U.N. commission blames Israel for Palestinian women’s rights violations

Palestinian girls in Nablus in the West Bank. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Nearly two weeks after the world marked International Women’s Day on March 8, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) ended its annual meeting on March 20 with a document blaming Israel for the unequal status of Palestinian women. The document was the only one among the meeting's nine presented documents that specifically targets a U.N. member country.

The document, titled "Situation of and assistance to Palestinian women," states that ”Palestinian women and girls still face significant obstacles in accessing basic services, health care, psychosocial support, water and sanitation, justice institutions and economic opportunities.” It explicitly lists the “failed” U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Israeli “settlement expansion, settler violence, land expropriation, the demolition of Palestinian houses and a high number of arrests of Palestinians, including Hamas affiliates, and confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli forces and settlers,” and last summer’s Operation Protective Edge as the major reasons for problems faced by Palestinian women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In Gaza, the report states, “Women are faced with acute challenges in coping with the large number of families with members killed or injured, the long-term impact of damaged infrastructure and reduced services. Displacement proved especially difficult for women and girls with reports of sexual harassment and gender-based violence in shelters, limited privacy, compromised dignity and reduced access to hygiene.” 

In the West Bank, “the living conditions of women vary depending on sociocultural factors and the differential status that applies to Palestinian women and men in different areas and related obstacles to movement and access,” according the report.

“Food insecurity levels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained high at 33 percent (57 percent in Gaza Strip and 19 per cent in the West Bank), as a result of the continued closure of the Gaza Strip,” the report adds.

What’s particularly notable about this report is that in many of its descriptions of the living and social conditions of Palestinian women, it utilizes key phrases such as “as a result of” or “prior to the conflict” as a way of reminding readers that the core cause of women’s rights violations in this region is Israel.

“Prior to the conflict, the precarious energy supply only met approximately 46 per cent of the estimated demand. With the destruction of public infrastructure including the only power plant and water facilities during the recent conflict, the functioning of basic services, including water and sanitation were severely debilitated and present serious implications for the public health of the population, including women… Prior to the crisis, Gaza faced a shortage of almost 200 schools and two-thirds of schools were operating on a double shift basis,” the report states.

In a statement that “the occupied Palestinian territory continued to be characterized by a weak rule of law,” which leads to “many barriers to women’s access to justice, especially for women victims of violence, remain, hampering opportunities for women to seek redress,” the authors of the report include the word “occupied,” which serves to turn the reader’s attention from the dysfunctions in the Palestinian Authority government to the real culprit—which, according to this report, is Israel.

And while the report does specifically mention Palestinian human rights violations against women such as “honour crimes and domestic violence,” it also mentions that “overcrowding, especially owing to the housing situation in Gaza and East Jerusalem, exacerbates violence within households.” In other words, Israel is still to blame.

Another notable detail that suggests the bias behind this report is the use of the term “State of Palestine” in capital letters in the report's summary, even though no such state formally exists today. As such, it is clear that the true purpose of this report has less to do with improving the lives of women, and more to do with issuing a condemnation of Israel under the guise of a humanitarian argument. 

One major question is: Why is CSW not criticizing Palestinian leaders who routinely, systematically, and intentionally violate the rights of their female civilians as part of their day-to-day laws and values? Israel is not the oppressor of these Palestinian women. The report’s statements could easily describe the situation of women, and people in general, who are indadvertedly affected by war in conflict zones in any part of the world. 

If the CSW does choose to explore the effects of conflict on the lives of women, then why choose the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over other obvious and severe conflict-related violations of women’s rights? For instance, the Islamic State terror group systematically and intentionally displaced thousands of Yazidis, and sold countless Yazidi women into sexual slavery. 

In fact, organizations representing religious minorities in the Middle East, such as Yazidis and Christians, recently submitted a memorandum asking that U.N. missions from various countries call on the U.N. Security Council issue a resolution against Islamic State persecution.

It goes without saying that there are plenty of examples of specific countries that continuously and purposefully violate women’s rights—countries that should be condemned by CSW, but are not. Such nations include Saudi Arabia, where women can’t even drive, or Iran, where adultery is a crime punishable by death. Of course, the CSW will never criticize Iran because the Islamic Republic is an elected member of CSW. 

When it comes to the status of women in Israel itself, Yedioth Ahronoth recently reported on the 2014 World Economic Forum report, in which Israel ranked 57th out 137 countries for female political empowerment. By comparison, the U.S. ranked 54th and Saudi Arabia ranked 117th.

While there are still strides to be made, a recent report by the Israeli government that was submitted to the U.N. shows that, among other advances in the status of women, “between 2010-2014, the Knesset passed roughly 50 initiatives meant to promote gender equality and empower women… the number of women in key positions in politics, society, and the economy has risen. More women serve in the Knesset than ever… Opportunities for women in the IDF have increased.”

Posted on March 20, 2015 .