Tamar Mayer (ed.) 1994
Women and the Israeli Occupation,

Routledge, London. ISBN 0-415-09546-8

    The Palestinian women's movement in the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip
    Souad Dai'ani
    Gender, military occupation and violence against women Simona Sharoni
    Political growth and the persistence of ideology, Yvonne Deutsch

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.


The Palestinian women's movement in the Israeli occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip

Souad Dai'ani

By the early 1990s, the women's movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territories found itself poised at a new threshold. The Women's Committees, established in the mid-1970s, had reaped the rewards of years of diligent efforts to recruit and mobilize women. During the intifada especially, many of these efforts paid off as women assumed active, public roles in the struggle against the Israeli Occupation. At the same time, women's continuing activities in their communities resulted in a backlash in certain circles and raised new questions about women's roles, highlighting dilemmas that have confounded national liberation movements in many parts of the world. For years, as this chapter will indicate, women have been active in the Palestinian national struggle and have, for the most part, tried to locate their own agenda within the nationalist struggle as a whole. Yet now women are also coming to perceive the need for a specific women's agenda, distinct from the national movement. Much of the following analysis concerns the period of the intifada. This uprising is characterized, at once, by the increased base of women's participation in the struggle against occupation and by the survival of traditional social obstacles to further political involvement by women.

This chapter begins by tracing the emergence of an organized Palestinian women s movement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. It briefly touches upon the conditions under occupation that led to such an initiative, and evaluates women's efforts in both national and social terms. Rather than examining these issues through a progression of historical events, the chapter focuses on how Palestinian women themselves have perceived their roles, and on the directions they are taking in theorizing about the issues of social and national liberation.'

It has become almost axiomatic among national liberation movements that the struggle to end foreign rule takes precedence over other social agendas, including those of women. Palestinian women have largely shared this view. They have defined their activities and goals largely within these parameters, so that their efforts to improve their public roles and to expand their opportunities in society would be defined and legitimized in light of their contribution to the overall national struggle.

This has not meant that they have been unmindful of their specific concerns as women. On the contrary, Palestinian women have always evinced a specific women's consciousness and have sought to formulate strategies that would address concerns specific to women. Over the long decades of the Palestinian struggle, both before and after the 1967 Occupation, Palestinian women have redefined their agendas both in light of the changing circumstances that have impinged upon women's lives and in light of the general direction of the national resistance struggle itself.

Today, in the early 1990s, Palestinian women are becoming acutely aware of their vulnerability. They realize that national liberation is not necessarily synonymous with social liberation. They want their political activism, during the intifada and beyond, to be translated into real social gains and democratization throughout the whole of Palestinian society, so that they do not find themselves, as women, relegated to a permanently subordinate position after national liberation. Palestinian women frequently cite the example of Algeria (Kuttab 1992), where women participated extensively alongside men in the national liberation struggle only to find all their gains washed away after independence. Palestinian women are adamant about not allowing the same fate to befall them. Other social and national liberation movements have faced similar dilemmas and have raised similar questions about the links between national and social liberation; about how women should theorize about these issues; and about how the women's movement should move from theory to strategy in implementing its priorities. What is perhaps unique in the Palestinian case is that women there can now take advantage of the lessons and legacies of past struggles, to take informed steps in shaping the future which they envision.

This discussion of the national liberation movement is confined basically to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 2 The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which symbolizes the total struggle of the Palestinians, is located outside these areas. Within the PLO, women are represented officially through the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW). The PLO's component factions are prominently reflected in the Occupied Territories, where different grassroots and popular organizations claim allegiance to one or another of the four main political factions: Fatah; the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP); or the People's Party (formerly the Communist Party). The various women's committees also reflect these factional divisions and in a situation where the PLO cannot operate officially, it is the indigenous organizations and popular committees (of women and others) which take the lead in planning for resistance to occupation. Finally, both within and outside the Occupied Territories, changes in the means of resistance have reflected the modification of political goals, especially the official acceptance by the PLO of a two-state solution to the Palestinian/Israell conflict. Over the two last decades, the PLO has moved from an almost total reliance on 'armed struggle' to engagement in political and diplomatic initiatives as legitimate forms of resistance in their own right. It was on the basis of similar assumptions that the intifada, the popular and largely nonviolent civilian uprising against Israeli Occupation that has been going on since December 1987, was launched.


A number of comprehensive analyses of the origins and early history of the Palestinian women's movement are already available (Abdo 1987; Giacaman n.d.; jammal 1985; al-Khalili 1977; and Mogannam 1936). There is, therefore, no need to review these events here. It remains important to point out, however, that since its inception, the Palestinian women's movement has always been closely tied to the national issue. Activism on the part of Palestinian women occurred early during the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, in direct response to the threat posed by Zionist colonization. Women formed delegations to intercede with the British authorities; held congresses and other public events; and engaged in various forms of protest against the influx of Zionist Jews to Palestine and against the British policies that encouraged Jewish immigration.

Zionist immigration increased the dispossession and displacement of indigenous Palestinians, culminating in their forced exodus following the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Even earlier, the presence of a new sector of immigrants committed to the specific agenda of establishing a state for Jews led to an inevitable challenge to, and subsequent collapse of, indigenous Palestinian social structures. It was this condition the inability of traditional Palestinian clan and family structures to sustain themselves as viable social, economic and political entities in the face of this forced disintegration that led to the 'freeing' of individual members from such traditional ties. Since women were also affected by these changes, their awareness of their social and political conditions was consequently enhanced. They too were pushed into the public sphere and forced to resist the destruction of their world (Daj'ani 1993).

These events dramatize both the continuing integral link between the women's movement and the national movement and the manner in which structural changes interact with ideologies, beliefs, and world views at different points in time. Both of these issues have important implications for the present state of the Palestinian women's movement in the Occupied Territories: the first underscores the difficulties and contradictions that women face in trying at once to define a separate woman's agenda and to connect that agenda to the Palestinian national liberation movement; the second serves as a response to those within or outside the women's movement in the Occupied Territories who sometimes express frustration with the pace of change there. It is clear that just as an awareness of the national issue and of the role women would play within the national movement had to develop within the context of a structural challenge to Palestinian society, so too did a heightened awareness of the specific issues concerning women depend on broader social transitions. Indeed, the birth of what may be termed a feminist consciousness and agenda had to await the arrival (or imposition) of a new set of structural challenges to Palestinian society. These challenges came with the intifada.' We can, therefore, see a direct connection between the period before 1948 and that which unfolded after 1967. Throughout these years Palestinian women have been involved in a constant process of reacting to and acting upon their environment, a process which has culminated in the situation in which they find themselves today.


It was largely in response to the political threat to their society that Palestinian women first mobilized to assume active public roles. Educated urban middle-class women played a significant role in developing the kind of social welfare activities that came to dominate a large part of the history of their movement, especially in the aftermath of the disintegration of Palestine. For example, in 1921 the first Arab Palestinian Women's Union was set up in Jerusalem, and in subsequent years various committees and groups were created to respond to emerging social and national concerns. Meanwhile, rural women were more directly active. There is evidence that as early as 1884, even before any organized women's movement had emerged in Palestine, women in rural areas were already struggling alongside their menfolk to resist the first Zionist settlements Uammal 1985).

The concept of 'relief', and the distinction between urban and rural areas, prevailed into the early period of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the advent of the women's grassroots committees in the mid1970s. The social activism of urban women that first emerged in early Palestine continued to be central during the post 1948 and 1967 periods. Thus, once the Zionist enterprise had culminated in Israeli statehood and Palestinians had been expelled and dispossessed altogether from their homeland, middle-class Palestinian women assumed chiefly 'charitable' roles. They were active in organizing the kinds of services and support networks that would be needed by the hundreds of thousands of landless and poor refugees scattered in exile.' At the same time, these efforts acted as a barrier to more extensive mobilization among women, either as active agents of resistance against Israel or as agents on behalf of a women's agenda. During this earlier period it was the national issue the threat to Palestinian lands and livelihood, and to the very identity of Palestinians that took precedence. This threat was immediate and tangible, and it had to be resisted at all costs. An awareness of a specific 'feminist' consciousness in the Western sense was clearly absent. When Palestinian women challenged patriarchal structures, they did so in order to fashion a political response to their common enemy outsi 'de, rather than directing their challenge internally, into their own society. One example of women's activism on behalf of the national cause was the first Arab Women's Congress of Palestine that was held in 1929. This event was described at the time as a 'bold step to take', in view of traditional restrictions against women, yet it did not directly articulate challenges to such restrictions (Antonius 1981: 8).

It was perhaps the continuing process of Israeli colonization that most dramatically transformed heightened political consciousness among women (as among Palestinians generally) into active resistance against Israeli rule. Following the 1967 June War, the remaining territories of what had formerly been Palestine were captured and occupied by Israel. Once under Israeli control, Palestinians were faced with what they perceived as a policy of creeping annexation"(Israel's official policy of structural integration without official annexation). Several processes underlay this policy, all of which contributed significantly to the destruction or transformation of indigenous Palestinian social structures and social relations in these areas. Israel moved immediately after the war to annex East Jerusalem and, in 1981, passed a 'Basic Law' that declared Jerusalem a unified city and Israel's eternal capital, effectively separating East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank and rendering it sub'ect to Israeli law. (In contrast, until 1981, when the civil administration was imposed, the West Bank, like the Gaza Strip, was controlled directly by military law.) In the quarter of a century that has passed since 1967, some twenty Arab villages surrounding Jerusalem have had their lands confiscated to make way for the expansion of Israeli settlements around the city and the creation of a 'Greater Jerusalem' (PHRIC 1992). In the remainder of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians have seen vast proportions of their lands confiscated, their trees uproote d, and their traditional livelihoods disrupted.

Although these effects of Israeli rule were not uniform within both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinians increasingly felt the consequences of economic and political strangulation: proletarianization; pauperization; and, most critically, the threat of their permanent uprooting from their lands and the disappearance of their Palestinian identity (Abu Ayyash 1981; and Graham-Brown 1984).

The Gaza Strip was the most seriously affected. Its indigenous social structures had already experienced disintegration in the aftermath of Israel's creation in 1948, due to a combination of factors: the influx of huge numbers of dispossessed Palestinians fleeing or expelled from Palestine; the slicing away of a major part of the territory of the Gaza Strip for incorporation into Israel; separation from the region's main trade sources; and, especially, the fact that the Gaza Strip had never possessed the indigenous economic structures (specifically in agriculture) that were necessary to sustain its population. Because its indigenous structures remained largely intact under Israeli rule and could continue to provide a livelihood for much of the population, the West Bank fared slightly better than the Gaza Strip. It was not long, however, before Israel instituted policies of land expropriation and settlement, restrictions against indigenous economic activities, and other measures designed to curtail and regulate virtually every aspect of Palestinian life.

One consequence of Israel's occupation policies was the proletarianization of Palestinians, as increasing numbers of both men and women were uprooted from their lands and livelihood and pressured to join the Israeli labor force in order to support their families. Many worked as poorly paid manual laborers, or as seasonal agricultural workers in Israeli enterprises.' Women from all sectors of society began to enter the education system, including higher education, in order to improve their chances of finding gainful employrtient. Women often took up jobs in the service sector, in teaching, nursing, and the like, or else received training in vocational skills which they could use to supplement their families' incomes. These socioeconomic transformations inevitably acted back upon the women themselves. Increasingly, Palestinian women began to take upon themselves the task of defining their roles as productive members of Palestinian society under occupation and of developing avenues through which they would 'bute to the struggle against Israeli rule. Given these conditions and contri what became a virtual dally onslaught against their Palestinian identity, it Is not surprising that men and women alike regarded their collective national oppression as the first priority. Yet because Palestinian women's traditional structural position was different from that of men, gendered differences in Palestinian responses to Israeli Occupation did eventually emerge.

This politicization and mobilization occurred initially within the bounds of the sixty or so charitable societies that had been established within the West Bank before 1967. Under the Occupation, these societies expanded their purview from traditional welfare functions, to place greater emphasis on education, health and vocational training (Tunis Symposium 1984; Giacaman n.d). Perhaps the best known society of this type is In'ash el-Usra (Family Re'uvenatioii Society), which was established in El-Bireh in the West Bank in 1965. Headed by Samlha El-Khalil (the mother of Khaiil, or 'Umm Khalil', as she is known) an energetic, determined and nationalist Palestinian woman this society exemplifies the older type of organization that has tried to adapt itself to changing circumstances.' An emphasis on self-help, as opposed to 'relief', was, however, largely absent in the more traditional charitable societies' framework. In addition, they were run mainly by middle-class Palestinian women and were located in the major towns and villages. These societies were, therefore, somewhat inaccessible to rural areas, and remote from these areas' growing needs.

In the mid-1970s, a new type of women's society began emerging to fill this vacuum and to address the changing needs of the population. By then, the imperatives of life under occupation had necessitated the questioning of traditional assumptions about women's roles and the expansion of the traditional definition of 'acceptable' women's behavior. Women themselves, newly confident, and radicalized by their growing involvement and activism in the public sphere, began taking charge and fashioning their own responses both to their situation as women and to the Occupation itself. just as the national movement in the Occupied Territories was moving away from passive sumud (steadfastness) to active resistance to Israeli rule, so too in the women's sector did the trend towards more active and more aggressive participation develop. This is not to say that there had been no specific articulation of women's concerns in the intervening years. After all, the years since 1965 had witnessed the creation of the PLO and the establishment within it of the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) a direct acknowledgment of the specific contribution of women to the struggle. But in the 1970s, and perhaps for the first time within the Occupied Palestinian Territories, there emerged a distinct commitment to articulating women's concerns both separately and in connection with the national movement (though not necessarilty in feminist terms at the time), and to working towards the establishment of an organized women's movement. Among the major concerns of these new organizations were: working women; women in rural areas; and the need to establish viable productive ventures and self-help opportunities for women.

