- Women and Islamism in Israel
This article explores the rise of Islamism in Israel, reviews its effect on women’s status and their public roles, and examines the different ways women participate in the movement.1 It also examines the interrelationship of nationalism, feminism, and Islamism in Palestinian women’s experiences in the public sphere as part of an ethnic minority in a Jewish state. I argue that facing state challenges, as well as Palestinian secular parties, the Islamic Movement in Israel (Al-Haraka al-Islamiyya, subsequently referred to as the im) has adopted a contradictory policy toward gender issues; it invokes modernism and yet it emphasizes religiosity/traditionalism. A second argument is that while “fundamentalism” and patriarchy support each other and the combination has a negative impact on women’s activism, my research shows that women in the im were mobilized and the public-private dichotomy was cracked open; women were mobilized in the public arena but they remained largely invisible from positions of power in the movement. I examine multiple subjects including im women in politics, the feminist-nationalist debate, polygamy and fertility, and the hijab to show how traditional/religious values of the im survive and yet have been shaken by the wave of modernization that has been influencing the movement. The result: contradictions in the movement’s practices and discourses.
While the 1980s saw an increase in the study of the Palestinian minority in Israel, research on the women of this minority continued to be highly marginalized. There has been a scarcity of research on women’s activism in the im and their voices have been silent. This essay is aimed at taking the first steps to examine this important topic.
The article is based on my previous research, available literature, im publications, and in-depth interviews conducted between 2013 and 2015 with im female activists, Palestinian Muslim and non-Muslim activists, policy makers, [End Page 21] and religious leaders in Israel, to examine the different forms of their social involvement and activism.2
An examination of the role of Palestinian women in the im in Israel has to be framed within the larger national political context of being a part of an ethnic, national, and religious minority in a Jewish state, and the different factors—stemming from four circles: Muslim, Arab, Palestinian, and Israeli—that form the identity of the im.3 Historically, Palestinian women were activists long before the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe), but their connection to that legacy was shockingly severed after the 1948 war. In Israel the dramatic historical-national-political circumstances delayed Palestinian women’s activism and the rebirth of women and feminist organizations in Israel.4 Further, Israel’s new government viewed the remaining Palestinian minority as a security risk and imposed military rule (1948–66). Palestinian citizens endured military restrictions and regulations and were prohibited from forming political organizations outside the Zionist parties. The Muslim Brothers (mb) who operated in Palestine prior to 1948 suffered a major setback; all their institutions in the newly formed Jewish state were shut down. The movement was suppressed and was unable to recover.5 Moreover, the Arab leadership fled, Palestinians in Israel were left without religious guidance or religious courts, and access to Islam was hindered.6 By Israeli law the Communist Party of Israel (later the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, dfpe) was the only non-Zionist party that was allowed to function in Israel.7
An Islamic revival in Israel took place following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip after the 1967 war. With renewed contact between Palestinians in Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, the Islamic Movement began penetrating the Triangle area in Israel.8 Several Israeli scholars argue that while Islamism in Israel is part of the general awakening of the 1970s Islamic revival in the Middle East, it has special characteristics. It is rooted in the particular experience of the Islamic Movement as part of an Arab minority in a Jewish state with clear Jewish political and cultural hegemony.9 Raphael Israeli suggests that Islamization was a way to escape the marginalization and hostility of...