The objectification of women in Palestinian resistance is, like all other forms of objectification, demeaning, disrespectful, and most importantly: in disregard of the true essence of Palestinian resistance.
There has never been gender equality so well defined as there was when Palestinian resistance was founded upon increasing British and Zionist colonialism, which began more than 8 decades back. Palestinian women and men fought valiantly side by side, without being subjected to misogynic retorts by society. Yet years later, when capitalism and NGO investment in an illusion of a Palestinian state destroyed the golden relation both genders lived by, the integral role of Palestinian women in resistance that was recorded up until the first Intifada in 1987 had drastically died down.
The apathy that has gripped Palestine from the 1993 dreaded failure of the Oslo accords is, however slowly, and however insufficient, lessening. For the first time since, protests against the Zionist occupation and PA suppression have been taking place and have had women in the frontlines, always. It is not the case if, to “balance the roles”, the men throw rocks at Israeli military jeeps and soldiers and the women chant in objection to occupation and to energize the men, for many times I have seen the glorious act of Palestinian women throwing rocks, and men have often led the chants. It is only a matter of choice. In resistance, there is no specific role defined for each gender. (Of course, this is not practiced everywhere; the village of Kafr alDeek used to hold weekly demonstrations against the occupation, but due to chauvinism that has risen to effect all aspects of society including resistance in this village specifically, no women were present at the demos. This may be one of the reasons the protests in this village ended a few months after they began without having much impact on the Israeli occupation.)
Where am I getting with this? Well, simply: the reactions to Palestinian women taking part in confrontations with Israeli occupation forces have not been exactly welcoming by all due to the lingering presence of patriarchy. Most importantly, the idea of women taking part in protests has not always been interpreted correctly. That is what I will focus on.
It is very easy to fall into the trap of objectifying women in resistance, and it may even be done unconsciously. Not only is this disrespecting the cause, but it also emphasizes the reason women stand up for themselves. Fawning over Palestinian women as pictures of them are caught in mid-protest disgraces the Palestinian cause into a show; a display of the seemingly beautiful people that fight. It does not bring the cause itself into light.
You may or may not have heard of the photo exhibition Nesa’iyeh. In its advertisement, it states “The evolving situation on the ground presented Milstein [photographer] with an opportunity to attempt to honestly and fairly create a unique visual record of the new reality and emerging paradigm being created by revolutionary Palestinian women.”
I have not been to the exhibition but I have seen Milstein’s photography. He is one photographer of many that offends the Palestinian cause as he focuses on the faces and expressions of “female Palestinian Gandhis” instead of what they resist for. Glorifying humans by capturing their evident facial strength and beauty with a click of a lens is photographic skill- when it is done to one half of the Palestinian struggle, the women, it is objectification; this offensive practice completely disregards the struggle that Palestinians, particularly the women, have been living in and sacrificing for.
This is one example of the exteriorization of the Palestinian cause. Another common one is the exaggerated hype on the subject of the kuffiyeh- the traditional checkered scarf that was acclaimed to be a national symbol of Palestinian resistance since the fighting against British colonialism (it is not called “Fateh’s scarf” or “Arafat’s scarf” as it was worn long before Fateh came into existence but that is besides the point for now.)
Along with its symbolic purpose, I personally wear the kuffiyeh at demos to cover my face and identity (from the loving parents as well as from the IOF). It is simply insulting to wear a kuffiyeh for the sole reason of emphasizing one’s kohl-lined eyes. Of course, we are not to blame the women who applied kohl and/or mascara (or simply have beautiful eyes) for the photographs taken of them as they are in mid protest dodging plastic coated metal bullets and fighting the suffocation of the tear gas, kuffiyehs covering everything but their eyes. The photographers that intentionally focus on a woman’s exterior during such an event are to be held responsible, and those who endorse and romanticize it as acts of power and resistance are to be educated (sadly, many are Palestinians). Simply put, captivation of a person’s beauty is not Palestinian resistance, but a materialization of Palestinians and their cause.
Notice the difference between each picture. One is a clear objectification. The other actually brings the purpose of resistance to show.
To externalize Palestinian women is to externalize a vital part of Palestinian resistance. Instead of romanticizing her, the least that could be done to a Palestinian woman, the fundamental anchor for Palestinians, who sold her gold to afford a new rifle for her husband, dug drenches in an attempt to thwart Zionist advancement into their villages, birthed martyrs, spends year after year yearning for her imprisoned children, siblings, spouse, whose revolutionary voice rings higher than all others, is, to rightfully give her esteem-not for herself, but for her resistance in the name of a free Palestine. This may only be done by nullifying objectification, and when all Palestinian women regain their essential stand in resistance.
