It’s hard to know which side to take. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who has criticized both Gaza and Israel, told reporters, “in the name of humanity, the violence must stop.” After Hamas increased rocket fire, Israel launched an offensive in which mainly Palestinians civilians—1, 030 as of the time of this writing—have been killed. Israel has suffered the loss of 43 soldiers, two civilians and one Thai national.
Ban has criticized both sides, saying Hamas fired missiles into Israel’s civilian territories, while Israel retaliated by using weapons in the packed Gaza Strip. Meanwhile, police and health officials argue Israel caused deaths by hitting the compound of Gaza City’s main hospital and a playground on July 28. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces tells a different story, claiming both explosions were “caused by misfired rockets that were launched from Gaza by terrorists.”
But what about women in the conflict? What do you do when you only have minutes to leave your home? What do you do when you live in the teeming Gaza Strip like 22-year-old Maram Habis Whedee, who reports, “I saw dead people with no arms, heads, legs and even eyes, blood everywhere—on streets, walls, homes, schools—so I am completely affected.” There is fear too in Israel; Judy Neeman tells of rushing her three-year-old granddaughter to the “security room,” which every Israeli home has. Neeman, who is skeptical of a “political understanding” between Hamas and the Israeli government, states, “My family and I feel there should not be a ceasefire until the tunnels are annihilated.”
A slightly more optimistic Whedee argues, “…the ceasefire is not impossible. It’s all about giving us what we really need to be normal humans and, if Israel agrees, then we will get an end to this…We want our rights to be accepted, to be treated like normal people.” For Whedee and other Gaza residents, presumably this means an end Israel’s seven-year blockade. Although Chris Boyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, does not excuse Hamas’s violence, he deems the Israeli blockade, “…a daily aggression. For ordinary Palestinian citizens, the blockade means being unable to fish beyond three nautical miles off the shore of Gaza. They cannot travel and trade freely, meaning that 70 percent of the population is aid dependent, a figure that has surely risen over the last three weeks. Palestinians briefly had an airport, only to see it bombed.”
Some Palestinian children have never known peace. Robert Turner of the Gaza-based United Nations Relief and Works Agency states, “If you are six years old in Gaza, this is your third war.”
Women the world over are regarded as the natural caretakers of their families, often in addition to holding jobs or going to school. Israeli women paradoxically serve in the army while at the same time being objectified as sex objects. The recently launched Facebook page, “Standing with the IDF,” has barely-clad women with slogans supporting Israeli soldiers. As the Tel Aviv-based creator of the page, Gavriel Beyo, states, “Outside of Israel, the IDF is presented as rough. We wanted a way to make the military look more romantic. Historically soldiers looked at pictures of women before battle for encouragement and this is a version of that.”
If you look at the page, you can see the romantic and encouraging picture of a woman in a pink thong with a heart sign and IDF written across her butt. These are not your grandfathers’ pin-up girls.
Palestinian women have not yet launched a similar page, though perhaps that will come with more reliable electricity. In February, during a relatively stable period in Gazan life, BBC journalist Simon Cox visited the area to train a small group of budding journalists, mainly women, who operate a weekly news program. Cox was impressed not only with the beauty of the hotel in which he stayed, but with the people met; women like Taghreed who hosts a daily sports program and Safa, who worked for three different broadcasters while earning her masters in journalism. Because Gazans enjoy electricity for only eight hours a day, work, shopping and other responsibilities must be done during this brief window.
Yet despite focusing on their hardships, the journalists Cox met reported on human interest stories including a piece on strawberry season, a second-hand store selling designer items and a jobless engineer turned canary breeder, as Gazans crave entertainment.
The fear that Israeli women (and men) such as Judy Neeman cannot be downplayed. Still, Palestinians have arguably suffered disproportionately, both in terms of casualties and the lengthy blockade. As Minnesota democrat Keith Ellison emphasizes, “The vast majority of Gazans do not support firing rockets into Israel or killing Israelis. In fact the majority of people in Gaza are women and children… 50 percent of Gazans are under the age of 18. Seventy percent of Gazans are women and children. 80 percent of Gazans live below the poverty line. Relatively few Gazans are associated with Hamas.”
So what do women in Gaza do during times of unrest? They comfort their children. They go to work, shop, cook, clean and make love to their husbands. They argue and cry in frustration, and hope the world does not ignore them.