Tali’at: Putting feminism at the center of Palestinian liberation

On September 26, 2019, thousands of Palestinian women took to the streets demanding freedom, safety and a better reality. The demonstrators turned out for the sake of every woman facing daily physical violence, and to reject all forms of violence against the most vulnerable segments of society. Women came out everywhere there is a Palestinian presence — in the territory occupied since 1948, the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, and the diaspora. Their voices crossed colonial geographic borders and dislocations to say that there can be no free nation unless women are free. After years of silence and marginalization, we made the street our frontline, to put our issues at the center of the Palestinian struggle. We can only salute those women who participated in the demonstrations, but we must also remember that our violence-filled reality and the numerous systems of oppression that rule us prevented many women from taking part. To them, we offer our utmost respect.

What is the Tali’at movement? 

Amid the ongoing killings of Palestinian women — 28 so far in 2019, as well as the many undocumented cases of violence — a group of women came together to forge a new struggle-based experiment, mindful of the way these issues are completely sidelined in the general Palestinian political struggle. They are either ghettoized as “personal” issues of concern to women alone or are designated “social” issues, distinct from politics. In contrast, the women in Tali’at (rising up) have come to say that these are not personal matters or isolated criminal cases; they are part of a deeply rooted social condition embedded in entire systems of violence and corruption, and in turn, they should matter to every Palestinian woman and man. 

Tali’at is an independent movement unaffiliated with any institution. Rather than confining these issues to the legal and advocacy spheres, we seek to politicize them. We want to create a movement that includes all segments of society, a movement that can tell the stories of all Palestinian women and take them seriously as part of a comprehensive process of sociopolitical change. The movement issued a call for demonstrations in every place where Palestinians live, accompanied by a broad media campaign emphasizing the importance of Palestinian action to end the persistent violence against women and girls and the community silence that surrounds it. The press campaign included a set of videos produced and filmed by a group of volunteers. Inspired by real-life stories of women killed in their homes, each video focused on a murder in one room of the house. At the same time, women activists with the movement distributed flyers and protest calls throughout Arab neighborhoods and cities, spoke with local residents about the movement and the scheduled demonstrations, and hung posters on walls throughout these areas. 

Women in Ramallah came together to protest in front of the hospital where a woman was recovering from physical assault by her relatives, chanting “We are with you, we are with you.” 

A movement to transcend fragmentation 

As women and Palestinians, we live under a violent colonial regime. For more than 70 years, this regime has divided, displaced and fragmented us, and stripped us of material and moral commonalities. As a result, social violence has been manifested inward, typically within the smallest and most ostensibly safe of places, the family and home. No one will hold a father, brother or son responsible when he lords over women at home, and or deny him his control over this space. The Zionist regime and its various arms have exploited and bolstered patriarchal and paternal structures to tighten its grip on the Palestinian people, which has exacerbated gender and class oppression in Palestinian society. We cannot separate the cases of violence we see today from the political and economic reality in Palestine or from the Zionist regime’s ongoing policies aimed at impoverishing and displacing Palestinian women and men. In light of this reality, the women of Tali’at believe that the process of recovering from this cruel and monstrous reality requires a feminist solidarity that can transcend the fragmentation — a solidarity that mirrors the stories of Palestinian women wherever they are so that they can fight together to build a just, safe Palestinian struggle. 

The killings of Palestinian women have showcased the complicity of all institutions in the violence against them. The case of Israa Ghorayeb, who was murdered by her relatives while in a hospital in Ramallah, exposed the deeply entrenched corruption in the legal and medical establishments. The murders in the territories occupied in 1948 have shown that there is no safe outlet or space in a place ruled by Zionists. For years, Palestinian women have been used as tools by the Israeli police to tighten its security grip on the Palestinian people, but women victims of domestic violence quickly find that there is no apparatus that can protect them. All of these stories show the impossibility of achieving justice and safety for Palestinian women through these institutions. The attack by occupation soldiers on female demonstrators in Jerusalem highlighted the need for a grassroots Palestinian base that embraces female victims of violence and other vulnerable groups and provides the safety they lack. 

Redefining Palestinian national liberation

Given this violent reality in which numerous systems of oppression feed off one another and the increasing numbers of victims of violence among vulnerable groups, we in Tali’at have come to affirm that these issues are a priority and we must deal with them as a people fighting for emancipation. For years, these issues have been marginalized within the Palestinian political struggle, seen as something to be addressed only after liberation from colonialism. In this way, the political struggle has replicated spaces of violence, exclusion and silencing, while sidelining any issue deemed insufficiently “national.” The Tali’at movement has come to fight this political amnesia and disregard for specific social issues in Palestine, to make audible the voices of women who live through various types of violence every day and remind everyone that liberation is a universal, comprehensive concept with which we can show the world the tools of our political struggle and the shape of the society we want to live in. In other words, the women of Tali’at seek to place these issues at the heart of the discourse of Palestinian emancipation and make them central to Palestinian political action, as part of a cumulative effort to create a free people and free society. They have come to say it is time to rethink feminism in Palestine — to impose a mobilizing, angry feminist movement and discourse that is aware of the social structures replicated in our struggles — for the sake of building our Palestinian struggle as a just struggle.

Fighting hegemony and gate-keeping

As we prepared for the demonstrations, we again ran up against the arrogance of Israeli feminists who cannot tolerate a Palestinian voice that does not seek their approval or participation. This persistent sense of entitlement and drive to dominate any Palestinian movement led them to attempt to impose themselves and their discourse on the movement. But as Palestinian feminists, we know what it means to live a colonial reality and are aware of the role this system plays in our oppression. We refuse to be a tool that legitimizes colonialism. Operating from this same premise, we refuse to speak with any Israeli media outlet. We believe in freedom for all persecuted and oppressed groups around the world, and our struggle for genuine, radical emancipation cannot intersect with that of women with power and influence acquired through the dispossession and oppression of other women. It was clear to us, as a feminist political movement operating under the shadow of a colonial reality, that we would at some moment be compelled to resists such attempts, for they are not the first of their kind. The pattern applies to any free Palestinian movement that rejects Zionism and actively presses for liberation. In response to these attempts, the movement issued a direct, clear statement clarifying its position on the participation of Israeli women and asking everyone to respect its principles. 

At the same time, we were forced to deal with another type of gate-keeping, as numerous Palestinian voices, most of them male, demanded that we affirm our rejection of colonialism in order to be granted legitimacy, assuming that feminist movements are easily manipulated and quick to stumble. They demanded that we carry pictures of Palestinian women prisoners as a sort of price for their approval of our struggle. But when we women in Tali’at reject colonialism and hold up female prisoners’ photos, we do it not to earn legitimacy or prove ourselves to anyone; we do it because the feminism in which we believe makes it incumbent on us to do so, while also insisting that women killed in their homes by their families are not a second-order concern.

Direction of the movement

The streets were our starting point and now we hope to expand, to be active among women from all social classes, everywhere there is a Palestinian presence. We hope to create a decentralized space that will enable us to raise our issues in the Palestinian political sphere; we want to make women’s issues a political priority, such that any Palestinian woman or man can engage with them as a crucial issue. We realize that our reality holds the keys to a new political discourse that addresses all types of oppression against numerous other groups, against every person who exists on the margins.

Hala Marshood 

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