"The Oslo Accords looked better on paper. The international community has not supported the process and has not exerted the needed pressure to make it a reality" says journalist and author Lotta Schüllerqvist.
13 September marked the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Peace Accords between Israel and Palestine. In a book that aims to take a critical look at its impact, Lotta Schüllerqvist explores the consequences it has had on women.
“When the big political machine was established as part of the Oslo Accords, women who had been politically active were forced to retreat to the social sphere” she says.
When Lotta Schüllerqvist first was asked to contribute a chapter to the book The Oslo Accords 1993–2013 – A Critical Assessment, that would gather different writers’ critical reflections on the impact of the Oslo Accords, her immediate answer was that she didn’t have the time.
“Then I looked at the list of authors and there were really very few women contributing, and even fewer pieces proposed to deal with the status of women. ‘Where are the women,’ I asked, which is something I try to do whenever I can,” she explains.
So a deal was quickly struck where she would get some extra time, in order to be sure that the impact of the Oslo Accords on women would be included.
Correspondent in Jerusalem
A Swedish journalist, Lotta Schüllerqvist was based in Jerusalem as the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter’s correspondent January 2003 – December 2006. But she first came to Israel and Palestine already in 1982, and although she has moved back to Stockholm she regularly visits Jerusalem.
On her last trip, just a week after the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, we meet to discuss her contribution to the book, for which she also interviewed Mona Shawa from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights and Amal Syam from Women’s Affairs Centre, both Gaza based organisations working for women’s rights and peace.
“The Oslo Accords looked better on paper. It really just created an illusion that things would get better, but that didn’t happen. I remember a young Palestinian woman who told me that before there was at least clarity: there was an occupation and there was a resistance, now everything has just been muddled,” she says.
Lofty plans fell flat
Lotta Schüllerqvist remembers the excitement in 1993, and particularly in Gaza where tourist pamphlets were drawn up and plans to construct beach front hotels were made. Economic development was seen as a real possibility. But then all those lofty plans just fell flat, and implementation, specifically the planned two-state solution, was not realized.
“Implementing the accords was never really a priority for Israel, and over the years, with the Israeli government getting more nationalistic, it has become even less of a priority. The violent reaction that came in early 2000 when Palestinians began to see that the principles set forth in the Accords were only talk, basically just gave Israel more power to respond with heavy handed action. Meanwhile the international community has not supported the process and has not exerted the needed pressure to make the Oslo Accords a reality.”
Lotta Schüllerqvist explains that since the Oslo Accords, the mechanisms of the occupation have just gotten stronger, which have subsequently further limited Palestinian’s right to movement, the possibility for economic development and the force of civil society and political organising.
Women pushed out
In this current stand still and lack of development following the peace agreement, she sees that there has been a notable impact on women, which she explores in her chapter.
According to Lotta Schüllerqvist, women in Palestine have a rich history of organising, and even though women’s rights have always been secondary to the national struggle, women did have a strong voice in the resistance. But after the Oslo Accords, women’s political involvement really changed. Politically active women where pushed out when the political machinery that was part of the accord was established.
In the book, Lotta Schüllerqvist quotes the activist Hanan Ashrawi, who explained to her that in 1993 the men felt that the struggle shifted into a period of more serious decision-making, and this was a domain exclusively for men to control.
Impossible to implement new justice system
The post-Oslo Accords era has also had a direct impact on women’s lives and their status in society. “There was a lot of work on the part of Palestine to build a state on the basis of the rule of law, on the basis of a constitution and to move away from the more traditional justice systems. It all sounded good, but hasn’t really been possible to implement because of the situation following the Accords” Lotta Schüllerqvist says.
Immediately following the Oslo Accords, a committee was established to change the personal status law, but they were not able to push a new law through. Then came the Fatah/Hamas split in 2006, and with that the Parliament closed. Since then there has been no way to work towards legal reform. The implications of this is something both Amal Syam and Mona Shawa speak about in Lotta Schüllerqvist’s chapter in the book. According to them, women are not protected by the law in Palestine and fall victim to various forms of gender-based violence, including early marriage.
No expiration date
Reflecting over the years, Lotta Schüllerqvist concludes that while perhaps not a reason for celebration, the 20th anniversary does give us a possibility to look over what it has meant and what it has led to.
“Well, there has never been an expiration date on the Oslo Accords, so I guess it can go on for as long as it wants” she says.
