Malina al-Hindi will no longer take part in the Great March of Return protests because she can no longer walk. Lying in her bed in the dim light of her family’s living room, she lifts a thick red blanket to expose a leg studded with metal rods and wrapped in yellowish bandages that give off a rancid smell. “I was standing next to the security fence, and we were surrounded by tear gas. So I tried to leave. This is when I was shot,” says the 34 year old mother.
Al-Hindi lives in Khan Younis in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. On March 8, International Women’s Day, she was participating in one of the many protests that have taken place in the past year as part of the Great March of Return. The demonstrations take place on the demarcation line between Gaza and Israel, and the people who participate in them are demanding an end to the 12 year old blockade that is suffocating the small enclave and for the right of refugees to return to the land that they or their parents fled or were driven out from in 1948 when the State of Israel was created. Al-Hindi paid a high price for her participation. “I can no longer move. Even going to the bathroom is complicated. I no longer know how to take care of my children, and I am scared to put their future at risk,” she whispers, while two of her six boys sit at the foot of her bed.
Still, Al-Hindi says she has no regrets: “The Israeli blockade is affecting everyone in Gaza, but the men can leave the house and take their minds off things. Us women have to stay home. So when the fridge is empty and the electricity goes off, I am the one who suffers the most. Women are much more affected than men by the situation. For me, the marches were an escape.”
In the past year, nearly 270 people have been killed and more than 30,000 wounded at the Great March of Return protests, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza. Many of the deaths and injuries have been inflicted by Israeli snipers who often shoot at demonstrators’ legs. Accused of using disproportionate violence, Israel argues that it has a responsibility to defend its borders and says Hamas, the islamist organization governing the enclave, is controlling what Israel calls violent riots.
The one year anniversary protest that took place on Saturday was relatively calm. Tens of thousands of Gazans headed to the barbed wire barrier at the border. Four people died in clashes with Israeli soldiers, and hundreds were wounded, but the situation did not escalate. On the northeastern edge of Gaza, in an area called the Malaka Plain, young men who had been wounded during previous demonstrations struggled toward the barrier. As it rained and tear gas canisters fired by Israeli soldiers fell from the sky, their crutches slipped in the mud.
A double grief
Despite making up a relatively small number, women often suffer more after being injured in the demonstrations than men. They are still expected to continue their household chores and are dependent on other family members to access medical care because they often aren’t allowed to leave their homes unaccompanied by relatives, according to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Young women who have been seriously wounded are also less likely to find a husband, something viewed as shameful in conservative Gazan society.
Since the protests began, six women have died as martyrs (shahid in Arabic). The case of Razan al-Najjar, a 21-year-old nurse who was shot dead by an Israeli sniper last June while she was trying to provide medical care to several injured people, captured international attention.
Besides being injured or killed, women suffer other indirect consequences of the bloody past year. Local organizations estimate that the number of domestic violence cases against women have doubled compared to 2017. “We have cases where the husband blames his wife for letting the children join in the march and getting wounded as a result, which leads to domestic violence,” says Hana Zant, a coordinator at the Women’s Business Center, who conducted a study on the subject.
“I also met a lady whose husband had been wounded in both legs. He would take it out on her, beat her with his crutches and insult her,” Zant continues. “In another case, a 21-year-old woman used to walk every Friday. She would put on a nice dress and go to watch. One day she got too close and was hit in the stomach and legs. One month later, her husband left her at home and married a second wife. Her own family rejected her after knowing that she was disabled. Today she is a broken person.”
“On top of being occupied by the Israelis, our society is also patriarchal and conservative. It is a toxic mix that causes the majority of women here to become abused,” Zant concludes.
In addition to domestic violence, women also struggle economically when their husbands are killed, and young girls in families where the male head of the household dies run a higher risk of child marriage. “The prolonged crisis facing Palestinians affects women differently and disproportionately,” says Osama Abueita, head the UNFPA office in Gaza. But this fact often goes overlooked. At the moment, most of the attention is focused on gunshot wounds. Trying to get foreign donors to focus on other issues is not an easy task, he adds.
Sawsan Ayish’s husband would go to the March of Return to sell ice-cream every Friday. But on May 14 last year, he didn’t come home because he was killed along with 60 other Palestinians. Since then, Ayish has been living in poverty with her four children in a small apartment in Gaza City. Pictures of her deceased husband decorate every room.
“I survive one day at a time. I go to the market once a week. Sometimes I do not cook; I only fry potatoes. In winter, rain water runs into the house, and we regularly have rats. This house is not suitable for raising children. The windows are broken since the war of 2014,” Ayish says with a sad smile. “Before the death of my husband, I managed the situation with him. Now, I suffer alone.”
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 1rst of April 2019)
Malina al-Hindi will no longer take part in the Great March of Return protests because she can no longer walk. Lying in her bed in the dim light of her family’s living room, she lifts a thick red blanket to expose a leg studded with metal rods and wrapped in yellowish bandages that give off a rancid smell. “I was standing next to the security fence, and we were surrounded by tear gas. So I...