Guest contribution by Deanna Othman
When I imagine the struggle for Palestine, it always has a female face.
No, I don’t imagine Yasser Arafat. Or Mahmoud Abbas. Or Khaled Mashaal. The symbol of the Palestinian struggle, in my eyes, is always a woman.
Maybe she doesn’t have a famous name. Or a recognizable face. She hasn’t sat at a negotiating table and certainly hasn’t shaken hands with any dignitaries. But her efforts will be the tipping point for the Palestinian struggle to cast off the shackles of occupation.
Palestinian women are by no means meek. Our grandmothers have related to us tales of hardships endured and adversity suffered that we can scarcely imagine—tales of exile, abuse, loss of loved ones and affliction, all somehow connected to the ravages of occupation. Whether they continued to live under duress, or migrated to other countries in search of a better future for their families, the scars of suffering remain etched into their existence.
It is this constant weathering of their souls, this creation of an indefatigable will to preserve and flourish, this defiance in the face of a cruel occupier, which has been passed from one generation of women to the next.
Nowhere did I witness this more clearly than in my visit to Gaza in September 2010.
What struck me so profoundly about the women I met in Gaza was their refusal to allow their circumstances—lack of resources due to a crippling siege and the looming threat of bombardment—affect their motivation to live their lives without despair.
I met middle-aged women who had lost husbands or sons, but who had committed themselves to studying their faith and had memorized the Quran. I met young girls who left their houses at 5:30 AM to begin their school day, since schools were divided into two sessions due to overcrowding. I met 20-year-old widows raising children without fathers because their husbands were killed in Israeli incursions. I met giddy teenagers dreaming of having the luxury to travel outside their country, just to know what life is like elsewhere.
Though the devastation that surrounds them may seem suffocating, Palestinian mothers push their children to pursue an education—to study and benefit their society, to cultivate the next generation, who just might be the one to eradicate the occupation. These women, both nurturing and empowering, instill in their sons and daughters the confidence to look at a soldier in the eye, to resist humiliation, to refuse subjugation and to defy the expectations of those who have tried to doom them to failure. No. Though many have been forced to relinquish their lives, they will not surrender their spirits.
Their spirits live on in the American college student who peacefully protests hate-mongers who vilify the Palestinian people.
Their spirits live on in young girls who express their appreciation for their culture by donning a traditional thobe and learning a debka.
Their spirits live on in a teenager who sits with her grandmother, listening to her stories of surviving the nakba, as she writes down every last detail to preserve her history.
Their spirits live on in the woman who refuses to purchase products whose revenue goes toward outfitting the world’s most despicable military.
Their spirits live on in the girl whose heart aches for her homeland, a place she’s been robbed of ever setting foot in or seeing, because an occupier prevents her family from returning there.
Their spirits will continue to live on and provide the impetus for change in an ostensibly hopeless situation.
Though the world may not see a Palestinian woman as the face of the struggle, it most certainly will find one at its heart.
Deanna Othman is a Palestinian American from Chicago, IL. She currently works as the assistant editor of Islamic Horizons magazine and serves on the editorial board of the Chicago Crescent. Deanna is also a member of the Chicago Executive Committee for the American Muslims for Palestine. Follow her on Twitter at @deannaothman.