What if Palestinian Feminism was Class Oriented?

By Adel Samara

Kana’an eBulletin – Volume IX – Issue 1953

While writing my coming book about women, I had the opportunity to read two books published in Arabic and dealt with Palestinian women in West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBG).

What I offer here is not a review for these books, rather a few comments focusing on the following aspects:

□ Western feminists who came and wrote on Palestinian feminism.

□ The response of Palestinian feminists.

□ The absent dimensions in both.

The criticism of Palestinian feminists to western feminists is based on the latter liberal and radical orientation. Unfortunately, Palestinians fell into two pitfalls:

□ Their use of the general term “western” avoiding the importance of differentiation between the large variety of peoples in the west, i.e. Capitalists, leftists, religious, Marxists, liberals…etc. This will not be discussed below.

□ Distancing themselves, i.e. Palestinian feminists, from class dimension in the Palestinian struggle, including that of women.

It is clear that “western” feminists did not deal with the class issue, because they themselves are not Marxists and some are actually opposed to Marxism. Their point of reference, therefore, was not class analysis since they are either liberal or radical feminists. That is why, they failed to deal with the class weakness in the Palestinian feminist discourse and struggle, and hence the focus of their critique was the weakness of Palestinian feminism. Both groups, the Western and the Palestinian feminists, lack class dimension, and this is my point of criticism for both.

But, Palestinian women were and still are real component of the Palestinian resistance movement, so class weakness in analysis, struggle and discourse is shared. (See below).

The writings that I referred to above shows that “western feminists” were aware for the future of Palestinian women after independence that their fate will be in “kitchen”, which is true but it is nothing new and therefore, does not constitute a new contribution. It is rather a repeat, in a colonial manner of a well known fact, of other experiences that Palestinians are familiar with. Their only contribution was that Palestinian feminism must be rooted, more deeply in feminism itself to protect itself from being seized in the “kitchen”. At best, it is a pre-emptive step.

The irony came from the ground crystallized in the fact that Palestinian resistance, the “secular” current, reached a point of deadlock, it failed to liberate Palestine or even the Occupied Territories of 1967, but even internalized the defeat and accepted the conditions and terms of their triad enemy.[1] Oslo Accords which is no more than a self – rule under the Zionist regime. All these developments took place while “western” feminists continue to agitate against the “coming” threat of national independence, and the Palestinian feminists not consider the importance of class dimension for their struggle. The result, thus far, is that the Palestinian resistance movement internalized the defeat, but the main loser was Palestinian women since they lack a movement that will continue its struggle within social/class bases. On the other hand, women are oppressed in both developments, victory and defeat, as they did not consolidate class struggle, first within the political organizations and then the entire society in general.

The failure of feminists in compounding class and gender on the one hand, and the compromise which the national movement fell into, made the conditions of women more critical, especially since Political Islamists jumped to lead Palestinian national resistance. Finally, Palestinian women seized in the “kitchen’ which is not even equipped for cooking as the West Bank and Gaza Strip are still under the Triad siege.

There is no doubt that class education, culture and struggle might flourish in more developed social formations. But, this is not an absolute condition. Women in the capitalist west still are in the “kitchen” or between the “kitchen”, the office and the factory!

How would it be if the “Cooperatives” Continued?

The following argument is not inclined to attribute all pitfalls to the objective factor, i.e. the underdevelopment of the peripheral capitalist social formation in West Bank and Gaza Strip. People in reality are able to make a change through producing new means according to their real life. and its conditions. There is no doubt that real material circumstances create opportunities for development and change that we must grasp.

Since the very beginning of first Palestinian Intifada (1988) as a popular initiative, people raised the slogan of boycotting working for the Zionist economy and consuming its products. Palestinian workers ceased to work inside 1948 – Occupied Palestine, and pioneer women initiated “home cooperatives”, and peasants were encouraged to re-cultivate the land. Those are the three main components of social change.

I don’t have the courage to say that it was a conspiracy when millions and millions of dollars and Dirhams (currency of most Arab Gulf regimes) “rained” on WBG since the first months of the beginning of Intifada! The same happened when resistance movement started in 1967!