Field Representative in Israel/Palestine
The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
In the end of January, a UN report on the impact of Israeli settlements on the rights of Palestinians was released. Now, a follow-up report shows that in spite of there being a lot of international advocating for the Israel-Palestine peace talks that now have been renewed, the first six months of 2013 brought an increase in attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“The settlers threw rocks at our house and the soldiers kept firing tear gas. (…) I constantly feel unsafe in my own house with my young children. On that day I realised how the settlers can get away with anything with the army’s protection.”
The words are Fatima’s, a 41-year-old woman living in the village of Burin in the West Bank. She is one of 13 women, whose testimonies are included in the report Israeli settler violence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, by Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling, WCLAC. With these interviews, WCLAC wants to highlight the impact settler violence and property distruction have on women. The report has also been submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women.
More settlements being built
The January UN report stated that the establishment of the settlements has fragmented the West Bank placing at risk the possibility of a Palestinian State, and by implication, a viable two state solution – which is the stated purpose of the resumed peace talks. Still, WCLAC’s report shows that during the first six months of 2013, work began on 865 new housing units in settlements in the West Bank, the highest figure in seven years, and an 176 percent increase compared to the same period last year. Settler-related incidents resulting in injury to Palestinians rose 5,5 percent and incidents involving property damage rose 41 percent.
Lack of accountability
According to the report, there is a general lack of accountability for settler attacks, which is a major factor in their continuance. “Despite Israel’s obligations under international law to protect the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, settler violence persists largely due to the lack of adequate law enforcement by the Israeli authorities. Many soldiers appear to see their protective role as only applying to settlers, and not Palestinians” the report states. In connection, the UN report showed that complaints made by Palestinians against settlers had a 91 percent chance of being dismissed, whereas in cases involving settlers complatins against Palestinians, up to 95 percent proceed to court.
No compensation for stolen herd
Montaha, a Bedouin woman from near Jericho tells a similar story:
“My brother-in-law (…) told us that he had to hide out of fear for his life when he saw four settlers carrying guns coming from the outpost. They took [our] livestock back to the outpost and later to the settlement. We couldn’t believe we had lost our only source of income. We reported the incident to the Palestinian authorities, who in turn reorted it to the Israeli authorities. We also reported it at an Israeli police station nearby (…). Nothing was done (..) One day we saw the settlers moving the herd. We called the police who managed to retrieve six of our livestock. Two weeks later the police returned three of our goats after another three had died. (…) I dream that one day the rest of our goats will be returned as we need the income. We were given no support or compensation.”
In a bleak concluding remark, the report states that due to an absence of international and domestic accountability, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve.
“The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict" says Naila Ayesh from Women's Affairs Center in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.
September 13, it will be 20 years since the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel were signed. Evaluating the on-going US-led peace talks, representatives from Palestinian women’s organisations are critical to a process that seems to repeat many mistakes of previous negotiations, without taking into consideration the changes that have taken place on the ground.
“In principle I do believe that we have to settle the conflict, but after 20 years of negotiations, the process has become more important than the outcome”, says Amal Khreishe, Director of the women’s rights organisation Palestinian Working Women Society for Development (PWWSD).
Peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed in Washington, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in July. Since then, several rounds of talks have been held in Jerusalem and Jericho.
As was the case in earlier negotiations, representatives of the Palestinian women’s movement are excluded and feel that the talks do not actually deal with what is happening on the ground (for more information see link to the left), nor with their priorities. Furthermore, they feel that the Palestinian Authority – that is negotiating on behalf of the Palestinian people instead of the PLO who took part in the Oslo process – does not represent them.
Several of Kvinna till Kvinna’s Palestinian partner organisations say that the consequences of earlier agreements, especially the Oslo Accords, have had a negative impact on the situation for Palestinians. Naila Ayesh from Women’s Affair’s Center in Gaza says:
“Palestinians see no hope in these peace talks. The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict. The last 20 years of occupation only brought about more settlements and land thefts, and continued violations of Palestinians’ fundamental rights. Now, at a time when Israel is facing the threat of political isolation, it uses the negotiations as a cover for its on-going colonization and land confiscation. The result will be a further fragmented Palestinian society, making the objectives of women’s rights organisations increasingly difficult to achieve.”
“Change has to be seen”
Naila Ayesh says that she and other Palestinians are not against negotiations as such. But she emphasizes that a peace process has to aim at ending the occupation and achieve a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian land occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.
“Change has to be seen on the ground in order for people to trust that the negotiations has lead somewhere”, she says.
Amal Khreishe from PWWSD thinks that the process lacks transparency.
“The talks exclude all political parties and civil society. Only a narrow circle is involved and they are all the same who have tried and failed before”, she says.
