- Palestinian Women and Politics in Israel
The story of Palestinian women has been told numerous times and from various perspectives. Interest in this issue revolved around the wider debate concerning the relationship of gender consciousness to the forces of nationalism. However, another segment of the Palestinian population, namely [End Page 676] women —the Arab minority living within Israel who experience the double burden of gender alienation and minority marginalization —remained hidden from view.
Our understanding of the nature of the Palestinian gender issue finally has been enhanced, thanks to Suheir A.O. Daoud's work. This book corrects many scholarly myths regarding the vaunted claims of Israeli democracy and generalized notions of the eternal Arab patriarchal system. Relying on extensive interviews with Palestinian women, Daoud analyzes the changing fortunes of this minority as it confronts harsh political and sociological realities. Her respondents assure her over and over again that not only Palestinian women, but also Palestinian males are marginalized by the Israeli power structure which accords them a limited representation on election party lists. The response of both men and women to these Israeli practices has been simply to focus on the municipal arena as the most accessible step on the political ladder of national political participation.
Palestinian women belatedly have discovered the value of university education as a liberator of age-old societal inhibitions. Consequently, women have improved their status perceptibly as they proved themselves worthy allies of the male population in its endless struggle against Israeli land confiscations and subtle racist practices. Political organizations were not barred to them, but apparently this rarely translated into permanent gains. Palestinian women have made their presence known in the Communist-inspired Democratic Women's Movement, Na'amat, or the Histadrut's branch for women, as well as within new Islamic groups and the Likud Party. Organizations such as Na'amat not only encouraged women to vote for the Labor Party, they also discouraged any discussion of the national issue. The same goes for the Likud and the small number of Palestinian women who were largely recruited in Druze villages by the Women's International Zionist Organization. Female Palestinian leaders, however, were nurtured by the Islamic Movement in Nazareth. The first Palestinian intifada opened new opportunities for the engagement of female leaders in national activities which crossed gender lines.
Daoud also deals with the impact of the Israeli feminist movement on the women of the Palestinian minority. After enunciating the legal and theological challenges facing Jewish women, she delves into the complex ethnic divisions within Israeli society which stretch beyond the Arab-Jewish divide. She makes it very clear that organized Jewish women's groups never encouraged Arab women to challenge the patriarchal system and limited their support to the question of domestic violence. Na'amat focused mainly on providing job training. The narrow reach of the Jewish feminists, in her view, was due to the nature of their leadership, mainly drawn from Ashkenazi upper class ranks and mostly inspired by Western gender campaigns. Jewish women of Mizrahi, or oriental, background were ignored until the 1970s as a result of their community's civil rights struggle. The impact of this movement on Palestinian women, nevertheless, remains limited as the Mizrahi women persist in their role as unconscious oppressors of the weaker members of the Arab minority. Palestinian feminism is also challenged by the confusing trajectory of the Islamic Movement, which is encouraging the wearing of the hijab, while at the same time supporting female candidates in municipal elections. Attempts to organize a Council of Palestinian Women have failed as these wavered between a nationalist, feminist, secular, religious, or civil rights agenda. They also quarreled over the inclusion of women affiliated with Zionist parties.
This is a pioneering study which forces us to view the Palestinian gender issue in a completely new light. It is also a valuable work since it illuminates larger questions pertaining to...