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Palestinian women reaffirming identity and contextualising their struggle in the Naqab

March 29, 2014 at 3:57 pm

The indigenous Palestinian population who remained within the State of Israel following the Nakba (‘catastrophe’) now number around one million. The multi-faceted systems of oppression under which they live are more and more often today being recognized as policies of Apartheid internationally. For Palestinians in this community, who are in many cases themselves internally displaced persons (IDPs), Israel’s colonial ‘divide and conquer’ policies continually strive for further fragmentation. From current Knesset legislation attempting to reclassify Palestinian Christians as ‘non-Arabs’ to mass displacement attempts aimed at specific areas and communities, these policies are aimed at breaking down Palestinian identity, resilience and existence itself.

Under such oppressive circumstances, Palestinians continue to seek and develop various channels through which identity can be reaffirmed and education and awareness can be raised in a state in which access to effective education and health care, amongst many other basic rights, all to often are dictated by identity – or more accurately, depending on whether the ‘citizen’ is Jewish or Palestinian-Arab.

Almost 180,000 Palestinian Bedouin live in the Naqab today, many of whom live in one of Israel’s ‘unrecognised villages’ which do not exist on Israeli maps and have no access to national infrastructure such as health care, education, power grids and even water. Many of these villages are in the process of being wiped out altogether within the ‘Prawer Plan’ which once implemented will lead to the forced displacement of up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouin (*according to Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel).

Women in these areas posses the highest illiteracy rates in the country, and it was to address their needs specifically that grassroots NGO Sidreh was established in 1998 from women within the Bedouin community themselves. Sidreh has 4 main focusses of its work – Education; Social Empowerment; Media Awareness and Advocacy; and Economic Development. Within the Economic Development strand of Sidreh’s work, the Lakiya Weaving Project works with women from both unrecognised villages and also the officially recognized yet poverty-striken Palestinian villages and towns in the area. These women share, develop and harness traditional Bedouin weaving skills to produce traditional rugs, bags and pillow cases within their own cooperative to support their own communities. Lakiya Weaving Project has almost reached its goal of 100% self-sustainability which it sees as clear proof that Palestinian Bedouin women must become ‘agents of their own development’.

Whilst aimed specifically at women, the projects implemented by Sidreh and other Palestinian-led civil society actors in the Naqab do not shy away from the wider political context of Israel’s oppression against its Palestinian citizens. They see their work as two-fold in this context – the struggle for women’s rights is part of the struggle for collective Palestinian rights rather than a decontextualised unique struggle. Palestinian women can never realise their full rights within a state that is rooted in Apartheid policies.

MEMO Photographer: Rich Wiles

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