Palestinian Women


Palestinian Women in the Labor Market[1]

Determinants and Indicators

(Part I)

Adel Samara


Note: It is a unique situation where political parties do not represent social classes in a clear manner, and where large sections of social classes (financial capitalism and middle class) grew outside the country, peasants hardly do any agricultural work, and two thirds of the working class are either in shatat[2] or have to commute to their work sites in the Zionist Ashkenazi Regime (ZAR) of Israel. Where also, the donor countries behave as rulers, either directly or through NGOs, and NGO employees became a faction that lives from ‘invisible income’. Nevertheless, this is what describes best the conditions in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip. This set of circumstances emphasizes the nature of the ruling regime: to rule smoothly, to replace social classes and to accept the position of stand-by ruling power. But despite all that, many still pretend that there is a civil society in Palestinian Self-Rule Authority (PSRA) areas.


* * *


It is not in the scope of this paper to conduct a historical survey for Palestinian women of West Bank and Gaza (WBG) – the occupied Palestinian territories of 1967 – in labor market. In addition, this study is not based on gender understanding as it currently dominates the scene in the WBG in an imitation by many to prove that they are westernized, modernized and post-modernist! The paper is a discussion on the determinants that control the economy of the WBG and it is a critical analysis of a report by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics [3], as an official report issued by the Palestinian Self – Rule Authority (PSRA) that reflects its vision of the economy and society.


The paper covers two periods: The first is pre-Oslo as an introduction to the second which is the target of critique: woman in the era of “Oslo-Stan”, i.e. the Palestinian Self-Rule, with an indication to the fact that the main features of both eras are mainly the same uncovering that the second is a mere continuity of the first, not a delinking from it or negation of it. This continuity, without any doubt, has political, social and economic dimensions one of which is that this Self- Rule was “donated” by US imperialism and the Zionist Ashkenazi Regime (ZAR) and was not achieved by national liberation struggle.


Women contribution in the labor market is determined according to the nature of socio-economic formation in the country, especially the dominant mode of production, the level of development of productive forces and the dialectical relationship between forces and relations of production. When forces of production are developed, complicated and deeply capitalized, women opportunities for work became better, but it doesn’t mean that women are equal, or more empowered and emancipated. If this method of assessment is acceptable, it then becomes understandable why women employment, as wage laborers, in 1950-1967 was tiny because economies there were not developed. This argument does not aim at ignoring the fact that WBG economy in that period wasn’t capitalist or that the capitalist mode of production wasn’t dominant. There were capitalist relations of production in agriculture and infant industries, but the degree of industrial development was weak. This, in addition to the fact that political systems of that time and today in the WBG encourage the capitalist comprador more than productive/industrial capitalism.


As for women, ZAR occupation of three quarters of Palestine 1948 pushed to the WBG a large number of cheap but well trained labor force, a development that made it more difficult for women to compete in a labor market[4] which is by its structure limited and undeveloped.


Women’s share in the labor market was limited in the WBG 1967 even before the occupation. And the long period of occupation, followed by semi-independence during the Oslo Accords era, did not improve the situation.


“[…] but, despite the fact that females constitutes slightly more than half of the total population, females make up only a small percentage of the work force. In 1968, males in the labor force numbered 79,200 out of total 93,000, and in 1985 there were 136,500 males in total number force of 151,200. In the years 1968-1985, the percentage of females in the workforce fluctuated between 15-19 percent[5]“.  This percentage explains to a large extent women’s participation in labor power in pre-Oslo era.


A report from the Ministry of Agriculture states: “…Agricultural sector  considered historically as the main sector that provide work opportunities and that large percentage of WBG population depend on it as its main or subordinate source of income. The percentage of agricultural labor from the general employment decreased from 15.9% in the year 2004 to 13.4% by 2008 and agriculture provides a good percentage of labor opportunities to those who lost their jobs in Israel during the years of the first Intifada in addition to that there are nearly 35% of the working women in WBG working in agriculture“.[6]


Let’s suppose that the above mentioned percentage of employed women is their percentage out of the total employed in different sectors. But this percentage was in 1967 nearly 40%. So what happened? Was it a class mobilization from agriculture to industry? Did the decrease of agricultural work represent a shift to industry? In fact it did not. What has happened is that an evacuation of land from its peasant labor which accumulated as a reserve army where the city was unable to absorb them. The failure of the city to absorb the surplus rural working force pushed them to look for labor opportunities abroad or to be attracted, after 1993, to jobs with PSRA in a manner of indirect and mutual bribe between the two, i.e. because these workers were employed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) they became loyal to and ready to protect it. As long as the authority provided them with jobs they supported it against other youth workers who were are unemployed.


