Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Libyan Arabic

After spending 8 months in Tripoli, I managed to pick up a fair amount of Libyan Arabic. There are very few resources to learn it so I hope this helps. I have given a link for a PDF book at the bottom of the page.

Probably the most typical Libyan word is باهي  'bahi', meaning ‘ok' or ‘good’. Tunisians also use this word but less often. When people ask how you are, they will say شن الجو؟ shin ajjou but it often is abbreviated to شجو؟ Sh’-Jou and you can answer باهي bahi or مليح maleeh, or مية مية mia mia or تمام tamaam. 

Probably the most important Libyan dialect verb is ‘nibi’  نبي 

  • Ana nibi أنا نبي - I want
  • inta tibi - أنت تبي - You want
  • huwa yibbi- هو يبي - He wants
  • Hiya tibbi- هي تبي - She wants
  • Hum yibbou - هم يبوا 

For past tense, it’s common just to combine any of the above with the relevant of كان 

Another important verb is  دير ‘deer’ meaning ‘to do’.

Present tense third person singular
past tense third person singular
present tense first person singular
Past tense first person singular
Present continuous

 أنا درته Anay dirthu- I’ve done it/ I did it -

You will notice immediately that in Libyan Arabic (as in Tunisian), people use the letter nun ن 'n' to start verbs that are used in the first person pronoun 'I'. So, you would say 'Ana nibi nishri'- 'I want to buy', and 'ana nimshy'- 'I'm going'.

An important thing to remember in Libya speech is that the first person pronoun (‘I’) ’ana’ is pronounced ‘anay’, whilst the first person plural (‘we’) is pronounced ‘ihnay’. Likewise ‘they’  becomes ‘hinnay’ and 'who' is 'mini' and 'so/ like that' (MSA هكذا) is 'hayki'.

.'There is the common question ‘shin daayir’- ‘What are you doing ’ شن داير؟

.'When you what to say 'what' to ask a question, it is either 'shin', 'shini' or 'shinu
.Shin Tibii- what do you want
The word 'why' is 3laash- علاش 

Another extremely typical Libyan word is qa3maz meaning to sit. This word is used a lot. Remember that Libyans pronouns the letter qaaf as a hard g so it is pronounced ga3maz. The verb qa3d which is used in most other Arab countries for 'to sit' is used is Libya to mean 'still'. People will more likely use 'ma zaal' though as in Standard Arabic. 

A word you will constantly hear is  ‘tawa’ meaning ‘now’. This is clearly from the Standard
 Arabic but notice that 'alaan' is seldom used

One of the most common words you'll need is غادي 'ghaadi' meaning 'there' (as opposes to here).

Also, the word 'halba' هلبة is one you will hear a lot, meaning 'lots/ many'. You can use it in all kinds of situations such as:
في ناس هلبة بالسوق the market is full of people.
In the Western region (Benghazi) people also use 'waayid' as in Kuwait. 

Another common work that is very typically Libyan is birouh’ followed by a pronoun-  بروحك 
       By yourself/ alone
- on its own i.e. ‘Would you like anything else?’ ‘no thank you, just this’بروحه

One of the most common Libyan nouns is ‘hawsh’ meaning House- حوش

A common word on emotions- متكنتي ‘mitkunty’ meaning upset or annoyed.

When people park a car, they use the verb 'darrasa' which is exactly the same as the Standard Arabic word for 'to teach' but is of course unrelated. 

To say 'tomorrow', Libyans say 'ghudwa' which is closely related to the Standard 'ghadan'.

When people ask someone to do so something, they will say 'bi-llahi alayk' بالله عليك such as 'billahi alayk deer lee nuskha'- could you please make me a copy.
When people say 'thank you', it is very common simply to use 'shukran', but people also use 'baraka allah feek'  بارك الله فيك. If someone offers you a piece of 'briosh' (any kind of breakfast pastry) but you don't want any, you can simply say 'baraak allah feek

yadwi To speak- ana adwi- ‘I speak’
kallim to speak (to) huwa kallimni- ‘He spoke to me’. Ana nibi ukallemak- I want to talk to  you.
maleeh- good
rud baalak- to aware of
brouhak- by yourself

dahy eggs
barreeza socket
haush house
imta3ee- mine (imtaa3ak etc)
mitkunti- upset/ pissed.
tawa- now
raaqed sleeping
darras to park
q3miz to sit
drez to send
mini who
shin tibee
q3d still
gadaash- how much?
Sh-Jou- how are you
shin/ shini- what?
ghaadi- there/ over there
ghudwa- tomorrow 
sebta- belt, but not seatbelt.
hayki- like that/ so
3laash- why?
louta- down/ downstairs/ on the floor
ishbah to see
shukran- thank you
brioch- any kind of pastry that is popular for breakfast
billah ala3k
khush- to go in/ enter
samafro- traffic lights (from the Italian)
bambino- sometimes used to mean baby or small child (from the Italian)
halba- lots/ many
shir to buy
nibi- I want
hawayij- clothes

