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Case of Palestine

Case of Palestine

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Published by m_salam2525

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Published by: m_salam2525 on Sep 19, 2010
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Feminism between Secularism and Islamism:The case of Palestine (West Bank and Gaza)
By Islah JadLegislative elections held in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 2006brought to powertheIslamistmovement
,which went on to formthe majority of the Palestinian LegislativeCouncil and alsothefirst majority
government.These electionsresulted inthe appointmentof the first female
minister,who became the
Minister of Women’s Affairs. Between March
2006 and June 2007,twodifferentfemale
ministersassumed this post,butbothfound itdifficult to managethe Ministrysincemost of its employees were not
members butbelonged toother political parties,andmostweremembersof 
, thedominant movementcontrollingmost Palestinian Authorityinstitutions.A tense period of struggle between the womenof 
in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and
thefemale members o
came to an endfollowing
takeover of power in the Gaza Stripand the resultantfallof itsgovernment in theWest Bank 
a struggle which sometimes took a violent turn. One reason later cited to explain thisstruggle was the difference between secular feminist discourse andIslamist
discourse on women’s
issues. In the Palestinian context thisdisagreementtook on a dangerousnatureasitwas used to justifyperpetuatingthebloodypoliticalstruggle,the removal of Hamas women from their positionsor posts,andthepolitical and geographical divides prevailing at the time in both the West Bank andthe occupied Gaza Strip.This struggle raisesa number ofimportantquestions: should we punish the Islamist movementwhich has cometo power, or should we consid
er the reasons which led to Fateh’s
failurein thepolitical arena?Can feminism offera comprehensive framework for women, regardless oftheirsocial and ideological affiliations?Can adiscourse of asharedcommon ground for women helpthemto realize and agree upon their common goals?Ispaternalism onlypresent in Islamistideology, and not in nationalism and patriotism? What do we mean by feminism? Is there only onefeminism, or several feminisms? What do we meanbyIslam-is it the movementknown by thisname or the religion, the philosophy, or the legal system?We need togo to the bottom of theseissuesandconsider them carefully,andwe must agree uponthemso that we canlater decide, asfeminists, ifour criticism of paternalismshould be directed atreligion(faith),whichshould beconfined to the heart of the believer and not beallowedto take control of the worldat large, orthe jurisprudence, which relates to different schools of faith which explain the legal system contained inthe Quran and thesayings of the Prophet-the
Dr Islah Jad isDirector ofthe
Women's Studies Institute
and AssistantProfessor of Genderand Developmentat Bir ZeitUniversity. She is one of the founders of the
Women’s Studies Institute
at Bir ZeitUniversity and is one of the foundersof 
(Women’s Affairs Technical Committee), a national coalition for
womenin Palestine. Shehaspublishedmany works on Palestinian and Arab women
political participationand isco-author for the Arab Human DevelopmentReport of 2005.
3We can find many Islamist feminists who also criticisethis philosophyandwhocall for the gates of 
to bereopened*,so as to harmonisethe
with the spirit ofcurrent times.Thisdeconstructionand criticism is importantasit can bring together the different elements of thefeminist ranksto work together rather than assmall groups, andhave themtogetherconsiderthecrucial and polarising points whichimpedeissues of political and social change in the Arab regionin general and within every one of our societies in particular.To more precisely define the conceptsusedin the ongoing debates between the secular feministmovementandreligious movements, writers such as ZibaMir-Hosseini(1999 and 2003)predictedthe importance ofdistinguishing between religionas faith and a set of values,and betweenorganised religion (its institutions, laws and practices). Current post-independencesecularsystemsarebased on some aspects of traditional jurisprudencecondensed to form a
law’ which
combinesvariouslegalopinionsand holy issues.Modern political Islamistmovementscame to addveneration to these holy issues.This situation prompted women within some of these modernIslamistmovements to distinguish between what is holy and what is human (all jurisprudence andall different religious schools), to create anot necessarily hostilespace between religion itself andits institutions, laws and practices. This opened uptremendousspace for actions,operations,criticismsand changes,and
led to the emergence of what became known as ‘Islamic feminism’.
The word
heredenotes the moregeneral meaning,indicatingawarenessof theunderlyingfactors(political, economic, social, cultural) which discriminate against women on thebasis of their gender andworkingto change thesefactorsin favour of greaterrights and freedomsfor women. Feminism is a
way to help us find out what we know about women’s rights in society
in general (through religious laws which challenge paternalism from within, as is the case withIslamic feminism).This paper is based on the debate that in thePalestinian case in particular-the conflict betweenthose who call themselves secular feminists andfemale Islamists conceals afundamentallypoliticalconflict for influence and power-and is not necessary a conflict over the meaning of feminism,clothed ineithersecular or Islamist terms.
When Palestinians assume a ‘secular’ identity , this‘identity’ is still one of opposition t
o the Other (in this case the Islamists)
even though thisPalestinian
may stillberooted in traditional religiosity orits customs and patterns of behaviour.
I will begin by presenting a critical analysis of the ambiguous concept of ‘secularism’ in the
framework of Palestinian nationalism. I will then present Islamist feminist thinkingas it hasevolved by women from the Islamist resistance movement (
) in an attempt tofind outifwecan findcommon groundfor womenwho are suffering fromoccupation andwho share in aconviction of the need forresistance.
*The gates of reasoned judicial interpretation (
) were deemed to be ‘closed’ by the Sunni legal schools somecenturies after the death of the Prophet. The same does not apply to the Shi’i who have remained open to the principle
of reasoned jud
icial interpretation that reflects changes in the times in which Muslims live and their ‘place’; i.e. their

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