Blog About Palestine Day: Social and Reproductive Justice under Occupation

This piece was written as part of Blog About Palestine Day, 2009.  Additionally, it is cross-posted at ChoiceUSA.

Mention of the "P Word" is bound to cause a stir; the Israel/Palestine conflict is one of the more politically and religiously-charged issues for people throughout the world.  In the United States, religious institutions sway popular opinion, often ignoring the rights and well-being of one group to bolster support for the other.  The conflict is spoken about dichotomously: to criticize Israel’s actions in Palestine is to unconditionally support all factions of Palestinian resistance, and vice-versa.  

As a caucasian American with a middle-class upbringing, mere mention of Palestine in the context that the state has the right to exist leaves me open to accusations of "anti-Semitism," amongst other things.  But as adherents for unequivocal social justice, allowing polarizing forces from either side to silence our voices will only lead to defeat.

Today marks the 61st anniversary of the Palestinian "Nakba" (catastrophe).  On May 15, 1948, shortly after Britain pulled out of the territory, Israel drafted its declaration of independence, and over 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes.  Today, over 4 million of their descendants live in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank, both occupied by the Israeli military.  There is little mobility, widespread poverty, and ever-deteriorating conditions as tensions flare between Israel and Palestinian resistance groups.  When these tensions flare, as seen during the Israel-Hamas conflict earlier this year, it is the people, the innocent civilians, that suffer most.  

As a reproductive justice advocate, it is the conditions that everyday people must live in that concern me most.  The lack of a "recognized state" by the world population means Palestine is often represented by extreme groups that, while voted in somewhat democratically, do not represent the will of the people.  Most of the world considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization, and few Palestinians would argue that their tactics and religious laws are 100% morally sound.  However, Hamas is one of the only groups that has promised to take a strong stance in fighting for the Palestinian Right to Return, a decidedly more important issue to those living in unimaginably constrained conditions throughout Palestine.

Health care is difficult to access in Palestine.  A 40% unemployment rate (a 2007 figure from the World Health Organization) is merely one factor in the high rate of poverty and lack of mobility for refugee women.  Very few are able to access even the most basic care for themselves and their families.  The OPT Ministry of Health estimates lack of health care during pregnancy is the third most common cause of death amongst women of reproductive age in Palestine.  In addition, because of the many checkpoints within the Occupied Territory, pregnant women often don’t make it to the hospital or birthing center.  This means more and more women are choosing to birth at home for the sake of convenience and affordability.  From an article by the UNFPA:

The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports that since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, at least 68 pregnant Palestinian women gave birth at Israeli checkpoints, leading to 35 miscarriages and the death of five women. Additionally, 10 per cent of pregnant women spent 2-4 hours on the road before reaching a medical centre or a hospital, while 6 per cent spent more than four hours, when the normal traveling time before the Intifada was 15-30 minutes. This hardship is estimated to have contributed to an 8.2 per cent increase of home deliveries.  There are a total of 528 checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza.

In addition, due to the lack of contraception and access to prenatal care, the International Planned Parenthood Federation reports unsafe abortions lead to a high rate of mortality amongst young women.  While abortion is severely restricted, women take matters into their own hands, or sometimes find a "back-alley" abortion now so far in the past to most women in the U.S.

Let’s leave politics behind and recognize that human suffering is just that, human suffering.  Our personal convictions about whether or not Palestine should exist, why Israel exists, and whether or not Palestinians have the right to return to the land their families left over 6 decades ago cannot overshadow our mission for complete, unyielding social and reproductive justice in the Occupied Territories or anywhere else in the world.  It is when we begin splitting hairs that people suffer, and our decision to remain silent out of fear of benign name-calling makes us complicit in the endless suffering of those who need our support most.

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  • invalid-0

    The anonymous author of this biased article left out the absolute MOST important fact.

    Minutes after Israel’s declared independence, Arab armies violently attacked & murdered Jews throughout Israel & told Palestinians to flee over the radio. This is all well documented.

    Arabs have always rejected an independent state of Palestine (4 times in fact) Instead they choose to murder and attack and have used terrorism since the 1920’s through the 1950’s, long before occupation was a household word.

    The fact that the 1st Palestinian leader was also a Nazi war criminal who aided Hitler in the Holocaust makes one rethink the responsibility of Arab Palestinians in the role of the WW2 atrocities.

    Haj-amin Al-Husseini aka The Grand Mufti and his followers are something the international community has never addressed.

  • invalid-0

    Tge first ethnic cleaning in the holy land in the 20th century was carried out by Arab muslims against the native Jewish population in Gaza and Hebron. In August of 1929 hundreds of Jews were murdered and driven from their homes and never allowed to return.