What is the meaning of the point that is mentioned in the Report that agriculture had provided a good percentage of work opportunities to those who lost their jobs in Israel? Is tackling such issues must be more accurate and serious? In each society, it is the role of capital to provide jobs for labor. This is part of a well known economic law that bourgeois always protects its national market and monopolizes it for its own products. This protection includes creation of jobs for local labor. This is not the case here! The Palestinian workers, who were fired from ZAR, have the right to got jobs in the WBG! Moreover, ZAR failed to meet its commitment to absorb 100,000 Palestinian workers as the Paris Protocol has stated!


Despite of ZAR failure to fulfill its commitments, PSRA continued to facilitate normalization with the enemy. The Zionist TV explained that during the last three months[7]. Israeli experts trained Palestinian strawberry farmers and that Israelis provide Palestinians with seeds, fertilizers, Nylon, training…etc in Peres Peace Center.[8] This form of relationship with ZAR should never be the proper relations between a settler colonial regime and the colony!




The Palestinian society in the WBG pre 1967 occupation era was mainly a peripheral capitalist social formation in which the agricultural sector was the primary absorber of labor force[9] and the main contributor to the GDP.[10] In spite of the fact that the larger part of the agricultural production was produced on a family basis, it was market-oriented in a capitalist manner, i.e. peasants were producing for the market, not for use-value, i.e. for him and his family subsistence/self consumption only but for exchange value as well.[11]


There are new phenomena that had developed in the Palestinian society following the Zionist occupation of 1967 as a turning point such as an increase of women participation in agriculture in parallel with their reproductive function in the society, domestic work including food preparation that enables male labor on a daily basis. All this work enabled males and the rest of the family to enjoy material and spiritual environment, but this work was never considered as a work for women and was never accounted for as a paid-wage as well. The same is for her work in agriculture which is not even counted in the GDP.[12]


It should be noted that such women’s participation is a product of the determinants which we will discuss later and explains how the expansion of women participation in agriculture wasn’t originally a positive step, i.e. was deliberately designed to support women position in the society.


Despite that, any research must consider the fact that agricultural sector is large and absorbs the majority of employed people[13], nearly 40%, women, as peasant women, constituted a large percent of the working people, even if they were not counted as part of the working force. What is important in this context is that as long as women’s share of working people in agriculture – as the main sector – is high, then the decline that challenged that sector during the occupation era led to a decline in women’s share in the total employment in WBG economy.


But there are other determinants that influence women’s share in labor force from 1967 till now (see later).


The irony here is that factors/determinants that influence the Palestinian economy and society in the mentioned period should normally push towards the other direction, i.e. when the agricultural sector diminishes in a certain society, other sectors must expand such as industry and this will usually lead to the employment of more women. However, according to the indicators in the second part of this report, the opposite had occurred in the Palestinian case. This will be clarified by analyzing the determinants that restrict the growth of the WBG economy and place more influence on women’s role in the labor market.


The peasants’ loss of land in WBG is different than social transformation from feudalism to capitalism where finally surplus peasants fled to be wage laborers. The reason was the land confiscation in WBG by the enemy without a parallel industrialization, in fact a policy of termination the productive sector as a mechanism for continuing the destruction of the Palestinian society.


The main determining factors on Palestinian women’s labor are:

1) Zionist settler colonialism

2) Social/class and cultural structure

3) Palestinian national liberation movement

4) Foreign donors and NGOs.


First: The Zionist Settler Colonialism


What is the dominant mode of production and other articulated modes with it in the socio-economic formation?


What is the form of relationship between this economy and the Zionist economy?


Is it the same as the well known and accepted center/periphery relationship and a form of unequal exchange?


Or is it an “armed” unequal exchange, or an economy of Stand-by[14] in the service of the Zionist economy?


Or it is a complex of all of the above?


How to diagnose this situation and what are the positions of social classes in this complexity? How can one build the relationship between social classes, politics and modes of production to describe the social formation?


We might say that the WBG economy is a mixture of all, but this is not the space for dealing with these issues. For sure some critical minds will dig deeply in this issue.

From its mere beginning in 1967, the Israeli occupation had played, and continues to, a determining role in all social, economic and political aspects of life in WBG.


