Colonial occupation and patriarchy in Palestine: interview with Ruba Odeh

Palestinian activist Ruba Odeh spoke with Capire about women’s struggles against the occupation of their territories.

January 12, 2021 by Capire

The Capire team spoke with Ruba Odeh, from the International Committee of the World March of Women representing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and member of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), about the Israeli colonial occupation in Palestine. Israel in its illegal occupation uses violent methods such as the destruction of houses and agriculture, and has been carrying carrying out a systematic genocide. In this interview, Ruba talked about the life of Palestinian women during the COVID-19 pandemic, the criminalization of social struggles and the common challenges and struggles of women from the MENA region, highlighting challenges for international grassroots feminism.

The UPWC is a feminist, progressive, and civil grassroots organization, established in 1980. They fight to ensure positive affirmation of women within all the laws active in Palestine. It also considers itself part of the Palestinian national movement that struggles against the Israeli occupation to achieve national independence. Below is the interview with Ruba:

Capire: We would like to talk first about Palestine. How can we characterize, today, Israel’s colonialist policy in Palestine? 

Ruba Odeh: Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital, is still under prolonged Israeli occupation, in violation of the rules of International Law. The occupation precludes the independence, sovereignty, and development of the Palestinian people. It obstructs Palestinian men and women’s access to their natural and inherent rights, just as the right of return, self-determination and establishment of a fully sovereign State of Palestine. The Israeli occupation continues to implement systematic policies with the aim of displacing indigenous Palestinians from their land. Using brutal military force, Israel has maintained the annexation of Palestinian territories, appropriation of natural resources, forced displacement, willful killing, siege, closure, and restriction of freedom of movement.

Women, especially those living in areas under the full control of the occupation, face many problems due to the Israeli occupation and the consequent closed areas. Most of these territories have been allocated for the benefit of Israeli settlements and the Israeli military, increasing violations and attacks on livelihoods of Palestinian communities, with significant consequences for the entire West Bank population. People live under uncertainty and threat, being compelled to leave.

Capire: What have these policies meant for women during the COVID-19 pandemic?

RO: In Palestine, the danger is not limited to COVID-19, but the continuation of the Israeli occupation and its oppressive policies that were deepened during the pandemic. Israel announced, in May 2020, its annexation policy, which includes the decision of the occupation government to annex some of the West Bank territories. This was in contradiction with the international call, from the United Nations, to stop conflicts in all parts of the world to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Gaza Strip, under siege since 2006, suffered double isolation during the pandemic, isolated from the West Bank and the world because of the policy of isolation imposed by the Israeli occupation. The successive operations of the Israeli military cause destruction, poverty, worsening health conditions and increasing violence, especially against women and girls. The colonial settler occupation, combined with patriarchy, reinforces women’s oppression in Palestine.

During the pandemic, government care centers were suspended, with great impact on women’s lives, especially because there were no alternative services to provide primary and also reproductive healthcare. Palestinian women and girls are at risk of various forms of violence, from domestic violence, sexual harassment, rape, so-called honor crimes, to denial of resources and forced marriage. The occupation is a factor that perpetuates gender-based violence in the Palestinian community. Women workers constitute a significant proportion of women who face this reality and are also the ones who advance the women’s struggle for equality and dignity. With the increase of domestic violence during the pandemic, many impacts can be highlighted, such as health issues on pregnant women, sexual diseases and unsafe abortion.

Palestinian women bear the weight of compound violence, the violence of occupation and family violence, displacement from the land, the policies of apartheid and the siege of the Gaza Strip. They face the challenge of confrontation and steadfastness against the two viruses, the Zionist occupation and the Coronavirus. This began to show the depth of the political and economic disaster that Palestine reached at all levels, especially on the economic level.

We are suffering from the brutality of the occupation, arrests, daily raids, demolishing places of residence, failure to provide the slightest means of health protection from the epidemic. There is a silence of media coverage on the situation of the Palestinians who live directly under the authority of the Zionist occupation, especially of the situation of political prisoners. There are now 5,000 prisoners in the prisons of the Israeli occupation, including 41 women and more than 200 children under poor sanitary conditions, increasing the concern about COVID-19 spread among them.

