Palestinian Women's Perceptions of Popular Resistance Actions in the Occupied West Bank

By Liyana Kayali
Submitted to Session P4660 (Gender and Conflict: Activism, Resilience, and Disengagement, 2016 Annual Meeting
West Bank;
Studies of resistance have found that nonviolent actions tend to attract a broader base of participants than violent actions, and this has historically been the case for the Palestinian resistance movement. Nonviolent resistance actions have long been practised by Palestinian women, in particular, who have played significant roles sustaining active periods of popular resistance. However, in the post-Oslo period, despite some notable exceptions, women have largely been absent from collective resistance actions. By examining Palestinian women’s perceptions of popular resistance activities in the West Bank gleaned from in-depth interviews and focus groups conducted with 54 participants from the Bethlehem Governorate, this paper investigates factors that may be contributing to women’s retreat from collective activism.

While some accounts attribute the post-Oslo demobilisation of Palestinian resistance to widespread apathy, this paper argues that Palestinian women remain highly committed to the struggle to resist Israeli occupation, but have been alienated from prevailing forms of popular activism such as protests and demonstrations. Discussions with women revealed that distrust of the actors, agendas, and interests driving such actions led many to question their legitimacy. Indeed, interviewees regularly explained their own and other women's lack of engagement in popular protests and demonstrations by attesting to factors that, in their estimation, reduced their legitimacy.

The issue of legitimacy is particularly pivotal for women who are constrained in a greater number of ways than men when it comes to public forms of resistance participation. As such, they place a relatively higher premium on legitimacy than do men in such decisions. By analysing the performance of resistance as a ‘moral drama’, in which actors are expected to be acting authentically and not out of self interest in the pursuit of a moral or social cause, I posit that the legitimacy of a resistance action in Palestine is evaluated primarily on the basis of how ‘pure’ the motives of activists are perceived to be, and how authentic (i.e. free of outside interference) it is. This analysis contributes an understanding of why contemporary collective resistance actions in Palestine have largely failed to sustain women’s participation, and why Palestinian women perceive there to be so few avenues of ‘real’ resistance left for them to pursue.