OPINION - Palestinian women and unmourned bodies

Women in Palestinian territories, which have been occupied piece by piece since 1948, have been displaying a great struggle for existence

Meryem Ilayda Atlas  | 20.11.2023 - Update : 20.11.2023
OPINION - Palestinian women and unmourned bodies Relatives of the Palestinians, who lost their lives after Israeli attacks, mourn as the bodies are carried for burial in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on October 30, 2023 ( Ashraf Amra - Anadolu Agency )

The author is a journalist based in Istanbul


Women in the Palestinian territories, which have been occupied piece by piece since 1948, have been displaying a great struggle for existence and women's activism for the last 75 years. Unfortunately, this women's struggle is well outside what the "first world" considers acceptable women's activism. The essence and form of the struggle varies considerably because the world has not seen it, it does not comply with Western feminist criteria, and the country of Palestinian women is not very similar to ours.

Feminist perspective on Palestinian women

The reflex to protect the national values, culture and identity of the female generations of people who are faced with extinction, exile from their homelands and confiscation of their homes points to a situation that is too vital to be evaluated under the heading of "nationalism and feminism" and consumed within the discourse of patriarchy.

For example, the issue of why a Gaza mother gave birth to six children is hidden in the dynamics of a society that is faced with the danger of destruction and genocide. Western feminist academics accepted that women's rights in Palestine were progressing on a nationalist axis. They analyze institutionalism, transformation from within and liberation based on the fact that Palestinian women put the freedom of their homeland before their independence.

Indeed, if we look at the sacrifices that Palestinian women had to make for their homeland from Western literature, the extent of this sacrifice may seem like a degradation in terms of women's struggle. This situation, which appears/is seen as degradation, is related to the development of a limited understanding that overlooks the reality of the colonial past and occupation when looking at it through Western feminist standards. While approaching from this perspective, if we read women's freedom through gender-based division of labor, women's militancy and patriarchy, we cannot go further than making a colonial reading. For Palestinian women, the concepts of homeland, nationalism and resistance must be read together with women's activism. Especially considering what has happened in Gaza since Oct. 7, we see how it has become impossible for Palestinian women to perform domestic roles and how caring for children requires willpower, determination and psychological struggle and has become a challenge.

Palestinian women spend their daily lives under Israeli oppression. The woman who tries to bathe her two children in the rubble of a building in Gaza is actually a woman who has taken on a public role.

"White feminism" certainly opens the door to such realistic approaches, although it ties women's activism to certain rules and frameworks. The resistance of these people, whose most basic human rights and most basic human needs are violated every day and every moment, can only be accepted with the determination to continue their daily work. But even if it has a place in the literature, this resistance is almost completely invisible, especially from the Western perspective. Analyzes of Muslim women seen from the West continue through stereotypes such as gender roles, forced veiling, marriage, and childbearing/caring.

Western mainstream narrative

The extraordinary social life conditions created by Israel, regular oppression, and forced migration point to a strain and struggle far beyond classical social roles. These women have been experiencing this oppression for decades, ensuring the continuation of the generation to avoid extinction and displaying an admirable women's struggle. Of course, if you look through the mainstream narrative of the West, you are "stuck within the walls of a public space construction" that determines who is right and who is wrong, who is civilized, who is animalistic, who is violent, who is terrorist.

If you accidentally encounter the dead bodies of Gazan women and children, you would want to see them in the cliché of "women and children as victims," not in terms of being against the occupation, but without saying who chose them as victims and why. While creating an artificial concern for women and children here, you would also want to see them as acceptable to Gazan men, and you serve to normalize them as ordinary victims. There is always something missing in these narratives, and magazines like the Economist fill them in.

The Economist newspaper calmly attributed the high number of children killed in Gaza to the high fertility rate. According to the news, if Gazan women had not given birth so much, so many children would not have died. This argument, which smells of racist hostility from beginning to end, was also picked up by the world's "respectable" agencies and spread. The fact that Israel took more than one life from each house was not mentioned at all in this narrative. Gaza women gave birth and died as nameless objects within clichés. This narrative, of course, did not see the Gazan women doctors taking care of babies who could not survive on machines because the electricity was cut off in the hospital, the Gazan women journalists who calmly broadcast in English amidst the cries of war and the Gazan women who tried to continue their lives among the ruins as if nothing had happened.

'Do you condemn Hamas?'