Capire: Could you tell us about the criminalization mechanisms used by Israel against Palestine citizens, especially women?

RO: Palestinian women have suffered, directly or indirectly, from the horrors of the occupation, since the 1948 Nakba to the present day. The continued attacks of the Israeli occupation have led to the deterioration of the humanitarian, social, economic and security conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories and the Gaza Strip, and to negatively and directly affect the conditions of Palestinian women in terms of safety and security, economic and political participation, and women’s ability to obtain basic services, like health and education. Women are objected to criminal mechanisms used by the occupation and violations on a daily basis, such as: the restriction of the freedom of movement and of the right to health, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, deaths in custody, forced evictions, and the violation of freedom of expression. Women are also subjected to poor conditions in detention facilities which have become even greater of a concern in light of the spread of COVID-19. Brutal detention methods are practiced by the occupation army during the arrest operations and the illegal transfer of female prisoners to prisons inside Israel (such as Hasharon Prison), where in most cases the prisoners are prevented from communicating with their families, and they are held in unqualified prisons. Women often undergo threats, and physical, psychological and sexual harassment that have long-term negative effects.

Israeli settlers carry out violence against residents who live in places close to the occupied land that affects all aspects of the daily life of citizens, especially women and children, who suffer from restrictions on their movement, restricts their access to schools and universities, and a normal and safe life. Many cases of night raids have been documented by the Research Centers who have highlighted the psychological and social implications of these incursions wherein the security of Palestinian families is destabilized, children are intimidated, property is destroyed, and family members are detained using police dogs, bombs, incursions weapons and other means.

Capire: How is the region impacted by the economic interests of transnational corporations and imperialism?

Economic and social policies in our countries are based on submission and subordination to centers of global capital. They are both the product and the continuous nourishment to feminize poverty and hunger, spread unemployment, sustain illiteracy and violence against women.

The owners of capital accumulate more and more wealth and power, while they destroy nature, violate and expel people from the places where they have lived all their lives. This power possesses many tools to put countries and their resources at the service of profits and not at the service of people’s lives. The privatization of public services is a tool of austerity policies led by the World Bank in many countries, which are responsible for weakening public health services – which collapsed in this epidemic. We resist free trade, and we fight for the integration of the peoples. We know that work can be less costly only if the workers do not have rights, face long working hours and are paid low wages.

Weaponized conflicts, direct colonization, and neoliberal interventions have had an immeasurable human toll on a global level, with unprecedented numbers of immigrants and refugees inside and outside the area. More than half of the world’s refugees currently come from the MENA region. The perpetual settler colonialism and land grabbing in Palestine has created many refugees as residents, children, and women are constantly being uprooted under the watchful eye of the international community. Whole civilizations, indigenous peoples and cities have been destroyed by the capitalist war machine under many titles.

This is true for us facing the escalating Zionist and imperialist plots against the Palestinian people, but also we see this with the intensification of sectarian violence against Iraqi people, threats to the gains of the revolution in Tunisia, flagrant violations of rights and freedoms in Morocco, arrests and torture against the Kurdish people and their political prisoners by the reactionary regime in Turkey, the terrible tragedy that has affected the Lebanese people as a result of the explosion of the Beirut Port and the floods that have ravaged Sudan and its people and led to mass destruction where housing, land, and lives have been damaged.

Capire: What can women and the social movements worldwide do to strengthen your struggles for self-determination?

RO: The social movements worldwide have played an important role in light of the absence or decline of the role of the official authorities, the states and political parties. It has increased the responsibility towards political and social solidarity, which include fighting exploitation, monopoly, commodification, consumption imposed by the current economic system and economic practices. The boycott movement (BDS Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) has become a powerful weapon in the face of dangerous attempts and projects of normalization at the Palestinian, Arab and international levels. This normalization is more dangerous when combined with the “Deal of the Century” that aims to liquidate all components of the Palestinian cause, including the right of refugees to return to their homes from where they were displaced, and the Palestinians’ right to self-determination in freedom and dignity, including our right to establish our free, independent and fully sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital.

