On the 13th of October, the Israeli army ordered 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza and Gaza City to evacuate to the south of the Gaza Strip, including hospitals. This order has caused panic and chaos, with thousands of internally displaced Palestinians left in uncertainty amid ongoing Israeli airstrikes and collective punishment measures. Numerous humanitarian organizations stated the impossibility of implementing the evacuation directive and urged the Israeli government to rescind it while also calling for the establishment of a humanitarian corridor to let aid enter the Gaza Strip. Over the past 24 hours, tens of thousands of people have been fleeing to the southern regions, with Israeli airstrikes targeting them while they were traveling on the routes designated as safe by Israel itself, resulting in the tragic loss of at least 70 lives.
The anguish is compounded when considering that the majority of Gaza’s population are descendants of refugees who endured the Nakba in 1948. Now, they are being compelled to leave their homes and ancestral lands, unsure if they will ever return, facing the grim choice of leaving or facing potential harm. The displacement they are being subject to, potentially recalls forms of ‘transfer’ of the indigenous Palestinian population that were carried out during the 1948 Nakba. However, in the face of such danger and risks, Dr. Nisreen al-Shorafa, a surgeon, and Nurse Asala al-Batsh working at al-Awda Hospital in Gaza, exemplify the unwavering spirit of resilience (Sumud) amid relentless Israeli bombings and the ominous threat of their hospital being targeted, they chose to remain, refusing to evacuate, standing firm in their dedication to saving lives. This is only one example of how Palestinian women exercise resistance in their daily lives, unwaveringly standing their ground, preserving their culture, and passing on the torch of resistance to future generations. The stories of these women, whether in healthcare or other walks of life, resonate with a determination to overcome, rebuild, and reaffirm their presence in the face of Israeli occupation’s relentless pressures.
On the 7th of October 2023, Hamas launched an unprecedented attack from Gaza towards the occupied Palestinian territories and the illegal Israeli settlements surrounding the densely populated Strip using thousands of rockets and breaching the wire that separates Gaza from the 1948 territories. In the event, they were also able to surpass the border enclosing the Strip and besieging it since 2007. The operation was driven by a long historical cycle of colonial violence against the Palestinian population, which has manifested lately in a series of provocations by Israeli politicians and settlers in and around Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. This provocative behavior had further fueled tensions, adding to decades of violence and discrimination endured by Palestinians at the hands of Israel.
This recent escalation needs to be understood within the long and violent process and structure of Israeli settler colonialism, which has relentlessly expanded in the past century in historic Palestine. Expulsion, displacement, imprisonment, occupation, daily humiliations, and different forms of violence have characterized the lives of Palestinians in their different locations for almost a century: from Jerusalem al-Quds to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the 1948 territories, to refugee camps and the diaspora ‘shataat’ the Palestinian ‘dispersion’ around the world). The “Ongoing Nakba” (Al-Nakba al-mustamirra), as Palestinians define it today, has meant continuous and repeated material, symbolic, and emotional trauma for Palestinians, which they have endured by constantly reaffirming their right to live and exist on their land.
The layered and complex dimensions involved in the Palestinian question today have accumulated across decades and are fundamental to understanding the present Palestinian struggle for freedom. The violence underscores the deep-rooted and complex nature of the conflict, causing the reverberation of today’s ongoing dynamics far beyond the immediate crisis, both in terms of historical causes and consequences. In a time of normalization of political and economic relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords (promoted by the Trump administration in 2020) in the Arab region, regional and international actors have been obliterating and sidelining the Palestinian cause in favor of a new Middle East. However, in the past few days, once again the outstanding sumud of Palestinians and their will for liberation and life, has shown that Palestine lives and Arab peoples reject normalization and stand with Palestinians.
This article wants to provide a gendered lens through which examining the ongoing conflict in Gaza, shedding light on the experiences of Palestinian women’s role in collective sumud and how it dialogues with the framework of the UNSCR 1325.
