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How Israel's blockade exacerbates violence against women in Gaza

Women in Gaza deal with patriarchal gender norms and intra-Palestinian political divides, but addressing their needs cannot be realized without Israel lifting its blockade.

By Anwar Mhajne

Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza weeks into Operation Protective Edge, on August 9, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza weeks into Operation Protective Edge, on August 9, 2014. (Basel Yazouri/Activestills.org)

Violence during military operations affects both men and women, but women often face a unique set of challenges. For Palestinian women in Gaza in particular, the interaction between patriarchy, the intra-Palestinian political divide, and Israel’s blockade, exacerbates the violence they face.

Internal political divisions hinder the establishment of effective institutional response mechanisms across the occupied Palestinian territories. Patriarchal gender norms and traditions contribute to the proliferation and acceptance of violence against women and girls. But Israel’s decades-long blockade of Gaza, which heavily restricts the movement of people and goods in and out of the strip, has created an environment of constant violence against women.

According to a 2011 violence survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), 37 percent of women, on average, are victims of gender-based violence in Palestine. In the Gaza Strip, this figure increases to 51 percent.

The risks of experiencing gender-based violence surges in times of direct military operations. For example, during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, the danger of experiencing domestic violence increased considerably, according to research on violence against women and girls in Gaza. During the war, there was a 22 percent incline in the forms of domestic violence experienced by married women, and a 30 percent increase for non-married women. Furthermore, the displacement caused by military operations increase the likelihood of experiencing domestic violence.

The high rates of poverty and unemployment, which have caused an enduring economic depression in Gaza, have obliterated family income sources, and traditional family relationships have struggled to adjust to the changing situation. Thousands of men in Gaza are unable to fulfill their traditional role as the breadwinner and protector of the family, leaving women to bear the brunt of their husbands’ frustrations.

Palestinian women farmers collect wheat stalks during the annual harvest in a field in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 27, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Palestinian women farmers collect wheat stalks during the annual harvest in a field in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 27, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Even though unemployment rates are high in Gaza (52 percent), there is a significant increase in women’s workforce participation, which has now reached 26 percent. The blockade has forced hundreds of women to become the sole providers while still tending to housework and caring for their husbands, many of whom suffer from depression. Women’s integration in the workforce emerged out of necessity, but it threatens traditional masculine identities and adds further to tensions in the home.

Lengthy exposure to violence intensifies daily pressures for Palestinians, which risks exasperating gender-based violence. When violence is pervasive and sustained, family relations suffer from the conflict-related changes in gender roles and activities. Palestinian women whose husbands have been directly exposed to political violence were 47 percent more likely to report experiencing psychological intimate partner violence (IPV), 89 percent more likely to report experiencing physical IPV, and 2.2 times more likely to report experiencing sexual IPV. Displacement during military operations is associated with instances of emotional domestic violence, controlling behavior, and non-domestic violence.

Another implication of the Israeli blockade is the shift in youth’s (men and women) attitudes toward conservatism due to the absence of employment opportunities and social interaction. Young men and women reverted to religion and tradition, which regulate gender relations, as a source of social and personal safeguards. Even highly educated women and men, as well as those who are regularly employed, hold conservative attitudes about gender roles and gender equality.

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Another type of violence that women experience due to the blockade is a lack of access to essential medical services. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel published a report in March detailing how Israel’s Gaza blockade exacts a higher price in health from Palestinian women than from Palestinian men. The report examined three classifications: female cancer patients traveling from Gaza to Israel for treatment, patients having treatment withheld because of kinship with Hamas members, and patients having treatment withheld on the grounds that a family member is in the West Bank without permission.

Some women were also prevented from accompanying their children to receive medical care because they are related to members of Hamas. For example, in August of last year, Israel did not permit a mother from Gaza to accompany her 3-year-old son to a hospital in the West Bank for cancer treatment because she is a first-degree relative of a Hamas member. The woman had to resort to Facebook to find an eligible, unrelated woman to accompany her son for medical treatment.

In addition to navigating economic insecurity, increases in domestic violence, and the loss family members due to the occupation, women are also being punished for the decisions and ideological stances of the men in their family. On top of the psychological impact of experiencing physical violence on a daily basis, women are exposed to emotional violence when they are banned from being present for their sick children, and thus being unable to fulfill their roles as mothers.

Women in Gaza experience tremendous challenges, restrictions, and violations to their basic human rights. Even though patriarchal norms play a role in the violence women in Gaza regularly face, the occupation and the blockade exacerbates and introduce other forms of violence. Addressing the needs of women in Gaza and achieving gender equality cannot be realized without lifting the blockade and finding a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dr. Anwar Mhajne is a Palestinian citizen of Israel. She is an Umm Al Fahem native, but moved to the United States in 2011 to pursue her M.A. and later her Ph.D. Anwar is currently a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow in the Department of Political Science at Stonehill College, MA. Twitter: @mhajneam.

