the debate about a port in the Gaza Strip is a case in point). The emphasis will be on improving the standards of living of the Palestinian population so as to raise the consumer power of these residents and enable them to purchase Israeli-made manufactured products. Some hope this development will pay off by “discouraging” unrest.(9)

While this is a rather abbreviated account of the processes at hand, their impact upon women can be predicted. As suggested by theoretical perspectives on the subject, one consequence for women is the threat of permanent subordination and exploitation as a distinct source of cheap labor. Under current conditions of occupation, women of the lower and dispossessed classes are already over-represented in sub-contracting industries in the Occupied Territories, and as seasonal agricultural laborers. The image of sweatshops and Macquiladoras (free enterprise zones in Mexico) comes to mind in describing the features of the new dependent relationship between the Palestinian autonomous regions and Israel.(10)

(b) The expected authoritarian and centralized nature of the governing body of the autonomous Palestinian regions. From all indications, Israel and the main Fatah wing of the PLO have already agreed on the form of the future governing body. Some analysts predict that should any elections take place in these areas (as specified in the Declaration of Principles) these will be symbolic and perfunctory, and that real authority will rest in individuals appointed by Arafat and acceptable to Israel.(11) Israel Shahak, head of the Israeli League for Human and Civil Rights, maintains that the role of this governing body will be to regulate the kinds of relations between Israel and the Palestinian entity on Israel’s terms.(12) Implications for Palestinians in general, and women in particular, concern the independence of action that they have long struggled for and grown used to in these areas. An authoritarian leadership is not likely to tolerate alternative sources of action, let alone those organized around a women’s agenda. Women’s concerns may be expected to assume low priority during the interim stage, as plans go ahead for “development” and “normalization” of relationships with Israel. As in other sectors, women will likely be controlled, their independent activities circumscribed and their organizations permitted only when they are deemed to serve the dominant political authority. Here again, whether as “state” policies or those of the self-governing authority, crucial decisions concerning development will likely be beyond the realm of women’s influence and expertise. That same authority may shift between brute force and enticement to “contain” alternative movements, such as the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas and other religious movements. As is the case with Israel currently, this authoritarian body is expected to view resistance outside of its centralized control with great hostility. The work of alternative formations of the last two decades, such as the Women’s Committees and others, may be suppressed altogether.

(c) The implications associated with the millions of dollars expected to pour in to “develop” the Occupied Territories, are especially significant in terms of Palestinian women. Apart from the broad developmental concerns outlined above that may cause further deterioration in women’s conditions in certain sectors, there are a number of specific concerns. One is that the allocation of funds has largely been (and is expected to continue) as a system of punishment and reward. Throughout the history of the occupation, political factionalism and class divisions have entrenched a system whereby members of specific factions, notably Fatah, have benefitted. This situation has been exacerbated since the beginning of the peace process in October 1991. Since then, funds from international organizations (especially NGOs) were channelled mainly into the “Technical Teams” and other groups that were seen to support Fatah policy.(13) This imbalance in funding allocations intensified factional conflicts in the Occupied Territories. Many known activists were especially resentful to find themselves excluded from the “benefits” of membership in what the leaders expected to become the structures of future Palestinians “ministries.” In the case of women, a number of prominent women, some of whom had been major activists in the earlier women’s committees, set up a Technical Committee for Women’s Affairs. Their deliberate exclusion of other women’s organizations created hostility and resentment, and basically pitted women against each other in what was quickly taking the form of a “class” distinction. Should this trend in the allocation of development funds continue, the highly stratified Palestinian class structure that has been created over the years of occupation will become further institutionalized. The “haves,” those who support Yasser Arafat and Fatah would be rewarded, and the “have nots,” those who express reservations about Fatah policy would be excluded. Since thousands of women (as in the Gaza Strip) have for over two decades placed their lives on the line in the service of the national cause, not all female activists nor their umbrella organizations will submit easily to Fatah dictat. They may likely, therefore, be left out of the benefits of “peace” and the opportunities to improve their economic standing.(14)

These general links within and between the Palestinian entity and Israel in the coming phases suggest serious implications for women. Not only are efforts to promote a women’s agenda in the Occupied Territories at risk, but so is the whole task of revitalizing indigenous institutions and realizing the ultimate objective of national liberation.


