Palestinian Women of Gaza and the West Bank

Palestinian Women of Gaza and the West Bank

Bamia, Aida A

Sabbagh, Suha (ed.). Palestinian Women of Gaza and the West Bank. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1998. 262 pp.

This book examines the impact of the Intifada on the lives and the psyche of Palestinian women primarily as mothers, but also as wives. Through a diverse number of articles, interviews, literary studies and creative texts the book covers a panorama of topics of wide interest. It is divided into four parts, each part dedicated to a specific theme. Part one describes women’s active role in the Intifada; part two is dedicated to the documentation of this role through literary texts; part three looks at women as victims of a double oppression: traditions and occupation; and part four makes projections for the future based on the Oslo agreements. Most articles in part one give moving accounts of women’s involvement in the Intifada, individually and through feminine organizations. Most stress the need to prepare women for the post-independence period as well as safeguard their acquired freedoms after liberation. The Algerian example is often referred to as one to avoid repeating for the Palestinian women. The language of the bayanat (declarations) for example, which excludes references to women, justifies this fear. A similar remark is made by Abu Ghazaleh in the reference to the language of Intifada poetry where women are portrayed in their traditional role as mothers and wives, while ignoring their new role in the Intifada. A different kind of history is told through the literary texts as women acquire gigantic dimensions in the legends woven around the events of the Intifada. Those legends collected by Sharif Kanana as well as the short stories written by Hanan Ashjrawi add another resource for a study of the history of the years of the Intifada. They supplement articles detailing the history of the Palestinian women’s struggle since 1948. The impact of customs and traditions on women during the years of the Intifada is highlighted in a number of articles. They serve to reveal the heavy burden of an Arab women in a situation of occupation and the odds she faces to assume an active and a constructive role in society. Dr. Eyad el-Sarraj provides an enlightening psychological assessment of the difficulties women as mothers and wives endure in similar situations. In an outlook on the post-Oslo agreements, Amal Kawar provides a valuable survey of the efforts of Palestinian women to remain active participants in the political arena and influence the legislative process, to protect women’s rights and safeguard gender equality. A copy of the Declaration of Principles on Palestinian Women’s Rights and an analysis of its text by a member of the drafting committee, are welcome additions for students and researchers interested in women studies.

The book presents through its numerous articles a panorama of women’s role in the Intifada. In addition to the essays, valuable interviews with Sahar Khalifa, Hanan Ashrawi and less known women activists, provide first hand information on women’s contributions to the Intifada. Khalifa’s interview sheds light on the autobiographical side of her novels as well as her role among women in Nablus through the Women’s Affairs Center. The women activists provide valuable information on the true dangers that threaten women’s involvement, fear of the Israeli soldiers’ bullets not being one of them. Ashrami, traces the steps of women’s involvement in the political action since the early years of the twentieth century. She also raises various issue addressed in other articles concerning the need for a global change.

While every article contributes valuable information for present and future researchers, and provides a rare insight into Palestinian women’s lives, the limitations of space would not permit even a brief comment on each individual paper. Some articles, however, stand out by their originality and novelty and merit special mention. Among them Robin Morgan’s moving narration of women’s lives in the refugee camps. Morgan’s attitude is one of understanding as she avoids assessing Palestinian society with a Western outlook, an accusation often pointed at the address of Western feminists. Her empathy for the suffering of the Palestinian people established a special bond between her and the women she interviewed. They remembered her because, in their words, she was “The American who cried with us. How could we forget you?” they told her (p. 157). The issue of Arab feminism and the need to define it in light of its significance in Arab societies and not in terms of a Western vision, is thus raised in more than one essay. It is a step in the right direction and one that is long due.

This collection of writings is bound by a common denominator, the Palestinian woman at a specific moment in history. Though thematically and historically linear, the studies form a kaleidoscope, covering the various fields of the Humanities and the Social Sciences. As such it constitutes a very valuable book for a wide range of readers. It is a must in the library of an academic institution and a private one as well, of interest for the reader concerned by Middle East issues, both the specialist and the amateur.

Aida A. Bamia

University of Florida

Copyright Association of Third World Studies, Inc. Fall 1999

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