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    COMMENTS

    1. itshak Gordine

      How strange .. Arabs strike their wives according to their customs and guess who is responsible? Israel of course ..

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The 2019 Outsanding Exemplar Award in Missing The Point and Displaying One’s Total Lack of Human Feeling for Anyone Non-Jewish While Also Unwittingly and Remarkably Hypocritically Displaying one’s Orthodox Jewish Contempt for Women Generally, goes to the world record holder this category, Itshak Gordine Halevy, for the above post. We were going to wait until December 31st but the Committee came to unanimous agreement that no one could possibly top this post in the remaining months of 2019 anyway, so what the heck.

        Reply to Comment
        • itshak Gordine

          But Ben, you’re ridiculous. How the Israeli people are responsible for the fact that culturally many Arabs beat their wives and force them to have sex. They are patriarchal and primitive societies. Because of our Jewish traditions, we must respect and honor our wives. I would like to add that we have encouraged Arab women to study in our institutions in order to change their society. So they can earn a living for the good of their family. When Gaza has made real peace with Israel, its situation will improve.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This contains an implicit denial of all the age-old primitive misogynistic strains in Orthodox Judaism, in letter and practice, and by engaging in that denial you are engaging not in any empathy for women but using the issue as a pseudo-feminist vehicle for anti-Arabism and anti-Palestinianism, a form of anti-Semitism. And please also look up the statistics for violence against women in Israeli secular Jewish society as well. The picture is not pretty.

            “When Gaza has made real peace with Israel, its situation will improve.”

            See:

            https://972mag.com/israeli-right-hamas-gaza-palestinians/141386/

            Enough said.

            Reply to Comment
          • itshak Gordine

            o you realize that you use a succession of meaningless words while ignoring everything you are dealing with? The woman is privileged in Judaism, especially in the Orthodox world. The woman has rights to it, including asking for a divorce.
            You are the specialist of blah blah empty of meaning

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            No, a woman’s voice is not “pubic” – the song must go on
            A recent protest from within the IDF against the sound of women singing made it all the way to the High Court. But the event is only one in a string of state-sanctioned assaults against women’s rights, led by Israel’s religious establishment, which likens women to their genitalia
            https://972mag.com/no-a-womans-voice-is-not-pubic-the-song-must-go-on/26260/

            Reply to Comment
    2. Lewis from Afula

      This is a key example of Libtard thinking in action:

      Islam (as practiced in Islamic states) = widespread polygamy, honor killings & stoning to death of adulterous wives. Essentially a Barbaric 7th Century approach.

      Judaism (as practiced by othodox Judaism) = basically modern monogamy but some aspects could certainly be improved in terms of progressive Leftist thought. ie Woman’s right to choose, feminism, no fault divorce etc

      Ben’s Libtard Conclusion – All Religions are Equally barbaric.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Translation: “On the whole, Saudi Arabia treats women worse than does Israel, so therefore I get to steal Palestinian land and commit war crimes, as long as I don’t rape the women.” Or something like that. Really deserves no response. I’m being generous.

        Reply to Comment
        • Lewis from Afula

          Who mentioned Saudi Arabia ?
          What about “advanced” Islamic countries like Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia or Qatar ?
          Polygamy, honor killings and death sentence for adultery.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Translation: “What about Pakistan, Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia or Qatar? Therefore I get to steal Palestinian land and commit war crimes, as long as I don’t rape the women.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            In other words, who is responsible for widespread polygamy, honor killings and stoning to death of unfaithful wives ?

            Its Israel.
            (according to the genius, Ben).

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Translation: “I don’t practice polygamy and stoning to death my wife, therefore I get to get to steal Palestinian land and commit war crimes, as long as I don’t stone the women or marry more than one of them. Having said that, I am all for honor killings if by that you mean killing Arabs to avenge the honor of Jews and I am all for banning Jews committing miscegenation with Arab persons they love. Let’s not get carried away.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            Ben’s Translation:
            Irrespective of what LofA writes, I will just put ridiculous words in his mouth and make him look stupid.
            PS: I am a SJW nutter who lives in Amerika.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            “make him look stupid”

            I really can’t take credit for this achievement. You did it all yourself.

            Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            We get it.
            Arabs…….GOOOOD
            Israelis….BAAAD

            Reply to Comment
    3. Yael Tal

      What is this cancerous article?

      *Women get beaten in Gaza*
      IT’S THE JOOZ!!!!!

      Reply to Comment