This question has become one of the symbolic questions of those who resist truly understanding what happened in Gaza in the last month. World-famous feminist academic and writer Judith Butler, in an article she wrote for the London Review of Books, says that "condemnation lovers" are "far from understanding the subject, anti-intellectual, and those who want to stay in the moment." Because Gaza has a past, and there is a present and a future created by this past.

According to Butler, if we really condemn, we need to look at the history of violence. If we look at that history and think that we do not need to know how many adults and children have been killed in Gaza and the West Bank in the past year and throughout the occupation, we do not need to know the history of violence. This state of ignorance leads the Western public to remain loyal to Israel's arguments and remain silent about the Gazans. This shows, as Butler points out, the fact that some people's lives are considered more worthy of mourning than others.

Gazans are faced with a huge silence in response to Israel's losses, to which the liberal elites have shown solidarity for more than a month. Of course, we can talk about mothers hugging their babies' shrouds, injured children shivering, and Palestinians with dismembered corpses being presented as the most miserable form of oppression and mourning, in the form of clickable content, but without mentioning the perpetrator, simply stating that these people are dead.​​​​​​​

West's approach to Muslim women

The arguments stating that "white feminism does not reflect non-Western societies," "the universality claim of the feminist waves metaphor is incorrect," and "the struggles of women in non-Western societies are not considered part of the women's struggle because they do not resemble the struggle in the West" have long been recognized realities in the literature.

However, mainstream discourse dominates the opposite of these arguments. Why is the struggle of Palestinian women unseen above the image of the weeping mother? Why don't living, speaking, debating women appear in mainstream media? What makes Gaza's women invisible even in the eyes of feminists who complain about the toxic masculinity of wars speak on the subject? Why are Palestinian women not seen as part of the women's struggle? While those outside the mainstream—those who have protested, like Black women who participated in Black Lives Matter protests for Gaza, societies historically swept away by Westerners such as Native American women or Jews who refuse to be complicit in the genocide due to their family's knowledge of the Holocaust—all raise their voices, but why is it so difficult to be represented in the mainstream?
We can approach the issue from many angles, such as capitalist society, capital structure, historicity, and hegemony. I want to address the issue through the lens of the lifestyle obsession of Westerners who, despite seeing Gazan women on social media, cannot empathize with them. Palestinian women are alienated objects for all whites who have lost the ability to empathize with their existence, appearance, and causes. In a popular culture where all Muslims are portrayed as statue-smashing, a hindrance to women's education, and subjected to disproportionate violence when deemed necessary, Gazan women who work as doctors save lives and speak English to convey themselves to the world go unnoticed. Firstly, Palestinian women are not photogenic. But even if they were as "photogenic" as Ahed Tamimi, it wouldn't matter; lifestyle is a topic that encompasses the realm of the mind.

This situation can also be seen in the example of the YPG, which acts as a direct puppet of the US in the Middle East, choosing blonde girls as female terrorists to gain Western support. Despite making a big splash as "resistance" in the West, no one notices that these idealized armed girls are still children. Somewhere out there, someone - maybe their allies - may die as a child. This description is applied to a group directly supported, equipped, and trained by the US. Palestinians are, moreover, involved in a cause not supported by the US. Thus, the resistance of Palestinian women is a resistance for which marketing aesthetics is impossible.

We live in a world where the Western media generally cannot escape from orientalism in the way it perceives Muslim women. Unfortunately, this is a world where feminist objections to how women are seen are also unable to see Muslim women. When the media decides to see the realities, it often elevates them to an unrealistic level within the discussion of nationalism and patriotism using its instrumentalization. Since patriotism and defense are considered masculine domination from the perspective of women, the reality of the occupier is always blurred. We cannot deny the existence of many academic studies and intellectual efforts that honestly address the concerns I mentioned in the article to overcome this issue. But today, we see that despite all these efforts to shape the minds of young people, manage discourses that influence the masses, and despite all these academic publications and intellectual efforts, mainstream discourse still develops without the need to understand the values that dominate the minds of the majority and serves the goals of the oppressors with the concepts of the dominated.

It is sad that many Western journalists who position themselves as freedom-oriented, trying to look at concepts such as power, equality, justice, and war from an alternative perspective, think of Muslim women's representation as completely fixed-minded as American soldiers. Fortunately, Palestinian women do not care whether their struggles produce a "superhero" figure like Gal Gadot in any magazine. Perhaps even this article is meaningless to them. In this way, they willingly leave the imagination, mind, and the heroine subjectivity of the modern world to Gal Gadot.

​​​​​​​*Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu.

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