Palestinian Women Behind Bars and on the Front Lines in the Struggle for Liberation

Photo: Eric McGregor

On International Women’s Day, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes the women of Palestine, struggling behind bars, throughout Palestine and in exile and diaspora, for the liberation of Palestinian people and Palestinian land. Palestinian women have always been leaders and strugglers in all aspects of working for the freedom of their people, in the streets and in the fields, educating children and raising families, leading in all forms of struggle and playing a key role as political leaders of the Palestinian national liberation movement.

As we mark International Women’s Day 2017, there are 55 Palestinian women political prisoners in Israeli jails, held in HaSharon and Damon prisons, continuing to struggle behind bars. There are 12 minor girls being deprived of their families and education in HaSharon prison; 16 are mothers whose children have been taken from them by Israeli occupation. Over 15,000 Palestinian women have been imprisoned since 1967, and since 2000, over 1400 Palestinian women have been arrested and imprisoned.

In addition, all aspects of Palestinian women’s life are deeply impacted by the mass imprisonment of Palestinian men. Over 800,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned since 1967 and 1,000,000 since 1948; 40% of Palestinian men in the West Bank and Jerusalem have spent time in Israeli prison or detention. Palestinian women are the mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, lovers and friends of Palestinian male prisoners. They make homes for themselves and their children, denied access to their husbands and fathers. They fight against the denial of family visits and ongoing cutbacks, restrictions and sanctions that deny them even a visit across a glass wall over a telephone.

Photo: Joe Catron

And the wives, sisters and mothers of Palestinian prisoners are leaders of the campaigns to support them, at every demonstration at the International Committee of the Red Cross for freedom for the prisoners, speaking to media, demanding their rights and the freedom of their loved ones. Palestinian women – current former prisoners and the relatives and partners of prisoners – are powerful leaders in the Palestinian prisoners’ movement and all actions to support the prisoners’ freedom, both inside and outside prison walls.

Palestinian women like Ihsan Dababseh and Sabah Faraoun are currently held in administrative detention, imprisonment without charge or trial. Just three days ago, Ihsan Dababseh was ordered to six months in administrative detention; this is her third arrest by Israeli occupation forces. Seized in a violent pre-dawn military raid on her home in the town of Nuba, she had been released in July 2016 after 21 months in Israeli prison; she previously spent two years, from 2007-2009, in Israeli prison. Each time, she was accused of membership in Palestinian Islamic Jihad, like all major Palestinian political parties designated as a prohibited hostile organization by Israeli military order. This time, she was not even charged, or tried – instead she was ordered to indefinitely-renewable imprisonment with 650 fellow Palestinians. During her first arrest, Israeli soldiers filmed themselves as they danced around her, blindfolded, to post on social media; during her second imprisonment, she was ordered to isolation with four other women as punishment for raising the Palestinian flag on Nakba day, 15 May.

While Dababseh was seized again just three days ago, Lena Jarbouni has been imprisoned since 2002. Excluded from the 2011 Wafa al-Ahrar prisoner exchange due to her Israeli citizenship, Jarbouni is the longest-serving Palestinian woman political prisoner and has been jailed since 2002. A leader inside the prisons, she is the elected representative of women in HaSharon prison and an advocate for the educational rights of jailed minor girls. She has participated in multiple collective hunger strikes and protests and been thrown in solitary confinement for her continued defiance.

There are over a dozen minor girls in Israeli prisons whose education has benefited from Jarbouni’s persistence and dedication. Among them is Natalie Shokha, 15, whose letter to her family spoke on behalf of the “flowers,” the minor girls held as Palestinian political prisoners. “We are the twelve flowers. We live together through bad and good times….They will not imprison the scent of jasmine in a flower.” Natalie is serving an 18-month sentence in prison alongside her friend Tasneem Halabi, also 15. The two girls were accused of “possession of a knife,” an increasingly common charge against imprisoned children.

