Palestine is a place plagued with problems: occupation, political corruption, economical difficulties and a deeply ingrained patriarchal society, a lethal combination for Palestinian women. This year 18 women have been killed at the hands of their families. Most infamously the 21-year-old makeup artist Israa Ghareeb who was brutally killed by her brother in law, her screams recorded and shared across the Internet.
In the town of Bethlehem in the West Bank, where Israa was murdered, there is one of the few organisations set up to protect women from violence; the Mehwar Centre or Safe House. Currently home to twelve women, the safe house provides a gated living space fully equipped to cater to the inhabitants psychological, physical and legal needs.
In a society where over 60% of men believe violence in the home should be accepted it is not a surprise that those who work for the centre face opposition. Hizb ut Tahreer, an extremist organisation that impresses upon communities patriarchal oppressive practices, has received a warning from the Education Ministry for its comments made about outreach manager Linda Jarayseh:
‘Linda has an EU agenda which is clear through her teachings that women should not marry before 18. This is not what we believe. She is part of a Western conspiracy to impose evil Western ideals on our community.’
Linda and her colleagues are not put off the work however, quite the opposite. Them alike others working in sectors that forward women’s rights face frequent threats and some speak of how HT members have asked their husbands to kill them.
Such opposition only reminds them how important their work is. They do not take seriously any suggestion that they are un-Islamic and unlike in the West have no real concept of Islamophobia:
‘This is not my Islam. Do they think we were not Muslim before they arrived? We have a huge problem pushing against their version of Islam and the negative effect it is having on our society: Early marriages, hijabs being worn by children and forced on women, women staying in the home and our laws and politics becoming controlled by religion. This is not our Islam, it is the brotherhood.’ Rateeba Alaedin who works for the Sharek youth forum alongside the UN.
Youth participants from Become The Voice’s ‘Voices Without Borders’ spent the afternoon at the centre.
The participants are young women from Hebron, the city in the West Bank from which most of the Mehwar centre’s inhabitants come from. The group identifies itself as intent on fighting the patriarchy within the city most plagued by HT and patriarchal ideas.
They have also faced opposition. A recent post they collectively made about the need for homes free of violence resulted in this comment from a HT affiliate:
‘This is for Western societies … In our country there is nothing to talk about … You incite the girl against her father, brother.. you generalize rare anomalies …’
The group responded collectively with statistics and numbers from reputable sources. One participant who has her own feminist blog asserted:
‘Anomaly to anyone who is absent from the facts and reality, we have a duty to encourage women who are subjected to oppression and violence that they break their silence!! The demolition of the family lies in silence for such crimes…
…The comments seem to be pro-patriarchy and violence which shows why we are still suffering with such oppressive society. Statistics, science, social and economic states show that women are treated unequally in the Middle East generally and Palestine specifically! Denying doesn’t solve the problem we need to admit it in order to start working on it.’
The Mehwar Centre represents a strength in Palestinian women to challenge extremism and stand for equality. A strength that never ceases to inspire, especially as a British person who expects cries of ‘racist and/or islamophobe’ if you tackle such issues. At the end of the session I ask the group: ‘Are HT listened to?’ ‘No, silly people, they say.’
Become The Voice looks
to support youth who want to become the voice on issues that affect their
communities. In Palestine they run a youth programme. Voices Without Borders,
that equips, empowers and enables a youth group to deliver awareness raising
training on GBV in Hebron.
 General Union of Palestinian Women and Feminist Institutions
 UN Women (2018). International Men and Gender Equality Survey.
 Interview with Linda Jarayseh on 23/10/2019
 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) 2011