Mada al-Carmel opened its Gender Studies Seminar Series for 2011-2012 with a seminar dedicated to the study of Dr. Fatma Kassem’s recently published book, Palestinian Women: Narrative Histories and Gendered Memory (Zed Books, London, 2011).
Himmat Zu’bi, researcher and coordinator of the Gender Studies Program, moderated the seminar. She welcomed the participants, noting how pleased Mada al-Carmel and the Gender Studies Program were “to open our annual program with a festive seminar celebrating the publication of Dr. Fatma Kassem’s book on Palestinian women. In addition to being an independent researcher and a lecturer at a number of academic institutions Dr. Kassem is also a member of the academic committee of the Gender Studies Program. This seminar is important because the book is so significant. Based on Dr. Kassem’s doctoral thesis, her book documents the history of women from the towns of Lod and Ramle and explores their perspectives regarding the events of 1948 and their ongoing exclusion from Israeli society.”
Zu’bi added that in the past decade, the number of research studies on women in Palestinian society from a critical, feminist Palestinian view had grown. Dr. Kassem’s book combines with the vigorous efforts of many female Palestinian researchers who seek, through critical feminist research, to challenge the Oriental research literature characteristic in Israeli academia. Zu’bi pointed out that the seminar was the first of a series of meetings that Mada will hold this year, which will present and analyze new research studies and books by Palestinian women.
Dr. Manar Hassan, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and Safed Academic College, and a member of the Gender Studies Program’s academic committee, emphasized the importance of the seminar and of the book: “This book makes an important and vital contribution to the historiography of the Palestinian narrative, and, like the article of the writer Abd a-Rahman Munif, presents the history of people missing from the historical record as it is presented.” As noted in the book’s introduction, Palestinian Women managed to avoid writing the history of the beaten and beleaguered, and it is also not a book constrained by academic criteria that can limit the creation of fresh/new knowledge. The book provides new knowledge and enables the voices of women who have been silenced for so long to be heard. It returns Palestinian women to their place as active historical subjects and as partners in creating, preserving, and bequeathing their history to future generations.
Dr. Hassan surveyed the various chapters of the book, concentrating on three central subjects: language, body, and home. Regarding language, Hassan said: “By analyzing the language codes of the women’s narratives, the researcher reveals that through their use of language, the women helped to preserve the hierarchical balance of power inside the family, while simultaneously attempting to challenge that balance of power. The language that the women used, both openly and secretly, often expressed resistance.”
In her comments, Dr. Kassem spoke about the importance of language and of analyzing the role of language: “Selecting the title Palestinian Women was not accidental. Quite the opposite. It was also not accidental that I chose the expression “zionization of Palestinian towns” and not “judaization of Palestinian towns.” Language expresses a certain reality, but at the same time creates another reality and constitutes a kind of resistance.” She added: “resistance has many, diverse faces. One of the most important is the battle over our consciousness of the conception of the Palestinian issue and its conflict with the Zionist movement.”
Dr. Kassem said that her book adopts a feminist approach in the broad sense, not because it deals with women, but because it expresses the voices of excluded men and women. On the importance of writing by means of the women’s narratives and analyzing their personal lives, she noted that, “The political question by its nature involves an existential right. Palestinian women were obligated to take action to attain their great right – the right to tell their history, and for that history to have a place in their society.”
Dr. Kassem also spoke of some of the difficulties she encountered in researching and writing her doctoral thesis, especially the difficulties she faced inside the Israeli university system. In conclusion, she said: “The great determination, perseverence, and resistance of the women were for me, as a researcher, a source of strength and inspiration.”