For we are on Indigenous land.

Saturday, 3 January 2009

Yes, Gaza is a feminist issue...

  • What is the value of a Palestinian life?
  • Is the current Israeli bombing of Gaza a feminist issue?
  • What actions can those of us who are far away from Palestine take to ensure solidarity with the Palestinian people?

Even though I had access to the internet, many years ago I was one of those people who believed the mainstream news when it came to the situation of Palestine. It went something like this: Palestine = bad; Israel = justified in defending itself against terrorists; terrorists = Palestinians. It was not until I met persons who identified as Palestinian (and the persons-first language is deliberate) that I actually decided to listen, do my own research, and form my own opinions. Unfortunately thereafter and for a little while, I believed in this Jewish Lobby who All Believed the Same Thing – i.e. Israel had the right to exist and defend itself against all reason: human life, human rights, anticolonialism and self-determination. I then again moderated my beliefs and politics that recognised the complexities of responses and political positions.

I do not think it is the responsibility of any Palestinian person, any Middle Eastern person or any Muslim or Jewish person to explain the history and current situation of Palestine. However I am using myself and my previously limited understanding (and I am still learning) as an example which possibly demonstrates a very strong claim. It is not novel to say that we live in an intensely mediated world. More positively I think the internet and cable TV stations provide some semblance of balance to the narrow media outlets we would otherwise be restricted. Yet if you look at initial reportage of the follow links about Operation Cast Lead, SMH - 27th of December, International Herald Tribune - 3oth of December, New York Times Editorial - 29th of December, The Independent/Reuters - 27th of December, a few patterns can be drawn. Mainstream Western media very often covertly and non-reflexively paints Israel as the perpetual inevitable victim, foregrounds the Israeli’s government’s explanations of response and defence within the first two or three paragraphs, and deflects attention from considerations of power. Of course there are always exceptions like this: BBC News - 28th of December. Regardless thank goodness for Al Jazeera! Hey even the Jerusalem Post knows Al Jazeera's power!

When Hamas is supposed to take full or the most responsibility for what is happening, then it does not matter how many bodies are shown on whatever mainstream channel. The HAMAS or the PALESTINIANS started it route precipitates regressive, defiant and indifference towards Palestinian lives. This is not objectivity but debased, fascist cruelty. The Western/objective version of events is that Israel is in defence mode from Hamas rockets, while for example Al Jazeera/subjective just gets on with telling us about what’s happening here, and offers the Israeli explanation ¾ down the page. Otherwise according to Western mainstream media, the victim/perpetrator model is crystal clear – the *victim* can never be a perpetrator. (Of course when it comes to sexual assault and women, the defence of the perpetrator is always foregrounded – unless the victim/survivor is a white female and the perpetrator is a man of colour. Women with disabilities just do not figure at all). To be sure the Western mainstream media will cover Palestinian individuals who have been killed – especially if they belong to a *family* - , yet a framework of power differentials, international relations, military might, proportionality and a sense of belonging and home that a Palestinian might feel are largely absent. How *incongruous* is it to read the words Palestinian and indigenous in the same sentence? While brilliant opinion pieces such as Gaza: the logic of colonial power are published, I don’t think I have seen such a consistent narrow reporting of events within mainstream media as I am seeing now.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to state that all of this is linked to the (non)value of a Palestinian life. This media bias is a manifestation of the Western propensity for colonialism and the Ideology of Peace (both betray its whiteness origins, but that we can all fall victim to) which are orchestrated through arms, occupations, an unerring belief in governments, political leaders and parties i.e. liberal Western democracy, an inroad into Middle Eastern politics to spread Western values, misogyny and Western guilt regarding the Holocaust. To people who want to shut down conversation around Palestinian-Israeli politics, it is anti-Semitism that underpins criticisms of Israel. I wager that you can still be anti-Semitic and be supportive of Israel – especially if you believe in global capitalism and think that world peace and/or the bolstering of your economy depends on spreading democracy, selling arms and making strategic alliances for trade. In the process, Palestinians are increasingly racialised as the Eastern misogynist dirty Other who just want to fight – especially affirmed with the election of Hamas. Israelis are the Honorary Westerners who surely want peace, with visible women in positions of power! These lazy tropes are employed to devalue a Palestinian life – and that is what I feel angry about most of all. Even if you or I cannot understand the big picture of this ongoing conflict, why is there less outrage about the death of a Palestinian compared to the death of an Israeli? Within the language of global politics and the mainstream media, a Palestinian life does not matter.