The aftermath of Israel’s response to Hamas’s recent attack over the past 8 days, has inflicted severe consequences on the people of Gaza, with a particularly distressing impact on women and children, the most vulnerable in times of violent conflict. The number of Palestinians killed by Israeli retaliation in Gaza by the 15th of October is 2670, based on the declaration of the Ministry of Health. The death toll includes 724 children and 458 women, while the injured are around 9600 The Gaza Strip has been profoundly affected by the uninterrupted bombing from the Israeli military which targeted residential buildings, schools, hospitals and mosques. The tightening of the sixteen years old “blockade” imposed on Gaza has further exacerbated the vulnerability of the entire population by cutting fundamental resources supply (electricity, water, fuel, food, medical equipment and medicines, etc.). In this chaotic environment, women and girls grapple with multifaceted challenges and face obstacles in accessing basic necessities such as food, water, and health care. The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated, as it demands swift and decisive action to ensure the safety and well-being of women and girls in Gaza, along with all population.
The ongoing crisis underscores the pressing need for international attention and action on the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda and its local implementation. As we delve into the history and evolution of National Action Plans (NAPs) for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 on WPS in Palestine, it becomes increasingly evident that amidst these challenging times, the principles of UNSCR 1325 hold profound relevance. However, interventions by the international community that press links between women’s empowerment and conflict resolution have been viewed skeptically by local organizations, particularly in contexts of occupation, such as Palestine. Many activists in the Middle East consider UNSCR 1325 and the mainstream liberal WPS Agenda not only as irresponsive to their real needs under occupation, but also as a derivative of “colonial feminism”.
In examining the history and evolution of the National Action Plan (NAP) for the UNSCR 1325 implementation on WPS in Palestine, several critical aspects emerge. The primary obstacles hindering its effectiveness for Palestinian women’s peace activism stem from dominant interpretations, particularly Israeli and international, which prioritize access over transformation of the unequal status quo. This narrow perspective invites women to participate in peace negotiations that preserve Israeli control over Palestine without challenging it. It decontextualizes and depoliticizes gender issues, neglecting the intertwined nature of gender discrimination with political and economic oppression, a crucial aspect of Palestinian women’s lives. The struggles of Palestinian women for empowerment occur within the context of prolonged Israeli settler-colonial policies and occupation, which stifle their society politically and economically. By disconnecting women’s empowerment from this broader context, using vague language, and omitting social and economic rights, the resolution often fails to address the real-life concerns and needs of women and men on the ground. In light of this, if we consider that participation is one of the main pillars of UNSCR 1325, – alongside protection, prevention, and relief and recovery – it appears clear how the very mission of the resolution is often contradicted through its implementation. Indeed, many Palestinians placed limited hope in UN resolutions and prioritized those that acknowledge Palestinian national rights or condemn Israeli violations of international law. However, while a narrow feminist reading of Resolution 1325 offers little promise for Palestinian women’s rights, the resolution itself should not be entirely dismissed. When interpreted from a political rights-based perspective that acknowledges and addresses the historical and political root causes of the conflict and the interconnections between social (gender) and political (national) rights, it has the potential to raise international awareness and support Palestinian women’s struggles for a just future.
Palestine’s NAPs for 2017-2019 and 2020-2024 reflect collaborative efforts. However, doubts persist among Palestinian activists regarding the significance and enforcement of UNSCR 1325.The ongoing military attacks on Gaza and daily human rights violations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem raise questions about the Palestinian Authority’s capacity to ensure protection under UNSCR 1325, fostering disillusionment among Palestinians. In essence, the challenges surrounding UNSCR 1325 implementation in Palestine reveal complex dynamics and the need for a more comprehensive approach that addresses political and gender dimensions in tandem.
To understand the role of Palestinian women in the struggle against the Israeli occupation, and in the light of the ongoing war, it is important to look back at the history of the women’s movement in Palestine.
The narratives surrounding this long-standing struggle have a tendency to simplify the diverse experiences and contributions of Palestinian women, thereby limiting our understanding of their vital role in resistance and community-building. For example, the limited representation of Palestinian women in Western literature and media, where they are sometimes reduced to mere caricatures, detached from their complex humanity and enclosed into a patriarchal structure where they have no agency. In the process, the voices and stories of Palestinian women are marginalized or neglected, perpetuating a one-dimensional narrative that does not reflect their diverse experiences and roles in the Palestinian resistance.
