Women of Gaza: Interview with Islah Jad


Islah Jad is a Ph.D holder from SOAS (School of African and Asian Studies), University of London.  She lectures on gender and politics in the Women’s Studies Institute and Cultural Studies Department, Bir Zeit University, Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine.

Rochelle Jones: Israel’s attacks on Gaza have taken a heavy toll.  What is your understanding and analysis of the situation at the moment?

Islah Jad: The war situation in Gaza is another episode of a long series of wars and violence against the Palestinian people since their collective expulsion from their homes in 1948 to create and establish the state of Israel to solve what the Zionist Movement called the “Jewish problem.”  Zionists saw that the solution for the persecution of Jews in Europe is to establish a Jewish Homeland, and a state later on, on Palestinian land.  This led to the expulsion of more than one million Palestinians now dispersed all over the globe.  In Gaza, the majority of the population are refugees from villages and cities now inside Israel and close to Gaza (Majdal, Askalan, Ramleh, etc.).

Gazans endured and are still enduring non-stop wars that started by their expulsion in 1948, with Israeli planes attacking refugees in their march to find a secure place to stay; followed by the formation of Unit 101 headed at that time by the young officer Ariel Sharon who launched a non-stop war against Gaza refugees in 1951; then the attack on Gaza of 1956; then the 1967 war that put Gaza under the Israeli control after it was under the Egyptian administration.  Between 1970-1971, Sharon launched another war on Palestinian refugee camps to root out some Palestinian militants through which he demolished hundreds of poor people’s houses in the refugee camps to make roads for the Israeli tanks.  In 1987, the Palestinian uprising took place — starting from Gaza — and the West Bank followed.

Since then, Gazans have been under continuous Israeli attack, siege, and oppression.  The situation was aggravated after the second legislative election in January 2006 when the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) was pressured by the Palestinian authorities and the Americans to join the elections.  Hamas made a terrible mistake by winning the elections — they won more than 70% of Parliament seats, heavily supported by the voters for their clean hand and for their national and political agenda.  Since then, the Israelis have imposed siege on all Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza.  The Palestinian Authorities, seen as “moderates” and supported by the Americans and some Arab regimes such as Egypt, persecuted Hamas and their supporters by closing down their offices, newspapers, and journals.  In addition, large numbers of their members and supporters were put in Palestinian jails and some of their leaders were assassinated by Israelis.

In June 2007, Hamas in Gaza took power when the Americans and Israelis refused a national unity government with Hamas and the persecution intensified against the movement.  Since the takeover of power by Hamas, a draconian siege was imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt.  A conflict erupted when Israel kept targeting Hamas leaders and members by its policy of assassination.  Egypt brokered a “ceasefire” according to which Hamas stops firing locally made rockets against Israel and Israel stops its aggression and opens the borders to allow food, supplies, electricity, water, and fuel to Gaza.  Israel never respected the truce and kept intensifying its siege.  Israel was killing Gazans slowly and continued attacking and killing Palestinians in Gaza and in the West Bank, which led the Hamas government in Gaza to end the truce and resume its rockets against Israel.  On December 27, 2008, Israel launched a total war against Gazans to destroy all infrastructure and displace thousands of families on the Rafah border (with Egypt).

The war is then just another episode in a long series of wars as part of a systematic Israeli policy to rid the Palestinians of their land and expel them to enlarge the pure Jewish state.  It is just another round of a continuous colonial policy to get rid of the Palestinian natives and control the land of Palestine.

RJ: How has it impacted you personally?

IJ: The lack of security affects every Palestinian.  Me personally — I had to give birth to my youngest daughter before my due time because the Israeli Military Government refused to renew my visa in Ramallah, West Bank.  That was in 1982 when the West Bank was under direct Israeli military rule.  I was suffering from pre-eclampsia when the Military governor forced me to leave the country to renew my papers.

My university, Bir Zeit, where I teach has been closed by Israeli military orders more than 14 times, and it was closed completely for four years from 1988 to 1992.  Many of our students were killed by the Israeli forces; many are in the Israeli jails.  We have lots of difficulty importing books to our university — they have to be left in Israeli ports for months before reaching us; we have to pay high taxes to get our books and lab materials.  Since 1998 I can no longer conduct research in the Gaza Strip — we have to communicate via video conference or phones.  The university lost all students coming from Gaza.

I have some graduate students from Gaza who are registered in the MA program on Gender and Development but cannot finish their studies because they cannot reach the Women’s Studies Institute I am directing.  Since 1992 I cannot reach the Arab part of Jerusalem, which is the second holy place for all Muslims around the world.  Jerusalem is an important health, education, commercial, and religious center for all Palestinians.  I cannot reach Nablus south of Ramallah or Jenin without waiting for hours at the more than 700 Israeli checkpoints that separate all Palestinian cities from one another and all Palestinian villages from one another and from cities too.

