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Gaza's women are being besieged on all sides

Between an endless siege that chokes the economy and a traditional society facing increased gender violence, Gaza’s women have few options for survival.

By Reem Amer and Tanya Rubinstein

Relatives of 13-year-old Palestinian Marwan Barbakh, who was killed in clashes with Israeli forces east of Khan Younis, mourn during his funeral. October 11, 2015, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Relatives of 13-year-old Palestinian Marwan Barbakh, who was killed in clashes with Israeli forces east of Khan Younis, mourn during his funeral. October 11, 2015, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/ Flash90)

Over the past few weeks the Israeli media has focused much of its time on the all-female flotilla to Gaza, which was stopped by the Israeli army on the way from Sicily to the Strip. As was made clear by the recent Channel 2 report, the women aboard the flotilla are working to raise global awareness over the situation in Gaza, and are trying to make a change.

But what the media tends to miss in its coverage is the situation in Gaza itself. Women living under occupation and siege suffer from specific crises, as opposed the rest of the population. They suffer from both the Israeli army’s violence as well as the violence of their own society. They suffer from restrictions to health care, hygiene, and basic necessities, along with difficulties in areas of employment. The struggle against Israel’s policies vis-a-vis Gaza compels us to stand alongside women as they struggle for rights in their own society.

An attack on agriculture

But before we get to the women, let’s talk about the economic situation in Gaza today. The siege, the severe restrictions on goods, Israel’s control of the economy and trade in the Strip, and repeated attacks that leave behind bodies and destroyed property have caused the situation in Gaza to greatly deteriorate over the past few years. This fact influences nearly every aspect of the lives of the population there.

Economic growth has stagnated since the siege was imposed in 2006; unemployment currently stands at 40 percent; according to the World Bank, the majority of Gaza’s economy is based today on international aid, and cannot sustain itself; four out of five Gaza residents are in need of humanitarian aid.

A Palestinian farmer walks through fields near Gaza’s eastern border, Al Montar, February 17, 2014. An Israeli military post is seen in the distance to the left, with the border indicated by the dark green areas passing through it. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian farmer walks through fields near Gaza’s eastern border, Al Montar, February 17, 2014. An Israeli military post is seen in the distance to the left, with the border indicated by the dark green areas passing through it. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

In the past agriculture formed Gaza’s economic base. Since the siege, and especially since the 2014 war, the number of agricultural workers has declined from 60,000 to between 25,000-35,000. Among the reasons for this dramatic decrease are Israel’s repeated bombing of agricultural areas, the restrictions on movement in the lethal no-go buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Israel, spraying agricultural lands adjacent to the border fence with herbicides, the lack of unpolluted water sources, the harsh restrictions on the kinds and amount of goods that are allowed into Gaza (including fertilizers, pesticides, and seeds). And if that wasn’t enough, exporters are subject to extreme restrictions, since Israel has total control of all goods that enter and exit Gaza.

Agriculture is only one example of the siege’s deleterious effects on the Strip. Gaza has become a captive market, and most of the restrictions on imports and exports work in favor of Israeli companies that both market raw materials to and export them from Gaza.

No chance for women-owned businesses

Sixty-five percent of women in Gaza are unemployed — one of the highest rates in the world. These women are often resigned to take care of family health and welfare, all while functioning as the family breadwinners in a market with few employment opportunities, especially for them.

Due to inheritance laws and the restrictions of a conservative society, women control only three percent of assets in Gaza and six percent of agricultural land. And still, many women are employed in the agricultural sector, where they are marginalized and receive poor wages. Attempts at providing support for women to establish their own small businesses failed due to a lack of raw materials and the difficulty of exporting goods due to the siege. Thus women are left dependent on their families and the men in their lives for their livelihood — a situation common in traditional societies, which worsen in situations of siege and economic crisis.

A Palestinian woman tailor sews clothes at a workshop in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, September 4, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A Palestinian woman tailor sews clothes at a workshop in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, September 4, 2014. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

This situation also leaves women more vulnerable to violence. A society that faces severe economic difficulties — which is surrounded by destruction and struggles to rehabilitate itself — is a society that will be pulled toward violence. And in every society, women are the first to pay the heavy price of social crises. According to reports we have received from Gaza, there is an increase in gender and domestic violence.

During the 2014 war on Gaza, 299 women were killed, 16 of whom were pregnant. At least 142 families lost three or more members, and 700 women were left widowed. Approximately half a million residents were forced from their homes, of which 20 percent have yet to return to permanent residence.