Moreover, land, resources, export and import are in the hands of the Israelis even after the signing of Oslo Accords in 1993.[15] This affects females more than males in the labor market.


There might not be special Israeli military orders against females in the WBG, but the military orders imposed by ZAR forces in 2000 had strong effects on Palestinian women. In fact, land confiscation, closures and forced integration of WBG economy with that of the occupation influence females more than males considering that agriculture was the sector in which women play a major role as peasants. We can feel this influence when we realize that the ZAR deliberately blocked industrial development of WBG as an alternative for the ‘free’ rural labor to find jobs in industry. A blocked industrial development will not provide women with an alternative work opportunity to substitute for jobs that were lost in agriculture especially after a large confiscation of land by the ZAR.[16] 


Agricultural sector faced the challenge of decline for four decades while it is the main women employing sector.   The “…Agriculture contribution in the GDP reach 8.1% by 2007, while it was 10.3% in 2004[17]”. It is an indication of low productivity in agriculture is when 15.3% of the labor force contributes only 8% of the GDP.

Job opportunities offered by ZAR labor market to Palestinian surplus labor were mainly demanding male not female labor is construction which absorbed more than 50% of the Palestinian labor force in the pre 1993 era. Jobs provided for females were those at the lower steps in the ladder and with minimum wages. In addition, the number of Palestinian women working there was very limited. This situation was drastically changed following Oslo Accords 1993 where ZAR implemented a policy to stop employing Palestinian labor and designed work conditions that were impossible for women to bear.[18]


“[…] Only 2.46% of Palestinians working in Israel are females, with 70.3% coming from rural areas[19]“.  “Palestinian women labor in ZAR and its settlements reached 1.0% females and 11.3% males of the total Palestinian working persons in 2007, while this percentage was 26% by 1999”. . Those women came mainly from border villages.

The colonial/expansion wall that Israel built in the WBG has contributed to more unemployment among Palestinian female workers taking into consideration that the wall targeted land which is mainly in rural where women peasants find their main labor market regardless of whether they wanted to take these jobs or not.


ZAR absorption of WBG labor (1968-2000) and the ongoing destruction of WBG infrastructure led to the de-industrialization of these territories. The end result was minimizing job opportunities especially for female workers. Since available jobs, inside the ZAR and local economies are mainly for male workers, this had strengthened male domination in WBG in aspects of patriarchy and capitalism. This fits into the occupation strategy for blocking WBG development, and this might explain why most of women struggle during Israeli occupation is nationalist more than feminist or even a class one.[20]


Such development leads to higher anger against ZAR which opens a larger space for national struggle by males and females. But the deterioration of the national and development ambitions of the political leadership led to its inability to grasp the new development. Finally, both agricultural deterioration in the WBG and shortage of job opportunities in the ZAR were united against women labor.


Second: Local Social, Class and Cultural Structure


While ZAR occupation is still the main decisive factor in reshaping life in the WBG, this does not negate its role as internal factor that contributes to female oppression.

The de-industrialization of the WBG contributed to maintaining the role of patriarchy that subjugates women. This does not mean that the mere employment of women in the industry or other fields implies that women are liberated/emancipated, but at the same time, it is a step towards a certain level of equality.


De-industrialization was not restricted to ZAR policies, it was accompanied by the inherited compradorization of the Palestinian capitalist class before and after Oslo Accords who prefers to be agents for foreign products and made the local economy as one of Stand-by. The same is for the PSRA which failed to draw a developmental strategy and fell into corruption and nepotism.[21]


Patriarchy contributes to women unemployment from a different angel which is the objection to women labor immigration. That is why qualified women who failed to find jobs inside the local economy were not allowed to emigrate for work out of the occupied WBG. In addition, some countries that were in need of labor force, like Arab Gulf countries imposed many restrictions on women employment unless she is accompanied by a male relative! But, the irony here is that many women with high education were relatively fortunate to find jobs inside the WBG, while others were not.[22] However, the political determinant is not the main one. We are witnessing here a different alliance, even if it is not a direct one. It is a triad alliance that effects women employment: ZAR, PSRA, and patriarchy. All three are masculine and are based on male chauvinism. We realize here that the cultural factor stems from the class factor as its materialist base.


Third: The Nature of Palestinian Liberation Movement


The Palestinian resistance against ZAR occupation of Palestine in 1948 as a settler-colonial one has never stopped. But following the occupation of the rest of Palestine 1967, the military resistance movement expanded and strengthened itself to become the representative of the Palestinian people.


