"They told people to boycott me"
A vicious smear campaign on Facebook nearly put an end to femdefender Rita Noor’s activism. Working for women’s rights and freedom in Palestine means tackling harsh resistance and threats. Sometimes even from other (male) members of civil society.
“I studied physics and started working as a teacher but the political situation in Palestine and the ongoing violence and clashes made me want to do something more for children and women. In 2010, I started volunteering at a local organisation to help children who have been in jail and families that had had their homes demolished. Working there made me happier, because I felt that my efforts were much needed and I was learning new things every day! I also could help the organisation to grow because I spoke English and could assist in their communication with donors.”
What is the main focus of your activism?
“Telling stories of marginalized people and doing everything I can to help children by documenting violations of their rights and teaching them English and mathematics.”
Have you experienced threats or violence related to your activism?
“The first organisation I worked for was dominated by men. I was good at my job and was not afraid to state my mind and some of my colleagues got jealous and abusive. After being harassed, I left. But they continued to stalk and harass me. They used Facebook to spread wrong and misleading information about me, saying that I was working with the Israelis, and encouraging people to boycott me. One man said I was not being respectful because I do not cover my hair. More people joined in the conversations, saying horrible things that was not true. I received threats and hateful messages.
When this happened I had nowhere to turn, no security system. Firstly, because Palestinian society is very hard on liberal women and do not accept us. Secondly, I could not report it to the police, because the police is our occupier and I cannot complain to them about any Palestinian.
I got some moral support from intellectuals and friends, but I was very depressed, cried and felt so alone. I even stopped working for a while. Luckily, with time, the attacks faded away.”
What are the most controversial issues to advocate for in your society?
“Sexuality, which includes everything concerning sexual freedom, virginity, sexual identity, being LGBT etc. And women’s liberation, like women’s right to dress the way they want to.
It is hard to be a political activists and at the same time a woman activist. Mostly women activists are put in “competition” with men or are being targeted by authorities. It is easy to shut their political activism up by targeting the taboo issues that they fight for, like sexuality and personal freedom.”
If you had the power to change one thing; what would it be?
“International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) should change their way of working with the Palestinian community. They must increase their understanding of the complexity around Jerusalem, so that they really can contribute to change. We have at least three main powers: The occupation, the traditions that the community itself has inherited and preserved and the INGOs’ financial power.
The INGOs usually fund projects that support their own values and understanding of the situation, without being aware of the dynamics of the community.”
Footnote: The interviewees real name is not Rita Noor.
Updated in: 2014-11-27