The women who took the initiative to establish these committees were relatively young, educated, and activists in their own right. They believed that by strengthening the role of women in the national struggle they would be able to realize women's full potential in society. Their approach was to address dally concerns in various areas of women's lives, rather than to focus primarily or intentionally on political issues. They paid careful attention to involving local women themselves (for example, in rural areas) in expressing their own needs and priorities, and invited local women to participate in setting up and running branches of the committees in their own communities. The first of these grassroots women's committees was formed in the West Bank in 1978. Within Just a few years, three additional committees had been established; each reflecting an affiliation with a particular faction within the PLO. The first to be formed, the Union of Women's Work Committees, was closely aligned with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). The Union of Working Women's Committees (1980) was associated with the Communist Party; the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees (1981) with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); and the Union of Women's Committees for Social Work (1981) with Fatah. These committees were distinguished from the earlier charitable societies mainly by their nontraditional, unofficial and grassroots character.8

Progress in involving local women was slow in many instances. The threat of Israeli crackdowns was ever present; and the unofficial nature of the women s committees made it difficult to rent spaces for their work, to staff and equip facilities, and to implement programs. Funding was a constant problem, as was the issue of competition and overlap among branches of committees with different ideological leanings. For example, it often happened that two women's committees of different ideological persuasions would compete with each other to set up a day-care center in a given locality. Another ma'or obstacle to women's activism stemmed from Palestinian society itself and traditional views on the participation of women in public life. This was particularly true in the villages and rural areas (and some refugee camps), where women tended to be less educated and more enclosed within the confines of their communities. Activists of the women's committees had some difficulty in finding appropriate ways to communicate their goals to these women and to convince them that they, as well as their families and communities, would benefit from participating. This method of approaching political issues indirectly, by way of attention to dally concerns, gradually paid off. Women could convince their male partners that the activities planned by the committees fell within the range of 'acceptable' behaviors for women, and also received training in skills that would enable them to supplement family incomes or provide other services, such as in health, day care, and the like.

In expanding their activities in towns and cities Women's Committees were also beset by a number of concerns that were more specific to location. For example, urban women tended on the whole to be more educated and, therefore, more likely to be enrolled in the work force or more desirous of joining it. In these settings, the issue was how to ensure that women were protected from discrimination and inequality in the workplace because of their gender. In rural areas, the question was how to convince fathers, brothers and husbands to allow women to train themselves in order to work outsi 'de the home. In order to address these concerns and mobilize women more effectively, several of the Women's Committees focused specifically on the issue of working women. For example, the Women's Work Committees placed special emphasis on the rights of women in the work force; on their rights to leaves, vacations, better wages and, especially, representation in labor unions (Khreisheh in Na"ar 1992; Hiltermann 1990; Siniora 1989; Women's Work Committees 1983; Tunis Symposium 1984). The issue of rights has always been problematic in the Palestinian context and has presented serious dilemmas for women activists. Most Palestinian unions have been dominated by men, and have also been subject to constant harassment by the Israeli authorities. In this general atmosphere of oppression and control, Palestinian men could not, or would not, appreciate the immediacy or relevance of women's concerns. Women themselves were often reluctant to demand their rights, partly because they may have feared for their jobs, but also because they did not want to alienate their male compatriots with whom they were engaged in a J'olnt national struggle. Until recently, gender and class issues have generally assumed a lower priority in the national struggle, and they remain a source of debate within the Palestinian women's movement. It has only been in the years since the i.ntifada that Palestinian women have begun to insist on the inclusion of a social agenda for women's liberation as a priority in its own right.

The role of Palestinian women in the intifada

It is difficult to appreciate the urgency with which Palestinian women approach the national and social issues that confront their society under in ifada occupation without examining women's roles in the intifada. It was this experience that institutionalized women's involvement in the national struggle; and it was the reaction against their activism that helped to crystallize women s social agendas. Between the time of their inception and the beginning of the intifada in December 1987, Women's Committees in the occupled West Bank and Gaza Strip continued to grow. This growth paralleled the expansion in the Occupied Territories of voluntary and grassroots committees as a whole, in response to the growing needs of the population under occupation for alternative services and support networks. The extensive involvement of women in these activities established the basis for the later participation of women during the uprising. The late 1970s and early 1980s were also a period of harsh repression under Israeli rule, during which the work of local municipalities became increasingly circumscribed and indigenous organizations faced multiple restrictions on their operations. Much of the impetus for the creation of voluntary and popular committees 'fically as a response to the election of the first L'kud government came speci in Israel, in 1977, and to its policies towards the Occupied Territories. Under Likud, land expropriation and settlement building increased in both pace and scope, and galvanized Palestinians into action to protect their society. Palestinians' response to the limited self-rule under continued Israeli occupation slated for them by the 1978 Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt (brokered by the US) was an accelerated drive to maintain their sumud and to enhance it with deliberate efforts to develop their society. Israel continued to place obstacles in the way of any form of indigenous development. In 1981, after the civil administration was created, the Israeli authorities dissolved Palestinian municipalities and removed several municipal officials from their posts. Activists in other organizations were also arrested, deported, or otherwise prevented from carrying out their duties. Palestinian organizations such as the National Guidance Committee (NGC), which had been formed to organize resistance to the provisions of the Camp David Accords were officially banned. The popular committees that sprouted and grew in this atmosphere provided a legitimate and acceptable institutional framework for the increased involvement of women. 9

This was a critical decade in terms of women's mobilization and particlpatron in public life. As Israeli repression intensified, Palestinian women became acutely aware of their precarious and conflicted position under occupation. They were forced to assume new economic responsibilities in providing for their families, sometimes even as sole providers 'n the absence of male relatives who had been imprisoned, deported or killed by the Israeli authorities. These roles were added to their traditional responsibilities as wives and mothers, as the preservers and transmitters of the culture and identity of the Palestinian people. As the notion of 'motherhood' and sacrifice became enshrined as a virtual national duty, women who were struggling for recognition in the public arena were forced to somehow combine this traditional view of their duties with their newly defined roles of providing economically for their families. Much has been written about the intifada in general and, more particularly, about the role of women in it (Strum 1992; Abdo 1987, 1991; Abdul jawwad 1990; Daj'ani 1990; jad 1990; Taraki 1989, 1990; Warnock, 1990; Giacaman and Johnson 1989). The term itself comes from an Arabic word that signifies a 'shaking up' or a 'shaking off'. Indeed the intifada has lived up to its meaning, involving both the shaking off of the Israeli Occupation and the shaking up of Palestinian society itself under Israeli rule.10 Intentionally or not, the second element has become dominant over the course of the uprising. The distinctiveness of the intifada has derived from its popular appeal across the Occupied Territories. Within Just the few initial weeks of the uprising, the mass-based grassroots committees had organized a web of local administrative committees. These committees proliferated throughout almost all of the Occupied Areas. The idea that Palestinians could be so effective in mobilizing themselves in their communities was virtually unprecedented, and was a significant factor in Israel's initially confused response. Numerous Palestinian uprisings had occurred in the past, but never on such a scale or with such a degree of popular determination and solidarity. The intifada indicated that the people under occupation were taking matters into their own hands (with the evident approval of the PLO, outside), and challenging Israeli rule. In other words, the locus of power had shifted away from the PLO to the people themselves who lived under Israeli military rule. Simultaneously, civilian resistance emerged as a separate and legitimate means of struggle. This, too, was a radical departure from the earlier periods, when only 'armed struggle' and, generally, some degree of 'political and diplomatic' efforts were recognized as legitimate forms of resistance by the Palestinian national liberation movement. As became clear in the course of the z'ntifada, this emphasis on resisting the Israeli Occupation by means of a civilian resistance struggle had both positive and negative consequences for all concerned. "

Within the Palestinian community under occupation, the intifada did indeed succeed in 'shaking up' traditional structures and established social relationships. People quickly mobilized and directed their efforts towards the national goal. Not only in the grassroots committees but also within the different institutional sectors, Palestinians attempted to adapt their traditional roles to meet the new challenges of the national struggle. Through such action, Palestinians were sending a signal to Israel that they would refuse to cooperate with the Occupation regime and that they would attempt to establish their nongovernability by Israel. They hoped that direct action at key levels would place increased pressure on Israel to reevaluate its continued rule over Palestinians, and eventually force Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. Some of the existing indigenous economic enterprises, for example, turned their production to the support of the i .ntifada by producing goods that had previously been unavailable in the Palestinian community and therefore had to be purchased from Israel. This tactic helped to uphold the boycott of Israeli products that had been called for early in the z'ntifada. At the popular level, 'home economies' became the non-institutional response, as Palestinians claimed empty plots of land in their communities on which to grow vegetables or raise chickens and rabbits. When all the universities in the Occupied Territories were closed by 'I'tary decree 'n February 1988, Palest'n'an educators managed to set up mi I 'popular education committees' which met with small groups of students in homes, mosques and churches across the occupied areas."

Palestinian women played a pivotal role in the i'ntifada. Building on the experience they had gained during the previous decade in the women's committees, Palestinian women were able to extend their activism and newly found organizational skills in the service of the uprising; to help mobilize people in different communities to perform strategically important functions, such as setting up units to collect and store food and establishing guard units to warn their community in the event of the approach of Israeli soldiers or settlers. Women helped to establish alternatives to the organizations of the Occupation regime, a goal that was central to Palestinian efforts to 'unlink' from their dependence on Israel: they were able to team up with the Medical Relief Committees to provide needed health care; and they worked with the Agricultural Relief Committees to reclaim small plots of land for the 'home economies'. Palestinian women also participated more overtly and directly in the z'ntifada. They held their own demonstrations, threw stones alongside youth, and engaged in other protest actions to express their rejection of Israeli rule. They exhibited tremendous courage in their confrontations with Israeli soldiers, frequently risking their own lives to rescue shebab (Palestinian youth) and children who had been caught by Israeli soldiers or police.

It was this particular feature of the intifada the widespread participation of women in the struggle against Israeli rule that, perhaps more than anything else, dramatizes the extent to which Palestinian society had itself been 'shaken up' by this struggle.1' For the intifada proved itself to be a double-edged sword, both for the Palestinian community in general and for women in particular, who defied traditional restrictions to participate in the popular resistance efforts. There is a clear connection between women's increased activism and the general atmosphere of social change generated by the intifada. At one level, this can be attributed to the failure of indigenous social structures, including the family, to perform their traditional functions in Palestinian society. Although this process had begun long before the uprising due to the impact of the Israeli Occupation on Palestinian society generally it was exacerbated by the uprising. In addition, the courage and activism of sons and young men (the Palestinian shebab) leading protests and demonstrations against the Israeli Occupation and the respect they earned in their communities at least in the early stages served as an example to women. Soon, daughters, sisters and wives were also challenging patriarchal restrictions to their public participation in the uprising. It was clear that the intifada was a national effort a kind of higher calling that required commitment and sacrifice, and removal (or suspension) of traditional customs and values. There was a spirit of rejuvenation throughout Palestinian society: people began talking and planning, not only for national independence, but for the type of society in which they would live in the future. Many in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip talked about the 'democratiza tion' of Palestinian society, and hoped to combine strategies for national liberation with strategies for social liberation. At the forefront of the strug gle for equality, democracy and freedom were many Palestinian women. These processes of reevaluation and of theorizing about the future of the intifada and the forthcoming Palestinian state did not, however, occur at once. Even the revolutionary situation does not necessarily or automatically advance gender equality. Largely responsible for fashioning their own new roles, Palestinian women have nevertheless stopped short of issuing a direct challenge to the patriarchal structures. They have preferred instead to expand the boundaries of their involvement within these structures. In their view, the danger to the nation precedes their own priorities, and they feel the need to struggle alongside men against this external threat. Moreover, many feel that this is an inappropriate time to be alienating their male compatriots. In this, Palestinian women have been no different from other nations and their liberation movements. In Algeria and South Africa, for example, even as women assume more active public roles they are still entrusted with the responsibility of 'motherhood' (in much more than its biological sense) and the preservation of the nation's identity, and thus bear what is commonly referred to as the 'triple burden'. Still, there comes a time in all revolutionary movements when the processes of change cannot be contained and contradictory forces cannot be reconciled. Within the Occupied Territories, this point came with the emergence of the extremist Islamic groups, notably Hamas (The Islamic Resistance Movement) in the Gaza Strip, and the subsequent religious fundamentalist backlash against women that took place during the intifada.

The rise of the Islamic movement came at a time when women were already experiencing restrictions on their participation in the intifada. By then, around the second year of the uprising, Israel had already banned the popular committees, which had served as such a powerful forum for the induction of women into political activism. The demise of these committees left fewer opportunities for women to enter public life. At the same time, the intifada had begun to lose its earlier momentum. Palestinians under occupatron perceived that they were making enormous sacrifices without achieving comparable political returns. Political factions had lost the unity and consensus of earlier months: they differed on the course of the uprising, on the means of struggle, 'and on the interpretation of Israeli and American moves to address the situation." The killing of suspected collaborators was on the rise, and Israel was forever devising new ways to split and control the national movement and to break the will of the people to resist. in this atmosphere of despair, anger, and frustration with the political process, the message of the more radical wing of the Islamic movement resonated among Palestinians in search of meaning and hope (Hammami 1990; Legrain 1990; Abu Amr 1989; Taraki 1989). As in all national struggles, culture including religion, language, tradition and custom had a powerful appeal. Indigenous culture could be mobilized effectively as a response to the 'alien' culture of the opponent. Ironically, Hamas owed its rise primarily to the Israeli authorities, who had earlier courted the movement as an alternative to the PLO.'5 In some areas of the Occupied Territories, particularly in the Gaza Strip where conditions were especially harsh, the Islamic movement gained widespread support, sometimes shaped less by religious beliefs than by the practical considerations of survival: in a situation characterized by the breakdown of traditional social supports, Hamas was well positioned to provide support services and relief to the local population.

