Being a Jewish Woman in Palestine- Answers to 3 FAQs

jews say no

(by Katya)

I’ve been back from Palestine for two weeks, and I’ve gotten a lot of questions and comments about my experiences there. I really appreciate people asking questions and wanting to learn about what reality looks like, but some of the questions conveyed a lot of persisting stereotypes, racism, Islamaphobia and misconceptions. For that reason, I’d like to answer those questions here. They are:

1. “What was it like being a woman in Palestine? Did you get a feel for the oppression of women in that society?”

  2. “Did you face a lot of anti-Semitism or hostility as a Jew in Palestine?”

and, not to be outdone:

3.  “What was it like being surrounded by Islamic extremism?”

On being a woman in Palestine:

-I was treated with respect- noticeably more respect than I experience as a woman in America. I didn’t get creeped on or leered at or hit on like I do in America on a daily basis. I was taken seriously as a professional in my career path, which is a huge struggle for me every day in America. There was one incident where a juice bar owner made some comment about my eyes and then got a little weird, but that was it. As I went all over the West Bank, traveling from Jerusalem to Ramallah to Hebron to Bil’in to Bethlehem- even at bus stations at night and walking down city streets- I never felt disrespected or oppressed.

-I made friends with and was treated like a real human being by Palestinians of all genders. People asked me about my job and what I studied in school; no one was surprised that I was educated or had a career.  No one said anything to the tune of “you should get married and have kids and stay at home!”

-I met women who chose to stay home and raise their children, women who chose to work from home, and women who chose to have careers outside the home; all seemed happy with their decisions. I met men who celebrated and supported their wives’ and fiancées’ choices regarding hijab, employment, education, reproduction, etc. I’m sure it wasn’t all like that because there is misogynistic oppression in every society, but from an outsiders’ perspective it felt like a significant step up from how women are treated in America.

-People have asked me “Did you have to wear a hijab or cover your head in public?”

Sometimes I covered my head

headcovering

and sometimes I didn’t,

no headcovering

and whether I covered my head or not was 100% my choice. That choice was based on what made me feel comfortable and what was most respectful each given situation. When I did choose to cover my head, it felt empowering, but I was treated with the exact same amount or respect regardless of whether or not my head was covered. Whether I was with strangers in the cities or with friends in the little village of Bil’in, I wasn’t treated differently based on whether or not my head was covered.

Likewise, many Palestinian women chose to wear hijab, but some chose not to. I can’t speak for Palestinian women, but the women I passed on the street every day wore their hijabs with a confidence and individuality that made it seem like they fully owned and cherished their decision. Those who chose not to wear hijabs also walked confidently.

-People didn’t expect me to fulfill certain gender roles. When I tried to help out around the house, the older boys (specifically 14-year-old Abdul Khaleik) would stop me and insist on doing the housework themselves. There seemed to be no expectation of subservience to men.

I do not want to claim that there is no misogyny in Palestine. There is misogyny everywhere to different extents and in different manifestations, and all of it is a problem. Palestinian society, just like every society I know of, has areas in which active work needs to be done in order for people of all genders to have equal rights and opportunities. I don’t know the nuances of how patriarchy intersects with being a people under occupation. But considering I hear Zionist propaganda claim every day that Palestinian society is incredibly misogynistic, people need to know what gender relations in Palestine actually look like.

I’d also like to point out- since Zionists keep trying to take the moral higher ground on gender issues- that I’ve experienced a significant amount of cultural misogyny in Israel. From getting catcalled to dealing with incredibly aggressive Israeli men who felt entitled to my body to being told things like “you’re practical; that’s a trait you don’t find in most women” to getting sexually assaulted when I went out in Tel Aviv (there, I said it)…I experienced none of this bullshit in Palestine. So Israel, please at least fix these toxic, pervasive and dangerous issues before claiming to be the “enlightened side.”

