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A Presentation of Palestinian Women under Occupation before the 33 rd CEDAW Session

My name is Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas. I represent three women’s and human rights organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We speak on behalf of Palestinian women living under Israeli military occupation.

Applicability of the Convention to the Occupied PalestinianTerritories (OPT)

Israel has again omitted any reference to the OPT in its 3 rd Periodic Report to the CEDAW Committee, and in its most recent submission of May 2005 the same omission remains. This lack of attention to the OPT represents a grave oversight by Israel especially in light of the Concluding Observations made by the CEDAW Committee in its review of Israel’s combined 1 st and 2 nd periodic reports (CEDAW/C/ISR/1-2), which state that the Government of Israel should ensure that the Convention is implemented throughout the territory under its jurisdiction (A/52/38/Rev.1, Part II, para. 170, 1997). In their article, “Living in Denial: The Application of Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,” Orna Ben-Naftali and Yuval Shany present a well documented, convincing argument that Israel indeed is legally obligated to apply international human rights laws and conventions in the OPT. We have included a copy of the article in your handouts.

The Israeli state, with impunity locally and internationally, continues to use the language of state and military “security” to justify its violations. Under the pretext of security necessity, Israel has undertaken politically motivated destruction of communities to ensure Jewish control of territories, a violation of Article 1. In this situation of conflict and systematic violations of basic elements of humanitarian law, international human rights law, and the rule of law, the Palestinian Authority, a non-state entity, cannot be held solely responsible for the well being and security of the Palestinian people. CEDAW, as well as other international human rights laws and conventions and international customary law clearly mandates states to respect and protect the human body and integrity of persons and communicates within their jurisdiction, irrespective of the existence of armed conflicts and wars.

We are here to present three priority issues affecting Palestinian women living under occupation. They are:

1. State-sanctioned violence by state and non-state actors, e.g., soldiers and settlers, violates Articles 1, 2, 12, 14 and 15. Where there is a culture of perpetual violence with impunity, women bear the brunt of direct and indirect violence in the public as well as in the private sphere. There is systematic state violence against ordinary women in the form of sexual harassment at the checkpoints and in Israeli prisons against female political prisoners. Women are frequently taken as hostages or threatened with sexual assault to extract confessions from their make relatives. Israeli interrogators exploit traditional gender roles and perpetuate negative stereotypes about Palestinian women during the interrogation of men as well as women. Because of the close proximity of Israeli settlements to Palestinian communities, settlers can easily attack, often with protection from soldiers. Women tend to stay at home while the men are away and work alone in the agricultural fields. This makes them vulnerable to victimization, especially during the olive-picking season. Please refer to pates 3 and 4 of the Shadow Report for further details.

2. Restriction of movement negatively affecting the overall well being of Palestinian women, with negative education and health outcomes being concrete indicators, violate Articles 10, 12 and 14. Israel restricts or completely prohibits Palestinians from freely accessing schools, places of employment and health care. Women and girls are disproportionately affected due to systematic sexual harassment by soldiers. They also suffer economically because in order to avoid harassment they are forced to take the longer travel routes. Due to the high cost of transportation, such travel becomes financially prohibitive. This, combined with the emotional and physical stress, severely tests women’s endurance and many are forced to withdraw from certain kinds of public life, like working outside the home. Restriction of movement also prevents accessing health care, especially in emergency situations; thereby a number of cases of women giving birth at checkpoints have been reported. Please refer to pages 8, 9 and 10 in the Shadow Report for further details.

3. Separation of families by not granting family reunification violates Articles 2, 5, 9, 11, 12, 15 and 16. Because of Israeli annexation of territories, e.g., Jerusalem, separation of Gaza from the West Bank, and the division of the territories into areas A, B and C according to the Oslo agreements, Palestinian society has been subject to various jurisdictions with separate and complicated enforcement mechanisms, some of which require coordination between Israeli and Palestinian police. Women’s issues, which mostly deal with matters in the private sphere, never receive the necessary enforcement of court decisions. Over the years, this lack of attention has left thousands of affected women in legal lacuna. Moreover, they face security vacuums. The women become victims of and dependant on, predatory powers of patriarchal alternative and traditional tribal laws that further undermine the status of women. The existing incoherent and incongruous system further empowers traditional and reactionary forces within the society. In this kind of legal and institutional inconsistencies and intersectionalities, women’s personal decisions about whom to marry and where to love, for example, are shaped by their legal status, i.e. which legal jurisdiction they feel safer living under. In addition, the lack of contiguity in territory, jurisdiction and related executive authorities isolates women further from their natural support system based in their families and makes them more vulnerable to patriarchal abuse in the private sphere. Over the years, those of us dealing with social issues have witnessed how this system of disconnection has lead to severe social disintegration thereby rendering women more vulnerable at all levels.

Up to this very moment, Israel continues to build the Wall. This is despite the 2004 ICJ ruling that called for immediate halt of new construction and dismantling the existing. The Wall further disconnects communities, separates family members, and undermines health, education, and employment. These outcomes have further complicated women’s lives, including disempowerment and increased violence against women.

Recommendations

1. Consistent with CEDAW General Recommendation 19, Israel be held fully accountable for Palestinian women’s well being and security as long as they exercise full sovereignty control of the OPT. This includes ensuring that women’s dignity and bodily and emotional integrity are maintained and holding accountable state and non-state violators in accordance with General Recommendation 25, we suggest that Israeli authorities institute complaint and redress procedures.

2. Remove all measures, devices and structures that restrict movement and free access to places of education, employment and health care. This recommendation is supported by General Recommendations 21, 23, 24. Further, Israel must show measures taken with clear timeline for dismantling the Wall. This is according to Recommendations 25.

3. In accordance with Recommendation 19, allow the Palestinian Authority to take full legal control over territories occupied by Israel since 1967 based on the principle of territorial congruity. This will enable them to protect, enforce and promote laws that ensure equality in the family and eliminate the patchwork, unequal, discriminatory system that Palestinian women currently live under.

In 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including East Jerusalem. In 1980, this eastern part of the city was annexed by Israel through a Basic Law proclaiming all of Jerusalem as its capital, in contravention of the international community consensus that this action is null and void and is not to be recognized. Netertheless, even in the case of East Jerusalem, which Israel claims to be part of its territorial jurisdiction, its authorities have failed to report on the implementation of CEDAW vis-à-vis Palestinian women in the city, and have pursued discriminatory policies against them, most notably in the area of family unification.



This page was last updated on May 10, 2005

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