Apartheid

More than 14 million people, about half of them Jewish and half Palestinian, live in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea under the same regime. In public, political, legal and media discourses, the common perception is that these are two separate regimes, each acting on its own, separated by the Green Line. One regime, within the boundaries of the sovereign State of Israel, is a permanent democracy, with a population of some 9 million, all of them Israeli citizens. The other regime, in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, whose final status is supposed to be determined in future negotiations, is a temporary military occupation imposed on some 5 million Palestinian subjects.

This accepted distinction ignores crucial facts: that this ‘temporary’ reality has persisted for more than 50 years; that hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers live in more than 280 permanent settlements in the West Bank; and that Israel has de jure annexed East Jerusalem, and de facto annexed the rest of the West Bank.

Most importantly, it obscures the fact that the entire area is organized under one principle: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians. Israel has enacted more than 50 laws that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel 34. Since 1948, Israel has carried out institutionalized policies of racial segregation as a means of ensuring its domination over the Palestinian people. These policies aim to privilege the Jewish Israeli population while controlling Palestinians and denying them equal rights.

Segregation is carried out by means of separate legal regimes for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians living in the same area. For example, Jewish Israeli settlers living in the illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are governed by Israeli civil, including criminal, law, while Palestinians also living in the occupied West Bank, with the exception of East Jerusalem, are governed by Israeli military law. Israel was criticized for violating the right to equality in a 2012 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Describing the existence of two separate legal systems in the West Bank, the committee said it was “appalled at the hermetic character of this segregation 34.” The key tool Israel uses to implement the principle of Jewish supremacy is engineering space geographically, demographically and politically. Jews go about their lives in a single, contiguous space where they enjoy full rights and self-determination. In contrast, Palestinians live in a space that is fragmented into several units, each with a different set of rights – given or denied by Israel, but always inferior to the rights accorded to Jews 34.

Despite of the entrenched structures of patriarchy in Palestinian society, Palestinian women have played a crucial role in resisting the ongoing colonization in Palestine. During the British Mandate era, they protested in the streets against British colonialism, and held conferences across the region to warn against the Zionist project.

When the first intifada broke out in 1987, Palestinian women took to the streets along with men and protested Israeli oppression. They formed networks of women amongst themselves to free the youth the Israeli army tried to arrest in their neighborhoods and villages.

Their heroic deeds turned them into the mothers of the whole nation. Since the inception of the Israeli occupation, Palestinian women have been enduring torture, interrogation and incarceration in Israeli jails. In the rural areas of Palestine, women have been able to disrupt Israeli dispossession policies and practices to expand illegal settlements. They have done so through their daily acts of resistance or sumud-the persistance to stay on the land against all odds. They have turned their homes into a political space in which they nurture the love and attachment for the land. Scenes of women hugging their trees and standing in front of Israeli bulldozers when Israel started building its Apartheid Wall testify to the strong connection between women and land. Such connection is stronger than that of men, because women are the tenders of their land while men work elsewhere, mainly as cheap wage labourers in Israeli corporations.

It is hardly surprising that Israel has been systematically targeting women and children amid the unfolding genocide in Gaza. It is because women are givers of a new life for the nation in the eyes of Israel, they hold the keys of the decolonial future through reinforcing a culture of resistance and defiance in the minds of their children and communities.

Recently, after the murder of Israa Ghrayeb by a member of her own family, many women decided to break the taboos of sexual violence and spoke out about the aggressions, harassment and intimidation they experienced in their homes and also outside of them. It was their “it’s over” that, under the cry “There is no liberated homeland without women’s liberation”, swept through historic Palestine, seeking to redefine the national struggle through the prism of the feminist struggle. The demonstrations were promoted by the Tal’at (emerging) movement.

The Palestinian feminist movement is strong and aware of the challenges internally and externally, in terms of the struggle against patriarchy and against colonization and occupation, understood as an extension of male chauvinist and patriarchal policies of oppression against Palestinians.

The university is another bastion of women’s resistance and emancipation. The Gaza Strip has one of the highest unemployment rates of newly graduated youth in the world, 70%, hence the tendency to continue studying since for them, this is also an opportunity to leave the Strip. Today Birzeit University, the largest university in Palestine, has more than 15,000 students (62% of whom are women).

This has resulted in a vibrant movement of Palestinian women, many of them feminist, who have organized themselves into dozens of NGOs and collectives but also who have permeated Palestinian political and cultural institutions imposing a feminist narrative of the Palestinian cause worldwide.

From journalism, activism and law, many women resist in different ways, in some cases leading the resistance of their communities. This is the case of the Tamimi family in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, which made headlines around the world after the arrest of one of the teenagers of the family, Ahed Tamimi, after she slapped a soldier who tried to arrest members of her family 34. Its women and girls have been the undoubted leaders of the resistance in the village and a reference for the rest of Palestinian women and girls around the world 38.