Leila Khaled smiles while talking to delegates outside a Palestinian National Council meeting in the Gaza Strip in the 1990s.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Everyone is talking about Ahed Tamimi – the 17-year-old Palestinian girl currently on trial for incitement to terrorism and assaulting a soldier, among numerous other charges. She’s been celebrated as the “protest icon,” the “Rosa Parks of Palestine,” a “modern-day Joan of Arc,” and “the real Wonder Woman.”
But is Tamimi a strong-minded, independent woman modeling the heroines to whom she is compared? Or is she a young girl whose naiveté and youth have been abused for dogmatic propaganda?
Today, on International Women’s Day, it seems most fitting to ask – who are the female leaders in Palestinian society that serve as role models for Tamimi and other Palestinian girls?
In September 2017, Tamimi spoke in the European Parliament at an event on “The Role of Women in the Palestinian Popular Struggle,” alongside PFLP terrorist and airplane hijacker Leila Khaled. During the event, Khaled declared, “there cannot be peace while there is even one Zionist on our territory.” It would appear that these words resonated with young Tamimi, who declared last month that “whether it is a stabbing attack or suicide bombing or throwing rocks, everyone needs to do something and unite in order for our message to reach those who want to liberate Palestine.”
Indeed, Tamimi proclaimed at the event that “there are many symbols, many Palestinian women who resist, who oppose. We have Leila Khaled. We appreciate all of these women because they show the perseverance, the resistance, this commitment to the cause and they are fantastic examples for women in Palestine.
The list of “Palestinian women who resist, who oppose” is a truly devastating set of so-called role models.
In May 2017, a Palestinian town opened its first center for women and youth and named it after Dalal Mughrabi, after a terrorist who hijacked a bus and massacred 38 Israeli civilians, including 13 children. The ruling Fatah party’s university student committee for women is named “Sisters of Dalal” after the same terrorist. Speaking on official Palestinian TV in 2018, the committee’s coordinator said, “We learn leadership from her, and that women always lead... Dalal Mughrabi is a role model, like other heroic female martyrs in Palestine. We draw willpower and determination from her, and perseverance and [the will to] continue this struggle.”
The self-proclaimed Palestinian women’s rights organization Miftah describes another woman, Wafa Idris, as “the beginning of a string of Palestinian women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause.” Idris detonated herself on January 27, 2002, killing an 81-year-old and wounding another 150 civilians.
Another prominent Palestinian woman, Rula Abu Duhou, was imprisoned “for her participation in the slaying of an innocent Israeli civilian.” After her release, Duhou declared, “I’m not sorry for it... On the contrary, I’m proud. And I wish I could do more for my country.” She currently serves as a faculty member at the Ramallah-based Birzeit University Institute of Women Studies.
Violent “resistance” is not the only role assigned to Palestinian women. A relative of Ahed Tamimi, Manal Tamimi – known for her inflammatory and virulently antisemitic statements – declared in an interview that “women are the main pillar of the Palestinian house... Palestinian women... are raising the new generation, they are putting the seeds of resistance... they [teach] their
children how to fight, how to be strong... even the men, they are getting their strength from women’s strength.”
Tamimi echoed this conviction in the European Parliament when she spoke of Palestinian women’s “very important role in the Palestinian struggle.” She added that “normally [women] have to bring up the children and convey the values to the children. If they convey the importance of the Palestinian struggle then they can pass this on to the next generations.”
With such romanticizing of violence and terrorism, it is unsurprising that young women like Tamimi take to stones and calls for murder. In her case, the message was fed by parents who have been encouraging her to participate in violence since childhood. Young girls and women are taught that the only path to female leadership is through embracing violence. The values of women’s empowerment and equality are at best subordinate.
We often forget that Tamimi is but a young teenager searching out how to leave her mark, and so we must beware of celebrating her as a symbol. By making her an icon, we indulge in and ultimately perpetuate a distorted image of female empowerment.
As a woman, I must wonder what hope we give Palestinian girls like Tamimi when we adorn the language of hate, violence and martyrdom in robes of women’s leadership, resilience and struggle. International Women’s Day is a perfect opportunity to offer an alternative example of what women’s empowerment is all about; otherwise we may be betraying the innocence of young Palestinian girls.The author is the director of Europe Desk at NGO Monitor, an independent research institute which provides information and analysis, promotes accountability, and supports discussion on the reports and activities of NGOs claiming to advance human rights and humanitarian agendas.
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