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Palestine Is a Feminist Issue

This International Women’s Day is for the women of Gaza, whose strength and resistance in the face of genocide is an inspiration to those fighting for freedom and justice across the world.

Today, Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip should be gathering to be celebrated for their contributions and accomplishments and to strategise how to take forward the ongoing struggle for women’s rights. Instead, they are fleeing their homes under relentless Israeli bombardment, barely surviving in tents and shelters, desperately searching for food to feed their families and grieving their loved ones. More than 9,000 Palestinian women have been killed by Israel’s attacks in the past six months, and thousands more are injured or missing under the rubble.

The impact of Israel’s genocidal assault on Palestinian women is beyond catastrophic. It has left women without access to medical care, including pregnant women forced to give birth without basic supplies like pain relief. UN experts have raised the alarm at documented cases of Palestinian women and girls being ‘arbitrarily executed in Gaza, often together with family members.’ Moreover, Israel has escalated its campaign of arbitrary detention, imprisoning hundreds of Palestinian women across the occupied Palestinian territory. Addameer, the Palestinian prisoner support association, has reported how women in Israeli detention are being subjected to torture, including beatings, isolation and sexual violence.

In the face of such overwhelming violence, Palestinian women are courageously facing these unprecedented challenges, working to keep their community together in the face of such horrors: the doctors, nurses, and other medical workers who are saving lives or providing comfort to the dying in the Gaza Strip; the teachers and community activists who are organising lessons and play for Palestinian children in shelters, children whose lives will never be the same after this, if they even survive.

The women who are working as journalists, particularly since international media cannot get into Gaza, are diligently reporting and documenting the violence against — and the strength of — their people. The names of these Palestinian women won’t be celebrated in international forums or uttered by our political leaders, but their steadfast refusal to submit to the might of Israeli forces inspires all those who fight for freedom and justice across the world.

Palestinian women have faced down gendered violence from Israel’s colonial regime since its beginning, leading the Palestinian struggle for freedom. In 1933, the British high commissioner in Palestine, Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope, wrote in a letter his concern that a ‘new and disquieting feature’ of a protest in Jerusalem was the prominent role taken by women who led the protest and fought back against the colonial police. During the Mandate period, Palestinian women’s organisations formed that were active in Palestinian resistance to Zionist colonisation, from organising protests to dispatching telegrams to raise awareness of the national struggle across the world.

Women have remained at the forefront of the Palestinian struggle for freedom. The First Intifada, a mass uprising against Israel’s regime of apartheid and occupation, was led and sustained by women’s committees in local communities across Palestine. Women organised demonstrations and formed co-operatives, which gave strength to the economic boycotts which saw Palestinians refuse to work on illegal Israeli settlements or purchase Israeli goods. Palestinian women also formed community organisations, including health committees and underground schools, to serve and strengthen their community after the Israeli army shut down regular schools as a form of collective punishment in response to the uprising.

This tradition of community organising continues today, with organisations like the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC) continuing to empower women as part of the struggle against Israeli apartheid, and the Health Work Committees providing medical care to the poor and marginalised. In response, these organisations face Israel’s repression, including criminalisation and raids on their offices.

This International Women’s Day, we are inspired by the decades of Palestinian women struggling for freedom, including the women today organising in the face of the most horrific violence from Israeli forces. Tomorrow, we will march through the streets of London for our tenth national demonstration for Palestine since October, demanding an immediate and permanent ceasefire, for freedom for Palestinian women and the entire Palestinian people, and for the sake of the universal principles of freedom and justice that we all hold dear. I’m proud and excited to say that we’ll have an entire line-up of women speaking at the demonstration in support of a ceasefire and an end to British arms sales to Israel. See you there.