A record-breaking 26 Palestinian women were elected to office in Israel’s local elections. Despite the unprecedented numbers, there is still a long way to go.
Arab women made history in the last round of local elections in Israel held in late October. A total of 26 Arab women were elected across the country, including the first Druze and first Bedouin woman, respectively, as well as an unprecedented four female heads of political parties.
In the past months, civil society and women’s associations banded together to encourage more Arab women to participate in local elections and exercise their right to vote. (Full disclosure: the organization I manage participated in that campaign.) The political fortress that Arab men have built for themselves in this country is still impenetrable, and it will take time before its gates are open to women. And yet, it seems that the old guard of local politicians in Arab communities has finally understood that women are on the rise.
The tide has been changing over the last decade, manifesting in several ways. The first trend is that more youth, women, and educated Arabs are fed up with the failed “council of wise men” approach. Liberal voices have pushed for more progressive perspectives and candidates, which sometimes includes feminism. The second trend reflects a wider, pan-Israeli development: a shift from party politics toward broader coalitions built from grassroots activists. These coalitions can be based on family ties; in more optimistic cases, they are based on the shared goal of improving local services, such as education, welfare, health, housing, etc.
In a conversation with Vera Baboun, the first female mayor of Bethlehem, I sought to understand how it was possible that women were so politically integrated in the Palestinian territories (four women serve as mayors, four more are deputies, one heads a district, and four are village heads), while in Israel, Arab women are still fighting for the opportunity to run in local elections.
Baboun believes it has something to do with resisting the occupation and the role women play in that struggle. What more, under the Palestinian Authority, there is a legally-mandated quota that women make up a third of any political list. Palestinian women were supposed to hold significant...Read More