- Militarization and Violence against Women in Conflict Zones in the Middle East: A Palestinian Case-Study
As wars, occupations, and militarization inflict hundreds of thousands of casualties throughout the world, scholars, and activists alike try to explain causes, consequences, and ways to halt the onslaught. It is no exaggeration to claim that there is a knowledge explosion in this area. This body of knowledge embodies a unique feature; it has forced an integrated approach to theory and practice and, hence, has contributed to the emergence of substantial reports by women's groups, UN-based organizations, or human rights groups, among them Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The reports detail statistical information, policy analysis, theoretical debates, and map out practical solutions to address peace and rights. At the core of these studies is violence against women with a focus on understanding ways through which institutions such as the state, military, market, civil society, community, family, or religion affect women. Shalhoub-Kevorkian's book is a contribution to this nascent body of research.
Palestinian women "frontliners" who are both "warriors and resisters" (p. 1) are the voices and images depicted in this book. Shalhoub-Kevorkian, herself a Palestinian frontliner, relates stories of land confiscations, house demolitions, invasions, imprisonments, torture, and the "securitization" of Palestinian women by the state of Israel. She also depicts a powerful image of resistance and intervention by these women. As a feminist scholar-activist and a clinical therapist with deep knowledge of legal structures, Shalhoub-Kevorkian narrates the "multilayered suffering" (p. 12) of women with a keen analytical/critical eye on masculinity, nationalism, patriarchy, religious fundamentalisms, colonialism, racism, and orientalism. The compelling, nonetheless, complex tale of suffering and struggle is told in five chapters under intriguing titles such as "Violent translations: women, war, and narrative in conflict zones" (pp. 41-76), "Veiled powers: conceptualizing woman and/as the 'nation'" (pp. 77-111), "Women frontliners in conflict zones: a genealogy of weaponization," (pp. 112-149), "Speaking truth to power: voices of Palestinian women facing the Wall" (pp. 150-186), and "Ruminations of final thoughts: women in-between" (pp. 187-213).
Shalhoub-Kevorkian repeatedly reminds us that her objective is to research 'silences' "... not to speak for those who have been silenced, but rather to make available alternative language ..." that she deems relevant to expose the "West's inattentiveness or refusal to hear these voices" (p. 30). However, I wonder how we can hear the "silences" [End Page 178] through thick and convoluted theorization of culture, space, agency, and subalternity. At times even theoretical digression makes "silences" disappear. Decades of documentation of the voices of Palestinian women collected in the process of "action oriented research, participatory observations, clinical examinations and interventions, focus groups, and visits to site with women ..." (p. 23) flee the pages, as the author enforces theoretical explanation onto them. She reminds us "Palestinian women's voices should never be analysed without a close examination of the intersection between Israeli violence, social patriarchy, nationalist ideologies, the global denial of the Palestinian situation, and the various layers of oppression within this situation" (p. 21). However, this call for historical, intersectional, political, and global structural analysis is obscured through a detached or disjointed cultural explanation. Another example is the notion of Empire, which has been used as a transhistorical category from the Ottoman Empire to the US Empire today. We should ask, then, how the notion of Empire assists us in understanding the state of Israel's ties to Western Imperialist powers, in particular the United States?
The author's intellectual capacity and wealth of experience is impressive. These very qualities are indispensible for a deeper understanding of imperialism, patriarchal capitalism, imperialist wars, occupations, and violence waged against women globally but more intensely in Palestine. While this book does not meet such expectations, it nonetheless deserves to be read, for, among other things, it identifies spaces, places, and cases where critical, anti-racist, and anticapitalist feminists could gain better understanding of...