Below is a further list. I found these a long time ago online but can no longer find the link to give credit. Here there are:

More Resources-

PDF- Spoken Libyan Arabic,  Eerik Dickinson http://www.dunwoodypress.com/148/PDF/Spoken_Libyan_sample.pdf

Friday, 8 August 2014

8 months in Libya

Celebrating the anniversary of the revolution, 17 February 2014

Libya is a country on the precipice. After months of intermittent violence between rival militias, heavy fighting has broken out between two major factions in the capital Tripoli. Embassies and foreign companies have evacuated. What began so promisingly following Gaddafi's death in 2011 has spiralled into the same kind of madness we are used to seeing in the region. I was lucky to have left in June.

I had been working with an international British organisation in Libya since November 2013 when it was decided that a group of us should start pulling out in June this year. The organisation had decided to wind down some activity in view of the increasing violence and rumours the Americans would leave. The last of my colleagues got out 2 days ago in a convoy of 27 armoured cars that left via the Tunisia land border. Many people were on annual leave vacation when the evacuation happened, and have left all their belongings in the country. A Maltese friend of mine evacuated via Matiga Airport after Tripoli Airport was damaged by rockets, but was only allowed a carry-on despite having accumulated 2 years worth of belongings in the country.

I had been working on higher education projects in Libya. The Libyan authorities have huge financial reserves they are keen to plough into education. At the moment that involves sending Libyan students to universities in Britain and other countries, but the plan was to internationalise the Libya education system, adopt English (it was forbidden under Gaddafi), get Libyan qualifications recognised by universities abroad, build partnerships with UK and international universities, and open science parks on every campus. There is so much promise. Libya knows it must invest in its people.

In many ways the opportunities are endless for Libya- obscenely large oil revenues, an active diaspora, investment-freindly partners in the US and European states, and a population itching to travel, start businesses and reengage with the world after 4 decades of isolation.

Following the February 17 Revolution of 2011, the militias formed by the revolutionaries came to control everything in Libya. They were never disbanded and a unity government has remained an evasive goal. Some of the militias are broadly secular, some Islamist. The eastern part of the country has suffered assassinations at the hands of Ansar Al-Sharia- the hardline Salafist militia, whilst General Haftar's Libyan National Army (not actually an official army) has intervened to rid the government of Islamist figures and bear down on Islamists in Benghazi. The parliament has remained Islamist-dominated although voters have previously rejected an all-out embrace of political Islam.

 The most asinine thing about the whole scenario is that all the militiamen receive salaries from the central government whilst tearing the country apart. The recent wave of violence erupted between the Misrata militias (an Islamist group known collectively as the Libya Central Shield), and the Al-Zintan Revolutionaries' Military Council allied to General Haftar's secular Operation Dignity movement. These are not street gangs; the Misrata militia is formed of 200 militia groups with upwards of 40,000 men holding 800 tanks and at least 2,000 vehicles mounted with machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons. The amount of weapons in circulation is said to be several times that of Serbia following the breakup of Yugoslavia. There are so many guns that the sound of people firing into the air can be heard most nights. It usually indicates a wedding has just ended. Once a bullet came through the window of my colleagues bedroom (I lived below him), and landed just above his bed whilst he was sleeping. After Libya defeated Ghana to win the African Nations Cup, the sky lit up with fireworks and bullets. People partied in the street but fearing that bullets might land on us (a very deadly threat), we stayed in. The government announced a national holiday at 2am and the office was deserted the next day save for the British colleagues who had obviously not heard the announcement.

There is no night life in Libya (alcohol is outlawed), but people know how to party. On the anniversary on the revolution (17 February) we were told to stay indoors for fear that violence would erupt. A friend and I popped out to see what the fuss was about. The atmosphere was electrifying. In that moment, the jubilation of a people that had torn down a dictator was palpable.  We went to downtown to Martyr's Square (formally Gaddafi's Green Square). Every car had people spilling out waving the new Libyan flag. Little kids with face paints and flags stood in the back of pickup trucks. Camels were being draped in national symbols and prepared for slaughter in the street. On the city's main road into town, we saw someone dressed as Barney the dinosaur stood next to a camel about to be slaughtered.

The entire country was out celebrating. It took us 4 hours to reach the city centre. Around a quarter of people had Amazigh flags- they are an ethnic minority from the western part of the country who are now fighting for greater linguistic rights. I bought an Amazigh flag (it looks like a rainbow flag) and Will bought a Libyan one. People were curious to see foreigners sharing the jubilation. Kids sprayed silly string on everyone- nobody seemed to mind.

Barney celebrates the anniversary of the revolution. A camel waits to be slaughtered.

