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On International Women's Day

Palestinian women march against wall

By Kathy Durkin

Palestinian women commemorated International Women's Day this year by defiantly marching in opposition to Israel's apartheid wall. Holding banners and pictures of relatives imprisoned in Israeli jails, they marched against the 26-foot-high concrete wall Israel is building to separate their West Bank village of Abu Dis from East Jerusalem, where many work, attend school or seek medical care.

Palestinian Minister of Women's Affairs Zahira Kamal addressed the demonstration, which was organized by the General Union of Palestinian Women and included international women activists. Kamal recognized the crucial role Palestinian women play in the decision-making process and in the just struggle for their people's rights.

On March 8, Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat made an impassioned plea from the West Bank city of Ramallah to the women of the world to support their Palestinian sisters by protesting Israel's horrific actions.

The Palestinian woman "who gives birth at an Israeli checkpoint or dies there with her baby urges all women in the world to do everything they can to put an end to Israel's despicable occupation," Arafat said.

In the spirit of many International Women's Day protests worldwide decrying violence against women, President Arafat called on Israel to stop its violence against Palestinian women--the killings, detentions and denials of checkpoint access.

He called for the freedom of all Pales tinian women from Israeli jails. Currently, 73 women are incarcerated under inhuman, brutal conditions, often in solitary confinement. Some are forced to give birth in their cells; all are denied human and civil rights in violation of international laws.

The conditions of life for Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza have been worsened by the U.S.-backed Israeli military siege, continual incursions and attacks. Every aspect of women's lives is affected: healthcare, housing, nutrition, employment, education, safety, their children's wellbeing, even access to a clean water supply.

A report by the UN's Office for Coor di nation of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), issued on International Women's Day, stated that nearly 10,000 Palestinians have lost their homes in Rafah in the Gaza Strip due to Israeli demolitions or confiscations. Families have suddenly found themselves without food, clothing or furniture, ousted by

brute force from their homes.

Access to healthcare for nearly 40 percent of women has been severely restricted due to the occupation, curfew and lack of funds. Access to pre- and post-natal care has declined. Because of the checkpoints, home births have become more frequent and more women suffer medical complications.

OCHA reports that since 2002, 52 pregnant women on their way to medical centers have given birth while waiting to get through Israeli military checkpoints. Some 19 women and 29 newborn babies died at military checkpoints between September 2000 and December 2002 for lack of medical help.

Many women doctors and nurses have been prevented from going to work, leading to the closing of health care centers for women and children. Women with serious illnesses have suffered and even died because of this, according to Reema Katana of the General Union of Pales tinian Women. Often ambulances are blocked and emergency healthcare cannot get to people who need it. The apartheid wall worsens this situation.

Katana conducted a study on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian women. Their overall health is worsening; anemia is 74.2 percent for pregnant women and 45.4 percent for nonpregnant women because of the difficulties in obtaining food under the occupation and growing poverty.

Unemployment, poverty, malnutrition

The AP reported on March 2 that unemployment rose to 70 percent in some areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Closing off access to villages, roadblocks, curfews and now the apartheid wall make it harder to even reach places of employment.

Katana says that Israel's "destruction of factories and deteriorating economic conditions led employers to let go of their employees, which include many women, especially those working in textile, food and medical factories."

Sixty percent of the 3.5 million Pales tinians living on the occupied lands live below the poverty level of $2.10 per day, according to a UN report from the Food and Agriculture Organization issued March 11.

Israel has confiscated much arable and high-income-producing Palestinian farmland to build the wall. Since many women

farm, this action deprives many of the ability to grow nutritious crops for their families.

The jailings, deaths or unemployment of men in their families also make conditions more difficult for women.

Women and girls also face sexual harassment, threats and constant danger at the hands of Israeli settlers and soldiers, forcing many to restrict their mobility to school, jobs and getting medical care. Women have been hurt when trying to cross roadblocks. Others have been beaten, jailed, even killed by occupation forces.

However, Palestinian women struggle mightily to take care of their families in the face of this adversity, while supporting and participating in the resistance movement. Their bravery and determination are stunning.

Within days of IWD, two young Palestinian women were killed by Israeli gunfire. Dalal Alsabagh, 22, from Jenin was shot when Israeli soldiers invaded her neighborhood with tanks. Eitimad Kullab, 34, from Rafah in the Gaza Strip expired from Israeli gunshot wounds.

Their names should be remembered by women and anti-war activists worldwide.

Reprinted from the March 25, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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