PAJU was founded in November of 2000. In February of 2001, PAJU began its series of weekly vigils every Friday based on the vigil held every Friday by Women in Black in Israel. We began our Friday vigil in front of the Israeli Consulate at the corner of René Lévesque Boulevard and Peel Street in Montreal along with the Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation. The vigil lasted every Friday – winter, summer, spring and fall – for seven years, at which point Israel moved its Montreal consulate to quieter corners, citing our vigil as its reason for moving.
Subsequently, the weekly vigil was moved to different points of the City of Montreal whereby PAJU distributed (and forwarded via internet) a weekly tract drawn from a news item highlighting the abuses brought upon Palestinians by Israel’s illegal occupation of stolen Palestinian land, as well as explaining the nature of the Palestinians’ legitimate claims to justice and nationhood. Beginning with the first vigil, a PAJU committee chose a particular news item from different world sources – including Israeli sources such as Haaretz – to be printed and distributed to passersby at our vigils, one side of the tract in French, the other in English.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, PAJU has suspended its weekly Friday vigil until such a time as it is safe to begin anew. However, we continue to forward news items to our mailing list. The present news item regarding the emergence of women (and feminism) in Israeli politics is article number 1 000. In other words, PAJU is hereby sending out its 1 000th consecutive weekly news item which began in February, 2001. We will continue to express our solidarity with the legitimate claims of the Palestinian people for peace with justice. END THE OCCUPATION!
Meet the women of the Knesset’s Joint List
Women have not fared well in the recently instated Knesset. All the major parties are currently led by men. The number of women in the Knesset has decreased from 35 to 30, and women make up only 25% of the overall elected members of the Knesset.
Yet women in the Arab Joint List have done well: Out of the Joint List’s 15 members, four are women — double the two in the previous Knesset.
The Joint List is made up of four different parties running together as a bloc, and each party has one woman member.
Aida Touma-Sliman, 55, represents Hadash, the Communist Party. She studied psychology and Arabic literature at Haifa University, and was the founder of Women Against Violence, the first Arab feminist group against domestic violence. She also served editor-in-chief of al-Ittihad, the Communist Party’s Arabic-language newspaper.
Hadash focuses on creating a socialist economy and promoting workers’ rights. Touma-Sliman is the only one of the four women who served in the previous Knesset, where she was chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. A prominent opponent of the occupation, she has also made a name for herself as an outspoken, sometimes strident, champion of women’s rights, including those of Jewish ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist women, even though she is an atheist.
“I may not know much about religion,” she told Al-Monitor, “but I know a lot about the patriarchy, so I support the rights of all women.”
Sandus Salech, 34, is the youngest member of the entire Knesset. She represents Ta’al, a secular party that focuses on social issues within Israel and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. She holds a bachelor’s in education and a master’s in technology and education from the Technion. She has been a teacher and a CEO of a technology startup.
Her academic research focuses on obstacles to the advancement of women in the technology field.
“Having four women is progress and a lever for advancing women in Arab society,” she told Al-Monitor, “but it isn’t enough. And I hope that the men won’t think that because we are four women, they won’t have to pay attention to women’s rights, because women’s rights are everyone’s rights.”
But most of the attention in the Israeli Hebrew press is on Iman Khatib-Yassin, 56, a member of the United Arab list, and Heba Yazbak, 35, a representative of far-left Balad, which believes that Israel should be “a state of all its citizens” and advocates the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
Khatib-Yassin holds a bachelor’s in social work from Tel Aviv University and is a graduate of the prestigious Mandel Leadership Institute.
With a sigh, she acknowledges that she has gained attention as “the first hijab-wearing woman in the Knesset. … I wish people wouldn’t look just at the hijab, not only in the Knesset, but everywhere. All Arabs in Israel are stereotyped, but a woman wearing a hijab suffers from the difficult combination of national, religious and gender-based discrimination.
“I am not the first woman in the Knesset who wears a head covering. The press doesn’t make a big deal about observant Jewish women who cover their heads. I am very proud of my hijab, but underneath that hijab is a woman who wants to help her society. What is relevant is my political work.”
That political work, she said, is informed by her religious beliefs and her feminism. This means that she accepts, in sharp contrast to most secular feminists, that Israeli law recognizes only religious marriage. With regard to polygamy, permitted according to some interpretations of Sharia but criminalized by Israeli law, she demurred, saying, “I don’t want to get into it, but you can certainly understand from my response about marriage. I believe that religious law safeguards an individual’s status and rights.”
She said she is committed to the advancement of “all women in Israeli society,” but she also represents “a national, indigenous minority, and Israeli policy has been intended to distance us. I am committed to the advancement of all women in Israeli society, but we cannot tolerate the current situation, in which the prime minister and much of Israeli society relate to 20% of Israeli citizens [the proportion of Arab citizens within the Israeli population] as if [they] were not here.”
Heba Yazbak, 35, holds a doctoral degree in sociology and anthropology from Tel Aviv University and an undergraduate degree in social work.
All four women are confident they will be able to work together, even though they represent different parties and ideologies.
Salech said, “The Arab population and Arab women are not monolithic, and the diversity among us reflects the full spectrum of our constituency. I think that gives us greater freedom to work together.”
Yazbak agreed, “I think that each of us will bring her uniqueness and also be part of a greater whole to benefit all Arab women and all women in this society. It will be interesting and challenging, and I believe that we will bring a different atmosphere to the Knesset.”
Even with regard to the issue of religion, on which their opinions are deeply divided, the Knesset members are confident they will be able to work together. Touma-Sliman said, “I’ve gotten along with religious men, and I’m sure that working with religious women will be easier! How religious someone is, isn’t important, but rather their level of commitment to women’s rights.”
“A religious person strives to be a better person, to uphold her values, and so I don’t think that my faith will prevent us from working together,” Khatib-Yassin added. “We are all speaking about the same issues, even if we don’t agree on all of the ways to reach them.”
“The situation in the Knesset is very complex,” Yazbak said. “We want to change the current situation, but we encounter a hostile, racist attitude from many of the [Knesset members] and much of the government. … At the same time, it is very important to advance the status of all women, and we will have to cooperate on specific issues, even with people who are hostile to us. It is very painful, but that is the way that politics has always worked.”
Distributed by PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity)