*This is an edited translation of an article which originally appeared in Arabic on Metras.
There was a resurgence of hope in Palestine on September 26 when thousands of women across the land and in diaspora took to the streets to declare “The women of Palestine rise up to redefine our national liberation!” Our demonstrations, organized under the name of Tali’at, an Arabic word meaning “rising up,” asserted that women’s pain and suffering will not be silenced. For those women who couldn’t be with us, we chanted “We Stand With You.”
We rose up not only as women who are marginalized in public spaces and political life, but also as women who have spent years facing oppression and denial in our organizing communities. Any woman who is active in Palestine knows how disconnected and distant political work is from the daily horrors we endure. Our national struggle has yet to develop a radical, non-hierarchical understanding of liberation that accounts for all forms of oppression, particularly women’s forgotten suffering.
This denial resurfaced right before the Tali’at mass demonstrations. Men active in the national liberation movement took the liberty of instructing women organizers on how to best carry out our demonstrations. These men tried to use Palestinian liberation to weaken us and throw into question (yet again) our competence and our commitment to a free Palestine. This was an extension of decades of patriarchal attitudes towards women in the Palestinian national liberation movement. Embedded in this posture is the notion that fighting for women’s dignity and safety distracts from the national struggle.
“Raise the photos of the female prisoners,” they told us. Did they say this to question our commitment to national liberation, or out of concern for our mobilization?
The answer doesn’t matter. We don’t owe any person or group, especially men, any proof of our unwavering commitment to the anti-colonial struggle. Despite our many years of offering an alternative politics, we still find ourselves confronted with an understanding of liberation that is governed by the rational and practical as standards that accommodate and uphold patriarchal violence. These standards lie at the heart of a violent politics of male hegemony, whereby men accuse us of being excessively sensitive, reckless and lacking in political depth or sophistication. Political wisdom, we are told, compels us to postpone addressing the causes of women and other oppressed groups until after the liberation of Palestine, and insists that this historic moment necessitates popular unity —the same unity that is sought to justify our violated bodies and souls.
We took to the streets knowing exactly what we want: a new definition of national liberation in Palestine. Years of being exiled to the margins of political action have taught women that we need new avenues to liberation and new understandings of our place in it. My political work and the efforts of many Palestinian women are captured in our slogan, “There is no free homeland without free women.” Many of us have always understood national liberation beyond emancipation from Israeli colonization. The task of national struggle is to hold space for people’s personal stories and pain to be shared with others. It is in such spaces that a collective experience of oppression and anger emerges. A communal articulation of rage against subjugation constructs a public and grassroots narrative.
In the dominant and crude conceptualization of national politics, personal and private injustices are afterthoughts. However, people’s lived experiences are the essence of liberation and should be at the core of any political thought and action that is authentic, just and liberatory. We should transform these scattered personal stories into a collective story of oppressive matrices that engenders a political analysis to simultaneously understand and fight against these systems.
With a holistic understanding of our oppression, our struggle against poverty is understood as a matter of dismantling a ruthless economic system, and not as a personal failure; the demolition of a Palestinian family’s house under the pretext of “lack of permit” is understood as part of a comprehensive colonial project, not the result of reckless personal behavior or a problem to be solved by expanding the borders of a particular village; the murder of a woman is recognized as a question of hegemony and hideous social practices, not a family dispute or a matter that can be addressed simply through a criminal investigation implicating only the direct perpetrators.
Generating collective power through a political analysis of personal experiences leads to creative possibilities in political thought and action. Possibilities of true solidarity emerge from shared pain and are key to the formation of the path to healing. In this path, people collectively understand the logic of oppression they are subjected to, share this understanding with others and see this oppression as a unifying experience. Healing then becomes a journey of transforming personal suffering into interconnected stories that are recognized as legitimate by the collective. In other words, our personal stories generate a public political understanding capable of producing the power to resist and the necessary tools for decentralized, popular liberation work that includes the most marginalized among us.
We were overcome with longing for this healing when we faced the batons of occupation soldiers in Jerusalem’s Bab al-Amoud, and when we stood in front of Ramallah Hospital protesting the medical sector’s complicity with daily violence against women who lie in the hospital unprotected. We ached for healing when women and girls came out onto the balconies of Wadi al-Nisnas in Haifa, and when we banished from our spaces men who rose to prominence and elevated their social status on the ruins of our dignity.
This is what Tali’at has meant to me. I hope that after years of hesitation, it turns into a liberated theory and practice that does not try to speak on behalf of all women, dictate how women should proceed, or limit our horizons. I hope that it transforms into a movement that recognizes the immense power intrinsic in the fragility, vulnerability and truth of our personal stories.
We will no longer be asked to demonstrate our national commitment. Women can and will define what is rational, reasonable, and practical. The story will start with us. What is irrational, reckless, and impractical is to see Palestine as a cause devoid of human feelings, simply adhering to lofty slogans. We will focus instead on people’s pain and stories.
Liberation from violence is synonymous with a politics of liberation. It is Palestinian women who, after years of tireless action against colonialism, can offer a true path to liberation. We won’t stand timidly behind men who craft political agendas and organizing statements totally disconnected from women’s realities or, in fact, the realities of the majority of our people.
We have experienced violence within our own political spaces. Violence is not only the experience some women face in their homes or on unlit streets. For years we have endured fear, threats, denial and suppression within organizing spaces, NGOs and political parties at the hands of men who perpetrate violence or who remain silent in the face of violence against women. Men of privilege have dominated all the spaces where we fight for national liberation — our movements, parties, factions, organizations, and associations. These spaces are where we have endured verbal and sexual abuse and disciplinary processes to tame us, just like liberation was tamed into monotonous and automated political performance.
Today, we will try and labor hard. We may fail (ah, the beauty of having the right to try and fail). If you are real partners in this struggle, the best you can offer is to listen to us and strive to understand what we have lived, what we experience, and how you are positioned in this. You will have to use your privileges to join the struggle under our leadership, knowing that you may pay a heavy price. It also means that you can’t question our motivation, our strategies, or our political abilities. We won’t allow it anymore. Instead of questioning us, you need to question yourselves and other men around you. The only accountability we accept after today, the only commitment we hold, the only responsibility we carry, is towards the women and all the others who have been relegated to the margins.