The message of Hamas and other radical Islamic groups was simple: Israel was winning because Palestinians had abandoned their culture and religion; in order to prevail, Palestinians would have to return to Islamic tradition and abandon Western practices and values. The essence of this attack was directed at women. Hamas and other groups urged women to forgo public activities and return to their homes, to resume their traditional roles as wives and mothers. They urged women to don the veil, to segregate themselves from men, and to allow men to conduct the struggle against Israel.

As the appeal of extremist religious groups spread from the Gaza Strip to areas of the West Bank it became an important source of concern for Palestinian women activists. Women activists realized that 'democratization' had to be more than a slogan that was appropriate only during the period of national resistance and would then be cast aside after the establishment of an independent state. They also realized that achieving national liberation without social liberation would be turning back the clock and giving up all that they, as Palestinians and as women, had gained over the long years of sacrifice and struggle.

For the most part, the nationalist leadership in the Occupied Territories disregarded women's growing concerns over the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. These Palestinian leaders seemed to think that the forces of fundamentalism were transient and could be contained within the national struggle, especially once political gains could be demonstrated and attributed to the secular leadership. Most of all, the nationalist leadership" tended to minimize its reactions so as not to unduly antagonize the religious movements. Ultimately, these leaders placed political considerations above social concerns, and decided to risk alienating women and marginalizing them within the struggle rather than to incur the wrath of the powerful religious movements and to open themselves up to accusations of being traitors to the national cause and enemies of tradition.

This policy of trying to steer clear of the issue of women and religion clearly backfired. Fundamentalist backlash against women became overt and severe; there were even cases of women in the Gaza Strip who were beaten or who had acid thrown at their legs for daring to walk in the streets unveiled. Pressure mounted on the nationalist leadership to address the issue of fundamentalism publicly and directly, and some male leaders, such as Faisal Husseini, did respond. " But this whole event shocked women irrevocably into an awareness of the discrimination and oppression which they could face in a future Palestinian state. From this point on, one can begin to speak of a genuine feminist consciousness emerging among women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


A single public event unmistakably marked a turning point in the development of a genuine feminist consciousness in the Occupied Territories: the conference on women that was held in the West Bank in December 1990. There, for the first time, women activists decided to broach the subject of religious fundamentalism publicly and critically. Despite potential dangers, some five hundred women from across the Occupied Territories attended. Prominent male leaders were present as well: Faisal Husseini, for example, gave a keynote speech. The appearance of men at this conference helped to give an official stamp of approval to the efforts of women and, more importantly, to indicate publicly that backlash among extremist religious groups against women was unacceptable and would have to be addressed immediately and directly at the highest levels of the national leadership. From this point on, Palestinian women began to devote increased attention to developing a specific women's agenda and to formulating and implementing a program of social liberation. While they realized that successfully steering a path between achieving women's goals and avoiding excessive antagonism of their male compatriots posed a thorny problem, 'We will not be another Algeria' remained a rallying cry among women activists in the Occupied Territories. In order to guarantee that the struggle for national liberation would incorporate full democratization of Palestinian society, Palestinian women began to theorize more carefully about the issues confronting them.

These efforts are still underway in the Occupied Territories. In the end, the real test of their successes will lie in their ability to translate theory into practical plans, and strategy into reality. Among the many issues that Palestinian women have addressed in this context, two stand out: the question of feminism" and theorizing about social agendas and national liberation.

The question of feminism

The meaning of feminism from the standpoint of Palestinian women, and the problem of incorporating it into a women's agenda for social liberation alongside national liberation, is an immediate and contentious issue in the Occupied Territories.

Many observers would agree that only in the last two years or so, since about 1990, has a feminist consciousness discernibly emerged in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Gluck 1992; Strum 1992). This development constitutes a major departure from the past, when Palestinian women were often loudly insistent that 'feminism' was an alien Western construct that was not applicable to their concerns." More recently, however, Palestinian women have begun to refer openly to themselves as feminists and to debate feminist analysis. Although they are publicly broaching sub'ects that would have been unthinkable 'ust a few years ago (including wife-beating and other types of abuse; abortion; and women's health movements), Palestinian feminists are not primarily concerned with the individual manifestations of oppression and discrimination but, instead, with the overarching societal framework that is embodied, principally, in the Personal Status (Family) laws.

In most of the Arab world there is no effective separation between religion and state. For centuries, even before these countries gained independence (as could also be seen in Palestine under Ottoman rule), each community ran its 'personal' affairs according to its own particular religious tenets covering, essentially, marriage, divorce and inheritance (Hlj'ab 1988). Following the establishment of separate nation-states in the region, this system persisted and became institutionalized into law. Whereas civil law was made applicable to other state and community affairs, most of these countries administered 'personal' affairs on the basis of religious law, frequently Islamic law or modifications thereof. Palestinian women are now concerned that the future Palestinian state will simply emulate its neighbors and will not be democratic. On the matter of polygamy, for example, they maintain that since the declaration of the Palestinian state in 1988, Palestinian passports which have been issued in conformity with Jordan's, carry separate pages for men to list up to four wives. 19 In Islam, men are allowed to marry up to four wives under certain strict conditions, and in Jordan these matters are regulated by the Personal Status laws. Palestinian women fear that women will be legislated into an inferior status right from the beginning, on the basis of such laws, and they are determined to begin working now to prevent such an outcome.

Toward this end, Palestinian women have recently established several Women's Studios Centers in the Occupied Territories, including at least three in the West Bank, one of which has a branch in the Gaza Strip. One particular focus of the Bisan Center For Research and Development in Ramallah is the Personal Status laws (Strum 1992; Abdo 1990; Kuttab n. d.). Female researchers there are in the process of consulting with lawyers, religious figures and other professionals to develop a complete civil code that would govern personal affairs in the future Palestine.'o

Theorizing about social agendas and national liberation

As this discussion of feminism clearly indicates, Palestinian women have begun to theorize about both connections and differences between social and political liberation. The real test of their efforts, however, will lie in the extent to which they succeed in articulating social agendas to be instituted in the Palestinian community before liberation. This would involve at least two i lan women must manage to develop a sound main undertakings: Palestinian theoretical base for assessing their conditions; and they must be able to translate theory into real strategies for change. While this section will address only the first issue, the task of theorizing, we do need to keep in mind that theorizing remains, inevitably, only the first step towards the formulation of a coherent strategy. Palestinian women have begun to make great strides in identifying the key variables in their social condition. Variations in interpretation have occurred over time as women have begun, for example, to assign more weight to gender issues in view of their own location in society, or to analyze from their own political, ideological and/or class positions. Other variables which have come into play include ethnicity comprising both nationality and religion in this instance and the state, primarily the Israeli state that continues to rule over them. Complicating matters further is the interplay among these diverse variables, and their intersections within Palestinian society and between the Occupied Territories and Israel. Palestinian women have made concerted efforts to sort out these factors in order to decide how they can be manipulated effectively in a program of social and national liberation.

One of the major dilemmas confronting Palestinian women in their struggle for democracy and freedom is the absence of a Palestinian state (Abdo 1991; Yuval-Davis and Anthias 1989; Joseph 1986). Though this void leaves a window of opportunity to initiate change, it also places women in the difficult position of having to chart a new course in defining their public and private roles and in deciding where their energies can be most effectively invested. Private roles, even traditional roles, become politicized, as in the emergent symbolism of the 'mother as martyr' and all the other images of a glorified Palestinian motherhood. Palestinian women cannot be blamed for stretching the definition of their traditional roles into these new politicized entities; indeed, their courageous and innovative responses reflect women's growing political consciousness and assertiveness. However, as women continue to emerge from the confines of existing social structures, these structures become sub'ect to erosion both from within and without and the roles of women change, in turn, even further, as evidenced during the i.ntifada. The absence of a Palestinian state also intensifies the significance of informal social or communal groups (as opposed to formal state structures) in the expansion of women's participation in social and political activities, as clearly demonstrated by the predominance of women in the local committees during the intifada. The importance of the informal sector in the Palestinian case is also indicated in the dramatic drop in the level of women's participation during the period after August 1988, when Israel issued a ban against the popular committees. For the informal women's committees had legitimated women's activism in the period before the intifada, and con'buted to the expansion of women's participation during the upr's'ng'tself. tri

In the wake of the backlash against women during the intifada, Palestinian women currently are faced with a dilemma concerning their 'informal' participation: the absence of a Palestinian state at this Juncture has perhaps made them more vulnerable, for there are no official structures in place to protect their rights. The lessons of the intifada indicate that it is not very likely that further mobilization of women in informal types of groupings will eventually translate into recognized and legitimized formal roles for them. Yet beginning work immediately on entering into more formalized public sectors and establishing themselves there officially, in order to ensure women's presence as equal to men's once the Palestinian state is established, also has its risks, not the least of which are the traditional obstacles to women s participation in the public sphere. Still Palestinian women have been attempting precisely that to move directly into the public sector and thus to challenge traditional patriarchal structures and beliefs. Women have, for example, placed special emphasis on membership in trade unions, in order to gain their rights as women workers. As noted earlier, Palestinian women have also established a number of centers which are currently engaged in investigating the conditions of women's lives. And women have been involved in creating their own economic enterprises, in the form of women s cooperatives which they are totally responsible for administering and running; one prominent example is the Production is Our Pride food cooperative in Beitello (Strum 1992; Abdo 1990; Kuttab n.d.).

While it is important not to underestimate these efforts, it is also important to keep in perspective the theoretical concerns that they raise. Palestinian women seeking to get ahead in Palestinian society as it is presently structured may only be contributing to the reproduction of a similar class system in a newly formed state. So far, an emergent feminist consciousness seems to have triumphed, at least among a certain sector of women activists within whose analysis @ender has taken precedence over class. Yet, implementing their analysis could result in a situation where only women of the elite classes would have advantages and a certain 'equality' in a Palestinian state. A real program of social liberation would require more concerted efforts to analyze and address class issues. 21

In theorizing about their conditions and setting agendas for the future, Palestinian women must also address directly the element of religion, 'fically Islam. Palest'n'an women have tried to assess how far they speci should go in challenging the religious underpinnings of their status in society. They realize that to struggle to become 'political' beings within the national liberation movement is often more acceptable than trying to challenge their 'private' roles within their families and within community structures. They question whether they should, as women, challenge patriarchal and religious structures directly, and thus risk alienating their male compatriots; or whether they should instead seek change indirectly, through continued participation in the public sphere in a manner that does not directly challenge traditional structures. 22 Some Palestinian women have urged that the political issues continue to take precedence, both in order to achieve ultimate liberation and in order to avoid splitting their movement and thus rendering themselves more vulnerable to Israel. Others, especially feminists, have come to the conclusion that they risk becoming 'another Algeria' if they do not work from the start to initiate change, no matter how upsetting and challenging this may be (Gluck 1992; Holt 1992; Strum 1992; Warnock 1990). Finally, Palestinians are locked in a national struggle against an intractable opponent. In theorizing about their conditions and about the possibility of combining a social agenda with a political agenda of liberation, Palestinian women have had to keep this reality firmly in sight.

While it is impossible to do Justice here to the myriad factors that come into play in the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis, the ties that have developed between Israeli and Palestinian women over recent years are an important element to note. Israel too has its feminist activists. However, it is by no means a given that these two feminisms, Palestinian and Israeli, ill converge. Many lsraeli feminists are concerned solely with Israeli affairs, like equality within Israeli society, within the army, or in the realm of religious practices." On the other hand, a significant sector of the feminist movement in Israel is concerned with the issue of peace, and is highly visible and active in this struggle (Hurwitz 1992; Sharoni 1992). To these women, peace with the Palestinians is inextricably linked with the struggle for equality and social Justice for all women. Significantly, in recent years 'feminism' has constituted a common meeting ground or point of convergence for women of different ethnic backgrounds. In the Palestinian/ Israeli conflict, the shared concerns of women struggling for social liberation have become a basis for establishing networks and solidarity groups which have, in turn, become a point of entry into the national question and motivated women to struggle jointly for a just peace. For both the Palestinian and the Israeli women who are involved in these efforts, social liberation will never be complete until the national conflict and Israel's occupation of the West bank and the Gaza Strip have ended, and increasingly, for both Israeli and Palestinian feminists, national liberation will never be complete without also incorporating programs which seek social liberation and Justice for all (Abdo 1991).

There is an interesting process at work here. Because of their placement in society often as victinis of sexism, and racism women are uniquely positioned to perceive the connections among different spheres of domination. As feminists they can then try to challenge the hegemonic versions of history that have kept them oppressed, invisible, and separated (Mohanty 1991). So begins the struggle to reclaim and legitimize simultaneously both the feminist and national liberation movements (Gilliam 1991). There is no single answer to the dilemmas which confront Palestinian women. Palestinian women know that they want to be free of Israeli rule, but they also want to be free and equal citizens of their own state. Somehow, social and political liberation must go hand in hand: Palestinian women cannot afford to go back.


Where do Palestinian women now stand in their struggle? To answer, we must return briefly to an earlier question about moving from theory to practice; about, in essence, strategizing. Some Palestinian observers, including feminists, have criticized the women s movement in the Occupied Territories for falling short of its goals.