There is a direct connection between the activism of Palestinian women and the national cause that clearly locates gender issues in the context of colonial rule. Early mobilization by women occurred in response to Zionist Jewish settlement in Palestine during the British Mandate. During this period women formed delegations to intercede with the British authorities, held their congresses, and engaged in various forms of protest against the influx of Zionist Jews to Palestine and against British policies that encouraged Jewish immigration.(15) Once the arena of Palestinian activism shifted to the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 War, the Palestinian women’s movement was forced to define itself and its relations to each of its new priorities: establishing a separate woman’s agenda, and connecting that agenda to the Palestinian national liberation movement. These formulations emerged against a backdrop of Israel’s continued colonial occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the attendant social and economic dislocations that ultimately affected women’s roles.


During the first years of Israel’s occupation, the venue for Palestinian women’s activism remained concentrated in the traditional charitable societies. Palestinian women, particularly those of the more privileged classes, provided services and relief to the huge dispossessed population. It was only after the mid-1970s that new movements emerged out of the ranks of the younger generation of activist women to challenge the agendas of their predecessors and to set a new course for the women’s movement in the Occupied Territories. The establishment of the popular movements and their institutionalization into viable agents of civil society occurred across the social spectrum; in the form of medical relief committees, agricultural relief committees, voluntary relief committees, student movements, and others including the women’s movement. Between the mid-1970s when they were first formed, and the beginning of the Intifada in December 1987, membership in women’s committees in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip expanded significantly. Palestinian women became acutely aware of their responsibilities under occupation, toward their families, themselves, and the Palestinian nation as a whole.(16)

The concept of mass and civilian based structures was the essential feature of the Intifada that gave it its special character and power. In this, the formation and proliferation of the institutions of civil society pitted against the colonial state, enabled Palestinian women to play a pivotal role. Women held their own demonstrations, and participated extensively in demonstrations and other forms of protest. They exhibited tremendous courage in their confrontations with Israeli soldiers, and frequently risked their own lives to save Palestinian youth from arrest or beatings.(17)

Within the Palestinian community, the Intifada challenged traditional structures and established social relationships, especially those concerning the appropriate roles for women. One could discern a clear connection between women’s increased activism and the general atmosphere of social change generated by the Intifada. The Intifada was a national effort that required a rethinking and suspension of traditional modes of behavior. Many in the Occupied Territories, among them a significant number of women activists, began talking about the democratization of Palestinian society, and worked to formulate strategies for national liberation alongside those for social liberation. Central to their efforts was the insistence on the need to preserve and protect their institutional structures on the one hand, and on the other, to theorize more carefully on the connections between state, society and gender issues.

Much of this new thinking was triggered by an awareness of an emerging backlash against women’s activism. The main source of this backlash came from militant Islamic groups, notably Hamas that predominated in the Gaza Strip. Hamas itself emerged in response to the unending pressures of daily life under occupation, and to the perceived failure of the secular movements to achieve any discernible political gains. In an era characterized by intensified Israeli repression, it was Hamas and similar movements that came to fill the ideological and socio-economic void.(18) The message of Hamas and other militant Islamic groups was that Israel was victorious because Palestinians had abandoned their culture and religion. Much of the focus of their attacks was against women. Hamas, for example, called upon women to leave the public arena and to resume their traditional roles as wives and mothers. Women were instructed to dress conservatively and segregate themselves from men.