Humanitarian groups and human rights organizations around the world have warned of an oncoming humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Although there have been attempts to rehabilitate the Strip with foreign funds, it is clear that it is only a matter of time until Israel decides to attack Gaza again, rendering any attempts at the reconstructing the Strip over the past two years redundant. Restricting trade and control of the economy is just one more way in which the Israeli authorities exert power and violence, influencing every aspect of life in Gaza. Only once the siege is lifted and the occupation comes to an end can we begin to truly rehabilitate lives, families, and the economy.

Reem Amer and Tanya Rubinstein are General Coordinators at Coalition of Women for Peace. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Bruce Gould

      A few days ago Hagai El-Ad, head of B’Tselem, gave an astonishing 15 minute speech at the U.N. about the human rights abuses of the half-century long Occupation. (yes, this is relevant to this article – directly). Scroll down for the video:

      http://mondoweiss.net/2016/10/intervene-occupation-netanyahu/

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        “I don’t understand what the government wants the Palestinians to do. We have ruled their lives for nearly 50 years, we have shredded their land to bits. We wield military and bureaucratic power with enormous success and get along just fine with ourselves and the world. What are the Palestinians supposed to do? If they dare demonstrate, it’s popular terror. If they call for sanctions, it’s economic terror. If they pursue legal means, it’s judicial terror. If they turn to the United Nations, it’s diplomatic terror. It turns out that anything a Palestinian does besides getting up in the morning and saying “Thank you, Rais” – “Thank you, master” – is terror. What does the government want, a letter of surrender or for the Palestinians to disappear? They won’t disappear.”
        http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.747699

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          How about recognising Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people?

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            No it has not answered anything. It just shows at best, naivete and wishful thinking.

            The answer of that silly site is simply to say it is a new demand and thereore it should not be made.

            My answer to that is that it may be a relatively new demand but it just adjusts an old oversight.

            Why? Because this entire war has been about the refusal of the Arabs of Palestine to accept the existence of Israel BECAUSE it is A Jewish state. They wanted to have ONLY an Arab state although some of their propagandists pretend that they want a “democratic state” which would be both Jewish and Arab. If that were possible, that would be very nice. But it isn’t possible because one can only see oppression of minorities wherever Arabs rule. Hey, not just opression of minorities but oppression of most except the elites. In other words, we see dictatorships.

            Therefore the refusal of thePalestinians to accept a Jewish nation state gives only one message. It tells us that they still want to continue the war which they started against us in 1948. And if their choice is war, we should not pretend otherwise.

            Reply to Comment
          • mika

            There is no legal obligation under international law to recognize other state self proclaimed definition of identity. Demand that Palestinians do that is just political verbal gymnastics. IF one has better understanding of international law in this matter, stage is yours.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Why won’t the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish State”? Well, since 20% of Israeli citizens are Palestinian, it’s not clear that recognizing Israel as the home of The Jews wouldn’t put the rights of that segment of the population in peril, and those rights are in enough peril already. Furthermore, there is a large body of international law that governs the relation between states, and the notion of some sort of ethnic homeland doesn’t play a role in that law – if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Homeland of The Jews, would it mean that if a piece of King Davids earwax was discovered in Nablus then Israel would have the right to take it over? The notion of a “Jewish State”, however comforting it might seem to some, is legally vague and meaningless.

      But down here in physical reality, there is only one state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean, and this state is run by the Jewish half of the population. It is arguably no longer a democracy, and the Jews are probably not even a majority in this single state.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Bruce is a funny man.

        But UN resolution 181 was violently rejected by the Arabs in 1947 not because the UN voted to create Israel and an Arab state, but because the UN voted to create a Jewish and an Arab state. That state of war continued to this day. Yet, all wars in human relations end with an agreement that the original reason/s for the war is/are no longer reason/s for the war. But smart ass Arabs and their supporters of the Palestinians would like to pretend that for some odd reason, Israelis should not need to worry about such things in this war. Unfortunately for them they don’t convince many of us.

        PS
        About that weird “ear wax” comment of Bruce’s, if it would be relevant, then he would also have to worry about finding the earwax of some Athenian or Spartan general in a neighboring country of Greece to give the Greeks, who happen to practice Greek orthodoxy, an excuse to invade. But he doesn’t because over there, yonder, there are things such as internationally recognised borders.

