“No free homeland without free women”

Palestinian women are organising! Photo from Tal’at Facebook page.
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Before turning its bombs on Rafah in southern Gaza, Israel had already killed more than 30,000 Palestinians — well over 1% of the population in less than three months; more than 70% women and children. The slaughter now underway in Rafah makes these figures far, far worse. This oppressed nation’s struggle for self-determination is a fight for survival, and 75 years of occupation and genocide have made women’s bodies a battleground. Young Palestinian feminists of the emerging Tal’at movement put it this way: “No free homeland without free women.”

Seventy-one percent of Gaza’s population are refugees, forbidden by Israel to return to their homes. With limited access to medical care and no access to vital resources like water, Gazans live in dire deprivation under Israeli occupation. Military checkpoints, curfews, and a wall that cuts through Palestinian land restrict where they can go, and when.

From the regulation of movement to the destruction of hospitals, reproductive health is practically nonexistent. Prior to the war, it was estimated that one in 10 Palestinian women in labour were routinely delayed at checkpoints, forcing them to give birth in unsafe, undignified and sometimes fatal conditions. No one is safe in Gaza. Pregnant women, those who have just given birth or who are breastfeeding are especially affected by the harsh living conditions in shelters. More than 690,000 menstruating women and adolescent girls in Gaza lack access to hygiene products, water, toilets and privacy. This puts them at risk of urinary tract infections and a host of other health dangers.

The World Health Organisation recently reported that maternal deaths are expected to increase, due to inadequate access to care. The psychological toll of this war is also causing more miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births. Women are giving birth among the rubble of the streets. There is no access to contraception, anaesthesia, abortion or clean water. Of the 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza, 15% are likely to experience pregnancy- or birth-related complications and need urgent access to medical care.

Newborns are at risk. By November 2023, hospitals were running out of fuel. Incubators and other essential medical equipment could no longer function. This put an estimated 130 premature babies, who rely on neonatal and intensive care services, in danger. One million Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip need mental health and psychological support. Some symptoms are high levels of anxiety and loss of appetite and sleep — resulting from the constant bombardment of their hospitals, kindergartens and schools.

“Reproductive genocide.” This is the term used by the Palestine Feminist Collective to describe these atrocities. And the Zionist state’s sexism and racism is not limited to the Palestinian territories. Israel also enforces a eugenicist control of non-white Jews. Ethiopian, Yemeni and African migrants are subjected to involuntary contraception and sterilisation. In 2013, the global media reported thousands of Ethiopian women receiving shots of Depo-Provera every three months in Israeli clinics. The contraceptive stops menstruation and has been linked to fertility problems and osteoporosis.

We are watching a crisis escalating by the day. For 75 years, Israel has been constructed, land grab by land grab, by imperialist powers as a stable bulwark against Arab revolt. Zionism — “a land without people for a [Jewish] people without a land” — has been the ideological weapon for taking over Palestine and removing its occupants. Reproductive genocide has been used by settler states since colonial times, from Australia and the U.S. to South Africa and Israel.

Reproductive justice and national liberation are indivisible. This is what a new generation of Palestinian feminists are saying. Women have been in the forefront of Palestine’s liberation struggle from the beginning. In the past five years a young, radical, grassroots feminist movement has emerged. In 2019 Tal’at issued a call to Palestinian women to take the streets against the rise of gender violence, notably “honour killings.” On 26 September, thousands came out across the Occupied Palestinian Territories and refugee camps and in Berlin and London. “Tal’at” is Arabic for “stepping out,” and the protest signalled a fresh wave of resistance that is militant, intersectional and anti-capitalist.

Tal’at centres women’s liberation in bringing down Zionist apartheid and occupation and patriarchy within Palestinian society. As Tal’at explains, Israel controls Palestinians by using their patriarchal kin structure to keep women in line. For example, the Israeli state recognises heads of extended Palestinian families, allowing them authority to deal with community matters. When women flee family violence, Israeli police return them to their abusers, possibly to be killed in the name of family honour.

Other groups have formed to confront patriarchal taboos. Since 2007 alQaws, a non-government organisation, has advocated for the rights of LGBTIQA+ Palestinians. #MeTooGaza organises against sexual harassment and “honour” crimes. These courageous feminists are stepping up the struggle for national liberation by including the most oppressed Palestinians. In Tal’at’s words, “Our struggle is an internal Palestinian one for the building of our social and political fabric, embarking on a process of radical collective healing, that informs our liberation struggle…”

A united international fightback, solidarising with groundbreaking freedom fighters like these, can end Israel’s war and liberate the Palestinian people. Stop the bombing! End the reproductive genocide! Full self-determination for Palestine!

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