Nevertheless, Palestinian women have been actively engaged in sumud both in the military and social spheres in the context of the century-long struggle of their people. Palestinian women today not only show resilience and courage but also play pivotal roles in resisting occupation and advocating for justice. Is it exactly women who have been central characters in denouncing and reporting the growing harshness of Israeli repression and violation of private and holy sites (as in the case of al-Haram al-Sharif on multiple occasions, or the attacks on Sheikh Jarrah in 2021). A red line connects women of the past with those of today, brought together by resistance but realizing it through renovated and transformative means. Indeed today, young women in particular resort to social media and technology to advocate, address and report, being active agents of change within a highly unstable and dangerous context. Such is the case, for example, of Muna al-Kurd, the granddaughter of Rifqa al-Kurd, icon of the Palestinian resistance, or young influencers like Alaa Hamdan or Mona Hawa who daily show the world the persistent neglection of basic human rights in Palestine.
This discussion raises critical questions about gendered concepts of agency. Palestinian women, whether their stories are documented or not, have always played a crucial role in shaping the blueprint for liberation, resistance, and community-building. Recognizing and amplifying the voices and stories of Palestinian women is not just a matter of representation but a fundamental step toward understanding the complexity and depth of the ongoing conflict.
In fact, many women-led organizations and associations of civil society today in the Gaza Strip carry out an important and significant work of community care and organization. From social to political and cultural work, these associations focus on providing women with the chance to make an impact in terms of narratives and practices in their society and communities on many levels.
We Are Not Numbers was founded in 2014 after the Israeli military operation “Protective Edge”. As the director of the group, Enas Fares Ghannam, has explained on occasion of the International Forum of Women in Gaza in 2022, the aim of the group’s work is to “create a new generation of global artists” that can affect a deep change in the narrative of the Palestinian cause in the present. The act of re-appropriating the narration of Palestinian experiences is crucial in the practice of Palestinian liberation and healing. Another significant example is “Trauma free Gaza”, initiated by 15-year-old Nasreen in 2021, after the loss of her mother in yet another Israeli military operation. The young woman has started this space virtually with the aim of “liberating minds”, allowing people to share their experiences and stories. In time, the initiative has evolved into a service that provides Gazans with information on mental health and services. This serves the Palestinian practice of sumud and the ability of Palestinians to rise after every catastrophe. Other organizations as well, such as the Association for women and children protection (AISHA), carry out efforts to provide women with psychological support and economic empowerment. Established in 2009, and operating within the Gaza Community Mental Health Program (GCHMP) before that, this independent organization seeks to protect women and children from violence by supporting, empowering, and raising awareness on psychological, social, legal, and economic issues.
As we keep witnessing, women are playing a pivotal role in the Gaza Strip also during the current escalation of violence, standing at the forefront of medical, healthcare and information work. They provide essential services to their communities, trying to maintain stability and respond to the humanitarian crisis as it unfolds. Two examples that have come to the international attention on social media in the past week are those of a nurse announcing the loss of her husband while she was providing emergency medical assistance to the injured by the Israeli relentless attacks. Another is that of journalist and Gaza Strip correspondent Youmna ElSayed who kept reporting in conditions of extreme danger and risk while bombings targeted a building right behind her, which collapsed during live TV broadcasting.
In conclusion, the cases here described as well as many others, prove the crucial role that Palestinian women play in the collective sumud of their people and in their plight for freedom and human rights. Moreover, the resistance experienced by the Palestinian women and young girls should be expressively addressed as a fundamental right and need, enabling in particular local organizations and activists to enhance peace and formally contribute to the realization of conflict resolutions within the UNSCR 1325 – beyond words – as originally hoped for.
In their advocacy to uphold international humanitarian law, which has been persistently violated due to the continuous bombardment of Gaza’s civilian population by Israeli occupying forces, Jordanian women’s organizations appealed to the European Member states. They urged these nations, in accordance with their obligations under international law, to issue unequivocal condemnations of Israeli offenses in Gaza, cease their support for Israel, exert pressure to halt the aggression against the population in Gaza, and refrain from deporting Gazans while facilitating the urgent delivery of medical and humanitarian assistance. Once more, women are at the forefront.
 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, is an international policy adopted in 2000. It emphasizes the need to increase women’s participation in peace and security decision-making, protect women and girls from gender-based violence in conflict zones, and prevent conflicts by addressing gender-related issues. This resolution has since formed the basis for the Women, Peace and Security agenda, promoting gender equality in conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding.