From Palestine to Kashmir, women are taking their space against occupation and patriarchy

Reversing decades of foreign policy tradition, Donald Trump announced the U.S. will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In so doing, Trump fanned the flames of a region already embroiled in intense conflict. Muslim leaders from 57 countries condemned the decision, calling on the world to recognize “Palestine and East Jerusalem as its occupied capital.” Protests erupted worldwide in solidarity with the Palestinian nation, whose de-jure territories—Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Golan Heights—are treated as illegitimate by both Trump and Israel. Protests erupted within the walls of occupied Palestine following the pronouncement. In the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, Palestinians are fighting the declaration, which they see as further legitimizing Israel’s apartheid takeover. Israel responded with its usual destructive military violence.

In colonized states, military violence is commonplace. Crackdowns, disappearances, violence, and intimidation are the norm. Palestine is no exception. Since 1948, Israel has routinely practiced human rights abuses in attempts to quell the Palestinian State. What do these crackdowns mean for the women of Palestine?

In 2010, journalist Freny Manecksha asked a similar question regarding Kashmir, a region occupied by Indian military police. For seven years, Manecksha collected and compiled dozens of first-hand accounts from women of Kashmir. She details how space is lost to women subjected to military violence.

Torture, rape, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings are tools the Indian military police use to deny Kashmir political sovereignty. To women in Kashmir, crackdowns are synonymous with sexual violence. The once free-roaming, awe-inspiring hills of Kashmir have transformed into a cold, barbaric warning. Kashmir was once a land of mysticism. Its breathtaking natural landscape inspired poets like Habba Khatun to write of girls picking chinar leaves, of wandering spaces, and of the wild flowers that dotted the hillsides.

Those verses are reminders of a time of freedom stolen from women. Cold metal, tear gas, and military uniforms proliferate amongst the cities and trees. Mysticism was transformed into barbarism. Women are no longer free to gather violets – doing so risks sexual harassment, violence, or abduction. Privacy is lost. Riflemen “legally” barge into homes, smash pots and pans, take up common rooms, and destroy the sanctity of the home. Only in shrines do women find the sacred space “just to be.” Shrines serve as places of “secrets, fears, and angst”, places of “abreaction.” They are the last accessible places that allow women to release their emotions while offering an important “spiritual anchor.” They are the last spaces still reminiscent of Habba Khatun’s Kashmir.

In Palestine, women face a similar problem. Since 1948, the Israeli military has asserted its dominance through borders, checkpoints, and brute displays of force. Along with the military colonizing their spaces, Israeli developers have capitalized on the forced removal of Palestinian citizens. Old olive orchards, the source of income for many families, are now white, concrete eyesores. Checkpoints dictate how women maneuver through the land, deciding if they can access schools, hospitals, relatives: “Occupying the material space of the frontline, these women must often carry the burdens of the outcome of the fighting. These women survive both the daily assaults against their quotidian activities and the psychological warfare that is endemic to a militarized zone.”

Movement and security are luxuries. Like the women of Kashmir, Palestinian women find themselves suffocated by military occupation. They are without legal rights, government help, or societal help. Internalized colonization and the weaponization of their bodies has increased the strength of the patriarchy. Palestinian authorities view sexual abuse as a national issue—speaking about that abuse makes the woman complicit with the outside forces aimed at destroying the nation. More so, Palestine sees sexual violence as a direct confrontation with its honor. In the need to defend national honor from invaders, women who are sexually abused are treated as dishonorable, often ostracized from their communities.

This is colonialism, the occupation of space by an invader, and it is patriarchy, the need to assert dominance over a feminine body: “This  is  the  point  where  two  systems  of  subordination – occupation  and  patriarchy – converge  in  the  Occupied Palestinian Territories: women in confronting the former submit to the latter.” War, conquest, and the hunger for land work in tandem with the worst types of oppression. Denial of state freedom is denial of women’s freedom.

Despite the reality of occupation, Palestine should have hope. In Kashmir, young women are actively fighting against both patriarchal and military occupation. Women like Essar Batool, Natasha Rather, Farhana Latief, and Inshah Malik question Kashmiri societal predispositions and how gender, sexuality, and freedom of expression are linked to the Azadi movement. These women promote a fiery new hope, recentering the activist conversation on those who most need Azadi—women. For them, it is not enough to have freedom from India. They demand freedom from patriarchy.

Palestinian women are also not backing down. Determined to “create their own meaning and build agency, sometimes literally from the nothingness around them; all the while being cognizant of their roots and history, they offer counter-discourses, counter-spaces, and counter-narratives.” They are taking their space by force, both within Palestine itself and in the greater activist movement.

In the words of feminist peace activist legislator Jihad Abu Zneid, “This is our country and we will save it. We will save our capital and our sovereignty here in Jerusalem.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Al Jazeera / Mohammed Salem / Reuters) (Photo Credit 2: Women’s Media Center / Bilal Bahadur)

Ahed Tamimi, African migrants and Israeli apartheid

Holot Detention Center

Israel persecutes a 16-year-old girl, Ahed Tamimi, at the same time that it persecutes African immigrants, telling the latter that their choice is a ticket “home” or jail. Both of these actions are justified by “security” and “sovereignty”. Ahed Tamimi has not attacked Israel nor have African migrants. If anyone ever needed evidence that Israel is an apartheid state, the conjuncture of the persecution of Ahed Tamimi, and her family, and of African migrants should do.

Ahed Tamimi’s “case” has been widely circulated. Faced with soldiers in her front yard, Ahed Tamimi, 16 years old, confronted the soldiers. She slapped a soldier. Less than an hour earlier, Ahed Tamimi’s 14-year-old cousin, Mohammad Tamimi, was shot in the face by Israeli soldiers. Maybe that matters. Maybe the devastation of an entire generation of girls and boys matters. Ahed Tamimi was arrested, has been indicted, and now faces the prospect of years in prison. Ahed Tamimi is sixteen years old. She slapped someone. She is a threat to national security and sovereignty. When a Jewish teenager slapped an Israeli soldier, what happened? Nothing.

Three years ago, thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese women and children asylum seekers marched through the streets of Tel Aviv, protesting Israel’s new `immigration policies’ and new `open’ immigrant detention center, Holot. On Wednesday, January 3, Israel updated its “immigration policies”. Go home. Refugee? Whatever. Person? Not so much. Explanation: the Africans are “infiltrators.”

None of this new … to those who have studied or remember apartheid. Unarmed sixteen-year-old girls facing off fully armed soldiers are “terrorists”. African refugees are “infiltrators”, “borders” are everywhere and they must be “protected.” None of this is new.

Watch the videos, read the statements “justifying” the abuse of Ahed Tamimi, watch the videos, read the statements “justifying” the abuse of African migrants. “Migrants”. Anwar Suleiman Arbab is 38 years old. He left Darfur in 2003. He arrived in Israel in 2008. He applied for asylum and has not heard. He has a “temporary” visa. He has been in the country for nine years, but he’s still a “migrant”, worse an “infiltrator”. Why? Because he’s African. Watch the videos, read the statements concerning “sovereignty” and “security”. You’ll see the unblemished face of masculinity, yelling that its “it” must be protected.

Writing of the Israeli persecution of Ahed Tamimi, Uri Avnery concluded, “Occupation makes you stupid. In the end, this stupidity will bring us down.” Occupation does make a people and its nation-State stupid, as do racism, xenophobia, White Supremacy, misogyny and other forms of hatred. What’s going on in Israel right now is both the Occupation and something that precedes that occupation, the masculinist doctrine of protection of sovereignty. We see this in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Austria, and beyond,  the call to making it great again. There’s a name for the public policy of reclamation justifying violence and atrocity: apartheid.

Ahed Tamimi with her mother Nariman

 

(Photo Credit 1: Middle East Eye / AFP) (Photo Credit 2: Al Jazeera)

Daphne Banai: “From an oppressed people we’ve turned into an oppressive people”

The MachsomWatch is a group of Israeli women volunteers who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as well as the denial of Palestinian rights. They are women taking notes, documenting all the actions that eliminate the humanity of the Palestinians, and advocating for them, calling politicians for support. With their eyes and their voices, they reshape the checkpoints; they show the soldiers the compassion they have lost. The checkpoints are part of the surveillance of a system of separation based on militaristic power.

These women are transnational from within. Their connection with the people who are isolated by a system of separation is the gist of their action. They demand explanation from the blind “kids” (soldiers) who humiliate Palestinians who are just returning home or going to their fields. The Machsom Watch women create a free space that the militaristic state cannot see since the goal is to close up all spaces. But their very presence at the checkpoints forces the Netanyahu government to “see” them; the resisters are acting in the face of oppressive rule, despite their physical vulnerability.

The reality of the checkpoints (Machsom) and the occupation appeared to Daphne Banai, an activist of MachsomWatch, as an impossibility for her enjoyment of life. 70% of the checkpoints are deep inside the territories and so are materially violent disruptors of everyday life. Meanwhile, the justification given to the Israeli public for the presence of checkpoints is precisely to avoid disruption of life because of terrorist attacks.

Daphne Banai explains that when her daughter could have lost her life because of a terrorist attack, she realized that she was on the same side as the Palestinians. All kind of mythologies have created this impossibility to receive the other. Daphne talks about her own mother, a far-right woman who never saw the other side of the story: “She never talked to an Arab person. At her funeral, there were many of my Arab friends.”

Daphne Banai sees the absurdity of the situation for Palestinian refugees to live sometimes just a mile away from their original village. She recalls the time she encountered an old man returning to his home in Palestine from Jordan with a big suitcase. She and her friend offered to drive him to his village, but a curfew had just been established that the old man was unaware of. They arrived at another checkpoint, where despite the old man having all his papers in order, the soldier didn’t want to let him through. They could see his house from the checkpoint. The two women argued with the soldiers for hours, she said. Daphne remembers the conversation, particularly the soldier’s response that he was following orders and he would shoot her if those were the orders. The old man was 80 and that night she was invited to her uncle’s 80th birthday. The old man was now crying; he had no place to spend the night. They managed to go to another village, explained to a family the situation and dropped him off for the night. Then she drove to her uncle’s birthday party and couldn’t stop thinking about the old man crying. The checkpoints are not there for protection; they are there to assert a position of domination guarded by dehumanized robot-type soldiers.

Women’s bodies at the checkpoints brings up layers of meanings, such as the domination over them, their surveillance, and the violence done to them. Their exposure to the ammunition targeting them accentuates the vulnerability of the Palestinian women and children who are humiliated and violated daily. MachsomWatch defies the sexual and economic exploitation that is the basis of surveillance, as it challenges the formation of memorial historical righteousness that make the ethical relation between the self and the other an impossible story. As historian Shlomo Sand asserts, no history is superior to another.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Palestine Primer) (Photo Credit 2:  Flickr / Michael Rose)

Eritrean and Sudanese women asylum seekers protest in Israel

 

Thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese women and children asylum seekers marched through the streets of Tel Aviv today, protesting Israel’s new `immigration policies’ and new `open’ immigrant detention center, Holot.

In September, the Israeli Supreme Court declared Israel’s 2012 Prevention of Infiltration Law unconstitutional. Under that law, an undocumented resident, including asylum seekers and refugees, could be held without trial for up to three years. They were previously held in the notorious Saharonim prison. One of the reasons Saharonim is notorious is the number of infants, toddlers and young children, held for what were basically indefinite periods.

When the Supreme Court declared the law unconstitutional, the State swung into action and, first, passed a new amendment to the law. Under the new legislation, the undocumented, again including asylum seekers and refugees, can only be `detained’ for one year … but they can be held in an `open’ facility indefinitely. Welcome to Holot `open’ facility, where `residents’ can walk outside, but must report for roll call three times a day and can’t seek work. And it’s in the middle of the Negev Desert. It’s a prison.

Last week, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese refugees and asylum seekers went on a three day strike. This affected primarily restaurants, hotels, cafes, and cleaning services. One of the strike organizers, twenty-eight-years-old Eritrean Kidane Isaacs, explained: “The new law basically gives us two choices: be a prisoner indefinitely or self-deport. We have been here for years without any sort of human treatment. We are forgotten, neglected.” In Eritrea, Isaacs experienced torture, imprisonment, forced labor, and more.

Today, the women, and children, by thousands, resumed the public struggle. They chanted, “We are refugees!” They carried placards that read, “We need freedom” and “Stop racism!” As one Eritrean woman, Zabib, explained, “We are seeking asylum. We’re not criminals. Our kids have no legal documents so they don’t have any basic rights. We have no kind of support for us and the kids … we’re in survival mode.”

The women’s formal statement read, “The Israeli government treats us like we aren’t people. We live here without states, without basic rights, without hope and without the ability to support our children with honor. We are not criminals. The Israeli government summons the heads of families to the Holot detention facility in the south, separates women from their husbands, fathers from their children, and breaks families apart. The detention and arrests of asylum seekers destroys the one support we have – the support of our family and our communities.”

