MYTH: Women’s rights are protected by the Palestinian Authority.

FACT

Not surprisingly, Israel’s demonizers used International Women’s Day as an opportunity to attack Israel for its treatment of Palestinians. It was equally unremarkable that none of the groups that claim to be concerned with Palestinian welfare would say a word about the appalling treatment of women by the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Palestinian society more broadly.

Similarly, for Women’s History Month, a U.S-based group of Palestinian Arab women calling themselves the “Palestinian Feminist Collective” published a statement endorsed by 83 organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, attacking the “Zionist settler colonial project” (they apparently don’t recognize the existence of the state they are condemning), which says nothing about the treatment of Palestinian women in the PA (“Pledge that Palestine is a Feminist Issue,” Palestinian Feminist Collective, March 2021).

The Palestinian feminists and other supporters of the Palestinian cause apparently have no problem with the treatment of women in the PA reported by the UN (“Palestine Gender Justice & The Law,” United Nations Development Programme, 2018):

  • “Palestine” has no domestic violence legislation.
  • Marital rape is not criminalized.
  • Sexual harassment is not criminalized.
  • “Palestine” does not have comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation.
  • Homosexual conduct between consenting adults is criminalized in Gaza, with a penalty of up to ten years of imprisonment.
  • There is no legal prohibition on female genital mutilation.
  • Abortion for rape survivors is prohibited.
  • Muslim women require consent of a male guardian to marry.
  • After divorce a mother automatically loses custody of her children if she remarries.

Here are some of the finding of the State Department human rights report on the treatment of women in the PA:

  • Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.
  • There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on travel out of Gaza.
  • Legally women can vote and participate in political life, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza.
  • Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape.
  • In previous years there were reports police treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter, and authorities released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.
  • PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence.
  • One in five Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza reported at least one incident of physical abuse from their husbands. Women in Gaza were twice as likely to be a victim of spousal abuse as women in the West Bank.
  • Women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to the PA or de facto Hamas authorities due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance.
  • Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior.
  • Women have a right to inheritance but, in practice, generally received less than men. In some cases, women have been attacked by male family members for asserting their right to an inheritance.
  • Men may marry more than one wife.
  • Women working as domestic workers were vulnerable to forced labor conditions in both the West Bank and Gaza
  • Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work.
  • Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women are common, and factories often do not hire pregnant or newly married women to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.

According to the Palestinian Human Rights and Democracy Media Center, there were 20 honor killings in the West Bank and Gaza in the first 10 months of 2019. “The state of women’s rights in Palestine remains at a standstill, and women are still being murdered,” the organization said in a statement. “Women remain the most prominent victims of the male culture and of the violence that grows out of it, while this culture elevates men beyond the culture of shame, appoints them as masters and guardians of morality – even when they act immorally – and grants them complete immunity” (Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman, “After alleged honor killing, Palestinians examine discriminatory culture,” Jerusalem Post, (September 6, 2019).

ASWAT, an organization of Palestinian gay women, says Palestinian society “has no mercy for sexual diversity and/or any expression of ‘otherness’ away from the societal norms and the assigned roles that were formed for women. … The Palestinian woman has no right to choose an identity other than the one enforced on her by the male figures in her family and surroundings” (“ASWAT – Palestinian Gay Women,” Mediterranean Women, August 15, 2006).

Women are used by Hamas as human shields. During the “Great March of Return,” an IDF official observed, “Hamas placed many women at the front in an effort to make it difficult for us to deal with terror targets” (Anna Ahronheim, “‘Unprecedented’ violence in Gaza leaves 58 Palestinians dead, thousands wounded,” Jerusalem Post, May 14, 2018). An Israeli soldier told the Jerusalem Post: “I saw with my own eyes Hamas activists pushing people [including] women and children to the fence” (Anna Ahronheim, “Gaza Border Residents Speak To The ‘Post’ About The Tension In Air,” Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2018).

The PA signed the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) but ignores its provisions. The Supreme Fatwa Council, which is part of the Palestinian government and has no female members, ruled the agreement violates Sharia law (“The Supreme Fatwa Council does not accept anything that contradicts Sharia in CEDAW and elsewhere,” State of Palestine House of Iftah [Arabic], December 12, 2019). Similarly, the Supreme Commission for Tribal Affairs said provisions of the CEDAW related to inheritance, adultery, homosexuals, and Muslim women who marry non-Muslims “contradict the Palestinian national identity, our Islamic religion, customs and traditions, and we are not obligated to apply them in our society” (“Clans: Any agreement that violates the law of God will not be accepted by our society,” Alresala Net [Arabic], December 24, 2019).

The editor-in-chief of the Ma’an media network, Dr. Nasser Al-Lahham, admitted the PA was not interested in women’s rights when it signed the CEDAW, but wanted recognition as a state so it could appeal to the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel:

The government cannot implement CEDAW in its entirety in light of the existence of a societal system, and that the signing of the agreement is political and was not intended to undermine the Sharia, and had it not been for the signing of CEDAW and many other agreements, the International Criminal Court would not have accepted us (“Al-Lahham talks about CEDAW, declining election chances and 2020 plans,” Ma’an News Agency [Arabic], December 28, 2019).
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