When the Israeli ‘Occupation’ is a Convenient Excuse
This is Part III of the critique of an article that seeks to glorify women’s resistance movements in the Middle East and in the process tells lies about Israel. The article is called Middle Eastern Women between Oppression and Resistance: Case Studies of Iraqi, Palestinian and Kurdish Women of Turkey; it was written by Khodary, Salah and Mohsen of Egypt and was published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies in February 2020. Part I laid the groundwork that showed the serious antisemitic bias of the authors. Part II discussed the vile accusation that will not die: that IDF soldiers and prison staff sexually assault ‘Palestinian’ women. This part describes the three forms of ‘resistance’ applied by ‘Palestinian’ women and raises an interesting question.
Three Forms of ‘Palestinian’ Women’s ‘Resistance’
There is, of course, the most overt form: terrorism. Then there are two nonviolent forms of ‘resistance’ emphasized by the authors more than terrorism: sumud and cultural ‘resistance’. These latter two seem to me to be nothing more than glorified resilience exhibited by those who want to survive difficult conditions and who have the coping skills to do so. I am sure that the authors and their ilk would just label me as an ‘orientalist’ and a ‘colonialist’ for saying this and thereby easily dismiss my opinion. But what are sumud and cultural ‘resistance’? Let us look at them and then decide.
Sumud is defined generally as ‘steadfastness’.
Sumud involves the normalization of life making it ‘livable’ for Palestinian women and their families (Johansson[a] & Vinthagena, 2015). For instance, women organize weddings and different celebrations, visit their relatives and friends and make group trips, despite the blockades and the denial of collective gathering. (page 215)
Pardon me for my obtuseness, but is that not what people everywhere in difficult to impossible situations just do? They try to maintain as much of a semblance of normal life as possible, usually for the sake of the kids and their own mental health. One could say that the Israelis living in the Gaza region of southern Israel are now practising sumud under the almost constant rain of missiles or incendiary balloons. One could say that the Imazighen, the indigenous peoples of northern Africa living under Arab occupation for centuries, are practising sumud. And I could give many more examples.
Likewise cultural ‘resistance’.
To prevent the Israeli forces from eliminating their culture, Palestinian women employ also strategies of “cultural resistance” (Devroe, 2009). This includes singing folkloric songs, sewing and dressing traditional customs, painting ceramics, writing stories, and producing documentaries, … Such acts of cultural resistance challenge Israeli attempt to dominate the discourse.
I would also have thought that this is just what people do — they keep living their own cultures. I have no idea what they think Israel is attempting to do to dominate their cultural ‘discourse’ other than their claim that we Jews have culturally appropriated their falafel.
I was unable to access the source they used, Devroe 2009, but I did find an article Devroe, now Richter-Devroe, wrote in 2013. She said nothing there about cultural ‘resistance’. She did have something very interesting to say about sumud, however, that blows up the whole purpose of using the concept as an example of resistance against Israel. Now, one must keep in mind that Richter-Devroe is not in any way pro-Israeli. In fact she refers to Israel as a settler-colonial entity and lately wrote an article together with Israel-hater Ilan Pappe.
Here is what she wrote in 2013 about sumud:
To gain social approval for their acts of travelling to enjoy life, they frame them as resistance to that clear-cut other, Israel, rather than to social control. By demanding their right to have fun they claim to be resisting the Israeli occupation and accommodate their acts within the newly emerging interpretations of ṣumūd as “affirmation of life.” Yet, besides subverting physical and ideational forms of Israeli control, women going on leisure trips also transgress patriarchal restrictions at national, community and family level. [emphasis added] (page 43)
So there you have it! Sumud is possibly more about resisting their own patriarchy than about resisting Israel. Kind-of makes you wish that, for their women’s sake, the Arab countries around us also had an occupation that they could conveniently pretend to be resisting.
Khodary, Salah and Mohsen want you to think that they are covering the contextual societal aspects of ‘Palestinian’ women’s ‘resistance’ to the ‘occupation’. They would have been more honest had they contended with what Anat Berko found in her interviews of Palestinian women sitting in Israeli prisons after having been found guilty of terrorist acts. Based on the result of her research, as for sumud, one could perhaps more accurately say that the ‘occupation’ provided an excuse by means of which some women found a way to try to get out from under constraints of the patriarchal society in which they lived, and gain, at least temporarily, some freedoms to which they would not otherwise have had access. I doubt that the three Egyptian authors avoided mention of Berko’s research out of lack of awareness of it; rather, it threatened the impression they are trying to made of female heroism against the the Israel-Goliath.
A Final Word
There is perhaps nothing more cynical in their article than this claim:
Palestinian women, by contrast [to the Iraqi and Kurdish women], lack international support. In her interviews with Palestinian women, Shalhoub-Kevorkian (2010) finds a constant use of phrases such as, “No one sees us or hear us,” and “we are not considered human beings. In this sense, the Palestinian women’s resistance operates within a context dominated by ‘politics of invisibility’, which deliberately attempts to make the Palestinian cause and the Palestinians’ suffering invisible. [emphasis added] (page 221)
While I do believe that the women are at least partly invisible within PA society, except when they can be used as propaganda fodder in a way that makes President Mahmoud Abbas smile, nobody can say with a straight face that “the Palestinian cause and the Palestinians’ suffering [are] invisible”. All we need to counter that claim is to compare the number of anti-Israeli UN resolutions complaining of our oppression of the Arabs who now like to call themselves Palestinians versus the number of UN human rights resolutions filed against all other countries combined. The so-called Palestinians are the least invisible group that there is.