        Over here though in the P-I conflict there are no boorders thanks to the refusal of Bruce’s Arab buddies to recognise the Jewish borders since 1947. Even though the Bruces of this world keep on pretending that the 1949 armistice lines are borders, not just armistice lines. They call these armistice lines the 1967 borders because after the 1967 debacle for the Arabs, suddenly those lines seem more palatable to recognise what they hope would be a temporary entity called Israel. Their hope is That if they can convince the “stupid Jews” to withdraw to those vulnerable borders while still not recognising that state as a Jewish state and making those “stupid Jews” accept the return of large numbers of descendants of Arab refugees, that in stage 2 of their war, they would be able to implode Israel state from within with the help of their regional allies and voila, there would be no more Jewish state.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bruce Gould

          @Ajew (from AnotherJew) – let me see if I can wrap my head around this. The Arabs would like nothing else, in their heart of hearts, but to destroy Israel, and they have all kinds of long term secret plans to do this. In their multi-decade long-range thinking, they will undermine the Jewish State by degrees, bringing in more refugees, diluting the Jewish character of Israel, surrounding Israel and slowly stockpiling heavy weapons…so all they need to do is sign a piece of paper recognizing Israel as the Homeland of the Jews, and everything is OK, Netanyahu will then allow a Palestinian state….uh..ok.

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            “so all they need to do is sign a piece of paper recognizing Israel as the Homeland of the Jews, and everything is OK”

            Thanks for trying to put words in my mouth. Good try but no cigar.

            That is not all they (the Arabs) have to do. They actually have to mean what they sign (that they recognise the Jewish nation state) and that they indeed give up on their war against the Jewish state.

            That means that they won’t stockpile weapons. That they won’t insist that they should be allowed to flood the Jewish state with descendants of Arab refugees.

            If they would show that they would be willing to do that, then at least there is a potential solution. Without it, they are wasting their own time and ours.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            “If they would show that they would be willing to do that, then at least there is a potential solution. Without it, they are wasting their own time and ours.”

            And if anyone knows how to waste everyone’s time, it’s the zionist enterprise. Always demanding, like an overindulged child. “AJew”, you’re way more funny than Bruce.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            And you Carmen, not because of your above post, but others, are a waste of space.

            Reply to Comment
          • Carmen

            Right back at ya baby.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      So about how the Arabs tried to destroy the newborn Jewish state and were never willing to recognize it: this is not the place to discuss historical details, it just degenerates into a “he-said she-said” type of thing. But for those people who want to read research by professional Israeli historians:

      The “new historians” in the 80’s showed that the classic Zionist narrative was not very accurate: Benny Morris, Tom Segev, Avi Schlaim, Baruch Kimmerling, Ilan Pappe. I’d like to mention a name a little less familiar: Simha Flappan (see his book “The Birth of Israel: Myths And Realities”.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Yea, them bloody Jews. They always invent things. Even some Jews say so. Just read their books. They will tell you that a Jewish super army came and murdered Arabs who did not do nothin’ to the evil Jews at all and the Jews stole all the land which everyone knows were Arab lands for the last 200,000 years.

        Seriously though. The only author worth reading out of Bruce’s list is Benny Morris. But read EVERYTHING that he writes. Don’t read him selectively. He is critical of both Arabs and Jews.

        The rest are lying propaganda mouth pieces of the Arabs. Hey it’s a living. Haven’t you heard that some Jews like money?

        Reply to Comment
    4. Baladi Akka 1948

      Another comment thread hijacked by someone who just comes here posting whatever he feels like.
      I’m sorry for the writers, they might get the impression that nobody read their fine article. I did, thank you.
      From another Reem to Gaza:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XB5NEawsUMc

      Reply to Comment
    5. AJew

      “There is no legal obligation under international law to recognize other state self proclaimed definition of identity.”

      No Ben there isn’t.

      But if the Arabs choose not to recognise Israel as the Jewish nation state then their message is clear. Their message is that they still want to continue their war against the Jewish state which they started and the Jews of Israel are not obligated to pretend that it isn’t so.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      “all wars in human relations end with an agreement that the original reason/s for the war is/are no longer reason/s for the war.”

      Now that *is* funny. I’m sorry, ‘AJew’, but the above is a fatuous statement. And revealing of the confusion lurking at the heart of this matter. It reveals the incoherence, the thickets of illogic and distortion that crowd the argument above. I marvel at your ability to miss the point.