Living in Libya, it was not obvious whether people aligned themselves with a certain militia or not. People had their opinions, but they were desperate only for their country to move forward. In an oil-producing nation, it was beyond irony to see people queue for up to 12 hours daily to get petrol. We foreigners were driven to the office in bullet-proof AVs. When the petrol crises had gotten particularly acute, a desparate driver shot another who had apparently jumped the queue in the petrol station outside my house.

More recently, I've heard from colleagues and friends that cooking gas has become scarce, whilst electricity cuts, internet and mobile coverage outages can last half a day. Two rockets struck a colleagues' house and he has since left with his 3-week old baby for Tunisia where I am also staying. Earlier this Summer, his brother was pulled from his car and shot in the legs 6 times and left for dead. Thankfully he managed to get medical care in Europe.

Living in Libya as an expat is not easy. Cultural activities are non-existent (literally), but there are a number of maganificent historical sites worth visiting. Sadly, myself and my colleagues were never allowed to visit for fear of attacks.

I lived in Gargaresh, an area considered the most upmarket in Tripoli. Coming from Europe or the States, it wouldn't quite fit that category back home. Yet in the 3 years since the revolution, dozens of local and international retail brands had opened on the road. The locals have a lot of disposable income. While the infrastructure is meagre and the roads potholed and rudimentary, it is not uncommon to see luxury cars or a group of Harley Davidson enthusiast riding the latest models.

International retail business flocked to the Gargaresh area

Libya still suffers a cultural deficit in the arts. I cannot think of a single arts institute or gallery in the entire capital city, yet there is clearly talent to be seen in the  graffiti throughout this grey concrete jungle. But things are changing slowly. My organisation put on a street theatre programme sponsored by the EU, and the spontaneous performance in a local park got a rapturous reception. The troupe travelled to London and performed at the Greenwich and Docklands Festival this Summer. People need art to feel alive, to reflect on the beauty of life when the daily reality is grim.

Although almost everyone works for the government sector, Libyans are entrepreneurial and often have projects on the side. A couple of guys I met had started a lucrative business filming events in the country and selling the tapes onto the international media. The population is very young, and they are extremely active on social media. There is a lot of promise in the revolutionary generation.

Libya's youth will lead it forward in the years to come. They are the country's greatest natural resource. But the oil reserves offer great promise in modernising the economy.  When an oil silo was struck last week by a rocket, a representative spoke on camera of not 'crying over spilt milk' (oil is cheaper than milk in Libya). Not so, people are desparate for petrol. Besides, the oil is not limitless. It is easy to be nonchalant when material wealth seems abundant. The oil will fund Libya's development but security remains the overriding concern for international companies. Arriving at a national consensus agreeable to all the militias could lead to an arms amnesty. With its natural resources then flowing, there's no saying what the country could acheive. There are models in the region that it can follow.

A militiaman guards a petrol station during the petrol crisis. The queues stretch for kilometres

It is incredibly difficult to live in Libya as an expat. The traditional attitudes and restrictions on freedoms you are used to back home mean that an R'n'R trip abroad is necessary every 6-8 weeks to stay sane. But at least we had the option to leave. The Libyans I know are immensely generous and good-spirited. No one hassles you, and relationships operate through respect and pleasantries. Having survived 40 years of the 'mad dog dictator', they are determined and steadfast. A colleague was very recently successful in entering the Parliament to represent his town. If the militiamen realised their own stake in a democratic political process, this violent impasse might end and Libya can return to fulfilling the promises of its revolution.

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Arabic over Coffee (p4)

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See the justice around you..
there's always someone nearby keeping a loving eye on you 
but you don't know it

There is a desire within me to see you
 but I don't know how to grasp it.
You venture to places I don't go
and you go places I won't meet you

Don't be like those that live the first part of their lives anticipating the second, 
and who live the second part regreting that they wasted the first.

Be beautiful
Say 'thank you' and 'please'
greet people and say hello
Give advice and smile at people
Remove harm out of the way
and mention God in your silence.
The little things that make you more beautiful

The morning breaths 
extending out its breeze to your heart, caressing you
like an old friend
It came to tell you: that hope remains as long as you're breathing
You smile and greet the morning in your heart.

Frustration is rampant in our societies
because we gave up on joy
and turned away from rejoicing.
We forgot that the little moments of joy store up bigger joys
and that the sea begins in a drop, and the tree stands forth from a seed

We feign indifference a lot of the time
We get bored of waiting.. thinking drains us
we pretend to forget
But we never forget

That loneliness you feel when a loved one lets you down..
no one can fill it, even if everyone intervenes 

If only all our days were Winter

A memory's smell always sticks to everything,
everywhere, and to everyone..
there's no use forgetting them or pretending to forget

A fallen feather does not mean a fallen bird

From that glance, Beautiful Eyes
Something trapped the air in my chest

Thursday, 12 December 2013

White privilege: Multiculturalist and Social Constructionist Approaches to Race

Invariably absent from discussions on race (and diversity training seminars) is the concept of whiteness and the implications of being white. Indeed, perceptions of race are premised on the false binary of ‘white’ and (/versus) ‘people of colour’, wherein the invisibility of whiteness precludes critique of the relative power white people enjoy. Legal academic Baraba J. Flagg notes that white people, -a group that holds more social and economic power than people of people, are often unconsciousness of being white, but tend to be aware of people of colour.  This lack of awareness is one fundamental aspect of what it actually means to be white.

