Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Behind Closed Doors: Palestinian Families under Curfew

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Behind Closed Doors: Palestinian Families under Curfew

Article excerpt

After deportations, curfews are the cruelest punishment for mothers, one mother from the West Bank told a team of experts from the United Nations. The UN report on The Situation of Palestinian Women in the Occupied Territories, issued in March 1990 by the Commission on the Status of Women, notes that all members of the family suffer when curfews restrict their mobility. Mothers suffer the most, however, because, as in patriarchal cultures everywhere, the responsibility of running the house falls squarely on their shoulders.

A Double Burden for Mothers

It is not unusual to find Palestinian families with 10 or 11 children crowded into two or three rooms. During curfews, overcrowding of this kind produces stress among children which manifests itself in the form of aggressive behavior. Mothers are faced with the double burden of controlling the children's aggression toward one another, and making sure that the family has enough food supplies to last throughout the curfew. Based on interviews with 30 women from the occupied territories, the UN report had the following to say on the effects on the mothers' emotional well being:

"There is a deterioration of the psychological well-being of mothers in particular. During prolonged periods of curfew, women are fully responsible for finding food to feed the large Palestinian family. They must also insure that the children stay within the family home, which is often overcrowded. Women must also deal with their husband's frustration at his inability to go out and earn an income. It was stated that women seemed to be stronger and more able to cope with the circumstances than men, some of whom have developed psychological problems. However, the combined effect of this stressful situation is linked to an increase in cases of high blood pressure, miscarriages, diabetes, headaches and psychosomatic illnesses among women. There are few medical services available for these stress-related problems."

The West Bank and Gaza have been under almost continuous curfew since the beginning of the Gulf war. This is the longest curfew that Israel has maintained over such a large segment of the population (1.7 million) since the 1967 occupation. It is also one of the most severe; the curfew is imposed for an average of 22 hours per day. Many families crammed into small quarters have very little food left to feed their children.

While farmers and suppliers of other food products are given permits to bring their supplies to the market, many families do not currently have the resources to purchase these goods. There are 100,000 Palestinian laborers, who work mostly on construction sites in Israel. These laborers have been without income since the curfew was imposed. Many families were provided for by one member of the family working in the Gulf states. This economic valve has also been shut in the course of the Gulf war.

Many institutions that provided employment on the West Bank and Gaza received financial backing from the Gulf states. Now this backing has been reduced, or cut entirely, and many Palestinian employees have lost their jobs (see Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1990, p. 26). Under normal circumstances, this state of economic insecurity would take its toll on family members. It is no doubt exacerbated by the curfew. The loss of all control over their economic future felt by many adults is only aggravated by the loss of control over their own mobility.

Palestinians are further frustrated because so little attention has been paid by the media to their oppressive situation under curfew. Yet the media has reported and re-reported the cheering of a few individuals over the sight of Scud missiles falling on Tel-Aviv, a complaint echoed by Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi in an interview with "60 Minutes" (February 3). This cheering, she said, must be viewed as a measure of the degree of frustration that people in the occupied territories feel because the UN, under American influence, has for so long been unable to protect Palestinian civilians. …

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