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Interview with Maha Nassar, chair of Union of Palestinian Women's Committees

By staff

Maha Nassar, activist, educator, mother and ex-political prisoner, visited the U.S. in a speaking tour to talk about the work that she is doing as chair of the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees. Ms Nassar shares her years of experience working for Palestinian freedom and resistance to the Israeli occupation. She speaks plainly of where the movement has been and where it must go. The Union of Palestinian Women's Committees is one of the most important groups working for social justice in Palestine. In a country where justice is fought for with rocks against armored tanks, words must become weapons and knowledge is power. Read on and learn about the Palestinian struggle from the people who resist.

Fight Back!: What are some of the conditions faced by Palestinian women?

Maha Nassar: Palestinian women, being part of the society, are involved in the struggle, and are also subject to all the oppression by the Israeli government – such as check points, confiscation of land, killing our children, destroying the schools and being arrested. So this is one part of our conditions.

Palestinian women are also confronting the traditional view of women in our society, which considers women to be second or third class in our society. We are challenging the fundamentalist groups and their views of women and their roles. To an extent, some forget our role, which is very important in the whole national struggle, especially during both intifadas.

The third point is the legal situation for women. Laws in our society are biased towards men, so women have to struggle to change the laws. Women need to initiate new laws that protect women from any kind of discrimination and violence, and for workers' rights and family and civil rights.

Fight Back!: How does your organization, the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees, work with women to address these issues?

Maha Nassar: First of all, our union is concerned and works hard to raise the consciousness of women on the national and social struggle, because we believe the three factors of oppression – economic, social and national – that lay on women are interrelated.

The first step we take with women is to organize a lot lectures, workshops and training courses to address women in villages and the poor neighborhoods. The second step is our union tries to create opportunities for women to work, so they can be economically independent – so that they can be socially independent. Then they can be more involved in the national struggle. We also have leadership programs for the young women to become leaders in the future by training them on different levels like advocacy, networking, computer skills, social advising and health advising, so that they can be able to reflect their concerns for women and the national struggle in a better way.

The Union of Palestinian Women's Committees has emergency relief programs. Family sponsorship provides more than 350 families monthly support that can help them overcome the deteriorating economic situation. We do not believe in and we are not a charity organization. We believe that women should find jobs rather than look for charity.

We also organize kindergartens, because it lifts a big burden from women, especially poor women. By having their children in a kindergarten, where they taught the principles of democracy, human rights and gender, women will have the time to go to their work, or to plant, or even to find time for herself.

Fight Back!: Given the heavy repression by the Israeli regime, what is it like to be an activist during the intifada?

Maha Nassar: The Israeli government does not believe that the social struggle is split from the national struggle and they target all social activists because they know their energy is going to be brought in to the national struggle. I'm talking here about those activists who are affiliated with political organizations and mass-based organizations, not those affiliated with intellectuals, academics and charitable organizations. So our activists in the Union of Palestinian Women's Committees and women activists that are affiliated to other political organizations are targeted by the occupation.

I myself was arrested several times during the first intifada for women's politically related activities. I was also under house arrest. And as another example, they have imprisoned the wife of Ahmed Saadat [the General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] because they want to pressure her husband and because she is a woman activist.

To be an activist in the national and social struggle is the same, and you have to expect to be jailed, lose freedom of movement, or even to be subjected to bullets of occupation when you are going to bring food, medicine or clothes to a closed area. You should also expect to give most of your time to the cause of your people and to be always ready to respond to any call for any emergency that takes place. You should be ready to take the risk of doing that.

Fight Back!: The Bush administration has proposed a new 'peace' plan, called the Road Map. What do you think of this plan?

Maha Nassar: When Bush proposed this peace plan, it was obvious that our people were going to reject it. It's not a matter of emotions; it is a matter of knowledge, since even our children know that the U.S. government supplies the airplanes, F16 and Apaches, to Israel. They know that these airplanes are used by the Israelis to end our children's lives. And the rockets are American manufactured. So it's obvious, without a prolonged political analysis, that the first Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, is a tool in the hands of the Americans and Israelis.

The road map is only a way to bring security to Israel and does not take into consideration any of the rights of the Palestinian people that were acknowledged by the UN resolutions – such as the right to have a state, the right of return, Jerusalem as a capital and releasing prisoners; and the stopping of land confiscation, building settlements and stealing water resources. The Palestinian state proposed by the road map – which has no borders yet and that is supposed to be in established 2005 – is only a matter of gaining time for the Israelis to create realities on the map that will make it impossible for the Palestinians to struggle.

Fight Back!: How is the Palestinian movement responding to the Road Map?

Maha Nassar: From the beginning, Palestinians started demonstrating against the Road Map because none of the promises of the new Palestinian prime minister were achieved. People started writing slogans on the walls and shouting at demonstrations calling for the prime minister to resign because of his poor negotiating. They were criticizing him for giving up the right of return and asking him to take a step forward on the political prisoners.

The Palestinian Authority should release the prisoners, especially the General Secretary of the Popular Front, Saadat, and his comrades who are kept in Palestinian jails under the watch of American and British soldiers. This is shameful, because the Palestinian government is supposed to be democratic and respect the different ideological affiliations of Palestinians. Keeping the historical leader of the national movement in jail and confiscating simple weapons from people is the role of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority is doing this to please the occupier. This is raising more and more anger towards the practices of the Palestinian security system, and moving Palestinian people towards revolution against this authority.

Fight Back!: Why are you in the U.S.?

Maha Nassa r: I'm here to raise the consciousness about our cause as Palestinian people and the Palestinian women's movement, and its role in both the national and social struggle through meetings with different representatives, groups and associations and public meetings. I am here to try to make clear that our resistance is not terrorism. Terrorism is the practice that is led by the organized state with a well-developed military against civilians and by the support of the global powers, which is the worst face of colonialism.

I am also here to let the U.S. people know as a fact – Palestinian mothers are not like what is said about us in the mass media – as being with no hearts or feelings. On the contrary, Palestinian women struggle to end occupation because they have hearts, and don't care about themselves as much as they care about the future for their children. Mothers suffer daily when they see their children subject to different kinds of humiliation and neglect, which raises their fear about even their psychological situation when they become older. Palestinian women are peace seekers and cannot be easily deceived by partial solutions of ending the Palestinian cause.

Fight Back!: What can progressive people in the U.S. do to support your work in particular, and the Palestinian resistance in general?

Maha Nassar: When the people in the U.S. pressure their government to change their external policies to terrorize and kill the children of Palestine, it makes a big difference to Palestinian women, that women around the world are supporting them and are giving them the hope of a legitimate peace.

Also, progressive people in the U.S.A. should support the different projects of women; through which they are helping the society, such as kindergartens and advocacy. Progressives here should call for the immediate release of all political prisoners and they should make an alternative media to the ongoing mainstream media.

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