Being white is often unconsciously understood among whites in North American and European societies as being normative. Such ideas were reinforced by the now discredited ‘scientific’ field of eugenics, which held all races to be divergent (and digressive) from the white norm. Remember that race is a social construction with no relation to biology or genetics. Norms reflect the values and beliefs of the dominant groups in society. It is normative for example, to say that Europeans discovered North America, that it was a New World. If whiteness is normal, what does that communicate of the experience of being of another race?

For historical reasons, being white has provided advantages that are rooted in the oppression of non-whites. The false binary of race reinforces the preponderance of whiteness as a privileged racial category.

Until today many social institutions such as the legal system and education policies discriminate in favour of white people, even if unwittingly or in subtle ways. In their everyday life, whites seldom have to think about their race or the perception of their race by others. One could say that to better understand racism, it is best not to think of discreet racial categories, but to critically examine the relationship of race, and especially whiteness, with social, economic and political power. Whilst bigotry and prejudice can be committed by anyone, racism is described as prejudice + power, which is why some social scientists assert the notion that because of the disproportionate privilege of white people in the United States and Europe, anyone can be a racial bigot but that only whites can be racist.

Exposing and critiquing white privilege challenges the notion of meritocracy, especially in such ideals as the American Dream, which has more to do with the privileges available to those who hold, or upon whom is bestowed, social and political ascendancy.

If white privilege exits, it follows that there is a moral imperative to provide redress. Some policies such as affirmative action are direct, highly visible, and very controversial. Much of the controversy stems from the lack of awareness of white privilege. Many well-intentioned people believe in Multiculturalism as way of addressing the issue of racial (and religious etc) equality. What is missing from multiculturalist thinking however, is the acknowledgement of race as a position of social power. Multiculturalism instead portrays every group as equal but different, and positing that the answer to racism lies in mutual respect and celebration of our differences. Whilst it would be wrong to disagree with this premise, activists from the social constructionist side argue instead that all groups should be equal, and that all groups are worthy of celebration, but that when it comes down to it, we are not in fact equal in terms of social power. From this perspective race is not about difference, it is actually about power and how power produces what we observe as the distinctions between the groups we consider to be racial categories.

Whilst multiculturalism as an approach is praiseworthy, it is lacking in its ability to critically analyze the unfair power of whiteness over all over groups. Because of this multiculturalism feels very safe to white people, - it might entail a superficial exploration and celebration of the foods, clothing, language and customs of other groups. Without discussion of the inherent power relations between the groups, there is not likely to be a greater understanding of how social injustices and inequality create differences- the same differences often seen as being racial differences. To give an example, a predominantly white organization may ask someone (a white person) to arrange more whites at the organization to work with people of colour in staging an event at which other whites are able to ‘look at’ the clothing, music, dance or food of other cultures. If power remains unaddressed as such events, they can act to reinforce the power of whites to be introduced to other cultures as a form of amusement, and from a position of comfort and relative power. Challenging racism then, has more to do with rendering whiteness visible and exposing the power imbalance.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Arabic over Coffee p3

Page 3

Arabic over Coffee is a new regular series of inspiring little tidbits of Arabic 
with translation that you can enjoy over a coffee.
Please scroll down to see previous posts, or click the 'Arabic over Coffee' tab
under the blog title for all posts

What is it that fills the recesses of your heart?

Didn't he know that God sees?

You're the only book I want to read

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all"- Helen Keller

I want to retire from this life

O God...
When life gets hard
O God...
When longing gets intense
O God...
When absence is prolonged 
O God...
When life gets cluttered

I missed you
You missed me?

I wrote him:
Just a question and nothing more

Every time I feel my heart tighten and a pain in my chest 
and a yearning for a moment's rest
I find you drawn before me

When I think of myself at this time a year ago, I realise that one year can change a lot

We live this life as if it was endless

7 billion people trying to belong

I'm the one whose bones your love destroyed

Life is good for those who don't care

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Palestinian Women’s Political Participation

المشاركة السياسية للمرأة الفلسطينية

دنيا الأمل إسماعيل
باحث من فلسطين

Dunya Alamal Ismail
Palestinian Researcher

This article has been translated from the Arabic with permission from the author.

Keywords; Palestine, Palestinian women, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian society, Gaza, West Bank, المشاركة السياسية, المرأة الفلسطينية, السياسة الفلسطينية, السلطة الفلسطيني, غزة ,الضفة الغربية


Political participation is one the most important indicators of development in any society. Indeed, one cannot talk of development in its fullest sense without addressing political participation, the role of women in such development, and their endeavour to impact upon developmental plans through the channels of political participation. There is a positive effect on development policies when there are high levels of effective women’s participation, and considering that women make up more than half of society, any attempt to study social change while disregarding the role of women is simply not possible.