Eileen Kuttab, for example, maintains that Palestinian women have not only failed to extend their public activism into real political gains or, generally, to translate theory into practice, but they have also not yet succeeded even in changing their traditional image in the Palestinian community (1992). Kuttab maintains that in spite of women's participation in the i.n t ifa da, women have failed to generate real change. Kuttab and others perceive a wide gap between theory and practice. This gap reflects in turn, the problematics of incorporating a struggle for social liberation within the struggle for national liberation. Philippa Strum goes further and claims that Palestinian women have not concentrated sufficiently on women s emancipation as a goal in itself, rather than as an element within the struggle for national independence (1992). In her view, Palestinian women have not theorized enough about the specific factors which they confront in their struggle for social liberation, both in conjunction with and separate from national liberation. Sensitive issues, such as the patriarchal structure and its ideological underpinnings in which women have colluded, so to speak, in maintaining and reproducing their own oppression have yet to be dealt with. Finally, in Strum's opinion, a thorough analysis of the connections be(ween the national liberation movement and the women's liberation movement and, most importantly, of how to achieve the latter before liberation, of how to strategize has yet to emerge. As Palestinian women continue in their struggle, it may be useful for them to seek comparisons in the comparative successes of the present, like South Africa, rather than in the failures of the past, like Algeria. For all their concerns and warnings, there is in fact little danger that Palestinian women will succumb to the predicament of their Algerian sisters, since Palestinian women have already traversed far beyond the point originally reached by Algerian women in their struggle. There can hardly be a retreat into invisibility for Palestinian women now. The question is, then, how to go forward." Despite important differences between them, Palestinians can benefit from black South Africans' long decades of struggle, especially by paying careful attention to the genesis and growth of the women's movement among black women in South Africa.

Like Palestinians, black South African women began to organize politically around the issue of 'national liberation'. In 1910, white settlers from four British colonies formed the Union of South Africa, an entity based explicitly on the principle of white supremacy." Although the formal institutionalization of white rule under the Apartheid system did not take effect until 1948, the impact of the policies of 'white supremacy' was felt immediately by the native African population. From the start, the white settlers employed racial and racist ideologies to relegate black Africans to the status of a lower social class, as a cheap labor force for the emerging capitalist economy. The Apartheid regime formalized the racial and class separation between blacks and whites by restricting black Africans to various 'reserves', the 'homelands' from which black Africans commuted as a migrant labor force to work in the white-dominated South African businesses. Initially the involvement of black African women in the struggle for liberation was limited, and was defined largely around the idea of 'motherhood', or 'motherism' as Cherryl Walker refers to it (1991). As in the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation, the concept of motherhood was neither static nor conservative, and black African women gradually began redefining their traditional and private roles into revolutionary and political ones. Though not 'feminist' at the outset, the reformulation of these traditional roles served to empower black women and to propel them into action and into an enhanced state of political and social awareness. The period of increased involvement coincided with economic changes under white rule and with the growing proletarianization of black African women alongside black African men." Like Palestinian women, black South African women became preoccupied with the question of women and work, and with articulating their positions in terms of gender, race and class. Issues such as paid work, worker's rights and, indeed, the very right to work assumed increased importance in an atmosphere of dispossession and exploltation of the black population by a powerful opponent under the Apartheid regime. Black women in South Africa also had to grapple with the question of whether or not to Join trade unions, and of whether their efforts to improve their position as women would antagonize their menfolk.

Ultimately, like Palestinian women, black women in South Africa faced the issue of theorizing about their conditions, and of moving from theory to strategy. They, too, wanted to avoid deflecting energy from the total struggle for an end to Apartheid. They wrestled with the dilemma of where to situate their movement; of whether the movement could or should be conducted within the main organizational framework of the national liberation niovement, in this case the African National Congress. While the 'feminist' movement in South Africa has since its emergence been rent by factionalism and in-fighting among various groups over the goals and means of struggle (Walker 1991), over time women activists decided that they would focus together on power structures in South Africa located specifically within the black community, by organizing around issues that affected them directly as women. They would, however, insist at the same time upon organizing on a national scale." As in the case of the Palestinian women's organizations, black South African women clearly recognized the roots of their oppression, both in the patriarchal structures of the black community and in the system of white rule but they had trouble translating these theoretical concerns into a viable strategy. Ultimately, the black South African women's movement chose to focus on specific abuses suffered by women, and therefore to concentrate largely on creating services within their allotted 'homelands' and improving conditions there. Since within the Occupied Territories the question of whether to direct energies towards total national liberation or to concentrate, instead, on improving conditions and standards of living within the 'autonomous' Palestinian communities is becoming increasingly central both for the Palestinian community as a whole and for women in particular, the South African example may prove especially instructive.

Over the last few decades, Palestinian women have had to contend with a series of major upheavals in their lives, including the launching of the i .ntifada, and the Gulf War and its aftermath. Women activists have not hesitated to seize upon the opportunities provided them, particularly during the intifada, to challenge further the definitions of acceptable roles for women. Their growing involvement in this uprising and the backlash that has emanated against them from traditional religious circles has only strengthened women's conviction that national liberation is insufficient without more fundamental social change, including equality for women and democratization throughout Palestinian society. It was during the intifada that Palestinian women activists began to seriously investigate the possibilities for advancing a women's agenda along'de the struggle for national liberation. Palestinian women need to make the transition from theory to practice, and to translate their theoretical understandings into viable strategies for change. They have so far made remarkable strides in understanding the roots of their oppression and in making their own voices heard in their communities. They have succeeded in identifying the key variables within traditional Palestinian society and under occupation that define their social conditions. And Palestinian women have made significant advances in developing a theoretical construct that is capable of explaining these conditions and their implications for women in the future Palestinian state. Perhaps, indeed, as some have predicted, the next intifada will be the women's intifada.

Political growth and the persistence of ideology,
Yvonne Deutsch (translated by Andre Rosenthal)

By peace we mean the absence of violence in any given society, both internal and external, direct and indirect. We further mean the nonviolent results of equality of rights, by which every member of the society, through nonviolent means, participates equally in decisional power which regulates it, and the distribution of the resources which sustain it. (Brock-Utne 1985: 2)

The Palestinian intifada, which began in December 1987, the 21 st year of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has promoted the political involvement of women in Israel against the Occupation. Close to a month after the beginning of the intifada, non-Zionist, radical, Jewish women in Israel began demonstrating in support of the Palestinian struggle against the Occupation, and eventually they succeeded in creating the political tools to involve together both radicals and women from the political center. Gradually more and more women, both Jewish and Palestinian, from Israel Joined protest and solidarity activities, including meetings with Palestinian women from the Occupied Territories. Up until the crisis in the Gulf in August 1990 the women's peace movement was steadily developing in Israel simultaneously mounting significant and widespread opposition to the Occupation and, at the same time, attempting to create an alternative political culture as the basis for radical change in the basic priorities of Israeli society. The 1990 Gulf crisis and war constituted a turning point which brought a drastic drop in the scope of women's activities against the Occupation and in support of peace. Moreover, the new government of Israel, elected in June 1992, in which the liberal factions of the peace movement became part of the ruling Labor establishment, together with the political process shaped by the peace talks which until the mutual recognition of Israel and PLO in September 1993 denied Palestinian rights to national autonomy impeded the continued development of the women's peace movement. Still today, some five years after the beginning of the intifada, a core of Israeli Jewish women continue, although on a reduced scale, their political activity in favor of peace. Today women from the Israeli political center fulfill the role previously played by radical women, attempting to create ties with Palestinian women and to conduct J'olnt activities, while radical women now seek to redefine their role as a catalyst in creating changes in the political consciousness of women. In particular, feminists are trying to widen the scope of the feminist critique of war as a means for solving problems and of the relationship between, on the one hand, the priority of national security and the central role of the army and, on the other, the influence of militaristic culture on the status of women in Israeli society. The new developments of mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO may activate women, once again, to join political activities. The kind of activity now needed is one which will help pave the road to a mutually acceptable solution and reconciliation in the specific context of a feminist peace movement and political culture. At the same time, the Israeli women's peace movement continues to act within the social norms of patriarchal society and to accept the notion that states depend legitimately upon military power for their existence and development. The basic concept of national security remains of special importance to the Jewish people because of historical precedents. Within the Israeli context, therefore, every feminist attempt to re-examine basic social norms and to position national security vis-a-vis personal security, especially of women, is likely to remain marginal even among women activists who work for peace.


The Palestinian intifada has clearly served as a catalyst for the political awakening of women in Israel, provoking them to act against the Occupation and for peace. Some measure of this awakening can be taken in the fact that within two years of the beginning of the intifada, in December of 1990, some 6,000 Israeli and Palestinian women, and women from Europe and the USA participated in a march for peace in Jerusalem and demanded that the Israeli government hold peace talks with the PLO, agree to an international peace conference, and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. This dramatic political event ended the 'Women go for peace' day which was organized by the women of the Israeli Women and Peace coalition, together with three Palestinian women's groups the Federation of Palestinian Women's Action Committees; the Union of Palestinian Working Women's Committees; and the Women's Committee for Social Work along with women from the Italian Peace Association, Casa delle Donne and Centro di Documentazione Donne.' Throughout the day an international conference in favor of peace and a large demonstration by Women in Black were held in West Jerusalem. Organizers pinned their hopes on dialogue and joint activities between Israeli and Palestinian women as a basis for improving relations between the two peoples and for creating a strong women's movement in the Middle East. This day was the climax of Israeli women's activity against the Occupation in exclusively women's groups which had begun about a month after the outbreak of the intifada and continued with ever-increasing intensity.

Women in Black

Dressed in black, in non-violent opposition against the Occupation, some ten Israeli Jewish women from the radical left began in Jerusalem in January 1988 to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. By making their political statement on the sidewalk of a main city square, surrounded by bystanders, these women exposed themselves to frequent outbursts of animosity and to an atmosphere of violence. Determined to continue, they transferred their protest site to Jerusalem's France Square, which was less exposed to interfering bystanders but was a route used by thousands of cars. Women in Black demonstrations spread to Tel-Avlv' and Haifa, and from there to kibbutzim, moshavim, and other villages around the country. By July 1990 participants counted some thirty women's vigils involving both Jews and Palestinians from Israel who demonstrated in black against the Occupation every Friday, at the same places and times, often t o cries of 'whores!' 'traitors!', 'Arafat's whores!' and similar expressions. As the popularity of Women in Black grew throughout Israel, these protest groups provided a model for women's protest groups in other parts of the world. Within a short space of time women in the USA, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, and England had organized similar solidarity vigils. European women adopted this model for demonstrations against the Gulf War; and in the former Yugoslavia groups of Women in Black used it to organize against the civil war in their country and against the widespread phenomenon of women's rape. In India women have adopted this model to protest against the rape of women by religious extremists and against religious motives for violence toward women; and in Italy women adopted it to protest against the violence of the Mafia.

Founded in Jerusalem in January 1988, this group provided Israeli Jewish women with a framework for political education through house meetings with Palestinian women and with experts in the social and political spheres. Shant organized visits to women's groups in the Occupied Territories, which provided many Israeli Jewish women with their first opportunity to meet Palestinian women and to discuss with them controversial topics while searching for a Joint political solution.

Women for Women Political Prisoners

Founded in May 1988, first in Tel-Aviv and then later in Jerusalem, this group provi'des practical and legal aid to Palestinian women political prisoners, establishes contact between prisoners and their families, and publishes information concerning conditions of imprisonment.

The Peace Quilt

Soon after the beginning of the intifada, thousands of Israeli women throughout the country began sewing a Peace Quilt composed of thousands of pieces of material decorated with drawings, writing, and embroidery expressing the desire for an end to the Occupation and for peace. In June 1988 hundreds of Jewish and Palestinian women participated in the unveiling of the quilt in front of the gates of the Knesset in Jerusalem.


To feminist activists, it was clear that in order to translate women's political awakening into a political force with real influence in Israeli society, a statewi 'de movement of women needed to be created. In December 1988, at the end of the first year of the z'ntifada, and as a result of the conference 'A call for peace: feminist perspectives on the occupation', the first nation-wide coalition of Israeli women in favor of peace, Women and Peace, was established.' Limits on their power to influence political reality forced Israeli women to come to terms with their marginality in the decision-making process of the political establishment and in society as a whole. Their feelings of frustration and anger increased as they confronted the gap between the reality pro'ected by decision makers and the values, beliefs, and life perspectives of women searching for peace. Since the road to influence within the existing political establishment was barred, these women chose the alternative of influence through independent, extra-parliamentary frameworks.' These political frameworks served in turn as catalysts and models for another group of women, Israel Women's Peace Net (Reshet). This group was founded in 1989 at the height of joint preparatory work on the event 'Women Go For Peace' between women of the coalition Women and Peace and Palestinian women. Reshet, led by women from the political center and Israeli academics, began holding house meetings and meetings between Palestinian women (middle to upper class; also mainly academic) and Israeli women who held positions of strength in the established women's groups and in Israeli centrist and leftist political parties (Chazan 1991).

During the third year of the intifada, women of Reshet J'olned with Women and Peace and Palestinian women to formulate a peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians based on feminist principles (Espanioly and Sachs 1991). It is important to note that two factors contributed to success in the creat on of an srael' women's peace movement: the declaration of an independent Palestinian state in November 1988; and the meaningful development of a Palestinian women's movement during the first years of the i .ntifada. From the Palestinian perspective the declaration of 1988 was regarded as a compromise, because it included acceptance of the partition of the land as pa@t of a policy aimed at convincing the Israeli public of Palestinians' willingness to live in peace alongside Israel. At that time there prevailed a feeling of optimism among many Palestinians, due to what they saw as the success of the intifada in establishing a viable political organ capable of creating cultural and economic independence. This optimism also aided Israel' women's political activism on behalf of peace and strengthened relationships between women in Israel and the Palestinian women of the Occupied Territories. The peace march of December 1989, for example, was one of the outcomes of this development.