  • cpcwatcher

    …is that they don’t read whole articles or (apparently) know what "anonymous" means.
    If you click on my user name, you’ll get my profile, which (gasp!) contains my real name!! I wouldn’t call that "anonymous"… in fact I’d call leaving duplicate comments with varying typos without a username or contact information "anonymous," and I think Webster’s would as well.
    Another thing which you have chosen to ignore, "anonymous," is the point of my article. I’m writing about Palestinian women and their low access to reproductive options. I’m writing about the siege in Gaza earlier this year. I’m writing about the women who have given birth at Israeli checkpoints in the back of taxi cabs or on the ground, and the women who, because of checkpoints, are often forced to give birth at home with no medical attendance. None of these women "violently murdered Jews in Jerusalem and throughout Israel and told Palestinians to flee over the radio," nor did they murder "hundreds of Jews" in August, 1929.
    None of them were represented by the extremist governments that WERE NOT soundly elected, those that "rejected an independent state of Palestine."
    Your take on the 1948 exodus is flawed as well, but seeing how that’s not the point of my article (again, stop being a headline-reading reactionary and READ the thing before you comment), I’m not going to engage that point of your commentary.

  • invalid-0

    I’m not so sure what Lauren’s article has to do with the wheres and whats of the initial occupation of Palestine. It seems to me like she’s just pointing out the suffering of women in Palestine today, and how poor reproductive healthcare is one more way Palestine and its millions of innocent civilians are being wiped off the map. I don’t think poking back with childish remarks like “well they started it!” is going to fix the situation. And I don’t think you want them to. Do Palestinian women not matter because of something their ancestors might have done? Does their suffering not exist? Do the fact that their babies too often die during dirty and unattended births mean nothing? I bet you’re one of the folks who come here to poke at pro-choice articles with outcries about who’s “killing babies” and how we need to “save babies.” If so you need to supplement that with “White American babies” because if you care nothing for the children being born into poverty in Palestine you’re nothing but a hypocrite.

  • invalid-0

    By simply calling it ‘the naqba’, you make it clear where your allegiance lies. If you don’t want to be accused of Jew-hatred, you may wish to use more neutral terms to discuss the War for Independence of 1948.

    Had Arabs been more hospitable from the outset of settlement, things may have evolved differently. As it was, they promised these ‘refugees’ that they would get their home back as soon as they destroyed Israel. The Arab Refugee crisis is of Arab making and requires an Arab solution that does not involve destroying Israel.

    The maps show ‘loss of land’ as if their owners somehow misplaced. A title attributing actual responsibility would be “Arab Losses arising from Arab Initiated Wars”

  • cpcwatcher

    Gee Michael, did it really take me calling the events of 1948 a catastrophe for you to figure out where my "allegiance" lies? Or were you tipped off by the fact thatI wrote an entry for, you know, Blog About PALESTINE Day?

    Unfortunately, you too are missing the point. My "allegiance" is with those who suffer needlessly, those who lack even the most basic health care for something so simple as the birth of a child. You and "Anonymous" are making this into a political and divisive issue, something I addressed very clearly in my introduction: in the ways that we, the outsiders, have created such an extreme dichotomy in considering the Israel/Palestine conflict, we have made matters worse for both sides. In the midst of crisis, BOTH governments have become overrun with extremists who daily commit crimes against humanity. I was trying to speak to one issue Palestine women face from a human point of view, and I do apologize if my choice of words (that is, to use the Arab term for "catastrophe to describe what happened in 1948 and the six subsequent decades) set too much of a "one-sided" tone, but your "allegiance" here is crystal clear as well.

    My piece addressed one facet of life under occupation, the occupation of oppressed individuals by powerful, well-funded governments (Israeli and American alike). Israel continues to rest on its laurels of former oppression, that yes, the Nazis inflicted horrendous pain and suffering on the Jewish population of Europe. And throughout the years and even the decades before the Nakba, Arabs and Jews both made some poor decisions (to say the least) that created more conflict, murder, and ceaseless violence. I won’t say I don’t think the state of Israel has the right to exist because, like Palestine, it now has millions of residents that exist there, often not by their own volition but by birth. I recognize that Israelis suffer needlessly as well, and that conditions in Israeli territories are far from ideal. But I don’t think any Israeli woman has ever been held at a checkpoint while in labor.  I don’t know of any children of Israeli citizens who literally took their first breath at a checkpoint.  Do me a favor and travel to the West Bank or Gaza. See for yourself what things look like, then tell me you wouldn’t resist in the most extreme ways possible if you were forced into that life. If you cannot release your grip from the point of view that tells you no Palestinians are humans that deserve basic human rights, I just have no idea how to further engage you.