Palestinian society is characterized by conservatism and a relatively low regard for the abilities of women. Most daily activities are dominated by men, and women are expected to exert double the effort of their male counterparts in order to become part of the decision-making process. Political changes in Palestinian society have, however, given women a historic opportunity to improve their situation through engaging in popular struggle and mass action despite many challenges. During the first Intifada for instance, Palestinian women were able to impose themselves on the country’s collective consciousness in both in the private and public spheres, and go on to lead many civil society and charitable organizations that contributed in one way or another towards establishing a civil society in the absence of a state.

Despite the growing Palestinian interest in political participation in general, and of women’s participation in particular, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) policies and practices have not adequately reflected this. When such policies do exist, it is usually due to international pressure and donor agencies. Women’s organizations and activists are typically left out of the real decision-making process which is dominated by traditional attitudes. Such attitudes do not understand the importance of granting Palestinian women a proper opportunity to prove their capabilities, their potential, and even more importantly so, their citizenship in a nation made up of both men and women, without excluding either one at the expense of the other.

This article attempts to shed light on the feminist contribution to Palestinian women’s political participation, and will discuss the reasons, motivations and attitudes that govern this issue. It will study the space open to women to express themselves and their opinions, particularly as the Palestinian constitution grants women full equality with men, recognizing them as full citizens endowed with rights and obligations.

With the death of President Yasser Arafat and the new period that followed, political and societal voices for reform and change have grown louder, and political participation for all sections of society, including women, has come to occupy a large segment of these voices. In fact, talk of the need for Palestinian women’s political participation in the election process, - in both its municipal and legislative parts, has become the most prominent topic in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is especially true among civil society organizations and many human rights activists, and has been reflected widely in the media and at work shops.

The race for the presidency has now ended with victory for Mahmoud Abbas, and the exit of six other candidates. The only woman who wanted to stand as a candidate unable to take part in this marathon of democracy. Palestinian women now face two important battles to prove their capabilities and their legal and constitutional right to participate in decision-making through elections to the Legislative Council (PLC), and in the latter stages of municipal elections.

Despite the growing chorus of voices affirming the importance and need for women’s political participation, their importance is not positively evidenced in existing policies and practices at both the political and at executive levels. The gap between real representation for women on the ground, and the size of their contributions to political and general life, remains.

Early signs of Palestinian Women’s Political Participation

Palestinian women have been involved in the fight for social and political independence in various forms since the beginning of the last century. They began by establishing charitable associations which became the first impetus for advancing Palestinian women towards an integrated involvement in the daily issues affecting their society. Later, and as a result of the political circumstances facing Palestine, they become political hotbeds in which women could express themselves through sit-ins, demonstrations, petitions and protests. Sources mention that the first significant women’s political activity took place in Afula in 1893 when Palestinian women rallied in protest at the establishment of the first Jewish settlement of the time, and did so again in the Buraq Uprising of 1929, which became an important turning point in the life of Palestinian women. Nine women were shot dead by the British army, compelling others to step up their struggle to change the economic and political circumstances around them, particularly after finding themselves shouldering greater responsibility following the rounds of executions, arrests, pursuits, imprisonments and home demolitions carried out by the British Mandate authorities. Coordinating their efforts and mobilizing all their available capabilities to confront the new circumstances, Palestinian women convened their first women’s conference in 1929 in Jerusalem. This was the meeting from which the Executive Committee of the Arab Women’s Association (AWA) was to emerge. The same year saw the founding of the Arab Women’s Union in Jerusalem and another in Nablus. Both unions, along with the Executive Committee of the AWA, played multiple roles economically, socially, culturally and patriotically, and can be seen in the demonstrations they attended, the protests they submitted to the British High Commissioner, and letters they sent to Arab kings and rulers.[8]

In the period between 1945 and 1967, the women’s charitable organisations acted as orphanages, centres for the elderly and other institutions to provide relief for families stricken by disaster, and to equip women professionally. The women’s struggle during this period culminated in the establishment of the General Union of Palestinian Women (GUPW) in 1965, a popular women’s organization that performed a social and political role among women in occupied areas. Women’s political awareness thus took shape in the midst of the Palestinian struggle, and developed through what began as community organizations. Meanwhile, the establishment of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1963 offered a political alternative that formed a reference point for the Palestinian national movement under which the women’s movement would grow. This is what caused the movement to conform to the PLO’s strategy of politicizing the masses and wresting them into the national struggle.

