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Unbroken Resolve: Palestinian Women's Resistance as Political Prisoners.

In 2017, Ahed Tamimi, a 22-year-old Palestinian activist, was arrested and imprisoned for slapping an Israeli soldier who had shot her 15-year-old cousin. Her courageous defiance in the face of injustice echoed the unwavering spirit of the Palestinian resistance.

She was arrested again on 6th November by the Israel Defense Forces, since she was "suspected of inciting violence and calling for terrorist activity to be carried out," over an alleged social media post. Concurrently, while Gaza is being bombed, the West Bank is witnessing a disturbing surge in violence, with 163 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, and eight by Israeli settlers. 

Tamimi's arrest is a knock on humanity’s conscience, highlighting not only her resistance, but also the broader plight of Palestinians facing genocide, mass arrests, and inhumane conditions.

Since the 1967 occupation of East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the West Bank, Israel has arrested approximately 1 million Palestinians, with 1 in 5 facing detention under the 1,600 military orders that govern life under the settler occupation. Characterized as a “complex of monstrous machinery… designed to liquidate and kill” by the Palestinian Prisoner rights group Addameer, the Israeli prison system reached an alarming peak with over 10,000 Palestinians incarcerated by October 19th, doubling in number.  

Settler colonial powers are known to employ incarceration as a brutal tool of dehumanizing individuals to uphold their oppressive structures. Structural racism reinforces the unjust narrative that those imprisoned are somehow undeserving of their rights and dignity. 

Mass incarceration, a weapon in the arsenal of nations like the United States, Israel, and Canada, becomes a means to dispossess, erase, and even eliminate marginalized groups.  Political dissidents —  particularly those from movements like Black Power, Indigenous rights, Palestinian liberation, and anti-imperialism —  face dehumanization, framed as threats to the state. This barbaric practice perpetuates the cycle of colonization. 

Resistance Culture of Palestine and its Women. 

Gaza mirrors a historical continuum of resistance that is neither novel nor foreign. Their struggle manifested in general mass strikes and civil disobedience, bold confrontations against British imperialism and Zionist settlements in Palestine. This early resistance reached its zenith in the six-month-long general strike of 1936, a testament to their unwavering determination, etched into Palestinian history. Now deemed an open-air prison to over 2 million civilians, a profound and unyielding strength endures, even within Israeli prisons. 

As Barbara Harlow, a scholar of resistance writing asserts, Palestine has pioneered a remarkable body of resistance culture, notably adab al-muqawama (resistance literature) and adab al-sujoun (prison literature), as coined by Ghassan Kanafani. These cultural expressions form the bedrock of fikr al-muqawama (resistance thought) among Palestinian freedom fighters, including women. The heavy toll borne by cultural producers—imprisonment and assassination—stands as a testament, acknowledged and honoured by women deeply engaged in the militant struggle.  

Nahla Abdo's 2014 work, "Captive Revolution," is crucial in understanding Palestinian women’s resistance. Abdo unearthed the obscured voices and untold histories of Palestinian women, who were incarcerated for their resistance, with the goal of threading their narratives back into public visibility. In her recounting, these women emerge as architects of their own stories, reclaiming a narrative that had long been relegated to the shadows. 

Through Abdo's profound exploration, it becomes evident that the driving force compelling women, particularly Palestinian women, to immerse themselves in the arduous anti-colonial resistance struggle is rooted in a culture of resistance that runs deep within the fabric of their lives. Despite the ever-present risks and the formidable sacrifices looming before them, these women draw strength from an intrinsic wellspring of resilience that permeates every facet of their existence.  

Abdo unearthed the invisible voices and histories of Palestinian women turned political prisoners, reintegrating them into public awareness. She finds that the catalyst driving women, and many Palestinians, to engage in the anti-colonial resistance struggle —  despite the inherent risks and sacrifices they face — stems from the deep-rooted culture of resistance that permeates their lives. 

It is that culture of a longstanding and ingrained commitment to opposing external oppression and occupation and fighting for their rights and dignity, that supports them within the confines of the Israeli prison system, a state institution where a stark gendered and sexualized approach to torture unfolds, targeting the bodies and psychological states of women. 

Khalida Jarrar, arrested four times and spending over 63 months in prison, —much of it under administrative detention without charge — bears witness to the unique challenges faced by female prisoners. "Of course, female prisoners cannot discuss everything," she explains. "We are still under colonialism, and there are obstacles in terms of safeguarding this information as it could expose them to re-arrest."  

In 2019, during her latest arrest, Khalida was sentenced to two years for her political activism and faced a personal tragedy as her youngest daughter passed away in July 2021. Despite international outcry, Israeli Prison Services denied Khalida Jarrar a humanitarian release. 

Dissent within the Israeli Prison Systems.  

“I feel that I was arrested because they wanted to send a message, maybe for other women, maybe for other lawmakers, to keep us silent,” she says. Behind the prison bars, Khalida didn't succumb to despair. Instead, as a teacher to her fellow female prisoners, she initiated secondary and post-secondary educational programs, smuggled writings on various subjects, and even conducted her studies.  

Under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel has tightened its grip on Palestinian's access to education – fostering police hostility, limiting freedoms, and "Zionizing" the curriculums. For Palestinians in Israel, students often face university disciplinary actions and teachers suffer job terminations over social media posts or patriotic notions. The IDF is known for employing violent tactics to scare away Palestinian students from schools. 

With this, education becomes another integral pillar in Palestine’s resistance.   

“Education in Israel's prisons is prohibited. But we practice it as a form of resistance because we must always find ways [to learn], far from the prison administration, which threatens us with confiscation of books, or declares [lockdowns] when they notice girls gathering in a room. That is why [education] is a form of resistance… I don't find a separation between the two.”

The struggle of Palestinian women, which commenced before their incarceration, persisted throughout their detention and extended beyond release. It transformed into a fight for a meaningful life post-release—finding employment, attaining social recognition, and forging meaningful connections. 

In their resistance within the prison walls, they embraced diverse forms of dissent, from work stoppages to hunger strikes, and, notably, the cultivation of an educational space within the confines of their incarceration. "Palestinian female detainees want freedom. Freedom is a dream for them," says Jarrar.  

The prison transformed into an Academy, where women not only learned but also taught various subjects, facilitating the completion of high school by young detainees. Initiating gender and political consciousness-raising sessions, they delved into global topics and social-gender relations. This transformative process, as many attest, undeniably contributed to their personal, social, and political development.

Abdo's conversations with the imprisoned women further unveil how these women often share profound connections, especially with their brothers and fathers, before embracing the armed struggle. In many cases, it was the nurturing environments within their families that paved the way for their resilient involvement in the resistance.

Their narratives, echoing with defiance, reveal a deep and unfathomable resilience mirroring that which is ingrained within Palestine's broader resistance. Yet, this resilience exacts an immeasurable toll — homes shattered, basic necessities denied, and the heartbreaking loss of precious lives. The price paid for freedom remains unjustifiable. 

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Tags: Politics Women Violence Human Rights Genocide World Palestine Israel Dissent Prison War Gaza Incarceration Ceasefire Social Justice


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