Women without influence
No women’s organisations have been involved in the talks, and according to Muna Hasan, Program Officer for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Jerusalem, women’s influence over the peace talk agenda has largely been absent. And when women activists publicly have tried to express thoughts and concerns about the negotiations, media has not taken them seriously, but has focused on how they were dressed and whether their hair was covered or not.
Amal Khreishe fears that the Palestinians will be forced to agree on a deal that doesn’t solve the problem with the Israeli settlements on occupied land or the issue of Jerusalem. That would surely create frustration and more violence, she says.
“As a woman human rights defender, I would want to change the way security is dealt with and to discuss human security rather than military security. That could pave the way to democracy and real security.”
Not equal powers
Both Naila Ayesh and Amal Khreishe point out that the negotiations are not being held between two equal powers.
“Direct negotiations with the supervision of the US just creates a power imbalance. How can we trust that there really is a will to achieve Palestinian self-determination with all the settlement expansions and the violence against Jerusalemites?” Amal Khreishe says.
The peace talks had hardly begun before Israel announced that it plans to build more than 2 000 new houses for Jewish settlers on occupied Palestinian territory. This has created an even bigger distrust among the Palestinians, further exacerbated by Israeli security forces killing three Palestinians in Qalandia refugee camp on August 26.
Karin Råghall/Linda Öhman
According to a study carried out by the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, inequalities are behind three major problems for women living in Area C of the occupied Palistinian territories’ West Bank: early marriages, lack of political participation and violence.
The study, named Inequalities facing Women living in Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ West Bank, is based on interviews made with Palestinian women living in Area C. In addition, Kvinna till Kvinna held a meeting with representatives of national women’s rights organisations and international actors, to explore in specific the challenges to addressing violence against women in Area C.
150 000 Palestinian inhabitants
In accordance with the Oslo Accords from 1993, the Palestinian territories were divided in three temporary distinct administrative divisions, the Areas A, B and C, until a final status accord would be established. Area C constitutes 62 percent of the West Bank, with about 150 000 Palestinians living there, but who only have access to about 30 percent of the land.
The area was to remain under full Israeli civilian and military control for five years, but 20 years later, the Israeli military is still in control, and the number of Israeli settlers today by far exceeds the number of Palestinians. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has no authority in Area C and no formal representation as an executive body. How are women affected by this construction?
As PNA is not represented in Area C, there are almost no public services, like medical treatment or police. The area is mainly rural and women work mostly in the agricultural sector, having farming as their primary source of income, very few have the opportunity to get higher education. Isolated as Area C is, school attendance for young women is difficult, there is hardly any chance of getting access to information, to meet women from other areas or countries, to get inspired, informed, empowered or to network.
Without permission from the Israeli government, no international organisations are allowed to operate facilities in the area; a fact that hinders economic development of the rural villages and an alteration of the predominant conservative attitudes. Additionally, heavy restrictions apply to building housing or development projects, and demolition happens quite often.
Many villages are located in close proximity of Israeli settlements and attacks from settlers on Palestinians are on the rise. This creates an atmosphere of fear, out of which the freedom of movement is restricted for women. Schools are oftentimes located at great distances, which means that pupils have to walk far every day. Thus parents are very hesitant to let their girls attend school.
In some cases, this perceived insecurity – along with other factors, such as financial constraints – become reasons for which parents seek to marry their daughters off at an early age. This in turn means that women are not allowed to leave the house and to get an education. One interviewee in the study said: “My dad made me get married when I was 16 to protect me, because at that time Israeli soldiers were coming every night claiming that they are looking for wanted people.”
Lack of political participation
Security threats, a lack of space and presence, a lack of education and conservative attitudes block women’s political empowerment, including the chance to gather knowledge about political processes. All of this contributes to controlling and limiting women’s participation.
Violence against women
As there is no police service in Area C no protection strategies can be implemented. Due to this lack of health-, social-, judicial and policing authorities, women are exposed to violence without any means of protection or justice. The level of violence perpetrated by family members and intimate partners is high and in the patriarchal and conservative society regarded as a private matter. Customary or traditional response fills the vacuum of absent laws and policies.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in March 2013 that Israeli “right-wing parties view Area C as a primary area of struggle against the Palestinian Authority.” And again: women bear the brunt of this struggle.
Nabila Espanioly: feminist leaders in the Knesset!
Today, parliamentary elections are held in Israel. One of the candidates is the Palestinian women and peace activist Nabila Espanioly. She is determined to stand up for women’s, children’s, Palestinian’s and minorities rights, even though the political climate in Israel is increasingly toughening.