No one disputes that Sudan and Eritrea are under repressive regimes, but these women, children, men, somehow, despite that consensus, pose `a threat’ to the State’s Jewish character. Indefinite detention, torture, racism, inhumanity, is the threat, not the “negligible number” of Black African bodies.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube.com)

 

Israel’s `emergency’ stalks Ethiopian women’s bodies

According to a recent report, Israel has been administering Depo-Provera to Ethiopian women without any informed consent. At present, it’s estimated that thousands of Ethiopian women are receiving regular shots. The women never consented to receiving this highly controversial treatment. Many were never told that the shots are contraceptive, and questionable contraceptives at that.

The Ethiopian women started receiving `the treatment’ in the so-called transit camps in Ethiopia. Exactly who originated the program and who runs it now, from the camps in Ethiopia to the clinics in Israel, is under investigation.

Some women say they were told, in the camps, “No shot, no Israel.” Others say they were told it’s a flu shot.

At one level, this news is not new. In 2008, a day care center director noticed a sharp decline in the numbers of Ethiopian children. She went to the nearby clinic and was informed the clinic had been “had been instructed to administer Depo Provera injections to the women of child-bearing age.” They were merely following instructions.

In 2010, the Women and Medical Technologies Project of Isha L’Isha, or Woman to Woman, released a study, “Depo Provera: A contraceptive method given via injection: A report on its prescription policy among women of the Ethiopian community in Israel.” They noted that while Ethiopian women made up 2% of the female population in Israel, of “the mentioned 4833 cases, 2759 (57%) were women of Ethiopian origin.”

The most recent `discovery’ occurred in December of last year, thanks to a documentary made by Sava Reuben, a woman of Ethiopian origin. Reuben has been in Israel since 1984. The `nation’ was shocked. Outcry ensued.

How is one to read this tale of racial, xenophobic, sexist violence against women … all under the sheltering sky of State health policy? In Namibia, South Africa and elsewhere, women have been forcibly sterilized because they were HIV-positive. In Namibia, the women took the State to court … and won: “Non negotiable: my body, my womb, my rights”. In India, Indira Gandhi’s government, in the mid-1970’s, launched a campaign of forced sterilization. It was `the Emergency.’

It’s always `the Emergency.’ From Namibia and South Africa to India to Israel and beyond, it’s always `the Emergency’ and women always pay. Emergency is the state of the modern State. This too is not new. In 1940, Walter Benjamin wrote: “The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight.” Almost sixty years later, Giorgio Agamben commented on Benjamin’s insight: “Walter Benjamin’s diagnosis … has lost none of its relevance. And that is so not really or not only because power no longer has today any form of legitimization other than emergency, and because power everywhere and continuously refers and appeals to emergency as well as laboring secretly to produce it. (How could we not think that a system that can no longer function at all except on the basis of emergency would not also be interested in preserving such an emergency at any price?)”

None of this is new.

What is the price of a permanent State of emergency? Ask the Ethiopian women in Israel. They’ll tell you.

 

(Photo Credit: Care2.com)

Harm’s Way – HMP Styal

An epidemic of self-harm is said to be sweeping the women’s prisons of the United Kingdom: “The number of women deliberately harming themselves in prison has almost doubled in five years…. Officials recorded 12,560 cases of women prisoners injuring themselves – mainly by cutting and burning – last year, equivalent to almost three incidents per inmate. In 2003, 6,437 instances of self-harm were recorded in English prisons, about 1.5 per inmate. Although women make up just five per cent of the prison population in England and Wales, they account for more than half of all self-harming incidents. Many of the women in prison have been convicted of minor crimes, but suffer high levels of mental illness and drug abuse…. A total of 4,291 women are currently in prison, a slight fall on last year, but still nearly double the number held just a decade ago. Research suggests that more women are sent to prison for shoplifting than any other crime. Forty per cent of sentenced women serve just three months or less. More than half of women in prison report they have suffered violence at home, and one in three has suffered sexual abuse. Two-thirds have a neurotic disorder, such as depression, anxiety and phobias.”

Harm does not sweep prisons. Harm overcrowds and chokes prisons. Harm organizes and rules prisons. Prisons are harmful, especially for women.

On Monday, June 22, twenty female prisoners were raped in a prison riot in the central prison of Goma, in the DRC. We are told the men were trying to escape; the men are militia members, in prison for murder, rape, and other major offenses; the prison is meant to hold at most 150 and currently houses 600 prisoners. We are told that rape of women and of men in prison is common. We are told a great deal. Of the women, we are told nothing.