RJ: How are Palestinian women in Gaza being impacted by the current crisis?

IJ: Palestinian women in Gaza are devastated, by all measures.  All of what we see on TV screens is weeping women over the coffins of their beloved children.  Women in Gaza have had no water, electricity, food, medicine, heat, fuel, or shelter since the beginning of the war on Gaza on Dec 27th.  Women have to fetch water, wood, food, and shelter for their families.  Many women are seen digging through the rubble of their destroyed homes to look for their buried children.  Two mothers were killed and their young kids were hanging onto their bodies for four days with no food or water until the Red Cross reached their home.

Whole families have been exterminated by Israeli artillery from air, sea, and ground.  The example of the Samouni family is just one case.  The Samouni family work on their agricultural land on the outskirts of Gaza — it is a big extended family.  The Israeli army asked the family last week to stay together in one house.  More than 160 gathered together, and once they were all settled in one house, the army opened fire, killing instantly 30 people — mostly women and children.

Tens of houses have been destroyed on their inhabitant’s heads.  Many families moved to empty schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), but the Israeli artillery followed them in their new refuge and killed, in one example 42 Palestinians — again mostly women and children.  This led the UNRWA director in Gaza to ask for an international investigation to document the so many war crimes committed against the civilians in Gaza.

RJ: Is there any solidarity and action coming from Israeli women’s rights activists?

IJ: Up to the moment of writing of this text, the war on Gaza is approved by 91% of the Israeli public.  A few Israeli organizations are making efforts to stand by the Palestinians, in particular Physicians for Human Rights.   Israeli women’s organizations at large did not move a finger to denounce the war crimes committed by their army and government against the Palestinian women and children.  To this moment 930 Palestinians have been killed — 292 of them are children (32%) and 75 women (8.2%).  However, no Israeli organizations for women or children have taken a clear cut position against this crazy war.

In such situations the brunt of the war and re-organization of the social fabric is left to women.  Again, Palestinian women will be busy making ends meet with the rising level of poverty and unemployment.  All the dreams about law reform, strategic gender needs, and mainstreaming gender . . . all will be on the shelves for years to come.

RJ: I have read about a planned demonstration in Israel against the Gaza operation organized by a collective of Israeli women’s organizations.1  Do you know if this took place?

IJ: As far as I know the only big demonstration in Israel was initiated by Palestinians inside Israel.  If the mentioned demonstration will take place, we are talking about a late initiative that allowed a criminal war to go on for about 20 days now during which all sorts of destruction have been inflicted on Palestinian civilians.  In any case, it is very good to hear about this initiative and good to see some women are approaching Livni to change her mind.  I do hope that these small groups and weak voices inside Israel will have the chance to develop their power and make their voices heard among the Israeli public, after all, the Israeli soldiers who kill Palestinians with cold blood are the sons of mothers and husbands of wives, etc. . . .  I would like to hear a call from all of these women to urge their men to stop killing and refuse executing orders.

RJ: Palestinian women have been demonstrating in Gaza — what impact have these brave demonstrations had — and do you know of any other strategies women are using to mobilize and raise their voices against the violence?

IJ: Many women in Gaza have risked their lives to save the besieged “targeted” groups in Gaza.  Women, through their mass mobilization, managed to save many houses from being demolished by Israeli artillery.  Women are mobilized to provide vital emergency services for women in Gaza.  Women are also active in the media and mass communication to make their voices heard against this war.

RJ: This protracted conflict seems to never end.  So many strategies have been employed in the past to bring about peace — what do you think is the right path?

IJ: Very simple.  More than 15 Security Council resolutions have been issued since 1948 to solve all aspects of the Palestinian cause that include the status of Jerusalem, borders, land, refugees, water, and natural resources and a state for the Palestinians.  None of these resolutions have been implemented including the last one — number 1860 — that was issued on January 8, 2009, asking for an immediate ceasefire.  To this moment the killing is business as usual because Israel has never abided by any UN resolution and has never been punished for not implementing any of these resolutions.  It is about time to sanction and boycott the state of Israel to force this state to abide by the UN resolutions and the international community.  Boycott Israeli academics, artists, sports clubs, individuals, products, and visitors.

1  See Gil Ronen, “Women’s Groups Organizing ‘Huge Rally’ against Gaza Operation” (Arutz Sheva, 31 December 2008) for the full article about the proposed demonstration.

This article was first published by the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) on 16 January 2009 under a Creative Commons license.