The Impact of the Conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory on Women

UNIFEM. Gender Profile. Women, War and Peace


Palestinian women in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) have been affected by every aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict-and actively involved in both protest and peace-building-at least since the clashes that preceded Arab-Israeli War of 1948-1949. Millions of Palestinian women and their families were dispossessed and displaced in the war that followed the creation of the State of Israel. Most of those women are still unable to return to their original homes or lands. Many are still refugees.

While there is no doubt that Palestinian and Israeli women on both sides of the Green Line have been seriously affected-their security compromised, their health and lives and families threatened, their ability to function in a daily routine made increasingly difficult, and their economic stability undermined-as a result of the decades-long conflict, this report focuses on the effects of the conflict only on Palestinian women in the oPt. (The "Green Line" is the armistice demarcation line to which the warring parties agreed after the 1948 war, which was, along with the other provisions of the armistice agreement, "dictated exclusively by military considerations" and explicitly intended not to prejudice the rights of any party in the future settlement of the Palestininian question. more...)

The strategies that Palestinian women in the oPt have developed to cope with the disruptions caused by conflict, displacement, and the national struggle for statehood, as well as the additional burdens that have been placed on their shoulders, have opened opportunities for them. The breakdown of the extended family created space for women to reconfigure their roles within a smaller family unit, and take on more responsibility for family decisions. Women’s participation in the national liberation struggle was actively encouraged during the student demonstrations of the mid-1970s, and women took up the call. Palestinian women of all ages and social classes have challenged their socially-defined gender roles through their political participation, which has at times included serious confrontations with the Israeli army, but has also included involvement in marches and demonstrations, and in grassroots organizing to fill the gaps in social services in the oPt, whether under Egyptian, Jordanian, Israeli or Palestine Authority rule.

However, many of women’s social gains have been counterbalanced by the serious impact of the conflict on every aspect of their lives. Hundreds of women have been seriously injured or killed in the violence of the first (1987-1991) and second (2000-present) Intifadas. In most cases, women are not injured or killed while directly participating in clashes with Israeli soldiers, but while they travel to or from work, while they attempt to cross checkpoints, when they are denied access to ambulances or medical services, when as innocent by-standers they are caught in cross-fire between armed men, as a result of Israeli extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian leaders, or while they are in their homes. more... Recently, however, a handful of Palestinian women have engaged in the universally condemned practice of suicide bombing.

In addition to the direct physical danger to themselves, thousands of Palestinian women have lost husbands, sons, brothers or fathers to exile, emigration in search of work, Israeli imprisonment, or death. Half of all refugee families are headed by women, more... and female-headed households have been disproportionately affected by the rise in poverty that has accompanied the recent violence and the closures and curfews-the latter at times keeping the entire Palestinian population of West Bank cities confined in their homes 24 hours a day-that Israel has imposed on the oPt as a result. more... These measures, in addition to house-demolitions, land appropriations, and other measures taken by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the name of security, have had serious negative impact on women’s physical and psychological health, education, economic security, and access to services. Despite the heavy toll that the conflict has taken, Palestinian women continue to support each other through grassroots activism, and continue to work for peace both within their communities and in collaboration with like-minded Israeli women.


28th November 2004


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