Calls for a Women's Intifada Against Arab Males, Mainly

Israeli-Arab filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana has called for an intifada for Arab women against their culture's inflexible patriarchal institutions. She's fed up not only with the Israeli occupation but also with the "Arab occupation," writes Bili Moskuna-Lerman.

al-monitor Vera Baboun (C) speaks to people at a market in the West Bank town of Bethlehem October 7, 2012. Photo by REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman.

Topics covered

intifada, feminism, elections, arab

Oct 18, 2012

“Y’allah intifada also among us, women of Palestine and Israel!” wrote Ibtisam Mara'ana on Oct. Mara'ana is a young, talented, witty and brave Arab director who lives in Tel Aviv. Her important films and writings tell of the injustices perpetrated on women in the patriarchal Arab society — a society in which the camel and donkey are ofen viewed as more valuable than a woman.

The concept of intifada ("awakening" or "shaking off" in Arabic), familiar to us as the term used to describe the two Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation, link Arab women today against the Arab patriarchy and religious establishment that for years have cast terror over the lives of millions of women in the Arab world. About half a year ago, a revolutionary Facebook page opened under the heading, “The Female Intifada in the Arab World.” Its central message was a clarion cry to all the women in the Arab world, to “rise up against the figures of the father, the brother and the man of religion who represent the oppressive male establishment.”

“The Arab woman has no control over her life; she is transferred from the authority of her father to that of her lover, then to that of her husband,” wrote Bushara Abed Al-Rahman on the Facebook page. Al-Rahman was one of the Palestinians expelled from the Ikrit village [during the Arab-Israeli War in 1948]. “I am sick and tired of all the occupations, the Arab as well as Israeli.”

Numerous men and women throughout the entire world have been sending in messages of support and affinity to this Facebook page. In reaction, religious establishments in a number of Arab states are introducing bills in their legislatures that are incredibly conservative. For example, the Egyptian parliament recently proposed to lower the legal age of marriage to nine, to avoid charges of statutory rape. Even here, following the same bleak, shadowy thought-processes, Knesset Member Nissim Ze’ev proposed to prohibit relations outside of marriage due to what he termed the "promiscuity" involved in Israel’s high rate of abortions. But our situation is relatively reasonable in comparison to that of our neighbors. The Egyptian parliament, for example, has easily passed barbaric bills for many years without first conducting in-depth discussions and without allowing women to make their voices heard, despite the major limitations these laws placed on them: their right to be masters of their bodies, their minds and their economic and familial situations.

Mara'ana writes, “If only women would learn to put an end to this situation in which they are not in control of their own fates.” And she knows what she is talking about, as evident by her own life, reflected in the films she creates. Mara'ana has undergone a very brave, difficult journey vis-à-vis the inflexible Arab patriarchal culture from which she sprang.

Thus, in the shadow of the discussions on the “third intifada” — heard more and more in the Palestinian discourse, due to despair over the deadlock in negotiations with Israel — we must also pay attention to the calls of “Y’allah intifada” from Mara'ana in the name of many Palestinian women. This is, no doubt, a byproduct of this year’s social-protest movement (among other causes). This movement wakes up not only Israeli tycoons from their many years of sweet dreams, but the male Arab world as well.

The feminine vote

In light of Mara'ana’s call to action and with an eye on the upcoming elections, we must also take a clear look at another initiative that was recently born. A new partnership was formed of seven women’s organizations: The Israel Women’s network, Itach (Women Lawyers for Social Justice), The Association for Economic Empowerment for Women, the Adva Center, the Mahut Center (Information Guidance and Employment for Women), Achoti and ‘Women's Spirit (Financial Independence for Women Victims of Violence). Dorit Abramowitz leads these organizations, which have banded together with the goal of creating a broad coalition of gender-based voting. In other words, the goal is to give a voice to this 51% of the country's population via voting for the party that will promote their real interests.

Statistical break-downs of gendered voting in the world prove that women understand their own interests in many issues, such as privatization, the cutting back of public services and economic decrees. At the same time, they know how to value their power as a pressure group that can closely examine which parliament members (both male and female) vote for them and work to promote their interests.

The first glimmerings of Israeli gender-based voting were evident in the support for Kadima, headed by Tzipi Livni, in the previous elections, and in the votes that secured Yael Gorman’s election to the head of the Herzliya municipality. Another relevant example of women’s power is in the “Parliament of Women” that will be held on Oct. 17 in the Arab town of Jisr az-Zarqa, under the aegis of Council Head Az-a-Din Amash. This group will be led by Ibtisam Mahameed and Tafa Amash, and in cooperation with Dr. Esther Herzog (who established the Shin movement for the Equal Representation of Women, and other parliaments for discussions of women’s topics throughout the country).

Ibtisam Mahameed of Fureidis was a young child when her parents took her out of school to work in cleaning jobs. Today, she is finishing her bachelor’s degree. She also recently received the "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" award from the Dalai Lama for her activities on behalf of other women in her village who were able to study due to her efforts. She did this as part of the Reborn Women project that made education available to the village women in the form of courses in reading, writing and English as well as professional studies.

The glimmer of hope in the project is that the heads of the Fureidis and Jisr az-Zarqa councils joined it, that they volunteer their time to teach courses to women and that they view the women as equal and relevant. Women’s power has proved itself in the elections for the councils of the two villages; when the council members were elected, they appointed the women to serve as advisors to women’s affairs and involved them in budgetary allocations of the councils to women’s causes.

Y’allah intifada

According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, the old ways of doing things have ceased working while new methods have not yet been created. In an interview given by Bauman on global, political and social issues, he said, “the twenty-first century will be dedicated to building new directions.”

Bauman’s words merge well into our current social-protest movement against economic gaps, social inequality, nuclear armament, belligerence, competition, greed and lack of solidarity — evils that rule the lives of more and more women throughout the world. These women are willing to join hands and cooperate in initiatives that cross national and religious lines in order to promote their own interests: bringing an end to armament processes, supporting peace talks that will reduce social gaps and returning to a society that upholds values of solidarity and mutual care. There is no doubt that these initiatives are proof that by virtue of motivation and education, women and men can navigate their lives much more successfully. This is what Mara'ana means when she writes to us, “Y’allah intifada.”

Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
  • Al-Monitor Archives
  • The Week in Review
  • Exclusive Events
  • Invitation-only Briefings

More from  Bili Moskuna-Lerman