At a Gender Studies Program Seminar, Sylvia Saba-Sa’di: “Palestinian female teachers inside the state of Israel are aware of the limitations and the sociopolitical obstacles that may prevent them from direct confrontation with the dominant repressive forces. However, a close examination of the stories of Arab female teachers indicates that they are not fully submissive to these forces. Rather, they succeed in finding spaces through which they can create an alternative speech that tries to crack dominant power structure.”
Professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, director of the Gender Studies Program at Mada al-Carmel, opened the session by welcoming the attendants and emphasizing the importance of the seminar's topic of education, which “has been, and remains, a mechanism for domination, suppression, monitoring and changing patterns of thought. The policies pursued in this domain have a great influence on societies in general, and on minorities and indigenous minorities (such as Palestinians in Israel) in particular."
"My experience, as a woman and a Palestinian teacher in the state of Israel, always made me raise questions about how the Arab female teachers come to deal with a complex reality often characterized by a number of contradictions," Dr. Saba-Sa'di said at the opening of her talk. She added, "One of the objectives of this study is related to the exploration of the essence of the subjective experience of Arab female teachers in various aspects of their personal, professional and social lives. Meanwhile, we consider the reality of their lives as women who live and work in a frame composed by multiple paternalistic systems that are being represented in, for example, the family institution, society, school, college and others. The study also tries to reveal the indicators that Arab female teachers attribute to their work as teachers in the state of Israel. Throughout my research I try to explore the strategies employed by Palestinian Arab female teachers for dealing with the contradictions created by their work on the personal, political and social levels. I also try to reveal the ways these teachers were influenced by the education profession, which requires self-examination and personal initiatives. Furthermore, this study attempts to address the ways in which teachers deal with or are influenced by some kind of economic stability provided by their paid work. Lastly, of course, I examine the way the aforementioned parameters affect how women reflect upon the social-political reality they live in; how their ability to make a sociopolitical change is influenced; and their willingness to challenge the existing patriarchal and political orders."
In reference to the main results of her study, Dr. Saba-Sa'di noted that in contrast to what Israeli studies show, the disparity between the participating teachers emerges from structural and personal contexts, rather than sectarian or geographical (village/city) affiliation. According to Saba-Sa'di, “the existing disparity between the teachers is a result of various structural variables, as well as the interaction between different variables, like: gender; social class; social and political status; woman's personal history; professional status; occupation; seniority; time in which she served in office; her social role during that period; job opportunities; subjective experiences of the teacher; and her family; and sectarian considerations."
In addition to these disparities, the results of the study note the common denominators that are shared by the teachers and which can be divided into three areas. According to the first area, most of the participants drifted into the teaching profession by force of circumstances, rather than personal choice. However, after they have been integrated into their job, the majority of female teachers began to consider their profession as the bearer of a national, religious, and/or social message. The second common denominator is the focus on improving pupils' skills, as well as fostering tolerance between religions. The teachers' interest in local issues, in addition to the avoidance of challenging the prevailing social values and political issues, constitute the third common denominator for most of the participants in the study. According to Saba-Sa'di, "Palestinian female teachers inside the state of Israel are aware of the limitations and the sociopolitical obstacles that may prevent them from direct confrontation with the dominant repressive forces. However, a close examination of the stories of Arab female teachers indicates that they are not fully submissive to these forces. Rather, they succeed in finding spaces through which they create an alternative speech that tries to shake their structure."
Commenting on the lecture, Dr. Mary Totry, chair of the Department of Civics Studies at Ornaim College and a lecturer at Haifa University, considered Saba-Sa'di's work as a study that “brings forth many renovations. The most significant one relates to the selection of the subject itself, as the study brings out voices of Palestinian female teachers who constitute a high percentage of working women in the Palestinian society. Through the experience of these teachers, therefore, the study tries to understand their political and social status." Dr. Totry emphasized the role of the “academic literature that is used in the analysis of the results of this significant study, which in fact constitute one of its major tenants, especially those addressing the question of the challenge of hegemony. The study, in the methodology it employs, challenges the Israeli studies that usually deal with Palestinian society as a group of sectarian communities. This study, however, shows that the contrasts and differences between the teachers are a result of the latter's interactions with different social structures."
Towards the end of the session, Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian appraised the valuable comments and discussion, stressing that the strength and significance of this study and other ones carried out by Palestinian women lies in the link they create between the different oppressive structures and the experiences of women in different walks of life. Shalhoub-Kevorkian also noted that the Gender Studies Program will continue to host new studies that deal with issues related to Palestinian women in Israel.