      So when Lee met Grant at Appomattox he agreed that “hey wait a minute, Ulysses, we Southerners got it all wrong about state’s rights and slavery and you Northerners agree you got it wrong about us too. So let’s let bygones be bygones, fellas, dang it. The original reason/s for the war is/are no longer reason/s for the war. Why heck, what the heck did we ever fight about?”?

      I don’t think so.

      It took the South a full 150 years after the agreement at Appomattox before, in 2015, it lowered the Confederate flag from the statehouse in South Carolina. Southerners and Northerners to this day maintain separate narratives but have long since learned to, as Lara Friedman says, reconcile irreconcilable national narratives and the states have long since agreed on a recognition formula and on established borders they once fought over savagely.

      Trying to get the Palestinians to say what you want then to say is an absurdity cynically concocted by a narcissist who enjoys humiliating people and will find any excuse he can to avoid a just peace. He was caught on video admitting this to West Bank settlers in their house when he thought no one was recording him, rather like Trump was caught saying stuff about women. On videotape–yet he goes to equally absurd lengths denying he said what everyone saw and heard him say.

      Reply to Comment
      • AJew

        Spot the difference.

        In the American civil war, the outcome was a united America, NOT a seceded south. So irrespective of what individuals thought about slavery, the American president’s policy about slavery applied.

        In the P-I conflict, we are talking about a two state solution. Two independent states, get it? But Ben expects Israel to do a hail Mary and just let bygones be bygones and give up control while the Arabs are not even willing to sign a document in which they renounce their old policy of trying to destroy the Jewish state.

        This Israeli (me) for one, would be prepared to take a risk for peace if at least the Arabs would display an intention to give up their goal of destroying the Jewish state. But the fact that they are not even willing to sign that document in exchange for being allowed to establish their own state and run their own lives, gives me only one message. And that message is that as soon as they get part of what they want from us, they will continue in their bad old ways and will try to get the rest of what they always wanted, the destruction of the Jewish state. Now why exactly should we make it easier for them to try to do that? Because Ben and his cohorts tell us to?

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Again I marvel at your ability to miss the point–about narratives and what they mean and how they are to be handled. A “document in which they renounce their old policy of trying to destroy ‘the Jewish State'” is a document called a “final status/end of conflict agreement,” it is *not* a document in which they “recognize a Jewish State.” You know it, I know it, and Netanyahu knows it, and knew it when he cynically concocted it. Your “difference” carries no distinction. The American Civil War was fought *over* the South’s wish to secede. Lincoln fought it above all to save the Union. But had the South fought it to a draw and to secession, the same issue with narratives, outlined by Peace Now’s Lara Friedman, would have applied. No one would have demanded Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, recognize Abolitionism or demanded Ulysses S. Grant recognize the beauty of the plantation slavery system and the Southern way of life. Both sides would have had their narratives, their differences, their grievances, their hatreds, but a peace agreement would have been signed nonetheless and both sides would have incorporated in it practical measures not oaths of recognition of the other side’s narrative. Are you seriously going to propose to us that in the I-P conflict, whether the outcome is one state or two states, and irrespective of what individuals think about recognizing “a Jewish State,” the Israeli prime minister’s policy about it applies?

          Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Ben thinks that repeating his irrelevant analogy he makes it apt. He does not.

            What Israel is demanding and what many Israelis expect from the Arabs is a statement of policy in order to clarify their future intentions about the Jewish state.

            We are not asking and cannot ask that each individual Arab must feel good about the existence of the Jewish state. That as Ben says may (or may not) happen many years into the future.

            Again. In 1947, the UN voted for the creation of a JEWISH state and an Arab state, not the creation of ISRAEL and an Arab state. So maybe Ben can explain why he thinks that recognition of Israel should be acceptable to the Arabs but not recognition of the Jewish state?

            He need not answer. I know the answer. Recognition of Israel as opposed to the JEWISH state allows them room to manouver in the future to turn Israel first into an Arab majority state by demanding that Israel must allow the “return” of millions of descendants of refugees after which it would be a simple matter to change the name of the country from Israel to Hamastan.

            On the other hand, such a strategy would not be possible for them if they sign a document in which they accept the existence of the Jewish state.