The Gulf crisis in August 1990 found Israeli women activists in the midst of preparations for two conferences (one in Jerusalem and one in Geneva) which intended to open up dialogue with women of the PLO and to formulate with them the feminist peace treaty. But when the war broke out in January 1991, Jewish and Palestinian women found themselves on opposite sides. The majority of Jewish women'n Israel felt threatened by the military might of Saddam Hussein and hence felt relief when the US attacked Iraq. Women and Peace was the only Israeli women's group which organized a demonstration against the war. The difference in Palestinian and Jewish women's political responses to the war stemmed mostly from their different identities and reference points: while most Israeli Jewish women have identified themselves with the West, in general, and with the US in particular, Palestinian women's point of reference has usually been the Third World, and more specifically the Arab world. With the outbreak of the Gulf War women activists in Israel were quiet for a period of about three weeks. During the third and fourth weeks some women returned to their vigils in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Haifa; but of the thirty vigils which had been going on throughout the country before the war only a small number of muchdiminished demonstrations survived. The drop in activity against the Occupation was common among all Israeli peace groups; the less radical elements within these groups Justified the change by pointing to their disappointment with the PLO's support for Iraq. Among many women there was also a deeper feeling of weariness with the ongoing vigil and political activity and the lack of results. In the early period of the intifada, activity against the Occupation and Joint meetings with Palestinian women had provided a strong sense that a real alternative to the prevailing relationship between the two peoples was being created and that movement toward an acceptable political solution and peaceful coexistence in the region was taking place.

But the war threw Israeli women back into frustration with the growing gap between their stance in favor of peace and the lived reality of ongoing war that was exacerbated by their distance from and inability to 16fluence either the US and its allies or Iraq. Palestinian women were also forced to cope with feelings of disappointment: with their inability to break through the political barriers of Jewish society; with the deepening of the existential threat to their lives under the Occupation; and with their inability to see any political breakthrough from which to gain hope. Political despair among Palestinians generally and in the Territories specifically has led steadily to an increase in violence, the strengthening of Islamic fundamentalist movements, and the erosion of the social and political position of women.


The 1992 Labor Party victory in Israel and the new coalition government brought to many liberal Israeli peace activists a temporary gleam of hope about the prospects for real political change. After September 13, 1993 and the signing of the interim peace agreement between Israel and the PLO which was preceded by mutual recognition there is indeed a real prospect for peace. It must be borne in mind, however, that the same government which signed this peace agreement deported over 400 Palestinians from the Occupied Territories in December 1992; sealed the borders between the Occupied Territories and Israel in April 1993, without first establishing an infrastructure capable of providing for the large number of Palestinians who had previously found work in Israel; and waged war in Lebanon in July 1993, forcing the mass movement of a civilian population, to serve political motives. The Zionist parts of the peace movement were partners in these acts, and therefore only a few demonstrations opposed them. These political changes the change in government; the peace talks (which have both raised hopes and disappointed, because it is not clear that they are leading towards a recognition of Palestinian national rights); and the worsening of living conditions in the Occupied Territories have also created embarrassment and stimulated the search for appropriate action among women's groups.


Taking into consideration these changes, the developments within the coalltion Women and Peace are of particular importance. To a certain extent the coalition is today at a political crossroads and needs to redefine its role in the light of the fact that women from the political center are now undertaking political activity which was up until a short while ago delegated only to the radical left. Women of the Israel Women's Peace Net (Reshet) are working on advocating Palestinian human rights and looking for ways to renew political relationships with Palestinian women. The active women of the coalition, who are on the whole the organizers of Women in Black throughout the country"dedicate their time to the following three main areas. First, as stated above, during the war the voices of dissent were quiet and a true awakening had not yet taken place. Nonetheless it was clear that the level of violence against women had increased significantly in Israel and that the number of murders of women by their abusive spouses had multiplied. The feminist activists of the coalition, who dedicated much of their time to demonstrating against the Occupation, found themselves devoting most of their energy to activities of traditional feminism such as creating public accountability for violence against women. Second, traditional leftist women continued to search for forums for 'mint demonstrations with Palestinian women and even Joined the Peace Block, a new political group which includes both men and women and which has formed the most substantial opposition to the Israeli government's policies of sealing off the Occupied Territories and engaging in war in Lebanon. These women are also trying to change the ways of organizing mixed groups of women and men. Third, group work is beginning within the coalition on the topics of violence, militarism and feminism. This period of decline in the scope of activity against the Occupation and of most women's withdrawal to the private sphere has constituted for many activists an embarrassment; nonetheless, it has also provoked renewed searching for a political platform which would be appropriate to these complex realities. Moreover, this period of transition has encouraged Israeli Jewish women to further develop their political feminism. In a joint seminar of Italian, Palestinian and Israeli women which was held in Italy in September 1992, discussions about nationalism, fundamentalism, and militarism enabled participants to enhance the depth of their political message; and at the yearly conference of Women and Peace in January 1993 these activists began to deal publicly with the connection between militarism and violence in Israel. For example, Dr Erella Shadmi said:

occupation is, first of all, the symptom of a sick society; a society in which violence is legitimate and accepted from the social standpoint as a mechanism for personal expression and for solving conflict situations as well as for gaining rights and benefits. Occupation is possible in a society which Justifies violence by creating its own myths and by the way it explains and defines its history.

At that same conference there was a call for the politicization of motherhood and for public political debate of participants' personal feelings and thoughts about their children's service in the army.


The precedent for the political involvement of Israeli Jewish women in national security issues was set by Women Against the Invasion of Lebanon,' founded in response to the 1982 Israeli invasion. Then, for the first time in Israeli history, feminist women organized demonstrations against a state-spo war as a means for achieving political goals and linking the primacy of war to the secondary status of women in Israeli society. However, this radical critique did not gain mainstream currency among women in Israel at the time, and did not shape the agenda of women's peace groups until some five years later. The political awakening of Jewish women in Israel has largely been an outcome of the intifada, which has posed a sobering challenge to the perception of the Israeli army as an army which serves in the role of defender only.' The intifada unveiled, first and foremost, the role of the Israeli army as the oppressor. As a result of the intifada it was no longer possible to believe, even as many still sought to do so, in the comfortable illusion of an 'enlightened occupation'. The fact that the intifada was a civil rebellion, and not a conventional war, throughout which the army faced an 'enemy' that included women and children, led many Israeli women into political opposition against the Occupation. In an interview with women of Women in Black from Kibbutz Megido, an Israeli woman named Shoshi says:

At the beginning of the intifada . . . the atmosphere in the kibbutzim was similar to that which followed the Sabra and Shat'la massacres where hundreds of Palestinian refugees were massacred by the Lebanese Christian Falanges, with Israel's full knowledge]. There was an awakening and a fear for the shape of Israeli society. Kibbutz members said that something must be done. We have members of German origin who were in great distress. They said it reminded them of fascism. People responded emotionally, they did not care under what flag they stood and with whom. 10

Israeli women have gone into the streets to demonstrate when it has become clear to them that military action by the Israeli army has been aggressive and not defensive. This was the case during the war in Lebanon and, even more, during the intifada. The sight of soldiers chasing civilians, including women and children, created a crack in many Israeli women's perception of the army as moral and 'ust. These women found themselves dealing with the question of what the men in their family spouses, children, fathers, and others were doing during their military service in the Occupied Territories, when their duties included the suppression of the uprising. Even though these women were not involved directly in the continuation of the occupation, they heard disturbing reports about the brutality of the Israeli army, and through their own family members many saw themselves as partners and thus as responsible. For example, Daphna, a regular participant in the protest vigil of Women in Black whom I interviewed in August 1992, states the concern which she felt when her son was to be drafted during the intifada. 'Before his enlistment I was anxious. Those were the peak years of the intifada. I didn't want to see him either chasing or chased, nor either that they would throw stones at him or that he would arrest those who did.'

Some Israeli Jewish women went to the streets because they feared the effect that playing the role of the occupier and oppressor would have on their children and on Israeli society as a whole. Chava, another vigil participant whom I interviewed, was worried about the emotional price that her son and his friends might have to pay for their participation in the violent suppression of the Palestinian uprising. 'I can hear how his voice gradually changes into that monotonous army tone, utterly lacking any emotional color,' she said. Sarit Helman and Tamar Rapaport, two researchers from the Hebrew University, found in an as yet unpublished study that most Israeli women demonstrated publicly some for the first time in their lives in the name of universal values of Justice which they saw threatened by the Occupation. Organizers amongst women seeking peace recognized the importance of creating a political consciousness which would be acceptable to both sides, and of initiating discussions of political topics of existential importance, such as racism, prejudice and fear, which constituted obstacles to peace (Deutsch 1992). Due to the national conflict and the price it demands, especially from the Palestinians living under occupation, but also from Israeli society, the main topic on the public agenda was and still is a political solution acceptable to both peoples. Yet a women's protest and peace movement cannot be satisfied only with a political end to the Occupation within the framework of the patriarchal rules of the game. It has to create a political culture that challenges these rules and it has to unite the political and the personal on the basis of the life experiences and world visions of these women. In the meantime, a Jewish woman in Israel has to struggle with three main obstacles to raising her consciousness on the questions of the army and militarism:

1 A world-wide reality of nation states whose status rests on military strength and which settle disputes by means of war.

2 Dally life in a situation of national conflict, which creates an existential fear and increases Jewish historical anxiety.

3 The social expectations engendered by the traditional image of the pro tected woman (Hicks Stelhm 1982) and the accompanying lack of freedom to express 'udgments on the sub'ects of war and peace and the obligation of contributing to the national effort and making maternal sacrifices.

In the consciousness of many Jews the establishment of the state of Israel was the political answer to the persecution and the helplessness of Jewish life in the Diaspore. Overcoming the sense of powerlessness and loss which stemmed from the Diaspora experience was accomplished through the building of a concrete national entity while ignoring the experience of feeling weak and hurt as well as the existing political reality in Palestine. The building of military strength aside from its functional role in realpolitik was used as a substitute for coming to terms collectively with the meaning of being persecuted. The army was, and to a great extent still is, one of Israel's main mechanisms for creating a common national identity. It has been central in creating and reinforcing the image of the new Israeli, the antithesis of the persecuted Diaspora Jew. The army became the basis of a positive male self-image and a source of national pride which emphasized independence, protection, and security. Belonging to the army has, as a result, symbolized belonging to the new society and state, a particularly significant issue in a society of immigrants and refugees. Women are also affected by the desire to feel part of Israeli society by serving in the army. Both men and women are drafted into the Israeli army according to the Army Recruitment Law, and this policy, publicized by photographs of pretty, smiling women dressed in uniform and holding guns, has promoted the myth of the Israeli army as exemplary in its equality between the sexes. But, in reality, even though today there is an attempt to assign them professional roles, women mainly perform relatively minor service and administrative functions in the Israeli military and therefore the meaning of the military service is different for them and for men.

The army is the main source of men's social mobility in the state of Israel. Building a military career leads to the acquisition of political and economic control, and active participation in combat creates a male elite in control of civilian life and provides citizen soldiers with the credibility necessary for the expression of political criticism.

This hierarchy is even present amongst the Israeli Jewish peace groups. For example, Peace Now, which was created by army officers who wrote in protest to then Prime Minister Menachem Begin in July 1978, did not allow one of the initiators, a woman officer, to sign their letter because she had not participated in an act of warfare. Because they have marginal functions both in the army and in society's decision-making hierarchy, Israeli women cannot take an active part in setting policy and can at most serve as providers of traditional services within a patriarchal society. Awareness of this marginality has the potential to create the individual and collective feeling of freedom essential to shaping a feminist agenda; but the intricate social web within which they function as protected as daughters, as wives, and as mothers of soldiers who protect them frequently prevents women and the women's groups which they have established from achieving this potential (Enloe 1983).

