Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Palestinian Women's Everyday Resistance: Between Normality and Normalisation

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Palestinian Women's Everyday Resistance: Between Normality and Normalisation

Article excerpt


The paper traces Palestinian women's understandings, practices and framings of everyday resistance. Women's resistance acts consist of both materially-based survival strategies and various coping strategies at the ideational level. Focussing on the latter, this study investigates women's practices of travelling to create (a sense of) normal joyful life for themselves, their families, friends and community with the aim of shedding light upon the complex and mutually constitutive interplay between women's agency and the various social and political power structures. It is argued that Palestinian women, although framing their acts of crossing Israeli-imposed physical restriction as acts of resistance against the occupation, are in fact also seizing an opportunity to covertly challenge and trespass internal patriarchal forms of control.

Keywords: Palestine, Middle East, women's activism, resistance, gender


All throughout the Israeli attacks on Gaza from December 2008 to January 2009 I tried in vain to get news from Marwan, a friend in Gaza City who had helped me two months earlier to arrange interviews for my research project. (1) I never received a reply. Then, on 18 January, the first day of a very fragile ceasefire, he suddenly filled my Inbox with several jokes, including the following: An Israeli arrives at London's Heathrow airport. As he fills out the entry form, the immigration officer asks him: "Occupation?" The Israeli promptly replies: "No, no, just visiting!" I was very happy to hear from Marwan, but his outpour of humour and jokes, coming from Gaza which had been under constant bombardment and attack for more than three weeks, left me somewhat confused. The "genocidal Israeli attack on Gaza" (Pappe, 2009), killed more than 1400 people, (2) left many more wounded, and a whole population emotionally and psychologically distressed (see Thabet et. al., 2009). The attacks completely destroyed civilian infrastructure services and brought Gaza "to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe" (Shlaim, 2009:1).

In response to my further inquiries about the situation--but also about his jokes--Marwan answered me in a later email:

   ... about Gaza and the Israeli aggression, believe me it was the
   worst days in my life, very difficult, ugly and horrible especially
   on the kids. Eight windows were broken in my flat. My wife and the
   kids were in the room and the glass broke on them, but thank God
   nothing happened to them. Plus the sound of the explosions with the
   sound of the F16 made my kids, and even us, suffer until this
   moment. My kids now are scared of everything, even if the door
   [just] shuts strongly from the wind. [...] About [the question of]
   how we can still make jokes about Israelis and the
   occupation?--Because we have to, we have to live and yes, you can
   call it "sumud".

Sumud, which translates as steadfastness, can be described as a form of infra-politics, or everyday (nonviolent) resistance (Scott, 1997). (3) It is, as Marwan shows, the steadfast and stubborn insistence on carrying on with life and even seizing every opportunity to enjoy it, despite all odds. In contrast to the public, heroic and overt nonviolent resistance, which in Palestine is mostly associated with stone-throwing youth, sumud is a more covert, often individual and non-organised everyday resistance. The term is used to refer to a wide variety of acts ranging from more materially-based survival strategies (such as continuing to tend occupied agricultural land or engaging in small-scale income-generating projects to provide livelihoods) through cultural resistance (by upholding traditions, folkloric songs or dresses and other customs), to social and ideational resistance (by, for example, maintaining hope and a sense of normality). As a strategy concerned particularly with preserving family and community life sumud has been associated particularly with women's daily struggles (Johnson, 2007:602-3; Peteet, 1991 : 153; Richter-Devroe, 2008:47-51). …

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