How Palestinian women defy Israel's occupation

From mothering a child to mourning one, three women share stories of steadfastness and resistance.

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    Despite losing her son and the mounting efforts to displace her, including offers of cash from the Israeli state, Wadid insists she is staying put [Susan Rahman/Al Jazeera]
    Despite losing her son and the mounting efforts to displace her, including offers of cash from the Israeli state, Wadid insists she is staying put [Susan Rahman/Al Jazeera]

    Lidia Rimawi wanted a son. But her husband is a political prisoner, serving a 25-year sentence in an Israeli prison, and will be 50 before he's released.

    So she did the only thing she could think of under the circumstances: She smuggled his sperm out of the prison.

    Thirty-seven-year-old Lidia lives in Beit Rima outside the village of Nabih Saleh in the occupied West Bank. It is the site of regular Friday vigils and Lidia sometimes brings her son, a round-faced boy with a shock of black hair. For her family, the birth of Majd and his daily growth is an act of liberation. Despite the odds, Lidia's family continues to grow. 

    "Majd is our victory," she says of the 18-month-old who bounds around, his flush cheeks still thick with baby fat. "I did this to challenge the occupation."

    He is clearly the crown jewel of the family.

    Women like Lidia make up the backbone of the resistance movement in Palestine [Susan Rahman/Al Jazeera]
    We are in Lidia's home, where the curtains are drawn and dark shadows are cast across the furniture. Full glasses of Coca Cola sit on a wooden tray before her.

    She knew that her husband was involved with the struggle when they met, she explains. That made her love him all the more. 

    They had been living together for just four months when he was imprisoned for his involvement in the second Intifada. Pregnant with their first child, she watched as he was taken away.

    Many of Lidia's hopes for her future were dashed in that moment - including, she thought, her wish to have more children. 

    But, in that regard, things were not as hopeless as she then imagined. 

    "I remember when I got the [sperm] sample from my husband during our visit to him and our little daughter was with me and she said, 'Dad come on. Give us my brothers.' We were shocked, but happy and worried," Lidia explains as her 12-year-old daughter sits nearby, proudly cradling her baby brother in her lap.

    After smuggling the sperm out of prison in a plastic container, Lidia took a taxi straight to the Razan Medical Center in Ramallah where she was inseminated. 

    It worked. When she shared the news with her husband during a prison visit, he screamed out in joy and disbelief.

    Months later, Majd was born.

    Majd is saying his first words and walking without his dad [Susan Rahman/Al Jazeera]

    When Majd was an infant, Lidia took him to visit his father, but the guards refused to let him in and grew angry. She was sent away without so much as being allowed to show her husband their son through the glass partition. 

    "My husband was punished for smuggling the sperm to me," she explains, adding that the captain in charge of the prison demanded to see the results of DNA tests, showing who fathered the boy.

    Her husband's sentence was extended by two months and he was fined 5,000 shekels (around $1,300) as punishment. 

    The Israeli prison authorities still refuse to allow Majd to visit his father and, to this day, the two have never met. Lidia has only been able to show him photographs of the boy.

    "Majd is saying his first words and walking without his dad, and it is very hard to live without [a] father, but we can live. This is life. And I'm thinking of a new brother for Majd," she says, undeterred.

    She has vowed to have another child with her still-imprisoned husband. "Inshallah [God-willing] we will try this again," she says.

    Women like Lidia make up the backbone of the resistance movement in Palestine. As givers of life, keepers of family tradition, and culture bearers, they continue to resist in often under-reported and under-acknowledged ways.

    Most people are familiar with the marches after Friday prayers, where the Israeli army meets protesters' rocks with tear gas, live ammunition, and skunk spray. But resistance to the Israeli occupation of lands that were once Palestine takes many additional forms. 

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     'The role of woman as resistor is a vital role,' says Fulla Jallad [Susan Rahman/Al Jazeera]

    Fulla Jallad, a feisty young woman from Tulkerim who calls herself a one-woman army, is not afraid to hurl rocks among clouds of tear gas. Yet, she also understands the deeper, often unseen ways in which women support the struggle for independence.

    "The role of woman as resistor is a vital role," she says. "I believe woman is the mother of a martyr. She is the sister of a fighter. She's the daughter of a hunger striker."

    I get to show the world that Palestine has always existed. In the war of existence, to exist is to resist.

    Fulla Jallad, activist

    Although she doesn't consider herself an artist, Fulla became inspired to paint a portrait of Samer Huisawai, a prisoner who was on an eight-month hunger strike at the time. She was so touched by his act of resistance that she felt compelled to honour him in some way. 