Written by: Deema Alsaafin
I wish everyone could at least have a snippet of my childhood in the desert of Palestine. The air, balmy and thick with heat, and the rubble, crumbled and ancient. There is a spirit that flows through the rooted trees and the vast plains. It whispers at night under the scintillating, unperturbed stars and flutters through the crests of the mountains and into the valleys. The children cry in laughter in the streets of the small neighborhood of El-Khidawi. Running after each other, rustling the dirty lands with fresh prints of life. On the corner, Abu-Namoos and his son fry falafel in the sizzling oil. A systematic operation of sizzle and smiles placed between sandwich orders. I hand him two shekels and ask for a sandwich with shatta. He glances at my glass eyes and freckles and remembers that I am Awad’s granddaughter. The granddaughter that trickles back into the neighborhood streets every four years or so; each time with a part of her different, a part of her matured. I become a living snapshot of human life running wild and untamed during a game of tag. Running, running, running until the sweet desert air feels compressed in my lungs and I can run into the night forever. Unleashed from my own oppressive sense of vanity, I rub my clean eyes to the world around me. The mountains envelope the valley, the lights sparkle in the midst of the desert, and the moon, whole and round, emits the aura of welcome. I have changed, but my Palestinian desert will always be with me. In the depths of my soul, my grandfather’s canopy of grapes shelters my inner most being. The roots are tangled and intertwined with the knots of vein in my body. And I, Fadila Ehab Akel, know that I am blessed by the hand of Allah Subhana Wa’talah to have this snippet of childhood in the desert of Palestine.
Rachel Corrie, beautiful soul, born in Olympia, Washington was no ordinary child, no ordinary 23 year old student and no ordinary human being. And people, who are extraordinary, never die. They live for ever in the hearts and minds of their followers. They give direction to many and because of them, hope never dies. Because of such crazy and courageous, the ugliness of injustices is exposed.
Her 5th grade speech ‘I am here because I care’ revealed no small dreams. At such a tender age, she talked of the oppressed, the poor and hungry and resolved to eradicate the ugly realities by the year 2000. As a student, she was different and wanted to explore the world especially after 9/11, year 2001. Ditching a beautiful and colourful American dream which she could have lived like many of her age, she travelled thousands of miles to Gaza to act as a human shield, where mercy and humanity is butchered every day and night, where men, women and children are murdered as a part of ethnic cleansing program, where houses are bulldozed, olive trees are cut, help including food and medicines from the rest of the world is denied and flotillas travelling to help humanity are attacked.
‘’Anyway, I’m rambling. Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my co-workers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment! I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me.’’ (28.02.2003)
What did she have in common with the Palestinian; faith, ethnicity, skin colour, language, social background? Absolutely nothing! What was common was humanity. She had eyes that could appreciate the truth, mind that wasn’t closed because of any bias, heart that would cry on injustice and brutality and a soul that would feel the pain of Nazi-style genocide.
”I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere..”
In 2003, Rachel’s news opened a new aspect of Palestinian cause to me. I learnt humanity existed above the boundaries of faith, ethnic origins and languages. I came to learn there are people on this earth who would risk their lives and everything for some other people despite absolutely no worldly strings attached between them. And it’s to date that I have explored a world that is cruel, unjust and merciless, but such people are a reason to live and resist. They give you direction, motivation and energy to challenge the ugly forces of the world.
For me Rachel Corrie is not the name of a person. It’s a phenomenon which embodies humanity, resistance, courage and craziness. Yes, she was as crazy as it needs to be to shake the world and stir the plans of the handful of unjust men ruling this world. And it’s this craziness and madness which is the ultimate requirement to challenge falsehood and malice. Human beings live and die, but phenomena, missions and ideas never die. They’re like beacons of light for generations to come. Rachel Corrie, an American, a peace activist and a trailblazer, will always be my hero.
“Love you. Really miss you. I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers outside our house and you and me inside. Sometimes the adrenaline acts as an anaesthetic for weeks and then in the evening or at night it just hits me again – a little bit of the reality of the situation. I am really scared for the people here’..“When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.” “I love you and Dad…” Email to parents ~ 27.02.2003
We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone.What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure – to experience the world as a dynamic presence – as a changeable, interactive thing?
If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality.
And I have no right to this metaphor. But I use it to console myself. To give a fraction of meaning to something enormous and needless.
This realization. This realization that I will live my life in this world where I have privileges.
I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly.
I can wash dishes.
I removed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints, to ease freedom of movement in the Palestinian areas; this facilitated a fantastic growth in the Palestinian economy. But again — no response. I took the unprecedented step of freezing new buildings in the settlements for 10 months.
Netanyahu UN Speech
Malcolm X can refute this the best:If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, that’s not progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress comes from healing the wound that the blow made.