Political Economy and Palestinian Women in Jaffa: Obstacles Facing Arab Women in the Labor Market (November 2009)

“An incomplete command of the Hebrew language or, rather, of its Ashkenazi variant, as well as Israeli racial conception of Arab women in general, and women wearing hijab in particular, which constitute the majority of Arab women in Jaffa, present a major obstacle to Arab women’s participation in the labor market,” said Ms. Safa Younes in the Gender Studies Program seminar, “Political Economy and Palestinian Women in Jaffa,” held at Mada al-Carmel. Mtanes Shihadeh, a researcher at Mada al-Carmel, argued that, despite a rise in the participation of Arab women from Jaffa in the labor market, their average income is much lower than that of Arab women in Israel as a whole.

The seminar delved on the political and spatial policy employed by the State of Israel towards Palestinians living in Jaffa, and its implications on the status and economic rights of Palestinian women.

In her opening statement, Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, director of the Gender Studies Program, mentioned that the seminar was part of the program’s new feminist research on the subject of political economy and Palestinian women in Israel. Having started a couple of months ago, this three-year research is intended to critically examine Israel’s political and economic ideology, policy and practice and analyze the effects of Israeli colonialism on the political and economic rights of Palestinian women in Israel. Shalhoub-Kevorkian indicated that the research would deal, inter alia, with the condition of Palestinian women in so-called “mixed cities,” unrecognized villages in the Negev as well as the condition of displaced Palestinian women.

Speaking after Shalhoub-Kevorkian, researcher Mtanes Shihadeh reviewed the economic policy towards Palestinians in Israel. According to Shihadeh, since Israel is well aware of the fact that economic development is an important lever for the advancement of Arab citizens, it endeavors to block their progress in order to preserve the superiority of its Jewish society. In the past 15 years, he said, the city of Tel Aviv has developed into a quasi-global metropolis as far as its economic activity is concerned. However, these changes have had an adverse influence on the condition of Palestinian women in Jaffa. He pointed out that although official data had noted an increase in the percentage of employed Palestinian women residing in Jaffa, their average income is by far lower than that of employed Palestinian women in general, and the gap between their average income and that of Jewish women of the same area has been constantly deepening.

Architect Buthayna Dabit spoke about the spatial, planning and building policy in “mixed cities” and its impact on the life of Palestinian women. She explained that a policy of segregation and discrimination employed by the State since al-Nakba has subjected the Palestinians living in these cities to harsh reality. “There is a systematic policy of narrowing down the Palestinian space – a policy of constant strangulation. Jaffa’s Palestinian men and women, like those of other so-called mixed cities, are living in neighborhoods denied of state recognition. They live under daily threat of demolition and evacuation orders. All these are part and parcel of a policy that aims to force the Palestinians out of Jaffa,” said Dabit.

Ms. Safa Younes, director of Arus al-Bakhar Organization in Jaffa, surveyed the daily ordeal undergone by Arab women in this city in their search for work. She said that Arus al-Bakhar focuses on extending economic aid and support to women. “In most cases, women assisted by the organization are fully qualified for employment and participation in the labor market. However, they face structural obstructions: shortage of jobs, starvation income, and deplorable working conditions. An incomplete command of the Hebrew language or, rather, of its Ashkenazi variant, as well as Israeli racist conception of Arab women in general, and women wearing hijab in particular, which constitute the majority of Arab women in Jaffa, present a major obstacle to Arab women’s participation in the labor market,” said Younes.