The process of collective feminist consciousness raising in support of peace remains fraught with personal conflicts for women. Dealing with feminist issues demands a dally examination of questions of personal identity and of activists' personal obligations, sucfi as the obligation to educate their sons that serving in the army is an important national duty and personal ideal. The army must be considered, on the one hand, as defined by the permanent reality and the fact that nation-states rest on political might; but, on the other hand, feminist criticism of militarism must create an ideological base for international political transformation. In the context of the Middle East conflict, the Israeli army is seen unequivocally by most Israelis as a framework which provides defense. Life in the shadow of this conflict and the violence which it entails evokes among Israelis considerable existential anxiety. In the same way that the individual overcomes anxiety by employing basic psychological defense mechanisms, so does the collective. The army has managed to convert itself into the national defense mechanism of a people who feel under siege and so far, the peace work of the Israeli women's movement has been carried out within this basic framework of the political-cultural canon of patriarchal society without challenging either the basic tenets of the nation-state, which are based on national security, or their implications for relationships between the sexes. Even those Israeli women who seek peace in the full sense of the word still generally conform to these publicly legitimated perceptions of 'national security' without reaching any feminist consciousness about the link between those perceptions and the status of women. They are politically active because they feel a close link with their Jewish identity and with the Jewish collective. Yet they have little sense of linkage to a distinctly women's historical experience grounded in the arbitrary division between protectors and protected (Hicks Steihm 1982). An example of this gap in Israeli women's feminist consciousness is provided by L. (who prefers to remain unidentified). On a purely ideological level L. is a deeply committed pacifist. She has worked intensively to promote peace between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples, and at times she has had to pay a high personal price for this choice. Yet L. sees and accepts the army's function as ensuring Israeli national survival within the existing reality. 'Were it not for the army our very existence would be endangered. [This is] a real threat and not only a psychological one because of the Holocaust mentality.' None the less she also says: 'When I see what they do to the Arabs, my upheaval, my sorrow, my pain is terrible, it is awful! And I don't Justify this in any way! . . . I refute this totally!' Similarly, during the conversation she says; 'on a purely ideological level I am all in favor of the elimination of all armies of the world' but then she adds:

[Despite] all the nice ideas of the world . . . I feel this in my gut! It is a point on which I stand firm. For me it refers to a loyalty to a general community . . . which is my people. It is a very primal energy . . . I also see in this a female aspect . . . the feeling that I want to protect: myself; my gut; and all that I have within, which is also my people. When it comes to the responsibility of a large body, of many people, I feel that I have no right to 'eopardize the lives of others because of ideology, in this instance pacifism. I do not think along those lines at all in our case, although there may be other situations in the world where it is appropriate to begin with that. And I very much love Gandhi, really love him It is a contradiction. I really believe that his path is the correct one, in its way and in all its ideology; however, when it comes to the gut and [when] one is talking of my reality in Israel, as a Jew, with all our history, in a totally emotional way . . . I am willing to have an army for survival but not to pay the price of the destruction.

L. helps us to see the dilemma posed by having to choose between, on the one hand, the ideology of a peace seeker and, on the other, the need to modify women's ideological positions with respect to a reality created from radically different values by men who are in a position of strength, be it in Israel or elsewhere. She insists upon differentiating between the defense of life, which is perceived as a value, and the complex meanings of the army, including its influence on the increase of violence in society. She strongly criticizes the violence of the occupation army; but she does not see this violence as an inevitable outcome of the existence of the army and of the male militaristic culture which creates it and is shaped by it. Among the women in the women's peace groups, one can also hear voices which express a firmer stance against the existence of armies. Miriam is the daughter of American parents who emigrated to Palestine in 1946. Her father was killed by an Arab sniper in the 1948 war, while working on his kibbutz. About a year before her eldest son was to be drafted into the army (during the Lebanon war) Miriam felt engulfed by anxiety and began to wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares.

[T]hat particular night I went to sleep as I normally do, but I woke up at 3:30 in the morning, in a cold sweat, my heart pounding fiercely. I will never forget it . . . . During the day I would function; however, every night at between 3:30 and 4:00 am I would wake up with those same symptoms of cold sweat, fast heart beats and most distressing thoughts.

Since that first night she has retained the habit of waking up in the very early hours of the morning.

For me, the fact that my sons go to the army (my second one is due to be drafted in a few weeks) is very traumatic indeed, a true threat . . . I speak to many mothers of soldiers. They all share the same deep fear that something will happen to their sons while on military duty. I must admit that I do not have this kind of fear; I confess that the whole issue of the army, with all that it entails, is very difficult for me to deal with, and the fact that my sons have to take part in it makes it more so. Human beings created this system of the army for themselves. It must be a very primitive and sad society which needs an army to organize its life. If human beings created it, then they too can do away with it. She immediately adds, struggling with the contradiction:

[T]o totally do away with it, I believe, is impossible, but . . . the whole idea of sending our young boys to the army . . . their desire to become fighters, where does it come from? From home, from the street, from the school, from the general atmosphere. I feel that this is a grave mistake . . . my gut reaction is not to agree with the existence of the army, any army. I accept it in my mind only. I never internalized its necessity . . . . The army was created by human beings, so it can be dismantled by them.

Unlike Miriam, most Israeli women tend to fit their world view to realpolitik even when it Is in conflict with their own ideology, which they perceive as irrelevant to existing realities. They carry within themselves the longings, the fears, the anxieties, the hurt, and the anger; and they ignore the threatening additional meanings of the army and the army's Influence on the quality of their lives, on their families, and on society at large. The demand that their sons participate in the national defense effort in a world which is shaped by military strength is, in the eyes of most of these women, inevitable. Even if they identify with those who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories, most Israeli mothers refrain from trying to exert influence on their sons, because they do not see themselves as the ones who have ultimately to decide and to pay the price in the sense of belonging to Israeli society and preserving professional possibilities for themselves. Daphna, for example, says about this issue:

[R]efusing to serve [in the Occupied Territories] . . . I have no clear cut opinion which I can put forward. I respect those who refuse to serve and [1] also participate in their demonstrations. However I did not advise my son either one way or the other. If I cannot do it myself, then I have no right to recommend it to another.

Daphna was born in Israel, and was five years old during the 1948 war. While as a child she felt proud to live close to a military base, within four days after the end of the Six Day War she began to feel uncomfortable and fearful about Israel's victory and its potentially destructive impact on Israeli society. In those feelings and fears she felt isolated from her family and from Israeli society at large. Only with the outbreak of the intifada did she realize that her fears had become true. With respect to Israeli soldiers' refusal to serve in the Occupied Territories she says: 'They are heroes in the fact that they are ready to refuse and to pay the price.' The new heroes, at least within a limited circle in Israeli society, are no longer those who are willing to pay with their lives for the defense of their homeland but rather those who are willing to pay the price for not following the mainstream, because of a moral-political conflict. Quietly, almost surreptitiously, Daphna says that her son served for a few months in the Territories; but she immediately adds with satisfaction that since he speaks Arabic he would often serve as a negotiator between Israeli officers and the local Palestinians. He chose to serve in the artillery, and that eased his mother's conscience because that type of service can be defined as defense of borders and doesn't involve confrontation with the civilian population. Thus at the intellectual level Daphna demonstrates the beginning of consciousness about the violence and destructiveness inherent in the organization of the army. Yet while talking to her I found that she still wanted to believe in the fixed values of the moral army and the purity of arms, values that she received through her education, even though she says: 'Our army is not purer, not better and not more just than other armies.'


Immediately after the end of the Gulf War, public meetings were held by establishment women's organizations in Israel to discuss the effects of the war on the position of Israeli women. There was talk of the fact that women had disappeared from the media during the war, and talk of the economic, industrial, and professional price paid for the war by women because of the closure of the education system. This was the first war in Israel in which Israeli men did not take an active role and could not prove their military prowess as protectors. This time, they sat together with the women, the elderly, and the children away from the front and experienced the feelings of powerlessness common among the 'protected' civilian population in times of war.

The steady increase in the number of incidents of murder and battering of women by their spouses during the war was given public attention not only by women's groups but also by the media, the press, radio and television. As feminist activists spoke out strongly, a public dialogue on violence against women began to emerge; yet no adequate public confrontation of the sources of social violence as a whole and in Israeli society in particular, and of the connections between militarism and violence, has yet taken place in Israel. In spite of the debate on domestic violence, very little has been heard in the popular arena against the use of war as a legitimate means of solving conflicts. These women did not speak of the need to change the existing rules of the game, but rather of the influence of existing rules on women and of ways of organizing to improve the status of women within existing frameworks. For example, with the increase in public awareness of the centrality of the army within Israeli society there came, in a great many of the meetings, agreement on the need for equal participation of women in the army as part of women's struggle for improving their status. Yet women's call for equal opportunities in the army also means accepting conformity with a patriarchal system of values which inherently fosters discrimination, deprivation, and violence, and thus using women as means to further the same sexual, emotional, and economic interests which marginalize them in the social decision-making process. Only on a panel sponsored by Women and Peace in April 1991 in Tel-Aviv, at the end of the war, did Chava Lerman, a feminist peace activist, finally emphasize that 'there exists a diametrically opposed relationship between the level of militarism of the society and the equality of rights and the status of women it.' Since then, Israeli feminist peace activists have been trying to dedicate their time to linking the effects of the war to the status of women in Israel. Thus the intifada brought with it an increase in awareness concerning the role of the army in the oppression of the Palestinian people; and the Gulf War brought to the fore, in turn, the centrality of the army in the Israeli society as an instrument for marginalizing women.


Since the army has retained such a special place in Israeli Jewish society, the women's peace movement has not yet been able to create a political alternative to existing reality governed by patriarchal values like war, occupation, oppression, exploitation, violence, and rape. Women need to use the recent increase in awareness of violence in Israel to deal with the centrality of the army in Israeli society, and to identify publicly and decisively the link between militarism and the status of women in Israel. The Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has played a key role in raising the political consciousness of Israeli Jewish women and providing them with an arena within which they have been able to develop important political skills. Now the women's peace movement within Israel must find effective ways to oppose the Occupation while ceasing to view the Occupation as the root of all evil and seeing it instead as a symptom of a militaristic, patriarchal society.

Today, after more than six years of activity, Israeli feminist peace activists stand at a crossroads. The women's peace movement in Israel now faces the challenge of establishing an ambitious political stance which will connect the status of women to militarism in Israeli society. The link between the personal and the political is essential to free women from the bonds of the internalized values of militarism: first and foremost, Israeli women need to free themselves from the role of 'protected women' who cooperate with men who act as if they protect them. Finally, in the contemporary Middle East, breaking patriarchal bonds is especially difficult. The reality of the Occupation and the fundamental national conflict focuses Jewish and Palestinian women's attention on aspects of national identity. In the existing tension between national and gender identities, national identity tends to assume the greater importance. Although it is well known that during national struggles women's movements flourish, it is equally well known that these movements are usually short lived. The importance of national women's movements tends to erode over time, especially when women's contributions to the national struggle are no longer needed, as in the case of Algeria; when women's activism becomes a threat to the male leadership, as in the Palestinian case; or when women's issues become marginalized. Today, when there is hope for an apolitical solution, in the wake of the joint Israeli-PLO recognition, the women's peace movement still has a dual role. First, women must make sure that painful political topics which have ex stential imp 'cations for the relationship between Palest'n'ans and Jews, such as the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinians' right of return, remain on the agenda of public debate. Only a public confrontation of the meaning of these differences between the two societies will bring about reconciliation between the two peoples. Second, in order to create a feminist political peace culture, women must create political and social transformation, based on the unique yet diverse life experience of women and on the inner, whispered world of women which has not yet achieved public expression. If women indeed wish to achieve meaningful change, only J'olnt work among women of all states in the Middle East and in the world can mount a credible challenge to existing patriarchal priorities.

Gender, military occupation and violence against women
Simona Sharoni

There is a strong connection between violence against women and violence in the Occupied Territories. A soldier who serves in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and learns that it is permissible to use violence against other people is likely to bring that violence back with him upon his return to his community. (Ostrowitz in interview with Sharoni 1990)


In April 1989 Gilad Shemen, a twenty-three-year-old Israeli-Jewish man doing his military service in Gaza, shot and killed a seventeen year-old Palestinian woman, Amal Muhammad Hasin, as she was reading a book on her front porch. The Regional Military Court convicted Shemen of carelessness in causing Hassin's death, but he was released after an appeal. Two years later, on June 30, 1991, Gilad Shemen shot and killed his former girlfriend, nineteen-year-old Einav Rogel. In an interview right after her death, Einav Rogel's parents recalled that their daughter had supported Gilad Shemen unconditionally during his military trial, trying to convince everyone around her that he was not guilty. Yet during that entire period Einav did not tell anyone that Gilad also had been violently abusing her. She did not recognize the connections between Gilad's shooting of a Palestinian woman and the violence and fear that Gilad brought to her own relationship with him. Einav Rogel lived and died in a society that draws clear distinctions between 'us' and 'them,' and usually doesn't even record the names of Palestinians who are shot. At the same time, she did not realize that, like many other Israeli women and most Palestinians (both women and men) in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, she belonged to a high risk population since she lived in the line of fire of an Israeli man who had learned to use his gun to deal with crises and difficult situations. This tragic story underscores the complex relationship between sexism, militarism, and violence against women. This relationship has been explored at length by feminist scholars and activists (Accad 1990; Morgan 1989; jeffords 1989; Ruddick 1989; Cooke 1988; Enioe 1988; Cohn 1989; Reardon 1985). It is extremely important, however, also to situate the tragedy of Gilead Shemen within the specific soclopolitical context of the third decade of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This chapter deals with the impact of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip on women's lives, by highlighting the connections between, on the one hand, the social construction of gender identities and gender relations in Israel and, on the other, the use of violence in the Occupied Territories and on the Israeli 'homefront.' Although the chapter focuses primarily on the origins and manifestations of men's violence against women, it does not treat violence as a set of practices with which men are born; these practices are used rather as a means of coping and they are acquired by and reinforced in Israeli men through education and social interaction. The chapter will critically examine the dominating role of the Israeli military in all spheres of Israeli society, and the social and political implications of militarization and violent conflict for women's lives both in Israel and in the'West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The central argument here is that violence against women is intimately related to other forms and practices of violence, especially in the context of the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Much of the recent literature on women's ways of coping with the violence inflicted upon their lives by war and conquest tends to remain caught between two opposed, stereotypical images: the image of woman-asvictim; and that of woman-as-heroine (Sharoni 1993; Abdo 1991). To move beyond the constraints of these dominant representations, this chapter will focus on particular stories which demonstrate the range of women's dally experiences of violence and the diverse strategies which women have employed in resisting violence. In addition to drawing attention to the multifaceted struggles of Palestinian women in the Israeli Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the chapter will explore recent attempts by IsraellJewish feminists and peace activists to connect, on the one hand, their own resistance to the violence inflicted upon Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by the Israeli military and, on the other hand, their own struggles to end male-inflicted violence in the lives of women in Israel.