On being a Jew in Palestine

I experienced zero hostility toward my being Jewish; the fact that we were Jewish didn’t have any effect on how we were treated. Whether people knew we were Jewish or not, we were treated with the same amazing warmth, hospitality and generosity. If our Jewishness came up in conversation, sometimes people would make a point to say things like “I respect people of all religions and backgrounds as long as they believe in peace and justice” or “Jews and Muslims are like cousins! We come from the same roots!” or “I think the Jews should be able to live and practice their religion in peace here, and so should the Christians and so should we. We just want to live with equal rights.” The bottom line was “as long as you support human rights for everyone and you don’t support the ethnic cleansing of our people, you are absolutely welcome in my home for tea and falafel.”

From these conversations, I gathered that most Palestinians seem to understand a concept that I fight to explain to Americans every day: Judaism and Zionism are not the same thing. They are related, yes. But #notallZionists are Jews (just ask the conservative Evangelical Christian movement in America) and not all Jews are Zionists and contrary to hasbara propaganda, non-Zionism is not the same as anti-Semitism. Every Palestinian we talked to understood that already; they understood that we were ethnically, culturally and religiously Jewish but that we opposed the mass oppression and injustice that is Zionism. Our good friend Hamde, a prominent Palestinian photojournalist, constantly reiterates that Judaism is not the problem for the Palestinian people; Zionism is. The Occupation is.

“…but extremist Islam”

No. Nope. Fanaticism was not something I saw even once in the ways people practiced Islam in Palestine.

A quick note: Palestinians are predominantly Muslim, with a significant Christian population. The attitude towards Palestinian Christians seemed warm and accepting. When Palestinian Christians came to a protest during Christmastime, they were unified with the Muslims and everyone else there.

While the vast majority of Palestinians we met identified as Muslim, there was a broad spectrum of diversity in terms of religious practice. There were devout Muslims whose religious practice was close to their hearts and a big part of their daily lives, there were people who weren’t religious but identified as Muslims because they were born to Muslim families, and everything in between.  Everyone seemed to practice their religion (or lack thereof) in whatever way/to whatever degree was meaningful to them, and let other people do the same. What we didn’t come across was anyone who would resemble an “Islamic extremist”: the devout Muslims we met all expressed respect for different religions and ways of life, and didn’t seem to use their religion as a tool to oppress others in any way. They wanted the Jews to be able to pray in their holy spaces like the Kotel and have that be respected, and they wanted to be able to pray in their holy spaces like al-Aqsa and have that be respected. The Orthodox Jews who forced Palestinian families out of their homes and violently attacked Palestinians and shouted “death to Arabs”, however, were extremists. (Though not all Orthodox Jews are Zionist extremists either. Some are openly non-Zionist.)

Since we were in a place that is holy for Christians, Jews, Muslims and Baha’i, religion was woven into the landscape and cultures all around us. But in Palestine, there seemed to be an intrinsic understanding that spirituality is personal and not to be homogenized or forced on people. That was a really nice contrast from the US, where I feel like Christianity has been shoved down my throat for my entire life.

I know that in my different posts, I keep bringing up the fact that Palestinians are so vastly different from the caricatures and stereotypes that are ascribed to them. This is crucial for everyone to know because our attitudes and even foreign policy procedures are highly influenced by these false perceptions. It shouldn’t take an American white person to get people to actually re-consider the racist myths they’ve internalized about Arab people and spaces. But the world needs to know about the whole-hearted warmth, kindness and generosity that is built into every facet of Palestinian culture. So please take my experience for whatever it’s worth and, if need be, re-consider everything that American media tells you about Palestine.

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67 thoughts on “Being a Jewish Woman in Palestine- Answers to 3 FAQs

  1. Phenomenal piece of writing, Ms. Gold!! I lived in Palestine for two years, and though I am Christian not Jewish, I was in a position to observe, many times, what you describe, and also experience, as a woman, what you describe. This is an extremely important piece. Thank you so much for writing it!

