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On International Women's Day, remember all women suffering under occupation

March 8, 2022 at 11:11 am

Ukrainian parliamentarian Kira Ruddik [kiraincongress/Twitter]

Ukrainian parliamentarian Kira Ruddik has expressed her surprise on Twitter that she has learnt how to use a Kalashnikov assault rifle and prepared herself to bear arms. “It sounds surreal as just a few days ago it would never come to my mind. Our women will protect our soil the same way as our men. Go Ukraine.” A picture taken inside her home shows an array of weapons as she confirms her willingness to join the ranks of the fighters defending her country against the Russian invasion.

On International Women’s Day, it is pertinent to say that the world is watching in awe as Ukrainian women demonstrate their bravery and resilience. Social media, websites and TV news bulletins are filled with images symbolic of their steadfastness and courage. As a Palestinian woman, I can empathise with their situation, but I have to ask why it is acceptable for women in Ukraine to take up arms against the invasion and occupation of their country, but my Palestinian sisters and I are denounced as “terrorists” if we do the same for our occupied homeland.

Ukrainian parliamentarian Kira Ruddik [cogman_bryan/Twitter]

Ukrainian parliamentarian Kira Ruddik [cogman_bryan/Twitter]

Its support for Ukraine and its women tells us that the West can condemn an occupation when it wants to. Do we, though, really need to remind the international community about the life of Palestinian women under Israel’s brutal military occupation? Palestinian women struggle against oppression and injustice in occupied Palestine and the diaspora. They are deprived of their right to life, freedom of movement, security and liberty, while Israel imposes apartheid with a wide range of discriminatory laws and policies that are intended to erase the presence of the Palestinian people, women included. Ethnic cleansing is alive and well, and practised by Israel every day.

Since the second phase of the Israeli occupation started in June 1967, more than 16,000 Palestinian women have been detained by the colonial state. The Palestinian Commission for Prisoners’ Affairs puts the number of Palestinian women currently in Israeli prisons at 32. Palestinian women prisoners are subjected to many forms of physical and psychological ill-treatment, starting with their arrest. Many stories and names are hidden behind bars, with brave women such as Israa Jaabis, Fadwa Hamadah, Jihan Hashemah, Nourhan Awad, Maysoon Musa and Shatila Abu Ayada. They stand tall as defenders of their country against Israeli occupation.

Israa Jaabis: From victim to criminal, overnight

While the world is justified in highlighting the bravery of Ukrainian women, their Palestinian sisters in the Gaza Strip face life under Israeli occupation and siege. Too many have struggled to bring their children up as fine young men and women, only for an Israeli sniper or drone operator to snuff their lives out in an instant of murderous brutality. Yet others have seen their children arrested and tortured by Israeli soldiers, not knowing when or if they will see them again. This is the daily reality of life in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. In the bleak Palestinian refugee camps in occupied Palestine and neighbouring countries, it is the women who hold families together, despite the appalling conditions in which they are forced to live.

On International Women’s Day, it is appropriate to acknowledge their heroic struggle, which in itself is an act of resistance against the Israeli occupation. Is the international community going to wake up to this fact, and act accordingly to end the occupation?

A photo has gone viral on social media showing a Ukrainian woman confronting Russian soldiers, asking why they have come to her land and putting sunflower seeds in their pockets. The world has responded positively, and lauded her bravery, rightly so.

Social media is also full of photos of Palestinian women at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem who defend the sanctity of the mosque from daily incursions by armed Israeli settlers and the soldiers who guard them. Where is the international support for such brave Palestinian women? Khadija Khweiss and Hanadi Halawani are just two who stand up against Israeli incursions at Al-Aqsa and have been banned repeatedly from entering the Noble Sanctuary by the Israeli occupation. Undeterred, they return again and again to defend Al-Aqsa from the insidious actions of the illegal settlers who have come to steal Palestinian land.

It is important that we don’t believe everything that we see on social media, of course. As Russian soldiers entered Ukraine, a photo of a “young Ukrainian girl standing up courageously against a Russian soldier” also went viral. However, she wasn’t Ukrainian at all. She was a Palestinian and the soldier was Israeli, not a Russian. Her name is Ahed Tamimi, another heroic Palestinian resistance figure, who faced a dozen charges after she slapped and kicked an Israeli soldier outside her home. This will not stop her activism. On International Women’s Day, we should be applauding women like Ahed Tamimi who stand up for their rights as Palestinian women, instead of condemning them.

Behind every Palestinian family there are strong Palestinian women. Their story is one of heroism, sacrifice and resistance in the face of the Israeli occupation. The Palestinian women held in Israeli prisons; the steadfast women defending Al-Aqsa Mosque; the determined women holding families and communities together under atrocious conditions in the besieged Gaza Strip. They are the mothers of the martyrs and those wounded in the struggle. They are the lynchpins of Palestinian society.

On International Women’s Day — in fact, every day from today onwards — remember these heroic women and their struggle for freedom from Israeli apartheid and occupation. Their cause is at least as valid as that of their Ukrainian sisters; arguably even more so. Support the Ukrainians by all means, but don’t forget the Palestinians.