The dangers emanating from these extremist religious trends were recognized immediately by Palestinian women. This is not to suggest that opposition to the Islamists’ message was universal. Indeed, many Palestinian women, including traditional activists, embraced this message and the social and political beliefs they espoused concerning national and social issues. However, a discernible sector of Palestinian society, including. women, expressed their very real concerns. Their anxieties related not only to the effects of resurgent Islam upon women, but to the way the Islamist world-view seemed to be attacking the very foundations on which Palestinian society had organized itself in the occupied areas. Women especially were concerned about the effects of militant Islam on advancing democratization. They wanted to ensure that this would be more than a slogan that was appropriate during the period of national resistance that would then be east aside after liberation. They also realized that national liberation could not be accomplished without social liberation. It would only be the achievement of the latter that would effectively institutionalize and formalize the gains made during the last decades of struggle and sacrifice. One could argue that it was from this point on that Palestinian women publicly began articulating a feminist agenda in the Occupied Territories.(19)


Palestinian women activists first broached publicly the issue of religious extremism in the Occupied Territories in December 1990, during a conference on women organized by the Bisan Center in Ramallah. In addition to the participation of some 500 women from across the Occupied Territories, the conference was attended by a number of prominent men including Faisal Husseini, who gave the keynote speech. To many observers, the presence of men helped legitimize women’s concerns and indicate that the backlash against women emanating from extremist religious groups was unacceptable. The outcome of this conference resulted in systematic endeavors to formulate a women’s agenda and address specifically feminist concerns within the framework of total social liberation.(20) In those few months before the peace process got underway in October 1991, Palestinian women did launch a serious investigation of subjects that would have been unthinkable just a few years earlier. These included wife-beating and other types of abuse, abortion, women’s health movements, and other issues of concern. In their work, however, Palestinian feminists kept firmly in sight the elements of their traditional societal setting that impinged directly upon their lives. They viewed these constraints as embodied principally in the Personal Status (Family) laws. As in most Arab countries, personal affairs continue to be regulated by religious codes. Whereas civil laws applied to various state and community affairs, most of the Arab countries ran their “personal” affairs on the basis of Islamic law or modifications thereof. Palestinian women have been especially concerned that their leadership would simply emulate laws in force in Jordan once either autonomy or statehood is achieved.(21) One focus of their efforts was to examine the possibility of devising a civil code to regulate personal matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance. However, caught between an apathetic male-dominated leadership, and the growing popularity of Islamic groups, it was not long before such efforts were abandoned.

Ironically, the fact that the PLO will assume power in the autonomous regions may prove to be a mixed blessing for Palestinian women, and may even have positive effects with regard to the impact of militant Islam. Both the PLO and Israel are interested in crashing any movements that are antithetical to their interests in the area, resurgent and fundamental Islam being one of these. The immediate threat to women emanating from this sector, therefore, may be expected to diminish in the short term. However, this does not mean that women should grow lax in their efforts, for this development may well be accompanied by a host of “secular” restrictions on their lives and freedom of activity. This would especially be the case if the new governing structure is indeed as centralized and authoritarian as some have predicted.


Palestinian women are theorizing about connections between social and political liberation. They made significant strides in identifying the variables in their society that defined their conditions, and related issues of gender to the specific political, ideological and/or class positions of women in Palestinian society. They addressed these issues from within the context of Israeli occupation; aware that it was this overall condition that distorted social relationships within Palestinian society and defined much of the “ethnic” (national) component of gender relations under occupation. In the absence of a Palestinian state, the “internal” and the “external” remain vitally connected, and the Palestinian struggle for democracy and freedom (especially for women) remains quite complex.(22) One advantage of the absence of a state is that it may provide Palestinian men and women with a window of opportunity to initiate change. By virtue of the recent accords, this opportunity may not be available beyond a few years. Women especially must, therefore, chart a new course in defining their public and private roles, some of which may clash with what the emerging leadership envisions for them. The continued absence of a Palestinian state underscores the significance of informal social or communal groups, the essence of civil society in these areas. Such organizations of civil society, whether formed by men or women, and regardless in what sectors, will remain a topic of concern in the forthcoming months and years of interim self-rule.

Additionally, and for the foreseeable future, Palestinians remain locked in a national struggle against an intractable opponent. Their relations with Israel may gradually take the form of indirect or neo-colonial rule, as direct political and economic domination of the Occupied Territories give way to Palestinian self-rule. Economic benefits accruing to Israel will be expected to continue without the accompanying political costs. Palestinian women must keep this reality firmly in mind when theorizing about their conditions and about the possibility of combining a social agenda with a political agenda of liberation. It is on this basis that they need to assess the specific implications of this type of dependency on women.


