Gaza Genocide – On Mainstream Feminism’s Disregard for the Rights of Other Women

The majority of Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza are women and children. (Photo: Mahmoud Ajjour, The Palestine Chronicle)

By Benay Blend

The mainstream women’s movement in the United States has a long history of being less than inclusive of women whose history differs from their own.

Several weeks ago I submitted a chapter to an anthology about foodways in the United States. My portion covered the ways that Palestinian cuisine serves as a form of cultural resistance. Whether by restaurant owners, cookbook authors, or cooks in the kitchen, preservation of traditional dishes is in part a response to “Israeli” appropriation of Indigenous foodways as well as ongoing efforts to sever the people from their land.

After several revisions per the book editors’ comments, the collection went to the press where it was reviewed by outside readers. My chapter received a scathing critique by a reviewer who felt that I should have focused on “the burden of women’s unpaid domestic labor in the kitchen.”

Not only were these comments irrelevant to the focus of the book, but they had very little to do with Palestinian women. Written by a well-known writer in the field, her commentary nevertheless illustrated a long-held flaw in mainstream feminism. Specifically, there has always been a superficial acknowledgment of the many forms of feminisms, but little effort to veer too far from the mainstream when another culture is different from one’s own.

By way of Rabab Abdulhadi’s Arab and Arab American Feminisms: Gender, Violence and Belonging (2011), most of the reviewer’s concerns were addressed in what is hoped to be an acceptable fashion.

Moreover, given “Israel’s” genocidal siege on Gaza over the past eight months, it is doubtful that the “burden of women’s unpaid labor in the kitchen” ranks high among Palestinian concerns either in the home or in the diaspora. Because the Zionist regime has destroyed so much of Gaza’s cultural heritage since October 7—close to 200 sites, as of April 24—preservation of nonmaterial culture, such as foodways, is highly valued.

The mainstream women’s movement in the United States has a long history of being less than inclusive of women whose history differs from their own. As Mysia Anderson notes, there appears to be discomfort when she identifies as a “black feminist” in a room full of “other feminists” who are unaware of what that distinction means.

This goes back to Seneca Falls in 1848, the first women’s rights convention from which black women were excluded. Even today, “mainstream feminism does not boldly tackle enough of the issues that many black women face in their daily lives,” Anderson explains, just as it does not address problems that Palestinian women have faced since 1948.

Moreover, the West has been known to “weaponize women’s rights” in order to “demonize” other countries it doesn’t like. “For much too long,” Farah Hajj Hassan writes, “Iran has been portrayed as a backward and suppressive nation, particularly in its treatment of women.”

By stressing alleged human rights abuses in Iran, Hassan notes, the West “holds on to its perceived moral superiority,” despite the fact that pro-Palestinian protestors are subjected to “brutal force” by local and state police. Across the country, police “assaulted women with no remorse,” and even forcibly removed the hijab of a Within Our Lifetime (WOL) member, thus prohibiting her freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution.

In an interview with Al Mayadeen English, Dr. Setareh Sadeghi, an Iranian researcher, explained that sanctions do far more harm to women in Iran than state policy and she added that they are “rooted in cultural imperialism.” All of the women interviewed for the article agreed that “Western governments and media have long used women’s issues as a front to call for regime change in Iran, falsely describing the leadership for decades as repressive towards women.”

Women’s rights are also sometimes weaponized to justify atrocities against another country. In the case of Gaza, an AP exposé of “Israeli” atrocity propaganda revealed that allegations of sexual abuse by Resistance fighters on October 7 were fabricated to validate Israel’s assault on Gaza.

“These claims were used to demonize the resistance and to cover up the humane behavior the resistance displayed towards zionist prisoners during their detention in Gaza,” read a statement by Hamas, yet the story has apparently gone on to gain a life of its own.

