Friday, October 30, 2020

How the Israeli Occupation exacerbates gender-based violence in Palestine

By Yehudit Tzfat - September 24, 2019
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [women‘s rights]

Images and illustrations of 21-year-old Israa Ghrayeb — a young, successful makeup artist from Bethlehem— circulated worldwide earlier this month. With the hashtag “We are Israa”, international activists condemned the so-called honour killing of Ghrayeb at the hands of her relatives. 

Her murder revived pressure on actions against gender-based violence in Palestine. 

Demonstrating in the streets across the West Bank, Palestinians called for better protection and justice for women. The situation is plagued by an outdated legal system and patriarchal traditions, but beyond that, a society dominated by Israeli occupation and oppression intensifies violence against women. 

“Violence is around us. Everywhere we see walls, we see wires. We cannot say there is no direct effect from the occupation on violence in Palestine,” said Muna Namura, member of the General Union of Palestinian Women.

“We have to work more than other women’s movements around the world because we have this situation of occupation,” Namura told Palestine Monitor. 

Several studies highlight the link between violence from the Israeli occupation and domestic violence in Palestine. 

A 2013 study on intimate partner violence in Palestine revealed that Palestinian women whose husbands were affected by political violence were 89 per cent more likely to experience physical intimate partner violence (IPV), 47 per cent more likely to experience psychological IPV and 2.2 times more likely to experience sexual IPV.  

A 2011 survey by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) found that an average of 37 per cent of Palestinian women are victims of gender-based violence, and in Gaza, this number increases to 51 per cent. 

In times of direct military conflict, domestic violence surges. Research on violence against women and girls in Gaza found that during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 domestic violence against married women rose to 22 per cent and to 30 per cent for non-married women. And a 2009 survey done by United Nations Women found that Palestinian women reported an increase in violence against them, specifically after the Gaza War from 2008 to 2009. 

Khitam Saafin, president of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees explained how the violent nature of the occupation permeates into domestic life.

“When the occupation's violence is high, then violence against women and children will rise because society will be under pressure and men will be more nervous,” Saafin told Palestine Monitor. 

The UN Populations Fund cites the occupation as adding to Palestine’s problem with gender-based violence. The occupation “contributed to a behavioural dynamic of men being more frustrated, unable to fulfil their expected role in this patriarchal society, as their opportunities to provide and protect...have been very limited,” the UNPF wrote. Decades of occupation has resulted in poor economic prospects and a culture characterised by conflict. 

Violence and vandalism by Israeli settlers and authorities has spiked in recent years. And according to a PCBS report from 1996 to 2016, crime in Palestine has skyrocketed. For instance, reported criminal offences has risen from 6,571 in 1996 to 29,960 in 2016. 

Zoughbi Alzoughbi, Founder and Director of Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, said Palestinians are witnessing more and more violence. 

“I believe some of it is part of this displaced anger,” Alzoughbi said. “We are in a demoralised situation where people are helpless and hopeless.”

Alzoughbi described Palestinians as “hostages” to the occupation's violence but noted that women bear the brunt of it. “We are victims of violence, but women are the most victimised.”

Not only are Palestinian women subjected to harassment and assault by Palestinian men, but by Israelis too. 

The recent killing of a 28-year-old Palestinian woman at the Qalandia checkpoint is just one example of the constant violence inflicted on Palestinian women by Israelis. 

A strategy document released by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs referenced the disturbing incidents Palestinian women experience including giving birth at checkpoints, house demolitions, difficulty accessing health centres, workplaces and universities and strip searches under the guise of security. 

Saafin described how women face two sides to the struggle. “While we are voices calling for full equality for Palestinian women, we also participate in the national struggle,” Saafin said. 

She mentioned how during the protest for Ghrayeb, another demonstration occurred at the UN office calling for Israel to be held accountable for the Sabra and Shatila massacre

Currently, women’s organisations in Palestine are fighting to pass the Family Protection Bill, which is intended to prevent violence and provide protection and empowerment for victims. 

Randa Siniora, General Director of Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, explained that the root of the issue is an absence of a legal framework. 

“The existing legislation is problematic because it is not providing the necessary protection and accountability in cases of violence including femicides,” Siniora said. 

Siniora explained how women’s rights groups have mounted pressure on decision-makers recently to pass the law, but the cabinet has only recommended it for specialised review. 

“There’s progress but there’s a lot of delay,” Siniora said. However, she is confident that the Family Protection Bill will be passed. 

Saafin agrees that more needs to be done when it comes to protective legislation.

“We have promises but I believe that there are a lot of powers working against new laws because traditional powers in the society are strong,” Saafin said. 

Yet human rights organisers like Alzoughbi stress that changing legislation isn’t enough. 

“We need to also get rid of the shame-based society,” Alzoughbi said. “Otherwise we will be prisoners of the past.” He notes that the educational system and media throughout the Arab World must change.

But while tradition and toxic masculinity endure, the occupation’s violence only makes the issue more apparent. 

“The situation is not calm, it is not at peace. It is not normal, so abnormal conditions create abnormal behaviour,” Alzoughbi said.


Lead Image: Palestinians march from Bethlehem to Beit Sahour in protest of the murder of Israa Ghrayeb, who was allegedly honour killed by family members.

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