The women’s organizations’ political stance became more and more apparent, and as the militant nationalist trend grew in prominence, the first women’s movement arose in the countryside in 1978. By 1982 there were four women’s organizations belonging to the four Palestinian political parties. Although these organizations were brought into being by the need to provide social services, and remained confined to doing so, they began to attract the attention of the political parties which used them to mobilize women for political action. Women’s organizations thus slowly began to bear the features of the political parties that cradled them until they became dominated by political work. Attention was deflected from the important societal issues they stood for, and the political parties did not even allow the Palestinian women’s movement to be visible or engage in their own issues. This diverted their capabilities and brought factionalism to the fore, eventually leading to the lack of an agenda expressing the concerns of the Palestinian women’s movement.

With the onset of the first Intifada, the women’s movement reverted back to its roots to provide services which were unavailable under the occupation, and filled the deficit imposed by political circumstances during that period as a result of the growing need for services. The political work of the movement took a back seat as social work moved to the fore and relief work, childcare services, and the teaching of traditional skills to women took place side by side with the organizations efforts at resisting the occupation. Were it not for their focus on politically mobilizing women, the latter groups’ activities could not be distinguished from that of the charitable groups. This acted as a boost for the political parties and an important intermediary between the factions and the broader population as women worked to strengthen the relationship between the organizations and the population through the community activities they undertook.

Statistics show that women made up 7 per cent of those killed between 1987 and 1997, and 9 per cent of the reported injured during the same period.[9]The number of female Palestinian prisoners placed in custody in Israeli prisons reached 40 in 1996. In 2009 the number was at 32.

The activities of the women’s organizations during this period were characterized by the lack of a single unifying strategy. Then in 1990, three years after the start of the Intifada, the Bisan Centre in Jerusalem convened a conference entitled “The Intifada and Some Women's Social Issues” in which women from across the political spectrum participated. They took stock on achievements made by women in recent times and laid out a vision for the future of the women’s movement. The conference was a watershed moment for the Palestinian women’s movement coming as it did at the start of the Madrid negotiations, and the shift towards the peace process that ended in the Gaza-Jericho agreement and the Palestinian Authority’s return to the country. A new period ensued not just for the lives of women, but for all Palestinians. With the return of the PA and the political and societal changes that came with it, interest grew in consolidating the foundations of a civil society that would guarantee the participation of both men and women. Hopes were pinned on broadening participation among women by creating a democratic atmosphere in which fairness and the vital priority to express their needs and problems would allow them to put themselves forward. Yet this rosy, somewhat imagined picture has had its ups and downs. An official approach towards integrating women into the development and state-building process failed to emerge within the PA, although quite a few women’s civil society leaders were drafted in to work with the government. This left its mark on civil society organizations that had grown to cater for all Palestinian women during the occupation and before the PA had entered the stage. This occurred in two ways. The first was the huge damage done to the organizations in loss of women’s skills and experience (a negative factor). The second aspect is how the organizations formed alternative leaderships with different attitudes and perspectives (a positive factor).

As women’s groups strove to gain relative independence from the confines of the organizations in which they grew, women’s awareness grew as a result of their past experiences, especially after the organizations divisions during the peace process, and in their lack of a clear vision in response to the changes that took place. The political parties also dominated the women’s groups’ action programmes, and this led to a struggle to loosen that control to a bare minimum. After developing new aims, women activists became convinced that the old organizational set up on which women’s groups were founded, were no longer valid in the face of recent changes.

With the onset of the Al-Aqsa Intifada on 28 September 2000, Palestinian women’s political participation entered the heart of the battle, and went face to face with the occupation and its military machinery and warplanes separated only by their targets. The battle was no longer confined to areas around checkpoints, settlements and contact points where friction is common, but now entered into homes everywhere and at all times. This brought Palestinian women into direct daily confrontation with the occupation. Women became caught in the line of tank and Apache gunfire, and many were injured or killed, with the number of casualties reaching 96 by the fifth year of the Intifada in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.[10]This is not to mention the material, physical and moral damage that most Palestinian women endured in the home demolitions and the razing of agricultural land. Women’s civil organizations and human rights centres set about to empower women in Palestinian society through various programmes that focused on social and legal as a way to change policies and integrate gender into the process.

In 2009 the Israeli army launched a deadly war on the Gaza Strip which led to mass causalities including 103 women, or 32.4 per cent of the total number of causalities. Another 830 women were wounded, representing 15.6 per cent of the total wounded including those who sustained permanent disabilities.[11]Besides this, women have had to endure the human cost of not being able to protect their children and homes, constantly being forced to flee from the crossfire and warplanes, and living in shelters. Many continued to do so for as long as three years after the war.

Why Women are Reluctant to Participate in Politics

1- Reasons owing to the Political System 

Expanding political participation to different forces, and invigorating this participation both qualitatively and quantitatively requires a political system based on democracy, the principle of power rotation, political and intellectual pluralism and “the belief in citizenship and the rights, privileges and humanitarian considerations that that entails, with the most important being free and equal political participation.”[12]To ensure its effectiveness, there is no doubt that political participation requires that institutions exist to strengthen the role of citizens- both men and women, and ensure that they are able to contribute to, and have an effect on the policy and decision-making process.