Photo: NYC Students for Justice in Palestine

While Palestinian women are on the front lines of struggle behind bars, former Palestinian prisoners continue to lead in the movement for justice and liberation. The International Women’s Strike united women across the globe in a collective expression of rejection of the struggle for liberation, fighting imperialism, racism, austerity and neoliberalism. The call for the Strike was led by women like Rasmea Odeh, a former Palestinian prisoner and survivor of sexual assault and torture at the hands of occupation forces during her interrogation in 1969. Odeh was imprisoned for ten years before being released in a prisoner exchange with the Palestinian resistance; since coming to the United States, she has been an organizer and a leader among women and the Palestinian community in Chicago. Odeh was one of a group of women who initiated the call for the Strike and was relentlessly attacked by pro-Zionist forces seeking to silence and suppress the call for liberation for Palestine in the women’s movement. In Chicago, she received two standing ovations as she delivered a resounding speech to the International Women’s Day rally.

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In New York City, Palestinian activist and lawyer Lamis Deek, one of the strike’s national organizers, rallied thousands to demand freedom for Palestine and its people. As the march took the streets, Palestinian flags led on the front banner as women chanted against sexism, racism and imperialism. Palestinian women, Arab women and women in solidarity with Palestine played leading roles in building the strike and marching, with organizations like Al-Awda NY, NYC Students for Justice in Palestine, Labor for Palestine, Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network and many others.

In the days that have followed International Women’s Day, Israeli occupation forces have continued to target Palestinian women, seizing novelist Khalida Ghosheh, parliamentarian Samira Halaiqa and former prisoner Souad Shyoukhi, the sister of fellow prisoners and of her young brother, shot down by Israeli occupation forces.

Photo: Bud Korotzer/Desertpeace

At the same time, Palestinian women continue on the front lines of resistance, whether in diaspora and exile or inside Palestine, demanding justice, freedom, return and liberation. As we mark 100 years of colonization in Palestine and 100 years of Palestinian resistance, women have always been an integral and leading part of the Palestinian revolution. Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes the movement of Palestinian women and their leadership in the ongoing and daily struggle for national and social liberation.

Read Rasmea Odeh’s full speech transcription:

Good evening everyone.  My name is Rasmea Odeh, and along with my friends Barbara Ransby, Angela Davis, and five other organizers from the U.S. and around the world, I signed the article that called for the women’s strike on this day.  I am a Palestinian, and I have dedicated my life to the liberation of women and of my people in general.

I want to talk tonight about my homeland of Palestine, and about my adopted homeland of the U.S., because there are clear similarities.  Israel’s government today is more right wing than ever, and it continues to target my people with racist policies, political imprisonment, stealing of land, and killing.  An Israeli soldier just recently received only 18 months for killing a Palestinian who was wounded and lying on the ground unarmed. He probably won’t even serve the entire sentence, because Palestinian lives are not worth much to the Israeli government.

In the U.S., we are living in a time that is worse than the few years after the September 11th attacks.  The Muslim Ban tries to keep people from six Arab, African, or Muslim countries from entering the U.S. for many months.  Other policies threaten undocumented Mexicans, Central Americans, and other immigrants with mass detention and deportation.  Still other policies are criminalizing protests and making it easier for police to get away with committing crimes and killing Black people.   An 18 year old Black young man, Ben Keita, was found hanging from a tree in Washington State in January, and African and South Asian men have also been recently murdered in hate crimes.

Israeli and U.S. policies make it easy to target our people, but Palestinians are resisting these attacks in Palestine, and here in the U.S., we are all resisting Trump’s attacks on immigrants, Black people, Arabs and Muslims, and others.

I want to end by telling you a little bit about my own story.  Articles in the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, New York Post, and other newspapers are attacking me because of my participation in this day of action.  They are calling me a terrorist because members of the Israeli military tortured and sexually assaulted me into a false confession almost 50 years ago.

On International Women’s Day in 2017, I am here to say that I am a survivor of sexual assault, and I testified to the United Nations about it in 1979.  I have been convicted in the U.S. based on this torture evidence, but I won my appeal and am going to a re-trial on May 16th.  Before that, please join us in Detroit on April 4th for a pre-trial hearing.  Sign-up sheets for t he trip are on our table in the back.  This is a time of resistance of women and all people in Palestine, the U.S., and across the world.  And I am resisting too! 

Thank you.

Rasmea Odeh – #InternationalWomensDay March 8, 2017


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(Also see Abdo’s book, Captive Revolution:

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