The pitchforks in local women's hands are brown:

nails and nails,

rust and rust in their edges

and a long wooden handle

intended to pierce the flesh of our faces,

to pluck.

Our women, pluck their eyebrows. (Sternfeld 1988, quoted in Ben Ari, 1989: 375)'

This poem dramatizes the intersection between sexist, militaristic, and racist discourses. Three particular distinctions are at play here: between men and women; between 'us,' the local-patriots, and 'them' (the 'enemy'); and between 'our' women and 'their' women. These configurations reflect particular power relations which are grounded in and reinforced by the reality of military occupation. The poem calls attention to the fact that Israeli soldiers have used the pretext of cultural and moral superiority to )'ustify their use of excessive power over Palestinians, both women and men, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. While he treats both Palestinian and Israeli women as ob'ects with no political agency, Sternfeld maintains a clear distinction between them by using Orientalist depictions of Palestinian women. 2 Moreover, Sternfeld uses his portrayal of Palestinian women as vicious enemies, ready to pierce and pluck the flesh of Israeli soldiers' faces, to resolve the tension between the Israeli army's self-portrayal as a humane army that has tried at all costs to prevent women and children from suffering (Gal 1986) and the reality of military occupation which has been sustamed through an indiscriminate use of violence against Palestinians as a whole, including women and children. The indiscriminate use of violence and oppressive practices against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, especially since the outbreak of the intifada in 1987, has had particular implications for women's lives. Palestinian women have had to confront violence on two intimately related fronts: as members of the Palestinian community; and as women. Their homes and bodies have become the battlefields for these confrontations. Rita Glacaman's and Penny Johnson's gendered examination of the first year of the intifada (Giacaman and Johnson 1989) highlights these multidimensional confrontations in relation to the ongoing struggles of Palestinians against the Israeli Occupation. Giacaman's and Johnson's retelling of the story of Umm Ruquyya ('mother of Ruquyya'), the mother of a young Palestinian woman activist in the West Bank, captures the harsh reality of life for women under occupation: 'we went to visit her on November 6, 1988 when we heard that the family house had been demolished by the Israeli army. Hers was one of more than 100 houses destroyed in the northern Jordan Valley, leaving about 1,000 persons homeless and devastated' (Giacaman and Johnson 1989: 155). Ruquyya was the first among both the men and the women of her community to mobilize resistance in response to the demolitions of family homes by the Israeli military, thus serving as 'one of many women forging a new chapter in the history of the Palestinian women's movement' (Giacaman and Johnson 1989).

The Israeli military has used multiple strategies to suppress the unprecedented political mobilization of Palestinian women. During the first two years of the intifada, the Israeli military used tear gas, which was found to cause miscarriages, to suppress demonstrations and to deter women from future participation in public political events. In addition, by declaring the Palestinian Women's Working Committees and any other form of social and political organizing by women illegal, the Israeli military authorities created a pretext for massive arrests of Palestinian women. Women were arrested and interrogated not only because of their political activities but also in order to put pressure on their families and to get incriminating evidence against family members (Strum 1992). Sexual harassment and sexual violence, in addition to other means of torture and humiliation, have also been used as weapons against Palestinian women (Rosenwasser 1992; Strum 1992). To live under military occupation is to live in a permanent state of war, with no place to hide and no cease-fires. Palestinians have lived with the oppressive and violent reality of occupation since 1967. Only with the outbreak of the intifada in December 1987 have these circumstances begun to be exposed and sub'ected to public scrutiny, as abuses such as sexual harassment and sexual violence against Palestinian women have been added to the agenda of human rights and women's peace groups in Israel. Since the beginning of the intifada, the Women's Organizations for Women Political Prisoners (WOFPP) in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have received numerous complaints of sexual violence committed by Israeli military forces against Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories. Such incidents occur not only during interrogation but also in connection with street patrols and the suppression of demonstrations. The case of thirty-six-year-old Fatma Abu Bacra from Gaza, who was arrested in November 1986, is a representative example of the sexual abuse and humiliation which Palestinian women have suffered during interrogation by the Israeli Security Services. One Israeli male interrogator touched her face and breast, while another showed her a picture of a naked man and told her that the picture was of himself. He then took off his clothes and threatened to rape her. Abu Bacra reported the torture to her male lawyers, but only submitted a detailed affidavit about the sexual abuse later on when she had a woman lawyer.

In this affidavit, Fatma Abu Bacra describes how, further, she was removed by one of her interrogators to a separate room, with no policewoman present (in violation of regulat ons), and forced to sit in a corner with her head wedged between the interrogator's legs while he touched her, verbally abused her, threatened her with rape, and eventually reached sexual climax (WOFPP Report 1992). This affidavit was accepted on November 22, 1988 by a military judge, as the basis for a pre-trial hearing on the validity of admissions which Abu Bacra had made under sexual torture. In the spring of 1989 the pre-trial hearings began, and during the proceedings a plea bargain was reached: under pressure Abu Bacra agreed not to challenge the way in which her confession had been obtained; in return, she was promised that her sentence would not exceed five years. However, in June 1989 Fatma Abu Bacra was given a seven-year sentence. She appealed and the sentence was reduced to six years. The Israeli authorities later used this unfulfilled bargain to claim that Abu Bacra had retracted her statement on the torture and sexual abuse which she had undergone during interrogation. Since the minutes of these proceedings remained classified, Abu Bacra's lawyer appealed to the High Court of justice demanding the right to publish them.

Finally, in order to circumvent publication of the interrogation minutes the authorities decided to release Fatma Abu Bacra a year earlier than her sentence had stipulated, in November 1991, on the condition that her appeal be withdrawn (WOFPP Report 1992). Although the Palestinian uprising has not broken the silence and denial of Israeli society in general, it has served as a turning point in the political awareness of many 'Jewish women in Israel. The Israeli Women's Organizations for Women Political Prisoners, for example, have been documenting particular cases, like Fatma Abu Bacra's, of torture and sexual violence experienced by Palestinian women; thus they have, like other Israeli women's peace groups, begun to expose the connections between the excessive use of sexual violence as a weapon against Palestinian women, the sharp increase in violence against women in Israel, and the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Especially since the outbreak of the intifada, many women in Israel have begun to challenge the marginal, passive roles assigned to them in Israeli society and politics. For the first time in the history of the state, women have organized and taken clear positions against state and military policy. Israeli women have voiced strong dissent against the Occupation and against the brutal violence used by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. New women's protest groups such as Women in Black, Reshet (The Israeli Women's Peace Net), Women's Organizations for Women Political Prisoners, Shani Women Against the Occupation, and The Women and Peace Coalition have emerged, providing opportunities for women to step out of their socially assigned, politically peripheral roles (Sharoni 1993a; Deutsch 1992; Chazan 1991). Israeli women's political interventions have not found widespread acceptance among Israeli men. Women in Black groups throughout Israel have become targets for verbal and physical violence that is almost always laced with sexual innuendo. The epithets which some men shout at women protesters 'whores of Arafat' or 'Arab lovers' reflect the culture of militarism and sexism w'th'n which Israeli men are socialized. But while many Israeli men find it difficult to understand what has motivated women to protest weekly for more than four years against the Occupation, for Women in Black the interconnectedness between militarism and sexism remains a tangible, experienced part of their struggle to find a political voice for themselves and to express their opposition to the continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The image of the brutal occupier who commits dally violence against Palestinian women and children and brings the violence home to his family and friends does not fit the national image of the brave Israeli soldier who has no choice but to fight in order to protect Israeli women and children. But, slowly, the message is starting to become clear: the violent patterns of behavior that are used by the Israeli army against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are part of a culture of unchallenged sexism, violence, and oppression which women face dally on Israeli streets and in their homes.


They bombarded us they shoot one salvo after another Directing toward us strafing and guns. Nurit, I have encircled the Third Battalion, Now I want to encircle you.

In this 'love' poem, the heroic/erotic discourse fuses militaristic metaphors as expressions of love and lust, violence and sex. Women like the enemy are to be encircled and occupied by Israeli heroes.' This particular poem is but one representation of the perverse relationship between militarism and sexism that surfaces in most spheres of Israeli society. That relationship is clearly inscribed in the Hebrew language as well. The multiple meanings of the word kibusb represent a striking case in point. The word kibush is the most commonly used Hebrew term for the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and is also used in Hebrew to describe conquest either of a military target or of a woman's heart. This conflation of women and military targets is not merely linguistic, but rather informs numerous practices in Israeli society in general and in the Israeli military in particular. During military training exercises, for example, the strategic targets are quite often named after significant women in the soldiers' lives: women, like military targets, must be protected so that they will not be conquered by the 'enemy'; while men must fight, occupy, and protect. These examples suggest interplay between gender, language, and politics in Israel, which has been grounded in and reinforced by particular social and political conditions. Israeli men soldiers have constantly to prove their readiness to sacrifice their lives on the battlefield; while Israeli women are left with no other choice but to 'sacrifice' their lives, freedom, and independence on the homefront. Israeli women's bodies, hearts, and identities have been conquered, occupied', and objectified in numerous ways. Language further reflects the state of Israeli gender relations and cultural politics. The common word for 'husband' in Hebrew, for example, is baal, which also means both 'owner' (noun) and 'had intercourse with' (verb), indicating that women are perceived as their husbands' property. Israeli men's 'private' ownership of 'their' women has in fact been extended to the state. The treatment of Israeli women as occupied territories also manifests itself in numerous practices of control over women's identities, roles, and bodies, which have been reinforced by the escalation of the Arab-Israell/IsraellPalestinian conflict. Three practices are of particular relevance here: the steep rise in violence against women in Israel since the outbreak of the i.ntifada, and particularly in the aftermath of the Gulf War; the mobilization of women's reproductive work in the service of the state under the pretext of 'demographic war', a pretext that has been used to Justify impediments on women's reproductive rights in general and restrictions on abortion laws in particular; and the mobilization of gender identities in service of the state.

Violence against women

The connections between sexism and militarism, and between violence against the 'enemy' on the battlefield and against women on the homefront, are by now considered old feminist themes (Enloe 1988; Woolf 1977; Brownmiller 1975). Women peace activists in Israel have become particularly aware of these connections since the outbreak of the intifada. Rachel Ostrowitz, editor of the Israeli feminist magazine Noga, calls attention to the similarities between the ways in which both Palestinians and women are treated by Israeli men:

The similarity in the treatment of oppressed human beings is clear to us. When we read every day about nameless dead Palestinians, we remem ber that women are often treated as persons without names. 'Women are all the same,' they tell us; 'all Palestinians are the same.' The voices merge. (Ostrowitz 1989: 14)

The dehumanization of both Palestinians and women legitimizes the discrimination, the humiliation, and the oppression and violence inflicted dally upon them. Rachet Ostrowitz further delineates the connections between the use of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the steep increase in violence against Israeli women on the homefront:

Oppression is oppression is oppression . . . There is a strong connection between violence against women and violence in the Occupied Territories. A soldier who serves in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and learns that it is permissible to use violence against other people is likely to bring violence back with him upon his return to his community. This has direct implications for our lives as women. (Ostrowitz in interview with Sharoni 1990)

The structures which Ostrowitz sees as responsible for the oppression and humiliation suffered by Palestinians and by Jewish women are grounded in and reinforced by the unchallenged acceptance of 'national security' as the top priority in Israel:

The twisted priority that land is more important than human life reminds us of other twisted priorities military equipment instead of

equal pay forlwomen, or better education for the future generation . (Ostrowitz 1989: 14-15)

Such 'twisted priorities' have served as pretexts in the recruitment of women's bodies in the service of the state.

Women's bodies as national battlefields

In virtually all societies, the military maintains a ma'or role in the shaping of gender identities and gender relations, especially in war zones. Focusing on the army as a ma'or 'agent of socialization' for men, Cynthia Enloe points out how the 'uxtapositions of masculinity against femininity and of men 'deolog'cal frameworks in the military: against women serve as important idealogical frameworks in the military.

Military forces past and present have not been able to get, keep and reproduce the sorts of soldiers they imagine they need without drawing on ideological beliefs concerning the different and stratified roles of on women and men. Without assurances that women will play their 'proper' roles, the military cannot provide men with the incentives to enlist, obey orders, give orders, fight, kill, re-enlist, and convince their sons to enlist. Ignore gender and social construction of 'femininity , and 'masculinity' and the relations between them and it becomes impossible adequately to explain how m'l'tary forces have managed to capture and control so much of society's imagination and resources. (Enloe 1988: 212)

Enloe's powerful critique demonstrates how women, and strategies for controlling women, have been used to support military campaigns around the world. This has been definitely true in the case of Israel. In direct relation to men's wars on the battlefield, Israeli Jewish women have been 'recruited' on more than one front. Since the early 1950s, Israel has utilized onc myth in particular that of a nation under siege to Justify political practices such as the 'demographic war.' Prime Minister David Ben Gurion actually raised the issue of women's fertility to the level of national duty, arguing that: 'Increasing the Jewish birthrate is a vital need for the existence of Israel, and a Jewish woman who does not bring at least four children into the world is defrauding the Jewish mission' (quoted in Hazleton 1977: 63). In the 1980s, that old myth was once again invoked to fit the political agendas of the time. The 'Efrat Committee for the Encouragement of Higher Birth Rates' linked the public debate on abortion to the 'demographic war,' for which women's bodies had served as the designated turf. Utilizing the rhetoric of religious anti-abortion groups, the Efrat Committee called upon jewisli women to fulfill their national duty by bearing more children in order to replace the Jewish children killed by the Nazis (Yuval-Davis 1987).