As for the goal of this paper, the Palestinian resistance movement was mainly one-sided, i.e. a military/nationalist one. Women who participated in the resistance movement were mainly among clandestine groups and political supporters of PLO as representative of the Palestinian people. The first Intifada (1987) provided a new great opportunity for the resistance movement to expand the struggle from a military one to social development and cultural one. During the first Intifada (1987), women participated in social resistance against occupation, boycotting ZAR products, initiating neighborhood cooperatives and domestic work and production…etc.[23]

But PLO was not progressive enough to expand resistance from the political to three levels: class, sex and development and cultural levels.


Unfortunately, PLO leadership who failed to develop the Intifada to include social, cultural and developmental aspects did in fact participate in terminating the basis of the Intifada initiatives that were mainly pioneered by women, such as cooperatives that used to produce and manufacture food through home-based businesses. The PA in the WBG decided that during the “peace” era, following Oslo Accords, there is no need for anti-normalization and boycotting ZAR products. In addition, ZAR never opened the doors for the Palestinian products, which by all means cannot compete with its products.


Following PSRA rule in the WBG, working opportunities for women diminished as a result of:

·        Termination of anti-normalization and boycotting the ZAR products;

·        ZAR almost complete closure of its borders to Palestinian labor in addition to the fact that the already available opportunities for Palestinian workers demanded male labor;

·        The failure of PSRA to initiate a policy for economic and social development.

Fourth: The Foreign/ International Factor


A question comes to mind: “How come foreign and international organizations and agencies are able to act as one of the main decisive factors in the internal situation of a certain country”?


It is not the scope of this paper to discuss the goals of foreign organizations which are related to and financed by donor countries. The important issue here is that these organizations came to Palestinian WBG with their own agendas which do not necessarily require that they respond to local needs.


When it comes to women, foreign organizations concentrate on women elite more than other social sectors: men, children, elderly…etc. They created jobs for highly educated females through their NGOs and international agencies like UNDP and UNRWA…etc. But the activities of these NGOs and agencies were never able to provide jobs for the majority of women living in rural areas, refugee camps and poor neighborhoods.


Accordingly, foreign organizations became a determinant factor in the status of educated women. That is why most, if not all, of western feminist researchers who wrote on the WBG attempted to orientate Palestinian feminists against national struggle and ‘advised’ them to concentrate on ‘pure’ feminist struggle, i.e. against males, class, and nationalism.[24] Moreover, the liberal and radical western feminists attempted to orientate Palestinian feminists to join ZAR feminists in joint activities which are clear forms of normalization with the occupation of their Homeland![25]


[1] For the sake of accuracy, Palestine usually refers to historical Palestine a part of which was occupied in 1948 and called Israel and the rest West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBG) was occupied in 1967. But for the sake of clarity, I will use this term to indicate the WBG because the report sheds light on the economic situation of women in these two parts of Palestine. Moreover, the population of WBG is part of the Palestinian people.


[2] Shatat is an Arabic term that signifies one’s living outside of his/her homeland. In the context of this paper, shatat is used to indicate Palestinians who were forcefully expelled from their homeland – Palestine as a result of the Zionist occupation of Palestine in 1948 and the years that followed. These Palestinians reside, since 1948, in many Arab and other countries world-wide as Palestinian refugees. 


[3] Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics 2008, Women and Men in Palestine: Issues and Statistics, 2008. Ramallah, Palestine, pp: 97-114. http:.//


[4] See, Palestine: From Historical de-classing To a Regime of Stand-by Adel Samara. A paper presented to a conference on “The Economy and the Economics of Palestine: Past, Present and Future” sponsored by SOAS Palestine Society at the University of London, 27-28 January 2007. Published in, nos: 1244, 13 Aug 2007, 1247, 16 Aug 2007 and 1254 Aug 2007.


[5] See Adel Samara, Industrialization in the West Bank: A Marxist Socio-economic Analysis, Al-Mashriq Publications, Jerusalem 1992:145

[6]. Palestinian Authority, Ministry of Agriculture: Strategy for Agricultural Sector, a Joint Vision December 2009: 19.


[8] Palestinian Authority, Ministry of Agriculture: Strategy for Agricultural Sector, a Joint Vision December 2009; 9.


[9] According to the 1961 census, close to 40% of the total labor force was employed in agriculture…, in 1971 it was 40.1%, but it declined to 27.3% in 1983. Adel Samara, The Political Economy of the West Bank 1967-1987 From Peripheralization to Development, Khamsin Publications London & Al-Mashriq for Economic and development Studies, Jerusalem. 1988 English, p. 93.