2- Reasons owing to the Electoral System

A close relationship exists between electoral and political systems such that the two reflect each other both in their positives and negatives. An exit from Palestine’s political crisis therefore requires an electoral law that pushes towards building a democratic system reflecting the political pluralism of Palestinian society, and able to act autonomously of the Executive branch and exercise effective oversight over it. The election law applied throughout the Palestinian Authority territories is Election Law No. 13 of 1995 and the amendments proposed by the Legal Committee at a meeting convened in Sharm El Sheikh between 8-18 September 2004. A mixed electoral system was adopted and the number of Legislative Council members raised to 124. The adoption of the mixed system marked a quantum leap in amending the Palestinian electoral system although the move is not enough; it must be supplemented with further amendments to address shortcomings regarding women specifically.

3- Societal Reasons

a. There is no doubt that Palestinian women’s reluctance to participate in politics is not unrelated to the greater reluctance of Palestinian society as a whole. The faltering political climate has created an atmosphere of frustration, apathy and futility and spread the negative belief that it is impossible to have an effect on policy-making. This is most clearly seen in the decline of the political parties’ popularity and their inability to renew themselves and their members due to their incapability to propose alternative policies or solve the problems the public face daily as well as in the long term. This is not to mention the internal problems the parties suffer such as undemocratic practices and the fact that party leaders often act alone in the internal decision-making process. All of this has led to the blatant reluctance among the public to joining and participating in the political parties, and an exodus of a significant number of party members, generating a sense of what could be called political alienation. Women, as part of that society are also affected, and have to shoulder everything that society has to be it positive or negative. In fact, the negative impact on women is perhaps more serious since the political parties have not paid enough attention to the concerns of women which have not been evident in their programmes.

b. The lack of general political direction from the state has manifested in policies and programmes that support women in both official and unofficial policies, and has led to the decline of women’s standing in society and the weakening of their role and participation.

c. Unfair laws and legislation allowing discrimination against women.

d. Society’s view of women as second class citizens, and their role as coming second to that of men or sometimes being ignored completely.

e. The amount of family burdens that women have to bear means that they do not have enough time to handle other responsibilities and perform other roles in society. The traditional idea of women’s domestic work must be reconsidered, and the concept of gender inserted into the socialization process and school curriculum.

4- Reasons to do with Women themselves

a. The lack of conviction among many women of their abilities to engage in politics, and their belief that political involvement even undermines women’s felinity. Perhaps this is due to the socialization process in Palestinian society that support this perspective, and which sees women’s primary role as wife and mother.

b. The lack of interest among women in developing their political awareness through participation in political issues, and their contentment with issues of a societal nature which have no effect on the decision-making process.

c. The lack of confidence among women as well as the lack of support from women voters for female candidates, and their preference for male candidates.

d. Low levels of education among women which has had a negative impact on their attitudes towards political participation.

e. The lack of skills necessary to enter the political process or the motivation or courage to express oneself and one’s self and one’s ambitions.

5- Reasons owing to the Concept of Political Participation

It is almost impossible to reach a comprehensive definition of ‘political participation’, and this only increases confusion for a concept that is at times a puzzling, and at others rather grandiose. Most definitions focus on voting, nominations and party membership, - indicators that usually show up women’s reluctance to get involved in politics. Yet with declining support for the role of political parties and electoral participation around the world amid global changes, the solution is a new concept,- popular participation focusing on the importance on non-governmental organizations and their role in development. Palestinian women are a key part of such organizations, and fully manage a number of them, most notably the women’s organizations. This gives women the opportunity to apply their abilities to influence policy-making through their work. However, we must stress how mistaken the belief of some is, that women’s lack of participation in politics through not voting or becoming a candidate makes them unable to participate through other channels such as civil society or non-governmental organizations. The Intifada and the political changes that took place afterwards caused women to move into civil society work, perhaps believing that the old channels,- the political parties and the like- were not the best ways to get involved and make a real impact.

We should also consider for a moment the large number of women who worked for an extended time with the political parties or factions, and who moved across to non-governmental organizations. This migration demonstrates that a new understanding of the issue of political participation, -helped by a number of political, economic and social circumstances, -had begun to replace the old, narrow conception. Hence the need to re-examine the definition of political participation beyond the focus on voting, nominations and party membership, is now more pertinent than before. Instead it is important to take into account women’s political participation in unofficial areas such as where they lead organizations and train their members to take the initiative and not rely on state organizations to solve their problems, but encourage them and themselves to discover practical ways to face those problems. With this understanding in mind, it is first and foremost political work that strengthens civil society organisations.