    Liked by 3 people

    • A Christian living in Palestine and still alive and not targeted What a miracle.You won’t learn about reality from this young lady as she is away with the fairies. Lucky she is not gay or shw would not be alive to write this fantasy

      Like

      • Actually there are a large number of Palestinian Christians living and practicing their faith openly all around Palestine. We met many and saw no hostility from the Muslims toward the Christians. What are you basing your opinions on?
        And you’re correct in assuming that I’m straight. But the only thing I heard Palestinians say about LBTG orientations was “I can’t imagine that being my life experience, but people should be able to be themselves and love who they want.” Sometimes people thought Ariel and I were a lesbian couple since we were traveling together, and they didn’t show any hostility or discrimination against us while they were under that impression.
        Palestine is not a utopia- there are instances of oppression, hostility and even violence against minorities within Palestinian society. Being a people under occupation exacerbates this. But I can’t really speak to these instances because I didn’t witness or hear of any. All I witnessed was tolerance.

        Liked by 1 person

      • As Ms. Wolfe said, katarinaaynya or whoever she is, is still living in fairy land, still unable to grasp that she refers to a non-existent people in a non-existent country with a non-existent culture, race, religion, language, history – anything.

        Like

      • Sure. A non-existent people I spent December with, non-existent food I ate, non-existent language I spoke, non-existent history I learned through pictures, artifacts and public records, non-existent music that I listened to, and all in a non-existent land.
        Now tell me, what gives you the authority to say that Palestine and Palestinians don’t exist? I have no doubt that you’ve never been to Palestine, and it perplexes me that you’d try to convince someone that things they just experienced are, in fact, not things.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much for this article. As a Palestinian, I am so very grateful to see Jewish people speak up for Palestinian human rights. You give me hope that someday my beloved Palestine will be free.

    Liked by 6 people

    • I am so glad you liked the article. I pray that the day will come soon when the world refuses to accept these injustices and Palestinians may know true freedom and equality.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You were a visitor to the West Bank. You did not go to the Gaza Strip and face rule by Hamas. In that respect your article, while very well written is one-sided. I am anti-Zionist if we use the modern Arab definition of the word which is not Zionism at all. I also recognize that Israel has its fair share of social problems like the US does, and I’m sure you would have a very different perspective if you were living in Palestine as opposed to visiting it. Someday, I hope to visit both Israel and Palestine. I won’t, however, until both parties work out their differences at a negotiating table instead of trying subvert the peace process.

    Like

    • You say that I did not go to Gaza- that is true, as Israel is not letting anyone into Gaza to see the aftermath of their 50–day massacre. My main primary source of information regarding life in Gaza was my friend Layan, but she was among the hundreds of innocent young people murdered by Israel this summer. But when she was alive, one point that she always stressed that the main problem facing Gazans was the Israeli Occupation, not Hamas (though it should also be noted that she was not a Hamas supporter.)
      You also point out that I was just visiting Palestine, not living there. That is 100% valid and as I’ve reiterated: all I can offer here are my experiences as a Jewish-American visitor.
      But I can also argue, in response to your calling my viewpoint one-sided, that I have experienced both sides very thoroughly. As I’ve written in previous posts here, I grew up surrounded by Zionism, went to Israel on Birthright and independently, and expected to become a Zionist myself. (I define “Zionism” in its modern political context, ie the support of the current State of Israel.) Only after many years of research, exposure to both sides and time on the ground did I form an opinion of my own.
      It sounds like your opinions on Palestine and Israel have been largely influenced by Western media. In reality, the international peace negotiation process has been so eroded that it has become fruitless and meaningless. Equal human rights need to happen now- not on a “someday” basis. That is why I support nonviolent action such as BDS and international solidarity.
      I look forward to hearing your opinions once you have spent time in Palestine and Israel.
      Best,
      Katya

      Liked by 9 people

    • You speak of Ms Weiss’ article being one-sided? But of course it is… It’s her experience – something you clearly lack, having never visited Palestine… Watching FOXnews isn’t the same thing.

      Liked by 1 person

    • As an American women who has lived in Palestine for 20 years, I completely agree with Katya. It’s time Americans discard the nasty stereotypes of Palestinians, and come to see them as the warm and generous people they are. I found this blog a refreshing breath of fresh air. Thank you both!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Katya — thanks so much for this lovely piece. I lived in Palestine for two and a half years (mostly in 2004-5, but also for several months in 2007, 2009, and 2011), and what you say resonated with my experience there.