We need to increase activities of BDS movement and to escalate the solidarity movement with our people in their struggle, to withdraw investments from the occupation state, colonial settlement and the apartheid system that this occupation created, and to oppose normalization. It means to resist and isolate the Israeli colonial and racist regime. What is needed now is to embrace the Palestinian struggle and to show solidarity with our fair cause, and to stand by the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination.

Capire: What are women from the Middle East and North Africa doing to create the conditions and advance feminist organizations and their struggles for freedom and self determination? 

RO: Despite the different political patterns of each country in the region, and despite the different history and geography of one country to another, the challenges faced by women in our region remain the same. We face the patriarchal social system that imposes hierarchies, making women vulnerable to exploitation and violence because of the traditional distribution of roles imposed by this system, in which religion is often used severely to justify discrimination and the legalization of violence. Women are under the pressure of reactionary regimes and their neoliberal policies that use women as fuel for their continuity. Women in Palestine are subject to the occupation’s crimes in a more severe manner, but this oppression is then faced by all of the women of the region due to the connections and mutual interests among the prevalent regimes, imperialism and the occupation. The COVID-19 pandemic has also had many dire and similar reflections on the women of the region, such as increased violence, income loss and widespread poverty.

In light of the unity of suffering and the unity of destiny among the women of the region our coordination, the World March of Women, has big tasks ahead, because it unifies these struggles in a platform that is anti-patriarchal, anti-capitalist, anti-racism, anti-occupation and against all kinds of exploitation and discrimination.

We are making the feminist struggle a primary source for the peoples’ struggles for liberation, and the achievement of social justice and equality under the World March of Women’s slogan “We resist to live, and we march to transform.” Realizing all of the hurdles and challenges to overcome, we are continuing our fight and reaffirming our struggles against the political and economic choices of our systems and the penetration of the savage transnational capital, which is ravaging all areas of life.

We are committed to our right to live in a healthy environment, conscious of the impact of climate change on women and their livelihoods, aware of the lack of water resources, their lack of wealth and land ownership. That’s why we demand laws that guarantee equal inheritance to ensure women’s access to land and the public resources of the state.

We uphold our right to a popular education and a national culture to establish a society that is non-discriminatory and based on a culture of equality. And we uphold our right to protect and enhance the quality of the public health sector and enjoy support and promotion to ensure universal health coverage and the right to healthcare, including the right to abortion and sexual and reproductive rights.

We have been working for our food sovereignty, which is an integral part of national sovereignty, as it strengthens local and national economies. This includes the priority of family and peasants farming, traditional fishing methods and raising livestock based on pastures, in addition to methods of food production, distribution and consumption that are based on the principle of environmental, social and economic sustainability, which is the alternative path that establishes new social relations free from all forms of persecution and discrimination on the basis of gender or affiliation, as well as ethnicity, social class, or age.

In the same sense, the World March of Women is bound to absolute and unconditional support for the women and people of Palestine in their struggle against the last bastions of settlement colonialism, standing side by side against the “Deal of Century” and Arab normalization, closing the gate of the shameful collapse of the regimes and their traitorous and loyal followers.

In the region, women are still fighting to live, and live for change for a better tomorrow in which the peoples of the region live without occupation or tyranny, in which gender equality is achieved and the peoples achieve self-determination at all levels, enjoy their rights to healthcare and free and good education, and to protect its local culture.

Original publication by Capire.

Capire is media platform created in 2021 to echo the voices of women in movement, to publicize the struggles and organizational processes from different territories, and to strengthen local and international references of anti-capitalist, anti-racist, grassroots feminism. It is an initiative coordinated by the World March of Women, in dialogue with women of ally movements, such as La Via Campesina and Friends of the Earth International, and organizations that are part of the Strengthening Grassroots Feminisms project.