1. Feminist writers have been paying increased attention to the connections between race, class and gender. Much of this was prompted by challenges emanating from women of color (in the West) and women in the developing world. These women pointed out that by focusing on women’s “equality,” Western feminism (whose mainstream strands were dominated by white middle class women) either ignored the gendered consequences of race and class, or ignored the racial consequences of gender and class. In either case, the overlapping intersections between systems of domination, discrimination and exploitation were not adequately addressed. For an elaboration of these ideas, see, Valerie Amos and Pratiba Parmar, “Challenging Imperial Feminism,” Feminist Review, no.17, 1984:3-18; and selected essays in Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism, eds. Chandra T. Mohanty, Ann Russo and Lourdes Torres (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1991).

2. There is an extensive body of literature on the mechanisms of change in global and colonial contexts. Broad theoretical perspectives explain the general processes of development and underdevelopment, particularly in situations characterized by the domination of a more developed “core” economy over a less developed periphery. For a selection of such writings by Gunder-Frank, Brenner, Cardoso, Wallerstein, and others, see, Introduction to the Sociology of “Developing Societies,” eds. Hamza Alavi and Teodor Shanin (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1982); and, The Political Economy of Development and Underdevelopment, ed. Charles K. Wilber (New York: Random House, 1973). Among the consequence of this imposition are the creation of dependent relations and the distortion of indigenous sectors within the periphery. Some of these processes can be envisioned to persist in Israel’s relations with any future autonomous Palestinian entity(s). Other theoretical approaches pay more attention to specific processes within the “core” and “periphery,” and point to the differential class impact and dislocations that occur in such contexts. The literature on internal colonies, for example, analyzes not only the structural and class distortions that result from colonial domination, but also points to the “articulations” between race (or ethnicity) and class typical to such situations; see, Pablo Gonzalez Casanova, “Internal Colonialism and National Development,” Studies in Comparative International Development, vol. 1, no. 4, 1965: 27-38; and, Harold Wolpe, “The Theory of Internal Colonialism: The South African Case,” in, Beyond the Sociology of Development, eds. Ivar Oxaal, Tony Barnett and David Booth (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975) pp. 229-253. For an application of these ideas to the Occupied Territories, see, Sarah Graham-Brown, “The Structural Impact of Israeli Occupation,” MERIP Reports, no. 74, January 1979:9-21; Ibrahim Matar, “Israeli Settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 11, no. 1, Autumn 1981:93-111; and, Sheila Ryan, “Israeli Economic Policies in the Occupied Territories: Foundations of a New Imperialism,” MERIP Reports, no. 24, January 1974:3-24. Not only are the occupied areas posited in a structurally unequal, dependent and exploited relationship vis-a-vis. Israel, but the dynamics of colonization in this instance rests upon ethnic (and national) discrimination as well. The concept of internal colony is thus pertinent to our understanding of the connections between the internal and external dynamics of Israel’s colonization of the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 1967.

3. Much of the theoretical literature refers to race and class dislocations resulting from colonial rule (see Note 2 above) but frequently omit gender implications. Other studies have documented this impact in the Palestinian case, see, Nahla Abdo-Zubi, Family, Women and Social Change in the Middle East: The Palestinian Case (Toronto: Canadian Scholar’s Press, 1987); Rita Giacaman, “Palestinian Women and Development in the Occupied West Bank,” Birzeit University, unpublished paper, n.d.; Laila Jammal, Contributions by Palestinian Women to the National Struggle for Liberation (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Public Relations, 1985); and, Ghazi al-Khalili, The Palestinian Woman and the Revolution (Arabic)(Beirut: Palestine Research Center, 1977).