In Australia at least, we are impoverished in our language around race but this poverty is manifold for Arabs and Muslims. This is why in this report presumably only Arab Australians and mostly men were at the Monday 29h of December Free Gaza protest in Sydney. This focus on gender is astounding. Have you ever seen a report that would render gender a point worth making unless a crowd of men came together explicitly for a *male issue*? When gender is brought to bear in such a way, this is usually reserved for women. Except that all Arabs are misogynists, right?! Admittedly the march and rally seemed to be a masculine space – a lot of this has to do with me not being used to marching with men, and yes the small majority were men. Yet something else is going on here. The report’s focus invisibilises the many women who were protesting – Muslims, non-Muslims (yes even Jewish women!), Arabs, non-Arabs, Middle Eastern ones and non-Middle Easterners young women, older women, with kids, without kids, etc. Of course you know that these categories are not mutually exclusive. Muslim women especially cannot have a voice – they are ALL OPPRESSED, OPPRESSED BY THE MEN IN THEIR LIVES! Except…

I want to go back a number of months to the 6th of March 2008 when UNIFEM hosted an International Women’s Day breakfast that featured speakers Wafa' Abdel Rahman (Palestinian) and Romy Shapira (Israeli) of the International Women's Commission (IWC). According to its website, the IWC “aims to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through immediate final status negotiations leading to a viable sovereign Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel on the June 4, 1967 borders.” Women are often forgotten or marginalised during well...any political process really, hence the IWC brings together Palestinian, Israeli and other women to work towards goals based upon a set of principles operationalised through the concept of peace. At the breakfast we feasted and listened to Federal Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek, Rahman and Shapira…and one comment from Rahman basically stuck with me. In Palestine, the women would protest on International Women’s Day; the women would not be attending a breakfast. The underlying point was that Palestinian women would not have the privilege that we had in that room.

So besides a feminist breakfast held at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre in a lavish hall with delicious toast, cakes, jams and a goody bag: What does anything to do with Palestine inclusive of the Gaza massacre have to do with feminism? The answer is everything. Palestinian women’s freedom of movement is restricted so that the women lack proper access to healthcare, many have restricted access to education, and of course there is the issue of house demolitions.

There are also the facts of state (Israeli) torture of the women and men, 36% of women prisoners were sexually harassed or threatened with rape, and an overwhelming large percentage of the 10000 Palestinian prisoners are in Israeli prisons subject to military law. 40% of Palestinian men have been imprisoned in Israel one or more times during the past 40 years which have implications for women and the community.

Many women activists whether under the guise of feminism or not have written about how in anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism movements (as in others), women are not given the platform to speak, and/or fulfil more supportive roles while the men do the *real* work. At said Sydney protest, I did not hear Palestinian activist Rawan Abdul speak but heard only good things about her speech. It was also awesome to see a girl leading a chant with such passion, vigour and spirit – made all the more bittersweet from memory when reading about how Palestinian children are gravely affected. However there must be a space for all different female identities. So while I think it is important that mothers are generally not devalued, I do feel perturbed anytime *families* is the term on which justice must be based. It just seems like the word *family* is deployed in a heterosexist way most of the time - even though a lot of people come from or create a family that possesses many different meanings. Women are not just mothers – whether a woman has children or not, her life has intrinsic value. I cannot bear watching a Palestinian baby being put on a stretcher, but yes what about women? What about the women who do not have children, who are transgender and/or queer?

Finally, I cannot provide the answer to point 3, but tomorrow in Sydney there is a protest.

Details are:

Protest for Gaza: Sunday 4th January at 2:00pm.

Meet at Sydney Town Hall, march to the Egyptian consulate and then to Belmore Park.

Peace...or something like it.

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