[10] Agricultural contribution in the West Bank GNP was 35.1 in 1970 and 35.0 in 1980. (Kahan, 1983:17) Quoted in Samara 1988:90 ibid.


[11] For capitalization of Agriculture in capitalist social formation, see Summary of Selected Parts of Kautsky’s The Agrarian Question, by Jarius Banaj, in Harold Wolpe, Articulation of Modes of Production, ed., Routledge & Kegan Paul ltd, 1980. During the pre 1967 occupation period, West Bank was called the food basket of Jordan, much of its fruits and vegetables were exported to Syria, Kuwaitو Saudi Arabia and Gaza’s citrus to Iran and Eastern Europe.


[12] Adel Samara, The Economy of the Occupied Territories, Underdevelopment Deepening Integration, Salah Ed-Din Publications, Jerusalem 1975:94-98


[13] Surveys indicate that the cultivated land in the West Bank was 2.435.000 dunums in 1965 (The Jordanian Statistical Report 1956), it declined to 1.626.000 dunums in 1982 (The Agricultural Review 1982), quoted in Samara and Shihada, 1988:114.

[14] Adel Samara, Economy of Stand-by: A Study on Peripheralization of the West Bank and Gaza through Exchange with European Union, Al-Zahra Publications, Jerusalem 1989.


[15] One of the recent examples is when Israel demanded the PA to drop war crimes law suit at the Hague: “… meanwhile, Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank- an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership- on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International Court”, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, 27-9-2009.


[16] Many writers are inclined to confirm that the cases of Palestine and South Africa are very similar. One of the main differences that the segregation regime and even the Apartheid later decided deliberately to keep land in the hands of the blacks as a source of subsidy to satisfy workers’ needs in a way to pay them less and maintain the highest rate of profit. This is a class capitalist policy to enable black workers to reproduce themselves and their labor force on the one hand and to save as much as possible of surplus for capital. In Palestine the main policy of ZAR is to demolish the whole socio-economic, geographic, class and cultural structure of the Palestine and to evict the people to an area as far as possible from Palestine’s borders.


[17] Palestinian Authority, Ministry of Agriculture: Strategy for Agricultural Sector, a Joint Vision December 2009; 9.


[18] The building of the colonial/expansion wall is a clear proof that ZAR will not keep Palestinian workers in its economy, and it proves as well that “peace” for the Zionists is another version of war. In parallel to the Zionists fire of Palestinian workers, the Donors decided to finance the PSRA gigantic security and bureaucratic apparatuses to absorb the same workers. For more and early analysis of the Zionists policies to fire Palestinian workers see: Adel samara and Odeh Shihada, Development by Popular Protection, Dar al-Aswar Akko, 1988:89-113.


[19] Abu Shukor, 1987:26. Quoted in Samara 1992:145.


[20] It is another area of discussion to find out whether Israeli occupation is relatively male oriented because it is male chauvinist by nature and ideology or as a result of weakening Palestinian women position that might be a better way to terminate Palestinian struggle by making women vulnerable to men who are male chauvinists by their social structure and education. See Adel Samara: Women Feminization between Conceptualization and Nullifying , will be published soon by Writers Union, Damascus, Syria.


[21] Before Oslo Accords, PLO leaders continuously pretended that they will make the WBG

as Taiwan of the region.


[22] See Adel Samara 1975: Iktisad al-Manatiq al-Mujtallah: al-Takhaluf Ua’miq al-Ilhaq (The Economy of the Occupied Territories: Underdevelopment Deepening Integration). Salah Eddinn Publications, Jerusalem 1975:94.


[23] See Adel Samara, Women vs. Capital in the Socio-economic Formation in Palestine, 1996:p.p. 5, 6, 52. And Adel Samara, Al-A’amal wal-Fqr wal-Mara’ah did al-Mara’ah (Work, poverty and Woman vs Woman), 1996:69-70.



[24] See Adel Samara, Women vs. Capital in the Socio-economic Formation in Palestine, 1996:p.p. 5, 6, 52. And Adel Samara, Al-A’amal wal-Fqr wal-Mara’ah did al-Mara’ah (Work, poverty and Woman vs Woman), 1996:69-70.


[25] In their encouragement of normalization with ZAR, a western feminist wrote: “ It should be emphasized that nationalism and women participation in resistance will for sure block the existence of a feminism similar to that in the west and in other colonized areas”.