Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women's day in Ramallah

Today i went with around 30 women from Abu-Dis and Bethany to the International Women's day celebrations in Ramallah. Unfortunately the coach was late and by the time we got to Al-Manarah square the protest had ended.

This was disappointing but it was still an interesting day.

It brought home to me the continuing importance of women's liberation. One of the women who came to the protest from Abu-Dis was married when she was 15 years old. She has never had formal education, and looking after her six children is her full time job. Her husband was on the phone a couple of times today asking her why she had gone to Ramallah. From her everyday manner you wouldn't be able to guess at these difficulties.

For me this is why central to women's liberation has to be decent free childcare, social welfare and workers rights, so that all women, not just a privileged elite, can have the opportunity to pursue education, leisure, and not be trapped in exploitative relationships out of economic necessity. Of course the occupation here is a huge barrier to any of these things happening.

It made me wonder how many people marking International Women's day in Israel gave a thought for women in Palestine.

On the coach to Ramallah i sat next to a women who works for the General Palestine Federation of Trade Unions. She provided me with information about the landscape as we drove past.

She informed me that the main road from Abu-Dis to Ramallah would be closed off by Israel in the next three years, forcing Palestinians to use an alternative route to get to Ramallah and Jerusalem. This route is longer and more complex, and involves passing through one of the worst checkpoints, where Palestinians are processed like cattle through turnstiles and security gates.

She pointed out how the Israeli settlements were expanding as we went past, with the older settlement houses at the top of the hills and the visibly newer buildings spreading out down the sides. Each settlement taking more land, roads and resources for Israel and less for the Palestinians, making chances of a 'viable Palestinian state' even more remote.

In short, Israel is imprisoning a whole population, and trying to destroy their chances for a decent future.

But you can almost forget this when you are walking the streets of central Ramallah. Here you can visit shopping malls, dine in nice cafes and there is even a cocktail bar. There are no Israeli soldiers or symbols to be seen, and Palestinian police direct the traffic.

But, from what i saw on my way to Ramallah, this doesn't represent real liberation but is more like telling a prisoner, "you control everything here, except for the walls".

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