Inspiring her village: Rana Jarban’s struggle to change Jisr a-Zarqa

Trained as a family mediator and now taking a course in Islamic law, she prides herself on being able to offer her clients a variety of tools, legal as well as cultural, to improve their lives.

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May 23, 2019 02:13
4 minute read.
Inspiring her village: Rana Jarban’s struggle to change Jisr a-Zarqa

Rana Jarban, the first woman from Jisr a-Zarqa to finish law school and open a legal practice in the village. (photo credit: TAYLOR RENEE BISSEY)



How far would you go to realize a dream? In the case of Rana Jarban from the coastal village of Jisr az-Zarqa, the answer is: “As far as it takes.”

Born in the coastal fishing village of Jisr a-Zarqa to parents who are both educators, she was strongly pushed to a career in that field. Furthermore, her fiancé at the time suggested she doesn’t need to get a job at all, saying he will gladly provide for them both.

Jarban, who dreamed of being a lawyer since childhood, called off the wedding and, facing her parent’s disapproval, went to work to save up the funds needed to go to law school, first, as a grocery bagger at a supermarket and later, at a mobile phone company.

Speaking with The Jerusalem Report in a Haifa coffee shop, she frankly admits she is “still paying off student loans,” but adds that she is “completely fine with it.”

Jarban is the first woman to have completed law school and opened a legal practice in her village. She also works at the NGO Amanina (Our Wishes) that promotes social advancement within Arab society in Israel and the Workers Rights Clinic of Tel Aviv University, where she volunteers as part of the Middle East Partnership Initiative, a joint project of the US Embassy, the village, and the clinic.

The heart of the matter is the abuse women from her community usually face on several fronts. Within the structure of traditional Arab society, they are under immense pressure to marry at an early age and act in accordance with the interests of the extended family. As workers, they are often exploited by bosses who pay them less than minimum wage. The village of Jisr a-Zarqa is known for providing cleaners, mostly women but also teenagers, to major hospitals and shopping centers in the north of the country. The women are usually expected to hand over their wages to their husbands or fathers who do with it as they please. This harsh reality of oppression and control weaves a complex web that is difficult to break out of.

“When a woman comes to my office and complains that [due to her husband’s behavior] she is in debt,” Jarban says, “or that she is divorced and her ex-husband does not offer her and their children any financial support, I tell her: ‘And yet, you all see marriage as such a must-have’ and they bow their heads and say ‘yes, you are right.’”

Jarban, who is fiercely proud of her native community and takes great pride in the fact that she has clients who come to her office even from the affluent neighboring city of Caesarea, is careful to point out that while she will take on divorce cases, she does not think divorce is always the best course of action.

Trained as a family mediator and now taking a course in Islamic law, she prides herself on being able to offer her clients a variety of tools, legal as well as cultural, to improve their lives.

“According to Islamic law,” she explains, “if a couple was engaged to be married and the marriage did not happen and it is the man’s fault, the woman is entitled to compensation.” She openly says that while she is happy to accept almost any case, she will never defend a man accused of domestic violence.

“I had an offer to take on such a client,” she says, “and when I asked him if he did it he said yes. Such a client I do not want even for all the gold in the world.”

She does not ask for a fee when helping women who work in cleaning to seek their rights, such as social security payments and pension plans, which legally must be offered by their employers.
“I already have ten cases,” she says, “all against employers who pay their women workers less than the minimum wage in this country.”

As she sees it, while every woman has a right to work if she wants to, working hard is not always enough to be free. “I know women who work double shifts,” she says, “yet their families control their lives to the extent of selecting their friends for them.”

Part of the Israel National Trail, Jisr a-Zarqa is the home of Juha’s Guesthouse, a small business owned and operated by a Jewish-Arab partnership, showing that one can always do something positive even in harsh conditions.

“The pride I feel is not about having a law degree,” Jarban says, “it is about being independent. I run my own life, my own business, I am free.”

Deeply rooted in her village and committed to upholding the family values she was raised with, she confess a profound love for Jisr a-Zarqa. ‘When I was in school I was offered a chance to learn elsewhere,” she says, “and I chose to stay with my friends, in my own community.”


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