The suffering of Gaza women rarely makes headlines. When Palestinian women are not invisible in Western media coverage, they are seen as hapless victims of circumstances beyond their control.
The fact that a woman from Gaza is ‘sentenced to death’ simply because a male relative is shunned by Israel is quite typical behavior from a country that oddly presents itself internationally as an oasis for equality and women rights.
It feeds into the false notion that Palestinian women are trapped in a ‘conflict’ in which they play no part. Such misrepresentations undermine the political and humanitarian urgency of the plight of Palestinian women and the Palestinian people, as a whole.
In truth, Palestinian women are hardly bystanders in the collective victimization. They deserve to be made visible and understood within the larger context of the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
The seven women who petitioned the Israeli court, and the story of Hanan al-Khoudari, are but a small representation of thousands of women who are suffering in Gaza without legal advocates or media coverage.
I spoke to several of these women – whose suffering is only matched by their incredible resilience – who deserve more than mere recognition, but an urgent remedy as well.
Shaima Tayseer Ibrahim, 19, from the town of Rafah in southern Gaza, can hardly speak. Her brain tumor has affected her mobility and her ability to express herself. Yet, she is determined to pursue her degree in Basic Education at Al-Quds Open University in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
The pain that this 19-year-old is enduring is extraordinary even by the standards of poor, isolated Gaza. She is the oldest of five children in a family that fell into poverty following the Israeli siege. Her father is retired and the family has been struggling but, nevertheless, Shaima has been determined to get an education.
She was engaged to be married after her graduation from university. Hope still has a way of making it into the hearts of the Palestinians of Gaza and Shaima was hoping for a brighter future for herself and her family.
But March 12 changed all of that.
On that day, Shaima was diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer. Just before her first surgery at Al-Makassed Hospital in Jerusalem on April 4, her fiancé broke off the engagement.
The surgery left Shaima with partial paralysis. She speaks and moves with great difficulty. But there was more bad news; further tests in a Gaza hospital showed that the tumor was not fully removed and it must be quickly extracted before it spreads any further.
To make matters worse, on August 12, the Ministry of Health in Gaza announced that it would no longer be able to treat cancer patients in the Israel-besieged enclave.
Shaima is now fighting for her life as she awaits Israeli permission to cross the Beit Hanoun checkpoint (called the Erez Crossing by Israel) to the West Bank, through Israel, for an urgent surgery.
Many Gazans have perished that way, waiting for pieces of paper, a permission, that never materialized. Shaima, however, remains hopeful, while her whole family constantly prays that their eldest daughter prevails in her fight against cancer and resumes her pursuit of a university degree.
On the other side of Gaza, Dwlat Fawzi Younis, 33 from Beit Hanoun is living a similar experience. Dwlat, however also looks after a family of 11, including her nephews and her gravely ill father.
She had to become the main breadwinner of her family when her father, 55, suffered kidney failure and was unable to work.
She would look after the entire family with the money she earned as a hairdresser. Her brothers and sisters are all unemployed. She used to help them, too, whenever she could.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘When Illness is a ‘Death Sentence’: The Victimization of Gaza Women’.