Gender Based Violence

Palestinian Women Under Occupation

Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelimage/3112118724/
Image Courtesy of Michael Loadenthal on Flickr.

We are done with the tears we are on to the next step. We have to stay strong because we are fighters. It is our land.  – Mariam,* Palestinian, 17 years old.

Recently I was lucky enough to attend the Joint Advocacy InitiativeJourney for Justice of the YWCA of Palestine and the YMCA of East Jerusalem. Journey for Justice brings together young people mainly from YMCAs and YWCAs all over the world to experience and share the reality of life under occupation with Palestinian youth. For nine days, we joined Palestinian youth and traveled around occupied Palestine to witness the effects of Israeli occupation. It is often said that women and girls suffer the most in conflict and war, as reports of abuse, murder and sexual violence are rampant. In Palestine, the effect of the conflict and occupation on women and girls takes a different form.

Mariam, a Palestinian young woman, described returning home in 2003 after visiting their dying grandfather in the city of Nablus. Along with her 37-week pregnant mother, two younger siblings, father and his father, Mariam attempted to cross over Houarra checkpoint. Although only seven years old at the time, Mariam still remembers this nightmare vividly. As they approached the checkpoint, a Muslim woman lay weeping inconsolably and holding her newborn baby on the floor surrounded by laughing soldiers – the baby would later be pronounced dead.

A few soldiers stopped Mariam’s family car and told everyone to get out and then proceeded to search the car. One soldier started yelling at the family in Hebrew, Mariam didn’t understand but her father asked the soldier to please calm down and stop yelling. The soldier continued and shouted aggressively in her mother’s face, her father repeated and said, “Please she is pregnant and could give birth any minute.” The soldier pointed the gun at her mother; Mariam grabbed her brother and sister and held them tightly to her chest. Then she heard the fatal gunshot, and the screams that followed. The soldier had shot her mother directly in her abdomen killing the unborn baby instantly.  Her mother survived after 3 months of hospitalisation.

Image Courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelimage/512473291/
Image Courtesy of Michael Loadenthal on Flickr.

Mariam sits on the coach retelling this story without tears or emotion in her voice, she tells this matter of fact. Personally, I have tears in my eyes but try my best not to cry. I ask Mariam how she can tell this memory so calmly, she replies: “We are done with the tears we are on to the next step. We have to stay strong because we are fighters. It is our land.”

Reports of Palestinian women being forced to give birth at checkpoints is not an uncommon story, reports of killing and torture are equally not uncommon. Between January and May 2012, the main Emergency Medical Services provider, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS), conducted a total of 591 ambulances transfers to East Jerusalem, of which only 41 were able to access directly, with the remaining 550 transferring patients using ‘back- to-back’ procedures at a checkpoint (i.e. moving the patient from a Palestinian-plated ambulance to an Israeli-plated ambulance). The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), estimates that even before the escalation of conflict in 2000, one-fifth of pregnant women in Gaza and the West Bank could not receive prenatal care because of the difficulty travelling through checkpoints. Delays at these checkpoints have resulted in dozens of unattended roadside births, some of which have ended in deaths. This issue is one of UNFPA’s top priorities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

As the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations continue, both sides must face the injustices and human rights violations committed by individual extremists and at times their own political parties. Forcing Palestinian women to give birth at checkpoints is one of these human rights violations. The time for peace is now and women and girls must be part of the peace process and their voices must be heard.

Cover image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

*Not her real name.

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Category: Gender Based Violence
Tagged with: checkpoints    Conflict    Health    Israel    Maternal Health    Maternal Morbidity    Maternal Mortality    occupation    OPT    Palestine    Pregnancy    Rights    Violence against women

Marcia Banasko

@Na_sko

From the United Kingdom, currently based in Geneva, Switzerland working for the World YWCA, a global network of women leading social and economic change in over 120 countries worldwide. Feminist & Youth Advocate for social change.

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  • Thanks for sharing your experiences and the real stories you heard while in Palestine! It is incredibly important to raise awareness of these crimes and ensure that all people have access to their rights, and that women can give birth in a safe environment and access the healthcare services they need.

  • It gets me so angry that this political emergency has been running along for so long.

  • “Like” is an odd response for this post. Let me say I’m glad to know this information–tough to digest. Thanks and peace, John

  • I am sorry but I am not sure how much I truly believe this story. I am sure that there are terrible experiences that the Palestinians have to deal with, but perhaps if the Arab world would not continue to blow up school buses in Israel and continue to terrorize the citizens there would not be a need for vigorous checkpoints. I have many friends that were killed riding the bus in Jerusalem. Everyone blames Israel for being so terrible to the Palestinians but perhaps if the Arab leaders would actually take care of their people rather than keep them poor and hating the Israelis things would get better. I am sorry but I just do not believe that an Israeli soldier just shot a newborn baby….

  • Thank you for the comments, it is indeed a horrible human rights violation that women are forced to give birth at check-points and the on-going violence is unacceptable. The story shared by the young woman is in fact true, of course it is an unbelievable act of violence and murder, however in war and/or conflict these horrific crimes become realities. Both the state of Israel and Palestine have committed crimes, murder and terror attacks. It is a complex issue that will not be solved by name blaming but by equal negotiations and an end to the occupation.

  • Wow! This brought tears to my eyes and an ache in my heart. Thanks for sharing your experiences in Palestine and for raising awareness about these issues. In just the last few days, GG has brought awareness to issues in several different countries. This is something that must be stopped.

  • For me who spent 1 year in Israel Palestine I recognise your story from stories I heard during my time there. The situation many palestinians in the occupied territories faces today are terrible and a violation against human rights! But as you mention in a comment above, the conflict is very complex and very hard to solve. Thank you for sharing your experiences!