    My name is Pamela Olson, and I ended up writing a book about my experiences called Fast Times in Palestine, because I so badly wanted to share some true stories with people who (like me before I went there) knew nothing about the place except stereotypes. The book of course touches on politics, violence, and oppression, but also on the house parties, concerts, barbecues, weddings, jokes, harvests, and romantic drama that happen in between. I’ll be happy to send you a PDF copy if you like, and you can check out Chapter One here:

    https://fasttimesinpalestine.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/chapter-one

    Please contact me at pamolson (a) gmail if you’d like a copy.

    Thanks again — it’s always wonderful reading about other people discovering the magic of Palestine. It’s like some huge secret that’s hidden until you see it for yourself — and then there it is, right out in the open, for anyone to see. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it anywhere else on earth.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Pingback: Being a Jewish Woman in Palestine- Answers to 3 FAQs | whatsgoingoninpalestine

  6. “… broad spectrum of diversity in terms of religious practice. ” love this quote, people just don’t realise that there are different degrees of religious practice, thank you for noting that.

    God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I spent 3 months in Palestine as a EAPPI human rights’ observer in 2013 and that’s why I felt so excited and glad to read your wonderful description of your stay there. After reading it I was sure there is hope.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Though I am neither Jewish nor a woman, I too felt such warmth while in Palestine. The only time I ever felt nervous or in danger was when I walked Shuhada (aka. Apartheid Street) in Hebron and the security at Ben-Gurion airport. Thank you for helping to combat the endless myths about Palestinians that permeate our American culture. I hope more people choose to go and see for themselves the realities on the ground instead of relying on sound bytes and propaganda.

    JM Smith
    Author, “You WANT to be ‘Left Behind’!!” (available via Amazon)

    Liked by 4 people

  9. Hi Katya –

    Just wanted to comment on yet another wonderful piece. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the world, and understanding that someone like you has the power to change people’s perspectives on the situation in Palestine and Israel.

    I’m so jealous that you’ve gotten the chance to meet Hamdi in person! We’ve communicated virtually and he seems like a wonderful person. So happy you enjoyed your time in Palestine, it’s been years since I’ve been back and it’s wonderful to know that that generous and warm hospitality that’s conditioned in our blood is still prevalent.

    I hope to read more posts from you some day! Would love for you to think about writing for a blog/website/Facebook page I created back in July called “I Write To You As” about your experience. I think more people would love to read about it.

    Thanks again for being human! Glad you returned home safely.

    Sending love,
    Jenan

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Katya, lovely piece you wrote and experienced! God willing all 3 religions can live in peace in Palestine. I do not believe in the existence of israel. I visit Palestine frequently being that my parents were born there. I love my culture and being a Muslim, I respect you and honor. Thank you for showing support to the Palestinians!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thank you so much for your kind and honest words about the brave Palestinian people. At times it can be quite depressing to be a Muslim Arab because of the incessant bigotry in media and society. Your blog provides me with badly needed hope and confidence in humanity.

    Thank you. Salaam.
    Ibrahim

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for your wonderful article, Katya. In at least one respect you had an easier time than me during my visits to Palestine. I once DID have someone tell me I should be married and have children. He bought me a soda and offered to help me find a wife.

    Looking forward to reading more of your work in the future.
    David Lorig

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I also lived in Palestine for many years, then I went back to work there for a bit, and my experience as a woman was a positive one. Palestine is not what we see in the media, and if people were to see the real Palestine, they won’t be able to but to fall in love…

    Like

  14. Thanks for writing this. I lived on a couple of kibbutzim for almost two years over 40 years, and learned a fair amount of Hebrew and a tiny bit of Arabic. Most of the Arabs and Jews and whatever that I met were actually quite nice. Not all. Among other things, I recall meeting some right-wing Zionist counterdemonstrators at a left-wing Israel demonstration in 1974 against illegal occupation and settlements in the Occupied Territories that I attended, along with most of my kibbutz. The right-wingers were unabashed about wanting to kick all the Arabs out of a state of Greater Israel since they believed God had given it to the Jewish people. They also made an interesting point: our kibbutz, like quite a few others, was located on land that was conquered in 1948, not purchased before Partition.

