In December 2010, Mada al-Carmel’s Gender Studies Program held a workshop in Jaffa dealing with the situation of Palestinian women in Jaffa and the creation of alternative spatial spheres. This was the second of a series of workshops on Palestinian women inside Israel.
In her comments opening the workshop, Dr. Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, director of the Gender Studies Program, noted that unlike in Israeli academic studies, which are based on an Orientalist approach to Palestine, Palestinians, and Arabs, Mada al-Carmel encourages critical research studies. The workshop in Jaffa, Shalhoub-Kevorkian pointed out, was part of the Gender Studies Program’s comprehensive research on the effect of Israel’s economy on Palestinian women in the country.
Dr. Hanaa Hamdan spoke on “Creation of Alternative Spatial Spheres: Palestinian Women in Jaffa,” which was based on her Ph.D. thesis that researched the practical experience in spatial matters and tactics in the daily lives of three generations of women in Jaffa. She called for an examination into how these women define, shape, and establish their relevance in the urban spatial sphere in Jaffa.
Hamdan spoke about Israel’s brutal use of planning laws and policy to seize Palestinian space in Jaffa and to Judaize it, in the process destroying Palestinian historical and cultural remnants, Judaizing names, and destroying whole neighborhoods to blot out Palestinian space from reality and memory:
In opposition to this reality and the restrictions that Israel imposes on Palestinian residents of Jaffa, Palestinian women create alternative spatial spheres in the community, thereby enabling them to express their identity and meet their needs. Palestinian women in Jaffa create four such spheres, which show us that the women are not comprised of one block and that they respond in different ways to the complex balance of power.
The first spatial sphere is ethno-national. Regarding this sphere, the women initiated local projects, privately or collectively, to develop their social and cultural life. Or they go to Arab towns, such as Nazareth, Ramallah, and Qalqiliya, where they are more comfortable and feel a sense of belonging. The second spatial sphere is local – the Jaffa spatial sphere that represents Palestinian identity. A third sphere, which is Jewish, is embodied in Tel Aviv. This sphere, Hamdan emphasized, is used in particular by third-generation Palestinian women. The fourth spatial sphere is virtual, the Internet for example. This sphere, like the preceding one, is more accessible to third-generation Palestinian women, and, to some extent, to members of the second generation.
Dr. Fatmah Qassem, a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University, responded to Dr. Hamdan’s talk, noting the importance of the kind of research she conducted, whereby a Palestinian female researcher produces new knowledge in a way that enables voices generally not heard to be expressed. She also emphasized the importance of dealing with the subject of the Palestinian town that preceded the Israeli experience, namely, pre-‘48.