The Future of Palestinian Women’s Political Participation

Addressing the future of Palestinian women’s political participation is not possible without first understanding the identity of the Palestinian women’s movement and the characteristics, constraints and aspirations that govern it. A close reading is needed of the Palestinian social political reality and the interplay and dialectics that materialize between those two identities, be they positive or negative.

The occupation remains the fundamental dilemma facing Palestinian society until now, dominating territory and natural and human resources. It has perhaps taken on even more complex dimensions under the settlement process. This comes as the transition to statehood, dictated by complexities and difficulties, provides a wider platform to ask what can be done in such a mutli-faceted and interconnected situation, and while democracy is suppress and society is prevented from opposing the occupation policies. The women’s movement found itself in this historic turmoil in which the PLO’s national program became replaced with that of the Oslo accords, creating a sharp division of opinion that led to the collapse of consensus on resisting the occupation, and the fragmentation of the national cause. This brought about a decline in the mass political movement, with the national political forces failing to absorb the changes that befell the new Palestinian reality. Their efforts to create new work mechanisms that take into account immediate concerns as well as those of the liberation, floundered.

This had a detrimental effect on the women’s movement which suffered the same confusion in its two major programs- its national work program and its social program. A drawn-out debate on the priorities thrown up by the recent changes ensued, though it was perhaps all too often futile.[13]

Yet the attitude of donors towards the position of Palestinian women amid the new circumstances, -or in the language of the international community, the ‘settlement’ or peace process, has failed to give Palestinian women’s organizations the chance to wither make a decision or wait. They opted for a social program on the grounds that the transition to statehood allows room for negotiation on social rights, - which were previously neglected, within the emerging state structures.[14]
The women’s movement thus found itself able to exert the efforts necessary to influence social policy and the legislation that supports it. Seeing its importance, the movement delved into the issue of gender and thereby isolated itself from the major challenges posed by the occupation and the transition to democracy. It was the complete reverse reaction to the way that it had thrown itself at the national struggle which had topped of the list of priorities for women’s groups before the Oslo Accords. In doing so, they made the same mistake twice and failed to understand that the strategy adopted by Palestinian women’s activism is moulded by the country’s historical and political situation, and that the struggle for national liberation cannot be ignored. Aside from the difficulties and multiple crises stemming from the occupation and its effects on relations within Palestinian society, the atmosphere is one of illiberty and suppression of democracy. There is a crisis facing the political parties in their inability to deal effectively with the present political situation and the growing factionalism. Then there are the issues of poverty and unemployment, as well as the policy of containment that the Authority applied to leaders and figures in the women’s movement to assimilate them into its own organizations and make them identify with their political positions.

The previous arguments of this article are integral to understanding what the future may bring in light of our reading of the current situation. This will form most, if not all, of the future of women’s political participation. Today’s gains will lead to the results of tomorrow, and therefore improvements must start now. The sense of satisfaction that some activists and organizations have at making some gains here and there must be rejected as long as a clear strategy that not only includes expertise but which also welcomes skills, is party neutral, and which guarantees a greater participation for women and brings their latent talents to the fore, transforming them into a societal force that can be of real benefit.

[1] Lima Shafiq, “Struggle of Women in the Occupied Territories for Social and Political Rights”,. Arab Women Magazine, Vol. 2, June 1985.
[2] Men and Women in Palestine: Issues and Statistics (Gaza: Central Bureau of Statistics, 1998), pp162-163.
[3] “The Palestinian Center for Human Rights”, Al-Monitor (2004) p28.
[4] Men and Women in Palestine: Issues and Statistics.
[5] Hussein Alwan AlBeej, “Democracy and the Succession of Power”, AlMustaqbal AlArabi, Year 21, No. 236 (October 1998), p95.
[6] Rima Kittaneh Nazzal, ““Palestinian Women's Movement: Is it fate?” Ro’iyya Ukhra (April 1999), pp. 19-21.
[7] Eileen Kuttab & Rima Hamami, ''The Palestinian Women's Movement: Strategies Towards Freedom and Democracy”,Ro’iyya Ukhra (April 1999), p.16.
[8] Lima Shafiq, “Struggle of Women in the Occupied Territories for Social and Political Rights”,. Arab Women Magazine, Vol. 2, June 1985.
[9] Men and Women in Palestine: Issues and Statistics (Gaza: Central Bureau of Statistics, 1998), pp162-163.
[10] “The Palestinian Center for Human Rights”, Al-Monitor (2004) p28.
[11] Men and Women in Palestine: Issues and Statistics.
[12] Hussein Alwan AlBeej, “Democracy and the Succession of Power”, AlMustaqbal AlArabi, Year 21, No. 236 (October 1998), p95.
[13] Rima Kittaneh Nazzal, ““Palestinian Women's Movement: Is it fate?” Ro’iyya Ukhra (April 1999), pp. 19-21.
[14] Eileen Kuttab & Rima Hamami, ''The Palestinian Women's Movement: Strategies Towards Freedom and Democracy”,Ro’iyya Ukhra (April 1999), p.16.