    Like

  15. Pingback: Being a Jewish Woman in Palestine- Answers to 3 FAQs | | truthaholics

  16. Thank you for writing such a wonderful article. Everything you said was as if you had read my heart.

    Over the last 25 years I have been to that l little tract of land, I’ll refer to collectively as the Holy Land, three times. Firstly on a kibbutz 1989/90 as a lapsed Catholic (I’m Irish) , on a workcamp with Birzeit University on the West Bank 1998, as a Muslim but not wearing hijab yet and to Gaza 2013 when I was wearing my hijab. I experienced Palestinians at three levels and was treated with respect and warmth in all cases. In Gaza I observed different levels of hijab or none. The women I met there were strong active members of the society which belies the oppression of women that people assume must be the case because of Hamas. But as usual what the media or the Israeli propaganda machine say is usually on a different planet to the truth, as a Muslim woman I know this first hand.

    Once Palestine gets into your heart it never leaves you.

    Salam

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Being a Jewish Woman in Palestine- Answers to 3 FAQs | PurpleParadigm

  18. A nicely written article from an authentic insider! I wish this would be an eye-opener for many, specially for those in media controlled societies. . Sharing.. Thanks

    Like

  19. Katarinaanya,
    Thank you so much for a beautifully write blog that truly mirrored my own experience. I just returned with my husband from a three month placement in East Jerusalem as an Ecumenical Accompanier with the World Council of Churches. (My husband was placed in Bethlehem). As I monitored and reported on home demolitions, access to Al Aqsa mosque and the checkpoints, I continually marveled at the hospitality and ‘sumud’ (Arabic steadfast persistence) of the Palestinian and Israeli people I met working for a just peace and an end to the occupation. Blessings.

    Like

  20. You have a similar problem to what many Jews in Europe pre ww 2 thought of themselves. By the 1900s the formal emancipation of German Jews was complete and they had achieved a very high degree of assimilation. But the more they demonstrated their desire to be the same as everyone else, they more they were acutely reminded of their otherness. The more they distanced themselves from their Jewish identity the further away seemed the prize of complete acceptance. Coping with this double bind was not easy. One response — intended to help overcome those barriers — was to lay the blame, in whole or in part, at the feet of Jews themselves, to see weaknesses and faults in Judaism, Jewish culture, Jewish mannerisms, Jewish ways of behaving and so on — to cultivate the notion of group inferiority. On the one hand, this was an intensification of the lively, and valued, self-criticism among German Jews that had been developing for some time. On the other hand, the fact that it was sometimes couched in Anti-Semitic terms suggested that Jews were internalising the negative images society imposed on them, stemming from the increase in public Anti-Semitism, and seeking to appease their persecutors in order to finally gain acceptance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, the classic argument that I’m a self-hating Jew who seeks only to assimilate. Feel free to tell it to the mezuzah on my door, the challah in my oven and my unapologetically strong Jewish identity. I have no intention of hiding or forgetting my Jewishness; it has everything to do with why I care about Palestinian human rights.
      “Never again” means “never again for anyone”, not just “never again for us.”

      Best,
      Katya

      Like

      • you fail to see the wider point, while you may claim to adhere to token notions of your background, you and the people that surround you are militantly left. The discomfort that some Jews who adhere to a left wing ideology have with trying to fit in with their like minded fellow ideologues stems from the fact that the political left today made hatred of Jews and Israel a pillar of their beliefs. They did so because the left took their cues from the Soviet union, which turned on Israel in the 60’s due to Israels turning to the west. In order to gain influence in the ME the soviets started publishing millions of copies of Mein Kampf and supporting terrorist groups to attack Israel. The KGB even founded the PLO, arafat was trained by them.
        The demonization for geopolitical gains was a great success, as countries like Egypt and Syria became soviet client states. It’s the same parallel that i made above, the place where you want to mentally feel at home, in your case the socially conscious political left, in the case above Jews in 19’th and 20’th century germany, despise you and what you represent. So you have internalized that hatred and accepted their premise, in order for you to swim through their world with your held head high, it’s the only way you know how to cope. So you’ll go to your BDS RALLIES, AND SCREAM ABOUT HOW iSRAEL IS EVIL, and the people their will howl in unison, but away from your ears, they’ll laugh at you and your gullibility