4. One example of the discourse on the state considered beyond the realm and expertise of women is that of “national security.” For an outline of these issues, see, Fred Halliday, “Hidden From international Relations: Women and the International Arena,” in Gender and International Relations, eds. Rebecca Grant and Kathleen Newland (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1991), pp. 158-170. For various feminist critiques, see Rebecca Grant, “The Sources of Gender Bias in International Relations Theory,” in ibid., pp. 8-27; and, Nahla Abdo, “Race, Gender and Politics: The Struggle of Arab Women in Canada,” in And Still We Rise. Feminist Political Mobilizing in Contemporary Canada, ed. Linda Carty (Toronto: Women’s Press, 1993), pp. 73-101. Jewish feminist challenges to the notion of Israeli security, the Israeli state, and implications for women and the Palestinian/Israeli struggle are found in Amy Gottleib, “Not in my Name. A Jewish Feminist Challenges Loyalty to Israel,” in ibid., pp. 53-73; Ella Shohat, “Sephardim in Israel: Zionism from the Standpoint of its Jewish Victims,” Social Text, nos. 19-20, Fall 1988:1-37; Rachel Ostrowitz, “Dangerous Women: The Israeli Women’s Peace Movement,” New Outlook, June/July 1989:14-16; Tikva Honig-Parnass, “Feminism and the Peace Struggle in Israel,” News From Within, October-November 1992:2-6; and, Simona Sharoni, “To Be a Man in the Jewish State: The Sociopolitical Context of Violence and Oppression,” Challenge, vol. 2, no. 5, May/June 1991:26-29.

5. Various analysts refer to the beginning of the UN Decade for Women in 1975 as signalling the opening of the public debate around issues of women and development. Until then, most writings on the subject tended to lump both men and women together, as though both would be similarly impacted by “modernization” policies. Women from the developing world have argued quite persuasively that development policies are not gender neutral and usually impacted quite negatively upon women. They linked their oppressed situation in the Third World not to “men” as such, but to broader structural realities, such as nationalist struggles, the expansion of multinational corporations into their societies, and the like. In this sense, they established the fact that “international relations” could not ignore gender issues. For essays on this topic, see, Grant and Newland (op. cit., 1991); and, Mohanty et. al (op. cit., 1991). For more on women and the international division of labor, see, Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale. Women in the International Division of Labor, (London: Zed Books, 1986); and selected articles in, “Women in the International Economy,” Review of Radical Political Economics, vol. 23, nos. 3-4, Fall and Winter 1991.

6. See, Nadia Hijab, Womanpower. The Arab Debate on Women at Work (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

7. For some of the theoretical literature on the topic, see, Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent Publishers, 1973) (Three volumes); Gene Sharp, Civilian-Based Defense. A Post-Military Weapons System (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1990); Anders Boserup and Andrew Mack, War Without Weapons. Non-Violence in National Defence (London: Frances Pinter, 1974); Souad Dajani, The Intifada (Amman, Jordan: The University of Jordan, Center for Hebraic Studies, 1990); and, Souad Dajani, Eyes Without Country. Searching for a Palestinian Strategy of Liberation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, forthcoming).

8. For more on the emergence of grassroots and popular movements in the two sectors of women and labor unions, see Joost R. Hiltermann, Behind the Intifada (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

9. See Asher Davidi, “Israel’s Economic Strategy for Palestinian Independence,” Middle East Report, no. 184, September-October 1993:24-27.

10. Before 1967, Palestinian peasant women in the West Bank contributed significantly to the subsistence economy of peasant households. In 1967, this accounted for some 64% of the Arab female labor force; see Amal Samed, “Palestinian Women Entering the Proletariat,” Journal of Palestine Studies, vol. 16, no. 1, Autumn 1976:159-167. By 1980, only 30% of Palestinians earned their living from local agriculture; Palestinian men went to work as cheap wage-earners in Israel, and Palestinian women were increasingly forced into seasonal work in Israeli agriculture. See Graham-Brown, “Impact on the Social Structure of Palestinian Society,” in Occupation: Israel Over Palestine, ed. Naseer Aruri (London: Zed Books, 1984), pp. 223-255; Samed, op. cit., pp. 159-167; and Palestinian-Jordanian Joint Committee, Development of the Labor Force in the Occupied Territories (Arabic) (Amman, Jordan: Palestinian-Jordanian Joint Committee. Publication no. 1, 1985). Since 1967, subcontracting in the Israeli clothing industry has become a major employer of Palestinian women; see Randa George Siniora, “Palestinian Labor in a Dependent Economy. Women Workers in the West Bank Clothing Industry,” Cairo Papers in the Social Science, vol. 12, Monograph 3, Fall 1989. For the expected relations between Israel and the Palestinian autonomous areas, see Alexander Cockburn, “Beat the Devil,” The Nation, 4 October 1993:342-343.

