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04. December 2012

Edit in Hebron Nov 12

Edit Schlaffer as welcomed guest in Hebron, November 2012

The Word on Women - Palestinian Mothers Must Step up to the Table

By Edit Schlaffer and Laura Kropiunigg

Last week, amidst the latest wave of rocket attacks, we travelled across the West Bank to talk to mothers in Ramallah, Hebron and Jericho. Our aim was to explore the potential role of women in countering violence by engaging with their children, entering formal politics, and adopting other peaceful methods.

Meeting a broad spectrum of women, we came across mothers who lost their boys to martyrdom as well as concerned women who feared that their sons would not return from demonstrations and confrontations with Israeli soldiers. One needs only to visit the West Bank, see the wall, and experience the checkpoints briefly to realise why the latter of these mothers appear in high numbers; Palestinian society is relatively young and its youth is unemployed, angry and highly charged.

Meeting Maysoun Qawasmi was an inspirational experience. She is the fearless architect of the first wholly female candidates’ list in the run up to local elections in the deeply conservative city of Hebron. Her passion for bringing about positive social change by including women in the political process is exemplary. Not surprised yet slightly disappointed by the reality that her constituency is not ready to vote for the female bloc, she noted, ‘My society doesn’t understand me, they were just looking at me and saying: “Are you crazy?”’

In our conversations, Qawasmi expressed how she longed to see women taking on decision making roles. In light of the fact that politics runs through every Palestinian’s veins (‘Even children talk politics’), she wonders how local women could best be drawn into the more active, public sphere. While Qawasmi sees that everybody suffers from the occupation, she finds that women also suffer from the patriarchal culture of local customs: ‘After I made this female list, I saw clearly that women are still running after the man—and [a woman] agrees with everything he tells her’.

Palestinian women are under such incredible pressure to honour the resistance that they are often expected to hold back their tears when their sons are deemed martyrs. We spoke with the mother of a suicide bomber who was completely taken by surprise by her son’s action. When the body was brought to her house, she briefly fell to the floor and praised God before reflecting on her initial response: ‘I have lost my son, why would I celebrate? I should rather ask God’s forgiveness.’ Women are indeed increasingly rejecting this celebratory act. In so doing, they are gradually transforming the social image of “the proud Palestinian mother”.

Qawasmi has a clear alternative: ‘Send a message to the occupiers, but in a peaceful way, and don’t push your son to be a hero-man; he will be killed and your life will finish’.

Nida, a young, open-minded and well-traveled journalist from Ramallah, believes that dialogue presents a promising alternative to ancient, futile ways. A number of young women explained how seamlessly and with what relative ease the youth are lured into martyrdom. Some see in this act a measure of worth and loyalty—a means by which they can live up to an identity. Like many of her peers, Leila, a university student, experienced a common, albeit brief sense of ‘duty’. She recalled her reaction to seeing a suicide bomber on television in her teenage years: ‘[I thought to myself then that] this could be me—this is what I should do. Maybe I did not believe it but I said it out loud, and my mum just told me the biggest “NO!”’

Women have the potential to be instrumental to the development and mindset of the youth. They are by no means inherently better leaders than their male counterparts, but women are uniquely positioned as educators of the next generation.

Palestinian society is indeed very hospitable; our discussion partners opened their homes and welcomed us unreservedly. Yet why are women still absent from the negotiating table? They provide the food, serve the meals and often adopt a subservient role. If we want the positive messages and their personal capacities to transform society, we also need female voices at the table: at home, in the municipality, in parliament, and at high-level peace negotiations.

Women are barely visible in the international arena. This has to change. It is our responsibility—as a global community, as men and women—to join courageous individuals like Qawasmi in securing a peaceful future for current and future generations. Only thus can we expect the civil to begin eclipsing the belligerent in society.

This article was originally published on Truslaw Blogs -


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