        Like

      • Speaking of gullibility, did you get all of that from Fox News? Phew.
        Anything related to the self-hating Jew argument is really a moot point for me. You’re not going to convince me that I’m a self-hating Jew because religiously, ethnically, and culturally, Jewishness is a significant and cherished part of my life. And you’re never going to convince me that Zionism and Judaism are one in the same (and therefore that my opposition to Zionism is internalized hatred of my Judaism.) You can try and claim that the entire West Bank- from Ramallah to Hebron to Bethlehem to Bil’in- staged itself and prepared itself for our arrival and put on a play to falsely promote itself as a place that was warm and accepting of Jews. That all the countless strangers on the street somehow knew we were coming and knew we were Jewish and for that reason, were only pretending to be kind and hospitable to us.
        Good luck with that.

        I think we need more trolls. Where are the rest of the trolls?

        Liked by 1 person

  21. This is so great, thank you so much for writing this!

    As a Palestinian, it is so lovely to see that you have visited and take from it the truth of what you see, rather than blindly following what others suppose about the Palestinians.

    Like

  22. I think the most interesting thing is that that naïve American tourist doesn’t understand that never in all of history has there ever been a Palestinian state, nation, country or people. No unique language, culture, history, art, literature; not even foods or folklore. No government, legislature, laws, capital city, currency, embassies or borders. Nothing.
    “Palestine” is a creation that exists with the sole purpose of destroying Israel, and thanks to the west’s thirst for Arab oil, they succeeded in the ploy – so far.

    Like

    • It’s funny that you say this to someone who just personally witnessed and experienced Palestinian culture. The dialect of Arabic (which I struggled with because it is so unique to Palestine), the food, the dance, the art and above all, the people who proved that their families have been living on that land for generations upon generations.

      Thanks for covering the classic Zionist talking point of “Palestinians are an invented people.” Since that’s covered and the “you’re a self-hating Jew claim” has been thrown out, who’s going to be next and claim that when my friend and her family were bombed this summer in Gaza, they were being used as human shields?
      (And before any ignorant bigot tries to do so, that claim was officially ruled as false.)

      Like

  23. This is a great article!! I am a muslim-American woman, and I often felt discriminated in my own home. I always felt looked down on and I grew up hating my religion because of the way it is portrayed in Western media. I spent the past few months traveling the Arab world and I realized how wrong I was to shun my own religion. The media portrays a lot inaccurately, and thank you for writing something that so resonates with my own experiences (even though I have not even been to Palestine but only other Middle Eastern/ Muslim dominated countries).

    Like

  24. Beautifully written! I am so glad that I stumbled upon this very informative blog written with such honesty. I wish that I had the opportunity to visit Palestine too.

    It’s honest people like yourself who aren’t afraid of putting the actual scenario of Palestine out there for the world to see, and I have great hope that this will serve as an eye opener in breaking the popular misconception

    I hope that you don’t mind, but I am re blogging this

    Kind regards
    Shazia

    Like

  25. I’ve totally enjoyed reading this, sooo incredibly refreshing and different from the propaganda we hear so often. i wish more people would share these kinds of stories about Palestine….

    Many thanks, from South Africa

    Like

  26. I cant believe that i JUST read this. Another Palestinian (an invented person) thanks you. I guess my Safad born grandfather and Haifa born father are invented too.

    Kudos on this beautiful piece.

    Like

    • The people are not invented but their nationhood is. Palestine was Ottoman for over 350 years, and then a British Mandate Territory. There has never ever been a Palestinian country, state, nation or people. No capital, no government, no president, no diplomats, no borders, no language, no religion, no definitive culture, no art, no science, no anything.
      An invented people aimed at only one thing – the destruction of Israel.
      Get used to it.

      Like

      • This is a one time comment kind of thing because i dont really have time to get into the difference between reality and fiction with you. how about you read a book every once in a while.. but to make things easier for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buhpHTGAlTE

        if you reply to this comment i will no longer engage in conversation with you, so please dont bother. i have better things to do with my time than school you on history. Good day 🙂

        Like

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