    The painting became a powerful tool of resistance. "I held it next to his mother, in front of [the] Red Cross in Ramallah," she says. "He is starving himself because he was held for absolutely no charge, and all that he wanted was to be treated as a human being. So that for me is a type of resistance. This painting can say many words."

    Fulla sees women as uniquely situated to play multiple and critical roles in resistance. "I know a woman who makes flags for the children so they would go on peaceful demos, and I think that is a form of resistance. A woman can be a teacher, a doctor, a nurse. Everything that she does that helps lead to a free Palestine, that's resistance, too."

    For Fulla, working as a tour guide at the Natar Resort, the largest museum in the West Bank, is one part of the struggle for a free Palestine. "I get to show the world that Palestine has always existed," she says. "In the war of existence, to exist is to resist."

    While Fulla is able to preserve and showcase Palestinian history through her work at the museum, Lidia has created new life and birthed a son despite her husband's imprisonment. For many women, the act of remaining on the land is resistance, too.

    Living there, raising children, and teaching the young about their history all are forms of resistance and demonstrate what many Palestinians describe as 'sumud', which is most closely translated into English as steadfastness.

    OPINION: The 100-year Intifada

    'I was born here. I am 78 years old,' Wadid says defiantly [Susan Rahman/Al Jazeera)

    Just outside what is now East Jerusalem, in the city of Silwan, which has been renamed the City of David, Wadid refuses to move. Her house sits with three others, fenced off from what some dub a Jewish Disneyland.

    Tour groups parade past her window. Tourists from all over the world come here, stopping at signs identifying historic areas and snapping photographs many will later post on Facebook. 

    It is very difficult to live in this place, but we do not move from here. I stay here because it is our land. It's Palestinian land.

    Wadid, Silwan resident

    Wadid says she doesn't mind if people come to pray in front of her house, but the Israelis who yell and spit at her, she tells to go away.

    Her small, well-kept home is filled with much-loved furniture, and framed pictures of children and grandchildren cover the stone walls.

    A painting hangs above a table, on which there is often freshly baked cake. It shows a young man on the ground with a stab wound on his chest. It is Wadid's son. He was murdered by a settler.

    An artist who was at the scene took a photograph of his body and then painted the likeness for Wadid and her family.

    His killer remains free and his family lives just a few houses away. 

    "The boy who stabbed my son was not charged with anything. He was a minor," Wadid explains. "We know his father very well and we knew the family very well. The family is still around. The boy went to jail for a very short time, but he is free."

    Despite losing her son and the mounting efforts to displace her, including offers of cash from the Israeli state, Wadid insists she is staying put. "They can't kick me out," she says. But they are giving it their best shot. 

    She remembers the veranda that used to be outside. It is now a movie theatre in the amusement park that shows documentary films about the City of David to visitors.

    "I was born here. I am 78 years old," she says defiantly. 

    It was Wadid's husband's dying wish that she stay. "My husband was in the hospital. [H]e said, 'Never take money for the house. If they kick you out that is one thing, but don't take money.'"

    A loud fan hums on her table, trying to dispel the hot air. Outside, a large group of tourists pass by and a camera flashes just beyond Wadid's window. The painting of her son stares back at her.

    Yusef was 15 when some settlers chased him for wearing a shirt with a Palestinian pin on it. He fled, but they caught and stabbed him. His body was taken to the Abu Khbir forensic institute in Tel Aviv, where all of his organs, and even his tendons, were taken without his or his family's permission.

    "They took his eyes," Wadid says, looking off into the distance. "My son slept with his eyes open."

    She later buried what was left of her son.

    Sitting in her house, staring at the painting, Wadid reflects: "It is very difficult to live in this place, but we do not move from here. I stay here because it is our land. It's Palestinian land."

    After note:

    In June 2014, Susan Rahman interviewed these and other Palestinian women about their acts of resistance and quest for a free Palestine. They asked that their stories be shared with people outside of Palestine in the hope that perhaps they would inspire action. 


    Susan Rahman is a mother, activist, and professor of sociology, psychology, and behavioural sciences. Her research took her to the West Bank in the summer of 2014 where she connected with her family and conducted interviews with women who resist the Israeli occupation. Her work is inspired by the people of Palestine, who show great strength, resiliency, and sumud (steadfastness). Follow her on Twitter @susanrahman. Her book, with detailed interviews of the women presented here, is called To resist is to exist: voices of the women of Palestine.

    Tara Dorabji is a writer, strategist at Youth Speaks, mother, and radio journalist at KPFA. Her work is published or forthcoming in Tayo Literary Magazine, Huizache, Good Girls Marry Doctors (Aunt Lute 2016), Center for Asian American Media, Mutha, Censored 2016, So Glad They Told Me (Spring 2016), and Midwifery Today. Tara is working on novels, set in Kashmir and Livermore. Her projects can be viewed at

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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