Wounded but standing: The unseen Israeli war on Gaza women

How is one to define the term “Hamas operative”?

Even the Israeli government, which coined the term, fails to provide a clear definition. Yet, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza, especially women have been prevented from receiving life-saving treatment in the West Bank because they are allegedly related to a “Hamas operative.”

The Israeli rights group, Gisha, says that Tel Aviv insists on not defining the term, thus prolonging the suffering of many women. The likely explanation for the failure to provide a precise definition accords the Israeli military the needed legal flexibility to tighten the noose around millions of Gazans, while successfully arguing before the courts that it is abiding by the law.

Seven Gaza women have recently petitioned an Israeli court to allow them access to medical facilities in the Israeli-Occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Advocacy groups assisting these women hope to challenge the Israeli military’s manipulation of vague legal language, aimed at empowering the army and collectively punishing Gazans.

The truth is that even if a more precise explanation is offered, denying gravely ill Palestinians life-saving treatment is unquestionably illegal and immoral. “The (Israeli) state is sentencing the (seven women) petitioners to death or a lifetime of suffering,” states Muna Haddad, an advocate for Gisha.

Women are not the only members of the Gaza community who languish under a hermetic 11-year long Israeli siege thus sinking deeper into its burgeoning humanitarian crisis – all purposely done through an Israeli-US scheme aimed at exacting political concessions from the Palestinian leadership.

Women are not the only members of the Gaza community who languish under a hermetic 11-year long Israeli siege thus sinking deeper into its burgeoning humanitarian crisis

Ramzy Baroud

Grueling month

August has been a particularly grueling month for Gaza.

On August 31, Foreign Policy magazine reported that the US administration will deny the UN Palestinian refugees agency, UNRWA – which has already suffered massive US cuts since January – of all funds. Now the organization’s future is in serious peril.

A week earlier, the US decided to cut nearly all aid allocated to Palestinians this year – $200 million, mostly funds spent on development projects in the West Bank and humanitarian aid to Gaza.

This decision followed an announcement by Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, Rosemary Di Carlo, on August 23 that “UN emergency fuel, which sustains some 250 critical facilities in Gaza has now run out”.

Di Carlo’s comments followed even more distressing news. On August 12, the Palestinian Ministry of Health revealed that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged Strip.

As a result, all Palestinians, especially in Gaza, are suffering, but the plight of women does not fit into a generalized western media narrative, which portrays the siege as a ‘conflict’ between Palestinian ‘militants’ and ‘operatives’, on the one hand, and the Israeli army, on the other.

When Palestinian women are not invisible in western media coverage, they are perceived as hapless victims of circumstances beyond their control, thus feeding into the false notion that Palestinian women are trapped in a ‘conflict’ in which they play no part.

Such misrepresentations undermine the political and humanitarian urgency of the plight of Palestinian women and the Palestinian people, as a whole. The seven women who petitioned the Israeli court are but a small representation of thousands of women who are enduring in Gaza without legal advocates or media coverage.

I spoke to several of these women – whose suffering is only matched by their incredible resilience, and who deserve both recognition and an urgent remedy.

Shaima’s fight against cancer

Shaima Tayseer Ibrahim, 19, from the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, can hardly speak. Her brain tumor has affected her mobility and her ability to express herself. Yet, she is determined to pursue her degree in Basic Education at Al-Quds Open University in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

The pain that Shaima endures is extraordinary even by the standards of poor, isolated Gaza. She is the oldest of five children in a family that fell into poverty following the Israeli siege. Her father is retired and the family has been struggling.

She was engaged to be married after her graduation from university. Hope still has a way of making it into the hearts of the Palestinians of Gaza and Shaima was hoping for a brighter future for herself and her family.

But March 12 changed all of that when Shaima was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. Just before her first surgery at al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem on April 4, her fiancé broke off the engagement.

The surgery left Shaima with partial paralysis. She speaks and moves with great difficulty. Further tests showed that the tumor was not fully removed and urgently needs to be extracted before it spreads any further.

Shaima is now fighting for her life as she awaits Israeli permission to cross the Beit Hanoun checkpoint (called the Erez Crossing by Israel) to the West Bank, through Israel, for surgery.

Many Gazans have perished that way, waiting for pieces of paper, a permission, that never materialized. Shaima, however, remains hopeful, and her family constantly prays for her recovery and hope that she resumes her academic pursuits.

Dwlat: Wounded but standing

On the other side of Gaza, Dwlat Fawzi Younis, 33, from Beit Hanoun is living a similar experience. Dwlat, however looks after a family of 11, including her nephews and her gravely ill father.

Dwlat became the main breadwinner of her family when her father, 55, suffered kidney failure and was unable to work. She would look after the entire family with the money she earned as a hairdresser. Her brothers and sisters are all unemployed and at times also relied on her support.

Dwlat’s strength is perhaps the result of her experience on November 3, 2006 - an Israeli soldier shot her while she was protesting with a group of women against the Israeli attack and destruction of the historic Umm al-Nasr mosque in Beit Hanoun. Two women were killed that day. Dwlat was hit by a bullet in her pelvis, but survived.

After months of treatment, she recovered and resumed her daily struggle. She also never missed a chance to raise her voice in solidarity with her people at protests.

On May 14, 2018, when the United States officially transferred its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, 60 Palestinian protesters were killed and nearly 3,000 wounded at the Gaza-Israel fence. Dwlat was shot in her right thigh, the bullet penetrating the bone and cutting through the artery.

Her health has deteriorated quickly since then, and she is now unable to work. But Israel has still not approved her application to be transferred to Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem for treatment. Yet, Dwlat insists she will continue to be an active and empowered member of the Gaza community, even if it means joining the protests along the Gaza fence on crutches.

These are two women, but in truth, they embody the remarkable spirit and courage of every Palestinian woman living under Israeli Occupation and siege in the West Bank and Gaza.

They endure and persist, despite the massive price they pay, and continue the struggle of generations of courageous Palestinian women who came before them.

_________________________
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

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