#Nakba70: The resilience of Palestinian women
In the lead up to Nakba Day, we take a look at the various ways Palestinian women have held their families and communities together in the face of poverty, violence and 70 years of refugeehood. From the British Mandate era and beyond, Palestinian women have played a crucial role in protecting Palestinian rights.
The British Mandate era
Facing the loss of their national rights when the British Mandate for Palestine came in to effect in 1923, Palestinian women had already began to publicly participate in demonstrations to protect their communities, creating women’s only unions that fought for economic, social and national rights.
The first Arab Women’s Congress was established in Jerusalem in 1929 by both Muslim and Christian Palestinian women. They wrote petitions to the British High Commissioner calling for the annulment of the Balfour Declaration, as well as carrying out protests against the British Mandate.
During continued violence, rebellions and incursions throughout the first half of the 1900s, an increasing number of Palestinian women began forming local groups and organisations to support their communities. From providing an education to children, to distributing food and clothing as well as nursing the wounded, women began responding to the needs of their communities in some of the most volatile situations.
Hind al-Husseini was a Palestinian woman widely known for saving 55 orphaned children who had survived the Deir Yassin massacre near Jerusalem. She eventually created an orphanage to house them and by 1995, was supporting up to 300 orphans. Read more about her incredible work here.
Today, in Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon and Jordan, women’s groups provide services to thousands of impoverished refugee families, tackling a range of issues. From teachers to social workers and women’s NGO groups, their contributions are critical for some of the most vulnerable groups in the refugee camps.
In 1948, over 750,000 Palestinian men, women and children were expelled from their homes and forced to live as refugees in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. This is known as the Nakba, which means ‘catastrophe’.
With hundreds of thousands of Palestinians facing dispossession, more and more Palestinian women, including those in rural areas of Palestine, began to work outside the home in order to mitigate the increasing levels of poverty their families were facing. While breaking from tradition to find employment, many women did not stop the work they carried out at home, shouldering a huge double-burden.
The Six Day War (Al Naksa) between Israel and neighbouring Arab nations in 1967 led to the displacement of over 300,000 Palestinians and the occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinian women began to participate on a national scale against the occupation, especially in the lead up to the First Intifada in 1987. Their role was considered crucial to ending the occupation and Israeli violence as well as maintaining the momentum of the intifada. Women also helped to protect men who were threatened with violence during protests. While women’s unions and committees during this time were fully focused on the right of Palestinians to self-determination, they also helped fulfill the needs of communities and serve society in the absence of social support services.
A symbol of national identity
Following the Six-day war, Palestinian society began to collapse under the brutal weight of occupation. Palestinian women became a symbol of the struggle for national identity through their preservation of Palestinian culture and heritage. Palestinian women play a crucial role in sharing cultural knowledge and history with their families and communities, actively changing the narrative on what it is to be Palestinian.
With the occupation and displacement removing Palestinians’ political agency almost entirely, one of the things that Palestinian women have power over is the stories they tell their children, shaping pride and identity in an impossible situation.
A disproportionate amount of Palestinian men in the occupied Gaza Strip have been killed as a result of three large scale Israeli assaults since 2007. Thousands more have been left with long-term disabilities and continued trauma, with little in the way of medical support to mitigate their suffering.
As a result, many women have become the heads of households, carrying out the main duties at home while also providing the main source of income for food, shelter and education. Thousands of Palestinian women continue to take on emotional and physical burdens for their families, and can be targeted by the occupation with violence and policies specifically aimed at disempowering them, and harming society as a whole.
How you can help
To find out more about the ways you can support Palestinian women, or to donate to our Nakba campaign, please visit interpal.org or call 020 8961 9993