The general elections on January 22 take place in a country more and more dominated by ultra nationalistic and religious forces. During the last years, the democratic space for maneuver has shrunk, e.g. through laws restricting human rights organizations’ possibilities to receive financial support from foreign countries, or laws forbidding to advocate for a boycott of Israel or restricting public support for activities denying that Israel is a ”Jewish and democratic state”. This makes work difficult for mainly women’s rights activist, peace activists and –parties and left wing organizations. ”The political climate in Israel is very difficult and challenging. All Gallup polls indicate a right wing majority in the election, the question is how strong they will be”, says Nabila Espanioly.
Nabila Espanioly is the founder and leader of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization Al Tufula in Nazareth. Now she is running as no. five for Hadash, a party for Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. This is her first serious attempt to win a seat in parliament, but Nabila Espanioly is by no means a newcomer in politics. The questions she wants to drive in parliament are the same she has been fighting for in the last forty years: peace in the region, poverty reduction, unrecognized villages and women’s, children’s and Palestinian’s security, amongst others. ”I have always been political active and felt responsible for trying to create new possibilities for children, women and Palestinians – that’s why I decided to run for office”, she says.
Those who work against discrimination of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are constantly challenged. In December 2012, the central election committee of Israel (CEC), which is dominated by right wing parties, decided to disqualify the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament, Haneen Zoabi, to run in the upcoming election. Prior to that, Zoabi was accused by the governing party, Likud, of denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, because her own party supports ”a state for all his citizens” and by taking part in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 she herself ”had supported terrorism”. Israel’s High Court decided later that Zoabi’s disqualification was against constitutional law.
According to Maayan Dak, who works at The Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organization Coalition of Women for Peace, Haneen Zoabi is exposed to severe political persecution. ”She constantly gets sexist comments, referring to her personal life, her age and the fact that she – god forbid – is a powerful single woman.”
In Nabila Espanioly’s opinion the incident around Haneen Zoabi is one of several examples of the right-wing parties’ political strategy to question the Palestinians’ legitimacy in the Knesset. ”Right-wing parties try to impair the influence of Palestinian leaders in the parliament. They regard our party, which welcomes both Palestinians and Israelis, as the most dangerous party in Israel,” she says.
Despite the circumstances Nabila Espanioly won’t be silenced. ”I’ll always say what I think. I’ll continue my fight for peace and women’s rights, Palestinians and marginalized groups, even if it costs me dear – I’ve paid the price before and I’m willing to do so again in the future.”
The forgotten occupation
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for general elections in Israel last fall. The elections were planned to take place in October 2013, but political friction about the national budget got Netanyahu to call for early elections. The question of Israel’s occupation of Palestine fell off the agenda, especially during the election campaign. “The occupied Palestinian territories used to be a major issue few years ago, for both right and left wing parties. But now the occupation has disappeared from the public discourse”, says Maayan Dak, from the Coalition of Women for Peace.
Likewise not discussed is the link between poverty – which concerned many Israelis during the wave of protests for social justice – and the occupation’s economy .
Disregarded or forgotten is also the question of marginalized group’s representation in politics. Even parties who have a balanced representation of women and men avoid to put marginalized women, Mizrahi-Jewish activists or Palestinians on their list, according to Maayan Dak.
According to Anna Björkman, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s coordinator for Israel and Palestine, it is likely that religious and ultra national parties will be successful in the elections. They have already influenced the Israeli society, not least the situation for women. Last year, Israeli media repeatedly mentioned incidents where women had been harassed because they had been wearing “provocative clothes”. One extreme example was the attack of ultra orthodox men on an eight year old girl in a bus, because she was wearing shorts. “Segregation in Israel gets more and more obvious and the election will largely be about in which society the Israelis want to live: A more secular and democratic or a more conservative one”, says Anna Björkman.
Nabila Espanioly is certain to win a seat in the Knesset. If her party won’t win five seats, some of the candidates placed higher on the list will give way, so that women will be represented. Before we hang up on the crackling line between Israel and Sweden, she says that it is important with international solidarity, especially among women’s organizations. “We need all support we can get to be able to continue to fight, we need a solidarity movement,” she says.
Text: Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
Women in Israel have very different views on what the basic threats against their security are, depending on factors as ethnicity, health status and socio-economic conditions. That is one of the major findings in the Israeli Women’s Security Index, a survey based on interviews made with more than 700 women, both Jewish and Palestinian, living in the country.
The main idea behind the Women’s Security Index was to examine the concept of security in the Israeli society and to see what elements that are crucial when it comes to women feeling safe or not.