Home cooperatives were articulating women, workers and peasants in a model that I called Development by Popular Protection (DBPP). Cooperatives used agricultural products to provide local markets of basic food. This encouraged peasants to cultivate more and encouraged women in Palestinian villages and cities to build simple agro-industries and offered those workers who quit working in Zionist enterprise an employment whether in the agriculture or in local factories which started reshaping their system and orientation. Cooperatives started a line of products to meet the basic food needs of the majority of the Palestinian population.[2] This process strengthened the working relationship among popular classes: workers and poor peasants including women from both, villages and cities. What a great network for grassroots development!

What is most important is that those cooperatives were relatively low-cost. They did need a lot of money, what is called by capitalists “capital”. Raw materials, while cheap, rescued agricultural products which were about to perish as result of the siege.[3] Through this popular social cooperation, there was an early development of a local law of value.

As I noted above, the blockade of the popular initiative was not caused only by the Zionist occupation which is to be expected. Two other parties have also contributed to that blockade:

1) The PLO leadership which empowered it cadres in the WBG with a lot of money to direct the Intifada to become political, dreaming of political independence, a dream that I opposed since the first few months of that Intifada.

2) And the Arab, foreign, mainly western, governments, NGOs, international organizations which also pumped enormous amount of money into the WBG.

To stay in the subject of this article, the “western” feminists and their NGOs were a major source of financing which in the end curtailed local cooperatives, absorbed young women leftist cadres in their modern and well furnished offices, equipped with lab tops, organizing workshops on women rights and gender equality, democracy, hijab, …etc.

While it is true that wage labor never liberated women, but work and cooperation contributed to their real liberation.

Why did the donors, (foreign capital and NGOs), then destroy all that?

The result of the blockade of popular initiatives and women class orientation was a golden opportunity for NGOs, or even for an expanded NGOization of the Palestinian resistance movement.

NGOs offered money and resources to liberal, progressive, feminist, academic and politicized women, while women of cooperatives “traditional women in villages and cities” were not included. Yes, bribing was always limited to the elite. If money were to be distributed to the entire society, it will be real charity, luxury, and even “lazy socialism”. That is reason why one would see in the market place in the WBG many posters, books and booklets with elegant and expensive multi-color covers, but they lack any meaningful content and more than that, they have no readers.

The real bitter defeat was when women of radical organizations aligned themselves with “western” feminist NGOs enjoying high salaries and air-conditioned offices. Women of renegade left added to that an open normalization with Zionist women, like the cadres of FIDA organization to give an illustrative example.

Briefly, NGO’s monies were wasted in the so-called Research Offices, and were not invested in the production of basic needs. Not too bad of a result for some women who, instead of being jailed in kitchen, are being jailed in “research” centers!

Between the PLO leadership dreaming of independence and women education of “western” feminist NGOs (mainly directed against national and class struggle), the Intifada failed and was aborted from developing into a social and productive Intifada. Yes, the Intifada as a popular initiative was betrayed.

The offspring of Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority, as a formation caged between national independence and colonialism, contained access to social struggle, an area which the left must fill and use especially under a regime of defeat, corruption and comprador policies in spheres of politics, culture and economy. This made lines of class differentiation much clearer.

Moreover, the last elections in WBG (January 2006) presented a route for competition inside factions of Palestinian bourgeoisie. These elections led to a military conflict between:

□ the bureaucratic comprador bourgeois of Ramallah under the name of Fateh, and

□ the bazaar merchant comprador mainly in Gaza Strip under the name of Hamas.

But both were using the same class as a fuel for the semi-civil war, the popular classes!

Unfortunately, since the leftist organizations were dependent on the PA, and women organizations were absorbed by political organizations, there was a lack of a third force to fill in the social and national gap with a class program.

Women, once again missed the golden opportunity.

[1] Core capitalist ruling classes, Zionist Ashkenazi regime and Arab comprador regimes including the Palestinian Authority.

[2] The elite continued shopping in the Zionist Malls.

[3] Since the creation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the WBG, most of local agricultural products had stopped because the PA decided to end the boycotting Israeli products.