By Andrew Chang
Oct. 16 - Pictures of Palestinian stone-throwers clashing with Israeli
security forces almost always show men in conflict - but a large number of
those participating in the current uprising are women.
In a recent conflict in the streets of Jerusalem's Old City, they
stood dressed in long skirts and chadors behind the stone-throwers,
supplying them with rocks pried from the road and broken into smaller
Many appeared to be in their late 50s and 60s.
Even at that age, experts say, it is not unusual to see Palestinian
women join in the fight.
"Within the Palestinian community, there has been a tradition of
militant activity by women," said Elizabeth Frierson, assistant professor
of Middle Eastern history at University of Cincinnati.
"Palestinian women have a long history of militant action including
taking up arms," she said. "Pictures of women from the 1970s have them
posing with weapons."
Threats to Women
Nahla Abdo, a professor of sociology and women's studies at Carleton
University in Ottawa, says women have always been a part of Palestinian
resistance movements because the women were threatened as well.
"You get an aggressor from outside your home. You just sit there, or
you do something?"
Frierson also says it's no different than other societies. Women will
step up support efforts during wartime, as men go to war.
"In times of war wherever you are, whether it's in the '40s in
America with the 'Rosie the Riveters,' women will move in to take
positions vacated by men," she said.
Long History of Participation
Palestinian women have been active since even before 1948, when Israel was
established, Abdo said. "At the time, women were taking different roles.
Upper-class women were part of delegations going to Britain to stop
Zionist settlements and free their imprisoned men."
Other women participate from even farther behind the lines, pushing
for what they see as justice, rather than taking to the streets.
Palestinian Authority spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, who often appears on
international television speaking on behalf of the Palestinian cause, is
"very representative of middle-class and upper-class Palestinian women,"
"You'll find many of them in the peace movement," she said. "They
often form feminist organizations."
And the older women supporting the stone-throwers, Frierson said:
"Those were people who were children in 1948."
Those women have their successors on the front lines today, she said.
"They're masked, and with their hair covered you can't tell. Probably
there are going to be a few young women out there."
"In many ways traditional roles are being challenged by [the Israeli]
occupation," Shafeeq Ghabra, director of the Kuwait Information Office
Meanwhile, "working women and villagers were part of the guerilla
fighters at the time," said Abdo.
Behind the Scenes, Behind the Men
Behind the front lines, women have played a crucial role as well. "Taking
care of the wounded taking care of first aid, there has been many cases
where Palestinian women were killed," Gabra said.
According to Amnesty International, scores of Palestinian women and
children were killed by Israeli soldiers during the Palestinian intifada
(uprising) which began in 1987.
"Many of these were shot dead in the numerous incidents in which
soldiers have used excessive force in response to protests by
Palestinians. Some died as a result of misuse of tear gas. Many were
killed when they were simply going about their everyday lives," a report
But perhaps the most important behind-the-scenes role the women play,
said Frierson, is providing an information network. While the funeral
processions include mostly men, women hold their own mourning ceremonies
back at the house she said.
They talk and grieve and mourn and talk about how wrong it was for
their relatives to be killed, she said. "Out of the glare of the news,
they're playing a role in participating in the air of martyrdom and grief
that motivates men to throw rocks."
An Image Issue
Oct. 16 - The role that women play in Palestinian militant movements
is not always obvious.
In fact, some journalists say they have never seen any women
"Because they are women and the culture of Palestinians, they
ask them to stay away because of the clashes," said Nayef
Hashlamoun, a freelance journalist working in Hebron.
Even in the 1987-1994 intifada, or uprising, he said women did
not have a large role on the front lines. Hashlamoun told ABCNEWS:
"[In the] last days [of the intifada] I didn't see any women - just
like three or four. Youth, more than a hundred."
He doesn't deny they have held support roles though.
Both Nahla Abdo, a professor of sociology and women's studies
at Carleton University in Ottawa, and Elizabeth Frierson, assistant
professor of Middle Eastern history at University of Cincinnati,
blame misperceptions of the Arab world for any surprise that
Palestinian women are taking part in the uprising.
"Arab women are seen as different than European women. They are
seen as uneducated, ignorant, oppressed by their culture and their
religion and their men," Abdo said.
Abdo denies that Arab women are sequestered from taking action
as men do, because of their culture.
In fact, she said, and it's only because they look different
that they are perceived that way.
Frierson agreed. "We see the veil as confining women but in the
20th century it most often liberates women in that the women who
covers her head and wears loose garments are then free to get a
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