An extreme example of how this ideology was put into practice was a narrowly defeated proposal by the then advisor to the Minister of Health, Haim Sadan. Sadan proposed to force every Jewish woman considering abortion to watch a slide show which would include, in addition to horrors such as dead fetuses in rubbish bins, pictures of dead Jewish children in the Nazi concentration camps (Yuval-Davis 1987). This shocking example is not unique. In fact, the Holocaust has been mobilized in this way by the state and its dominant institutions not only to Justify hardline political positions and military campaigns, or racist and sexist policies such as 'demographic war', but also to clearly mark the borders between what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man in the Jewish state.

Gender identities in the service of the state

In order to have a place in the Israeli collectivity and to share the patriotic ethos of 'national security,' Israeli women have to enter the narrow doorways marked 'mother' or 'wife' through their affiliation with a male soldier. Former Knesset Member Geula Cohen, the founder of the extreme rightwing Tehlya party, utilized the rhetoric of national security and her platform as a political woman to remind Israeli women of this national obligation: I the Israeli woman is a wife and a mother in Israel, and therefore it is her nature to be a soldier, a wife of a soldier, a sister of a soldier, a grandmother of a soldier. This is her reserve duty. She is continually in military service' (Hazleton 1977: 63). It is in this light, according to former Israeli Knesset Member Marsha Freedman, that women's liberation in Israel is deemed a threat to 'national security' (Freedman 1990: 108).


In addition to the 'reserve duties' articulated by Geula Cohen, Israeli women have to mediate the relationship between Israeli male soldiers and their motherland. The word for 'homeland' in Hebrew is moledet, which is a feminine noun derived from the verb 'to give birth.' Moreover, 'homeland' is almost always presented in Israeli popular culture as motherland, and men are portrayed as sons who return home to the warmth, love, and support of their beloved mothers. But Israeli men are socialized to understand that in order to be worthy of homecoming they must accept the need to sacrifice their lives for the homeland as a national duty and an honor. The national narrative of heroic sacrifice is constituted from early childhood onward through mythologized stories such as these of Masada and Tel-Hat, and becomes the ma'or model for measuring loyalty to the state and its ideology (Zerubavel 1990, 1991). This erotic/patriotic complex informs politics not only on the battlefield but on the homefront as well. For example, the funerals of Israeli soldiers are usually broadcast on radio and TV, and become politically charged as top government officials are shown comforting weeping mothers and commending them for raising up sons who were ready to sacrifice their lives for their homeland. In sum, the institutionalization of Israeli Jewish women's roles as the primary caretakers of a nation of soldiers would not have been possible without certain dominant interpretations of the Israeli-Palestinian and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Similarly, the 'recruitment' of Israeli women's reproductive organs into the service of the state depends upon the prevailing myth of Israel as a nation under siege, the underpinning of political practices such as the 'demographic war.' The linkages drawn between the Holocaust and Israel's anti-abortion campaigns further reinforce a particular order of gender relations in Israel, revolving around militarized men who fulfill the sacred' task of protecting women and children on the 'homefront.'


The centrality of the military among Israeli social and political institutions has often been taken for granted. However, this centrality is not natural. It has been constituted and reinforced through specific ideologies and practices. The establishment of the Israeli state and the elevation of its hegemonic Zionist ideology made 'national security' a top priority, designed to secure the survival not only of the country but of the Jewish people at large. This view of the priority of Israel's 'national security' is grounded in a particular historical narrative concerning the birth of Israel, an histroical narrative whose core is formed by several unchallenged myths. The notion of Palestine as the 'land without people for the people without land', and the claim that the Zionists welcomed the partition of Palestine while the Palestinians rejected it belong to one sort of myth. Another is that the Palestinians fled Palestine in 1948 despite Jewish leaders' efforts to get them to stay, or that after the 1948 war Israel extended its hand in peace to all neighboring countries, but not a single Arab leader responded (Segev 1986; Flapan 1987; Morris 1988). Through such self-legitimating myths, the state's dominant historical narrative regarding the birth of Israel has hardened into an ideological shield that has been pro'ected on to Israeli society as well as the Jewish Diaspore. The Israeli military has become the major agent for facilitating this process of ideological projection. Since the establishment of the state, the declared objectives of the Israeli doctrine of 'national security' have always been to build a cohesive, unified front. Accordingly, as discussed earlier, Israel's dominant conceptualizations of 'national security' have been constructed around unchallenged representations of Israel as 'a nation under siege,' surrounded by enemies that threaten to throw the entire population into the sea; and this myth has been reinforced through constant invocations of the Holocaust and through political manipulations of facts concerning the 1948, 1967 and 1973 wars. In recent years, a new generation of Israeli historians such as Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi (1992), Simha Flapan (1987), Benny Morris (1988), Anita Shapira (f992), and Tom Segev (1986) have begun to challenge the conventional belief that in all the wars it has fought Israel's action have been 'ust and inevitable, guided by the principles of human dignity, 'ustice, and equality. However, despite compelling evidence presented in this scholarship, most Jews in Israel and in the Diaspora still cling to the illusion that Israeli domination and repression have been inevitable; essential to the survival and security of the nation. Simha Flapan reflects on the rigidity of these myths and their centrality In Israeli society and politics by sharing his own experience:

Like most Israelis, I had always been under the influence of certain myths that had become accepted as historical truth. And since myths are central to the creation of structures of thinking and propaganda, these myths had been of paramount importance in shaping Israeli policy. (Flapan 1987: 8)

Yet, what remains missing even from revisionist accounts, like Flapan's, of Israeli history is a gendered understanding of dominant historical narratives and myths, exploring the particular conceptions of masculinity and femininity that these historical narratives Present. By making 'national security' a top priority, by grounding it in specific interpretations of Zionist ideology and of the history of the Jewish people, and by turning military service into a national duty, the state has offered Israeli Jewish men especially those of European or North American descent privileged status in Israeli society. Furthermore, since one of the primary objectives of the Israeli doctrine of 'national security' has always been to build a cohesive, unified front, 'national security' has been used to . 'fy Israeli militaristic and expansionist policies and political practices justi and also to neutralize and thus to legitimize and reinforce existing inequallties among Israel's citizens along lines of gender, ethnicity, class, and political affiliation. Israel's disenfranchised populations have in effect been asked to understand that until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved they must stand united against the external 'enemy' (Swirski 1989; Shohat 1988). Attempts by grassroots social movements representing Israel's second-, third-, and fourth-class citizens women; Jews from Arab and North African countries; and Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship to protest against discriminatory state policies have been dismissed under the premise of 'national security.' What remains particularly concealed in most existing critiques of Israeli 'national security' is the fact that the rhetoric of 'national security' depends on the preservation of the status quo not only with respect to israell-Palestinian/Arab-Israell conflicts but also with respect to the social construction of gender identities and roles. Israeli feminists and activists are gradually coming to terms with the ways in which the construction of Israeli masculinity is linked to the militarized political climate in Israel and in the region. More specifically, many women peace activists in Israel have recently argued that the institutionalization of 'national security' as a top priority in Israel contributes to gender inequities and legitimizes violence against Palestinians and against women. The Israeli state's doctrine of 'national security' depends both upon men who are ready to serve as soldiers, as fighters on the battlefield, and upon women who are ready to ad'ust to the needs of the Israeli collective experience. On one hand, women are socialized into the roles of unconditional supporters, exceptional caretakers, and keepers of the homefront; on the other hand, they are expected to remain vulnerable and in need of protection. While these contradictory messages no doubt result in ma'or problems in the construction of Israeli women's identities, Israeli popular culture has attempted to resolve the contradiction by subordinating both roles to the primacy of national identity and by utilizing both images as pretexts for wars. It is important to note that the practical and symbolic mobilization of gender identities, roles, and bodies in the service of the Jewish state would not have been possible without engaging the mythologies of Israel as 'a land with no people for the people with no land,' as the only safe place for Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and as 'a nation under siege.' These narratives, sanctioned by some of the ma'or tenets of Zionist ideology, have been used to Justify the masculine and militaristic practices associated with the establishment of the state of Israel; through them Israel's reassertion of 'masculinity' has been explained in terms of the need to end a history of weakness and suffering. The symbol of the sabra can stand as an exemplary metaphor for this reassertion of masculinity. Named after the indigenous cactus which is tough and prickly on the outside and soft and sweet on the inside, the image of the sabra has played an important role in the construction of the identity of the new generation of Jews born in Israel. This generation has been portrayed as the antithesis of the weak, persecuted, and helpless Jews most commonly associated with collective traumatic memories of the Holocaust. The image of the sabra as the antithesis of the Diaspora Jew is used to reinforce the notion that Israel's offensive operations and military campaigns are a niatter of national survival (Sharoni 1992a); in turn, the sabra's offensive and aggressive codes of behavior are Justified through the ahistorical appropriation of the motto of 'never again.' Yet, exploitation of the sabra image is grounded not only in the 'uxtaposition of the image of the sabra against the image of the persecuted Jew in the Diaspore, but also in the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine identities. In the terms of this gendered 'uxtaposition, men must be offensive on the battlefield in order to protect vulnerable women on the homefront. The underlying model of relations between strong, possessive men and weak, helpless women serves not only as a pretext for continued male domination on the homefront and justification for the use of violence on the battlefield but also, more generally, as justification of violent behavior by men. Thus the dominant juxtapositions of the invincible sabra man with the weak and helpless Diaspora Jew, and of men as protectors and women as needing protection, have been strongly informed and reinforced; even Justified by Zionist ideology and by the unchallenged centrality of 'national security' in Israel. The sabra has become a common metaphor in Israeli literature and popular culture for Israeli men, who are thus characterized as strong and brave, pragmatic, aggressive, and emotionally tough. Few have noticed, however, that only the tough and prickly outside part of the cactus fruit has been incorporated into readings of this metaphor. There are no references in Israeli popular culture to the soft and sweet inside part of the fruit, which might be deemed 'feminine.' The sabra metaphor may therefore shed light on the ambiguities embedded in Israeli society's expectations of women. On one hand, when Israeli men are on the homefront, women are relegated to conventionally gendered roles: they have to be 'Inside,' 'soft,' 'tender' and sweet.' On the other hand, during wartime when men are on the battlefield, women are expected to step out of their traditional roles and to enter, if only temporarily, the pubic political arena. During such periods pragmatic, assertive, and tough behavior on the part of women is praised as a significant contribution to the collective national effort.


This chapter explored the social construction of gender identities and gender relations in Israel in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, especially, in relation to the third decade of Israeli Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The chapter focused primarily on the relationship between sexism and militarism and its implications for Israeli and Palestinian women's lives, and on the connections between violence on the 'battlefield' and violence on the 'homefront.' The murders of Amal Muhammad Hasin and Einav Rogel by Gilad Shemen are but one symptom of the strong link between militarism and sexism; sexual abuse and violence used against Palestinian women political prisoners is another manifestation of this pathological relationship. However, Israeli society on the whole has so far refused to address the interconnectedness of militarism and sexism; in particular, it has ignored the relationship between the escalation of violent practices by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and the steep increase in men s violence against women in Israel. journalist Gabi Nizan was among the few Israelis who have tried to situate the murders of Einav Rogel and Amal Muhammad Hasin in the social and political context of military occupation. A few days after Einav Rogel's murder he wrote in the Israeli mass circulation newspaper Hadashot:

In a country without wars, Einav Rogel and Amal Muhammad Hasin could have been good friends. In such a world Gilad Shemen could have been a good friend of both of them. But in our society, Shemen met both of them with a gun in his hand. This is very normal for an Israeli his age and it is normal that a gun shoots. This is what weapons are for. (Hadashot, July 4, 1991: 16)

Gilad Shemen will probably be sent to a mental health institution and not to jail; other Israeli men Iike him will continue to use violence as a means of dealing with problems both on the battlefield and on the 'homefront.' At the same time even the more liberal sectors of Israeli society hesitate to link publicly the use of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with the increase in violence against Israeli women at home. When the Israeli media finally took note of the tremendous increase in incidents of violence against women including murder over the years of t e Occupation, the reports lacked any reference to the broader historical and political context within which such incidents of violence emerge and are tolerated. There has been hardly any mention of the impact of the Gulf War on the masculine self-image and national identity of Israeli men, or on the increasing vulnerability of Israeli women. The Gulf War was the first time that Israeli men were not drafted during wartime. Men remained on the 'homefront,' confronted with their families' fears, with their own fears, and with the vulnerability and helplessness of being locked in a sealed room. The image of the invincible Israeli soldier ready at all costs to protect women and children was endangered. Israeli men became increasingly uncomfortable with this unfamiliar role; many used the word 'impotent' to describe their feelings.

Unable to express themselves violently against Arabs, as they have been trained and conditioned to do, and confronted with the fact that the separation between violence on the 'battlefield' and violence on the 'homefront' existed only in their minds, many Israeli men 'cured' their feelings of 'Impotence' and longings for the excitement of the battlefield by projecting their aggression on to women (Sharoni 1991). Separating one set of inequalities from another reduces possible threats to the often unchallenged regimes of power and privilege. But such connections do, none the less exist. Many of the same Israeli men who carry out violent practices against Palestinian men and women in the Occupied Territories with an official license from the state treat the significant women in their life as their 'occupied territories.' The murders of Amal Muhammad Hasin and Einav Rogel by the same man in military uniform is not a tragic coincidence, but a direct result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a context where every man is a soldier, every woman becomes an occupied territory. Feminist scholars and activists who are committed to social change need to challenge the silences and gaps in the conventional scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to examine further the relationship between militarism, violence, and the social construction of gender in Israel and elsewhere.