In the May 23rd issue of Ms. Magazine, billed as the most trusted, popular source for feminist news and information in print and online, there was an article entitled “A Violent Denial: Combating Silence Around Hamas’ Sexual Violence and Preventing Future Crimes.” While focusing in detail on the harm done to “Israeli” women due to Hamas’ alleged attacks, there is no mention of the many problems facing Palestinian women due to “Israel’s” bombardment of Gaza.

According to UN Women Executive Director Sima Bahous, women in the Gaza Strip say that they are “living the unimaginable,” as they are forced to give birth under terrible conditions, often without food, water, or shelter. Indeed, the agency has called the siege a “war on women” as 9000 women had been killed as of International Women’s Day 2024.

In another UN Report, there are charges that women and children have been deliberately executed in areas that were supposedly deemed safe, often while waving a white flag. UN workers also noted the arbitrary detention of hundreds of Palestinian women and girls in both Gaza and the West Bank.

There they are subjected to horrible treatment, including denial of menstrual pads, food, and medicine, as well as severe beatings and in some cases sexual assault including rape. None of these atrocities are noted in the Ms. Magazine report which focused only on “Israeli” women who had allegedly endured sexual assault by Hamas.

In an earlier issue the magazine centers on “The Right’s Dystopian Plan to Dismantle Civil Rights and What It Means for Women.” There is a focus on the loss of reproductive rights for women, but there is no effort to look at women’s rights across race, class, sexuality, etc.

Moreover, there is no mention of the right to speak out for women in Gaza who are under siege. For example, in New York City, Hesen Jabr, a Palestinian-American labor and delivery nurse, made the following comments upon receiving the NYU Langone award for her compassionate care while treating women who had recently lost their babies:

“It pains me to see the women from my country going through unimaginable losses themselves during the current genocide in Gaza. This award is deeply personal to me for those reasons. Even though I can’t hold their hands and comfort them as they grieve their unborn children and the children they have lost during this genocide, I hope to keep making them proud as I keep representing them here at NYU. Thank you.”

For those words, she was fired on her first day back to work.

As Ms. Magazine’s stance suggests, supporters of the Democratic party often stress reproductive rights as an area that would be endangered if Republicans win the White House. As with the women’s movement, there are many layers associated with the reproductive field, as Prism, an independent, nonprofit newsroom led by and for people of color, shows in its documentation of the ways that Planned Parenthood has ties to Raytheon which profits from the genocide on Gaza.

Planned Parenthood’s links to the arms manufacturer are through Raytheon Foreground Security, a subsidiary that provides cyber security services, including security engineering, assessment, customized security training, and advanced incident response and forensics services.

“Planned Parenthood’s digital security needs may be uniquely challenging,” states the Prism report, “but it would be difficult for the organization to justify its contract with RTX given the worsening sexual and reproductive health conditions in Gaza.”

“Rather than making a largely symbolic gesture by choosing a new cybersecurity firm,” responds Sarah Hamid, co-founder and advisory team member of the Carceral Tech Resistance Network, “Planned Parenthood could take a stand and condemn the ongoing reproductive genocide in Gaza.”

As of May 13, 2024, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency documented more than 150,000 Palestinian women in Gaza facing terrible conditions, including food scarcity, lack of water,  poor sanitary conditions, and more.

In “Words vs Action: A Supplication for Gaza and Humanity,” Ramzy Baroud writes that “Gaza is fighting for its very survival, and we, too, must fight for the same end.” Perhaps the first step for Planned Parenthood, as well as other organizations, should be an acknowledgment that protecting rights and privileges that are built on complicity with the genocide of Palestinians is not a feminist ideal.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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1 Comment

  1. In relation to rape and the palestinian experiences in the Nakba, apparently Ben Gurion records in his diaries that Haganah units, the Stern Gang and Irgun committed rape against Palestinian women. The Beirut PLO historical documents record the same thing. Now the Israelis make these claims against Hamas with the intention of denying palestinian rights; if we are serious about all people having equal rights, then the Israels have effectively renounced all right to statehood and independence – because of their constant consistent record of atrocities.

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