11. Predictions for the potential of democratic structures being formed can be evaluated in current trends. As Edward Said and others have observed, Arafat has already subverted the democratic process in the manner in which he reached the recent accords with Israel. He did not consult the Palestine National Council, nor did he obtain a general consensus from the Executive Committee for his moves. See, Edward Said, “The Israel/PLO Accord: A Critical Assessment,” Z Magazine, December 1993:45-54. Given this precedent that went uncriticized by Israel and the U.S., it can hardly be expected that the future will be different, or that Arafat would permit any democratic formations once he rules these areas.

12. See Israel Shahak, “The Real Significance of the Oslo Agreement,” Report No. 125, 10 September 1993; and, Noam Chomsky, “The IsraeI-Arafat Agreement,” Z Magazine, October 1993.

13. The Technical Teams were formed at the outset of the peace process to provide expert documentation and data to support the work of the Palestinian delegates to the bilateral and multilateral meetings. They were set up by those “supporters” of the peace process and barred membership to factions seen to be against the process. During my last trip to the Occupied Territories in July 1993, I was told by women activists in the West Bank that members of other factions were gradually being invited to participate in these Teams.

14. The actual situation in the Occupied Territories is infinitely more complex. Not only are local Fatah factions at odds with the main Fatah faction of the PLO outside, but within the Occupied Territories themselves, there is increased friction and competition between local Fatah groups.

15. The impact of Jewish immigrants, with their mandate to establish a state for Jews in Palestine, resulted in the gradual (later accelerated) destruction of indigenous Palestinian social structures. Both men and women were increasingly pushed into the public sphere and forced to resist the encroaching occupation of their lands. For more on women during this period see, Abdo-Zubi, op. cit., 1987; Giacaman, op. cit.; Jammal, op, cit., 1985; al-Khalili, op. cit., 1977; and, Matiel E. T. Mogannam, The Arab Woman and the Palestine Problem, (London: Herbert Joseph, Ltd., 1936).

16. Over the period of two to three years since 1978, four main Women’s Committees were formed, each representing one of the main factions of the PLO. The role of Palestinian women both before and during the Intifada has been amply documented. See, Sound Dajani, “Palestinian Women Under Israeli Occupation: Implications for Development,” in Palestinian Women: Old Boundaries, New Frontiers, ed. Judith Tucker (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press and Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, Georgetown University, 1993), pp. 102-129; Abdo-Zubi, op. cit., 1987; Nahla Abdo, “Women of the Intifada: Gender, Class and National Movement,” Race and Class, vol. 32, no. 4, April-June 1991:19-35; Dajani, The Intifada, op. cit., 1990; Islah Abdul Jawwad, “The Evolution of the Political Role of the Palestinian Women’s Movement in the Uprising,” in The Palestinians: New Directions, ed. Michael C. Hudson (Washington, D.C.: Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, 1990), pp. 63-77; Lisa Taraki, “The Development of Political Consciousness Among Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, 1967-1987,” in Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads, eds. Jammal Nassar and Roger Heacock (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990), pp. 53-73; Islah Jad, “From Salons to Popular Committees: Palestinian Women, 1919-1989,” in ibid., pp. 125-143; Rita Giacaman and Penny Johnson, “Building Barricades and Breaking Barriers,” in Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation, eds. Zachary Lockman and Joel Beinin (Boston, MA: South End Press, A MERIP Book, 1989), pp. 155-171; Lisa Taraki, “The Islamic Resistance Movement in the Palestinian Uprising,” in ibid., pp, 171-182; Philippa Strum, The Women Are Marching: The Second Sex and the Palestinian Revolution (New York: Lawrence Hill Books, 1992); and, Kitty Warhock, Land Before Honor: Palestinian Women in the Occupied Territories (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1990).