On Tuesday, June 23, the U.S. National Prison Rape Elimination Commission finally released its report. The Executive Summary opens with the harm: “Rape is violent, destructive, and a crime—no less so when the victim is incarcerated. Until recently, however, the public viewed sexual abuse as an inevitable feature of confinement.” The Introduction opens with the haunting: “Sexual abuse is among the most destructive of crimes, brutal and devastating in the moment and carrying the potential to haunt victims forever.” The Commission emphasizes that rape in prison is not inevitable, but it might as well be in a national “culture that jokes about prison rape.”

Rape. Torture. Violence. Guantanamo. The Obama administration considers “issuing an executive order that would authorize the president to incarcerate some terrorism suspects indefinitely.” Not convicted felons. Suspects. Bagram. Twenty-seven former prisoners detailed this week the abuse and torture they suffered and endured in Bagram: “physical abuse, the use of stress positions, excessive heat or cold, unbearably loud noise, being forced to remove clothes in front of female soldiers”. Not one of the former prisoners was ever charged or tried. Suspects. Israel has its own private Guantanamo, Facility 1391, where who knows what goes on. But more generally Israeli security forces have been accused “of deliberately shackling Palestinian prisoners in a painful and dangerous manner, amounting to a form of torture.” Suspects abounding.

Rape. Torture. Violence. These are the Big Stories of the Horror. But hold on. In Arizona, for over a decade, male prisoners have been paraded in public in women’s pink underwear. In the U.S., women prisoners in childbirth are shackled. Casandra Brawley, a former prisoner at the Washington Corrections Center for Women, is taking Washington State to court for having shackled her during childbirth: “Brawley said she was shackled by a metal chain around her stomach during transportation to the hospital, then fastened by a leg iron to a hospital bed throughout several hours of labor. The suit alleges her restraints were removed during an emergency 
cesarean section only after a physician insisted, but then were 
replaced after the procedure.” Calling a woman in labor a security risk is a joke, right? Like prison rape, or making a man undress in front of a woman, or making a man dress like a woman.

In the United Kingdom, forty per cent of sentenced women serve three months or less, and yet somehow manage to `harm themselves’ at a rate of three incidents per inmate. Women prisoners’ self harm is neither epidemic nor outbreak. It’s life. It’s part of the harm of being a woman in a neoliberal political economy. The Corston Report: a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the criminal justice system, a review of women with particular vulnerabilities in the U.K. criminal justice system, said as much in March, 2007.

Behind the Corston Commission Report sits HMP Styal, “one of the largest women’s prisons” in the U.K. Between August 2002 and August 2003, six women died at Styal. Anna Claire Baker, a 29-year-old mother of two, a remand prisoner, was found hanged in her cell in November 2002. Sarah Campbell, 18, took pills, informed the staff she had taken pills, and was promptly left alone in a cell, to stew for a bit. She didn’t stew. She died. So did Julie Walsh, in August 2003. Walsh, a 39-year-old mother-of-two, also died after taking pills. The tragic deaths of these six women at Styal was the impetus of the Corston Commission. According to Nicholas Rheinberg, the Cheshire Coroner who conducted the inquests into the deaths at Styal, “I saw a group of damaged individuals, committing for the most part petty crime for whom imprisonment represented a disproportionate response. That was what particularly struck me with Julie Walsh who had spent the majority of her adult life serving at regular intervals short periods of imprisonment for crimes which represented a social nuisance rather than anything that demanded the most extreme form of punishment. I was greatly saddened by the pathetic individuals who came before me as witnesses who no doubt mirrored the pathetic individuals who had died.” That was then.

This is now. February 27, 2009: “The chief inspector of prisons has warned of more deaths at Styal women’s prison if services for vulnerable inmates do not improve…. John Gunn, brother of Lisa Marley, who died at Styal in January last year, asked: “How many more women have to die before something is done?” What’s that you said about history repeating itself, the first time as tragedy, and thereafter as farce?

Harm is more than injury, it’s “Evil (physical or otherwise) as done to or suffered by some person or thing.” In a world in which women in labor are shackled and sick women are left alone to die, women prisoners’ self harm is simply a structural adjustment, another efficiency. The evil that men do lives after them. So does the harm.

(Photo Credit: https://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/)