            I know it and Ben knows it, that is the real issue behind the Arabs refusal to recognise Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. The American civil war has nothing to do with it. Let’s just call it Ben’s red herring.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Of course the American Civil War has nothing literally to do with it—it’s an analogy. An analogy that works. We come full circle—have I mentioned this tendency before?—to Bruce’s encapsulation of the reason, on October 20. Enough said there.

            “A Jewish State” in the hands of Netanyahu and Bennett and Shaked is a quasi-fascist state. And 1947 is not 2016. There has been too much history and too much trauma on both sides and too much malevolent occupation since then to blithely ask, with false naivete, gee whiz, why ever is it that recognition of Israel at this point should be acceptable to the Arabs but not recognition of “a Jewish state”? The Arabs have seen plenty by now of what “a Jewish State” means for them. You will do anything but admit the issue with reconciling irreconcilable narratives and working out complex, realistic recognition formulas. You’re avoiding that like the plague.

            “allows them room to maneuver”

            We’re getting into old, circular, paranoid talking points again that have never born fruit. It is incumbent on both Israel and the Palestinians to make an agreement that contains safeguards against “maneuvers” and, we loop back yet again to what Bruce said, above, to not depend on a piece of paper for one’s national security. Israel has never ever depended on a piece of paper or on anyone else but itself for its security (let’s leave aside a gazillion dollars from America for a moment) and in fact boasts of this, of its independence and self-sufficiency—and in truth its generals would not even think of saying in an internal meeting—“oh, gee, they agree to recognize a Jewish State!—mothball those tanks, fellahs!”—or anything even remotely in that ballpark—it is all posturing and feigned helplessness, posturing for external consumption. Marketing. In a word, hasbara. No one believes it, least of all the Israelis who actually know what Israel’s real security issues are.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            By the way…

            “…The rest are lying propaganda mouth pieces of the Arabs. Hey it’s a living. Haven’t you heard that some Jews like money?”

            Wow, Gustav, shameless. You gonna film a Herr Stürmer video for us? All non-right wing-extremist Jews are money-grubbing traitors? That’s proto-fascism in an anti-Semitic key. Straight out of settler-land. And you expect to be taken seriously? And in the same breath you would contest my assertion that in the hands of Netanyahu and Bennett “a Jewish State” is something approaching a quasi-fascist state?

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            I have said all I want to say on this thread. If Ben wants to, he can go on arguing with himself. I just know that in the end, he will end up agreeing with himself. And with anti Israel Arab propaganda. He always does.

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            One last point though. It illustrates Ben’s one sided pro Arab bias.

            Ben called me paranoid when I said that recognising Israel but NOT the Jewish state would make it easier for the Palestinians to maneuver to turn Israel into in Arab state by insisting that Israel must allow the “return” of millions of descendants of Arab refugees.

            On the other hand, Ben says that it is ok for the Arabs to be wary of a Jewish state because as he daintily puts it, because of how Arab citizens of Israel are treated by Israel at a time of war (by the way, they are treated better than many ordinary Arabs are treated in many Arab countries). But that isn’t paranoia by Ben, huh?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            You grasp for straws. Whether they say the magic words “Jewish State” or not you still get to negotiate an agreed upon solution to the refugee problem. It matters not one whit. We keep returning to Bruce’s question: a piece of paper paying obeisance to your narrative while denying their narrative protects you? What? It has magic kryptonite fibers in it? You use this “time of war” excuse a lot. In fact, you could easily end this “time of war” but you don’t want to.

            Because, as Talal Jabari says you want the excuse that you’re fighting a war. And as Mairav Zonszein says:

            “To decouple Israel from its occupation of Palestine would require the complete dismantling and overhaul of Israel’s state institutions, culture, economy, and infrastructure. It would require a fundamental restructuring of Israeli society, transforming it from one that controls another population to one that strives to upholds equal rights for everyone living under its control.
            Such a process frightens many Jewish Israelis, including those in the so-called opposition, because it means losing certain privileges a Jewish state affords them. For that reason, the most basic, simple and understandable demand at the frontier of Israeli dissent today — ending the occupation — is also the most complex, subversive, and dangerous.”

            Reply to Comment
          • AJew

            Ben with his BS again. I predicted that this biased little persona would want to argue with himself. Now it looks like he is putting words in my mouth which I never said. Never mind though. As mentioned previously, I said all I want to say on this thread. This time I mean it. Carry on, Ben.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “This time I weally weally mean it you wascally wabbit!” Ok, ‘AJew’, whatever you say.

            Reply to Comment
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