17. The participation of women in the Intifada earned them severe Israeli sanctions. They were beaten, arrested, and killed. They suffered from tear gas being thrown into their homes; resulting in many cases of miscarriages, in addition to dozens of deaths due to the effects of tear gas; see Palestine Human Rights Information Center, Monthly Updates (Washington, D.C. [formerly Chicago]: Palestine Human Rights Information Center); and, Al-Haq, A Nation Under Siege. Al-Haq Annual Report on Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, 1989 (Ramallah, West Bank: Al-Haq, 1990), pp. 509-511. The Israeli authorities also broke into women’s centers and banned the work of all popular committees. See Al-Haq, Punishing a Nation. Human Rights Violations During the Palestinian Uprising, December 1987-December 1988 (Ramallah, West Bank: Al-Haq, 1989), p. 322. It is not clear whether women’s committees were included in the ban, however, this move in August 1988, led to the decrease in women’s direct participation in the Intifada.

18. For more on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the Occupied Territories, see, Ziad Abu Amr, “Nationalist and Islamic Forces During the Intifada,” presentation, Shoman Foundation, Amman, Jordan, 18 September 1989; Ziad Abu Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza. Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994); Iyad Barghouti, The Palestinian Islamic Movement in Palestine and the New World Order (Jerusalem: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), December 1992) (Arabic); Rema Hammami, “Women, the Hijab and the Intifada,” Middle East Report, nos. 164-165, May-August 1990:24-29; Jean Francois Legrain, “The Islamic Movement and the Intifada,” in Nassar and Heacock, op. cit., 1990:175-191; and, Taraki, op. cit., 1989:171-182.

19. See, Sherma Berger Gluck, “We Will Not Be Another Algeria: Palestinian Women, Nationalism and Feminism,” Association for Women in Psychology, 1992 National Feminist Psychology Conference (audio cassette); and Strum, op. cit., p. 263.

20. This development was a major departure from earlier years, when Palestinian women often confronted women from the West with the argument that ‘feminism’ was a Western construct that did not apply to them. For example, see accounts of the UN Conference in Nairobi, 1985, in, Union of Women’s Work Committees, “Nairobi Forum. Women and Politics,” Newsletter, 1985; Amal Jou’beh, “Women and Politics: Reflections from Nairobi,” in Third World, Second Sex, 2, ed. Miranda Davies (London: Zed Books, 1987), pp. 50-57; and, Dajani, op. cit., 1993.

21. Jordan ruled the West Bank between 1948 and 1967. Since the outcome of the peace agreements may be some kind of (con)federation with Jordan, Palestinian women have tried to put this issue on the public agenda with little overall success. For more on the work of women’s centers, see, Strum, op. cit., p. 225ff; Nahla Abdo, “On Nationalism and Feminism. Palestinian Women and the Intifada: No Going Back?” unpublished paper presented at the Roundtable on Identity Politics and Women, WIDER, Helsinki, 8-10 October 1990; Maria Holt, “Women in Palestine: Going Forwards or Backwards?” Middle East International, 7 August 1992:20. and, Eileen Kuttab, The Union of Palestinian Women’s Associations 7th Annual Conference, Chicago, Illinois, 22-24 May 1992, on videocassette. Based on unpublished paper (Ramallah: Bisan Research Center, n.d.). As with the women’s committees, women’s centers are closely affiliated with one or another of the political factions of the PLO, a factor that may constrain them in their work.

22. For more on this issue, see Suad Joseph, “Women and Politics in the Middle East,” The Middle East Report, January-February 1986:3-8; Nira Yuval-Davis and Hoya Anthias, eds. Woman-Nation-State (London: Macmillan, 1989), pp. 1-16; and, Abdo, op. cit., 1991, pp. 19-35.

Souad Dajani is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio.

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