At least 18 women, Palestinians and Jews, have been murdered by men this past year in Israel. When will we understand that a racist, violent society does not differentiate between its victims?
I couldn’t shake off the murder of Amna Al-Abir from Lyd, whose body was found burned in a forest in a Palestinian Authority-controlled area, and the murder of educator and karate teacher Suha Mansour from Tira as I drove to the airport. I was flying to London, where I was to speak at a conference on the status of Palestinian women in Israel.
With tears in my eyes and my head spinning, I set out for Europe. What can I tell the dignified foreigners in Britain? That we have failed? That the women’s struggle is facing more violence, blood, and cruelty as every year passes?
On the other hand, I am arriving after having accomplished a number of incredible successes thanks to intelligent, hardworking women — the kind who struggle every day for a better life, who invest in themselves and their society to try and move up. I decided to speak about the wasted potential of Palestinian women in Israeli society, that dares not to break through the walls of racism, fear, and prejudice against us.
But then comes the moment at which the murder of women comes up, and I will have no choice but to tell the crowd that in my society, men who murder women are not brought to justice. I will be forced to tell them that in Israel, nine (!) Arab women have been murdered this year. The second I see the crowd’s horrified faces I will quick to balance it out and say that “nine Jewish women have also been murdered this year!”
But what kind of argument is that? Put aside the “primitive, violent, Arab Muslims” that you want to blame for everything. Step out of this mindset for a bit and give your own explanation for why Jewish women are murdered in Israel. Why was a woman murdered in a settlement? In Bat Yam? In Netanya? Why are Jewish women — Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, Russian speakers, Ethiopians, religious and secular — murdered by violent means? What is the difference between the murder of an Arab woman and a Jewish one? Because our guns are illegal? When will we understand that the murder of women in a racist, violent society does not distinguish between the identity of its victims?
The only difference is that the murder of Arab women provides fodder for esteemed sociologists and feminists of different streams. They will write articles, provide a societal explanation for what is happening, will speak about the status of the Muslim woman, on an oppressive, patriarchal society and other terms culled from outdated books on feminism.
We need to wake up from these culturally-deterministic explanations. We must understand that the blood of a Jewish women is worth no more than that of a Palestinian woman. Violence has no culture or heritage, nor does it have a nationality. It only has weapons and power. The “explanations” and “background” provided are, in my eyes, a drug administered by the media and the “security” apparatuses that are also controlled by men — and usually men who know how to use power in different forms, knowing full-well its strength. All this so that we understand gender violence as a difficult societal phenomenon, but one that is ostensibly tied to the mentality of certain cultures.
There is an increase in violence against women across the world. There are those who blame the media, which does not shy away from showing images of lynches and videos of a teenager being raped at a bar, alongside glittery, colorful commercials. There are those who claim that we have become more violent, more cruel, and more bloodthirsty because of these never-ending wars.
The recent increase in the murder of both Jewish and Palestinian women is, in my opinion, tied to the increase in violence of the conflict here. In other words: the occupation. On one hand, when weapons have become so common and accessible to every man who demands them for personal security, who will pay the price during a domestic dispute? On the other hand, the Arab man will return to his village after facing nonstop oppression at the hands of his Jewish employer, on the street, or the police officer the checkpoint. Who will pay the price for this oppression?
We are not the only ones who pay the price during the fighting. Attacks against women are common during times of national crises. When violence and hatred are everywhere, women fall prey everywhere. Take Afghanistan, where honor killings increased during the U.S. occupation. With the occupation of Iraq, the number of women murdered climbed to levels that surprised all the feminists of the Arab world. Even the British occupation of India brought back ceremonies and traditions such as the “Sati,” in which a woman whose husband died is forced to immolate herself.
These days, Palestinian women’s organizations are fighting for a change in the marriage laws in both the Sharia and Christian courts, which are taking over our lives in much the same ways as Rabbinical courts are. The arguments women’s organizations face are neither religious nor based on scripture, but rather how dare we provide ammo to the regime to attack us from within while we are trying to stand together as a people. “How will you help the Israeli authorities intervene in our personal lives?” ask the men as if Israel hasn’t already done so, as if the Palestinian feminist struggle is at fault for all this. Even moderate religious leaders will back down when faced with the claim of “treason.” The message is clear: there is no room for the women’s struggle in the national struggle. You women will suffer, you will be murdered, you will be abused until us men bring an end to the national struggle. Only then will we tend to you.
I came back from London with an award in English. My speech about the occupation, gender, and the oppression of people for who they are — Arabs and Jews, men and women — was received with the kind of appreciation I am missing in my work. These were moments of true bliss that came to an end when I landed back in the country and heard about the murder of yet another Palestinian woman. A young woman who was murdered alongside her husband in Jaffa. And I continue to ask whether we, the Palestinian and Israeli women, can struggle together in the first place? The answer will be an unequivocal “yes” once we dare to sound our voice and break the male-imposed silence around us. It is time to admit that men in this world are the source of crime and violence, and that women have a different idea about how life should be.
This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.