Workshop: The Dialectic of Feminism, Palestinian Patriotism, and Arab Nationalism (May 2011)

“Research on the dialectic of feminism, Palestinian patriotism, and Arab nationalism in the present reality indicates that we must answer these questions: How do we as women in Palestine define nationalism and feminism? How do we define it within the 1948 borders – the place that turned from homeland into exile? How should we analyze these questions in the historical political context, in which great effort has been made to overlook the Palestinians and questions like these?” These were the opening comments of Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Director of Mada al-Carmel’s Gender Studies Program, at a workshop attended by Palestinian women from Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The workshop was jointly organized by Mada al-Carmel in Haifa and the Women’s Affairs Technical Committee in Ramallah.

The workshop, held in Ramallah at the end of May 2011, included three lectures, which were given by: Dr. Islah Jad, director of the Institute for Women’s Studies at Bir Zeit University; Dr. Zeinab al-Ghounemi, head of the Center for Women's Legal Research and Consulting who participated via video-conference from Gaza; and Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian.

In her talk, Dr. Jad surveyed feminist activity in the Occupied Territories since 1967. She noted that in the 1960s, with the strengthening of the PLO, discussion had begun anew on the question of the role and status of Palestinian women. However, for example, though the Fatah movement recognized “the necessary and vital function of women in the revolution,” it objected to giving preferential treatment to their demands for rights outside the “national liberation” framework. Although leftist movements supported women's rights, they, too, held the view that preference had to be given to the “issue of national liberation.”

Dr. Jad added that, following the Oslo Agreements, secular Palestinian feminism began to retreat: “The new situation posed a real dilemma in the struggle of Palestinian women. They were expected to forgo the national aspect in their struggle, that is, opposition to the occupation and the occupiers, and to act within the conceptual framework of the Palestinian state. However, the reality turned out differently: No Palestinian state was established, neither in legal terms nor from a political perspective. As a result, the women's struggle had been limited to pursuing extremely narrow rights.”

In her talk, Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian focused on feminism within the 1948 borders. She said that the feminism was characterized by concern with the state’s oppression, which was supported by Zionist theory and ideology, as well as concern with patriarchal oppression, which too is supported by Israeli institutions.

Dr. al-Ghounemi spoke about the significance of the connection between the feminist movement and the political parties. She emphasized the importance of pursuing the national struggle in tandem with the feminist struggle.