- In Israeli discourse the term security ”bitachon” is used mostly in a military sense. We wanted to find out if that really is the only threat to women’s sense of safety, says Assia Istoshina, researcher for the Women’s Security Index.
Less fear of terror attacks than of sexual violence
And apparently there is a need for a much broader discussion on security. Because although fear of military violence was present amongst the women’s responses, there were other issues that were of much higher concern. This to an extent that was surprising even for the organizations compiling the study.
- War, bombings and terror attacks evoke less fear than fear of sexual violence, economic worries and concerns for the the women’s near and dear. We did expect that everyday fears would also be prominent in women’s lives, but we did not expect them to be even more threatening than wars, says Assia Istoshina.
Big differences between groups
Being attacked on a dark street and fear of sexual attacks were among the top five biggest fears for all groups of women surveyed, regardless of ethnicity, socio-economic status, or state of health. But otherwise the fears differed a lot between different groups. The five issues that brought about a maximum feeling of tension and insecurity for Palestinian women, were:
- Losing their home
- Being attacked on a dark street
- Possibility of being arrested or detained
- War, bombing, terror attack
- Sexual assault
While Jewish women’s biggest fears were:
- Worry that something will happen to someone near and dear
- Being attacked on a dark street
- Sexual assault
- Economic situation
- War, bombing, terror attack
1/3 of Russian speakers attacked
Still the group of Jewish women was not cohesive. For instance, 32 percent of Russian speaking Jewish women reported experiences of being humiliated or attacked due to belonging to a minority group, while only 14 percent amongst the general population of Jewish women had the same experience. Amongst Russian speakers there was also a much higher percentage that reported that they had been sexually assaulted by a person they did not know, 38 percent, compared to 16 percent of the general population of Jewish women.
Women’s Security Index (WSI)
The WSI is based on interviews with more than 700 Palestinian and Jewish women living in Israel.
The women were asked to mark how much each of 14 issues evoked in them a sense of insecurity and tension. They were also asked about actual experiences they had encountered that undermine their sense of safety, about their major sources of support, about socio-demographic data etc.
The WSI was conducted by six civil society organizations: Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, Coalition of Women for Peace, Kayan Feminist Organization, Aswat Palestinian Gay Women, Women against Violence and New Profile.
Fear in interaction with the state
Assia Istoshina points out another interesting finding in the survey – a substantial number of the women felt high levels of fear and tension connected to their interaction with state institutions.
- Provided we assume that the state mechanisms are there to protect people, and not to undermine their feeling of safety, this seems particularly striking, she says.
The organizations behind the survey now hope that it will be used by NGO’s, activists and policy makers as a tool for changing the lives of women living in Israel.
- Our dream scenario would be that the state would change its priorities and aim at, and invest in, creating a more safe society for women.
For the first time Lebanese and Palestinian women’s organizations have joined forces for women’s rights in Lebanon. In a two-phase demonstration, on the 8th and 25th of March, they protested in Beirut with the watchword “Towards the achievement of full equality and citizenship for women”.
Demonstration on the stairs of the National Museum in Beirut, Lebanon, 8th of March. Photo: Alexandra Karlsdotter Stenström/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
- We have planned these demonstrations since the beginning of the year. It was the first time that so many civil society actors and NGOs agreed to integrate other women’s rights demand, such as the rights of Palestinian refugee women, into a Lebanese women’s action, says Leila el Ali from the women’s rights organization Najdeh.
The demonstration on the 8th of March took place on the stairs of the National Museum in Beirut. Around 25 NGOs working for women’s and human rights gathered, and although the majority of the protesters were women, there were also men participating. The organizations had put together a 10-point list with actions necessary to meet their demand of full equality:
- Personal status civil law
- Women’s right to pass on the citizenship to her children and family
- Criminalization of violence against women and girls
- Women’s quota in the Lebanese parliament
- Reform of the electoral law
- Civil and human rights for Palestinian women in Lebanon
- The protection of women and promotion of their right in decision making
- Elimination of discrimination against women in the Lebanese Penal Code
- Gender equality in labour law and social security
- Gender equality in the tax system
Many Palestinian women from camps
On the second demonstration, the 25th of March, the protesters marched from Beirut’s Barbir area toward the Grand Serail in downtown Beirut. And this time even more people joined.
- Over 1 000 persons participated and half of them were Palestinian women from the camps, says Leila el Ali.
The action also recieved supporting letters and statements from other women activists and NGOs in the Arab world. Even Lebanon’s First Lady, Mrs Wafaa Sleiman, sent a statement supporting the protesters’ demands.