Hedaya Shamun from the Gaza strip shares her experience of living under Israeli occupation. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Anna-Carin Hall
Hedaya Shamun from the Gaza strip shares her experience of living under Israeli occupation. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Anna-Carin Hall

The occupation through the eyes of Hedaya

50 years since the Six-Day War, the Israeli occupation of Palestine continues. The impact of the occupation is devastating, for women not the least. Hedaya Shamun, at the Women’s Affairs Centre in the Gaza strip, shares her thoughts about the situation she and many other women endure.

The Bereaved to Bereaved projectThe organisation Women’s Studies Centre has been offering healing and empowerment for Palestinian women in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since 2002. They support women whose homes have been demolished and family members have been killed or imprisoned, as a result of the occupation.

The Women’s Studies Centre arranges self-help groups in East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jenin, and Nablus to help the women endure their situation.

In 2015, a replication of the programme began in the Gaza strip in partnership with the organisation the Women’s Affairs Centre. The work in the Gaza strip began in Shijaiyah, which was the hardest hit in the 2014 military offensive on Gaza.

Kvinna till Kvinna supports the Women’s Studies Centre, the Women’s Affairs Centre and the Bereaved to Bereaved project.

In May, Kvinna till Kvinna invited Hedaya Shamun, who works for the organisation Women’s Affairs Centre in the Gaza strip, to Sweden to talk about the occupation from a feministic perspective. We also invited her colleague from the Women’s Studies Centre as well as two bereaved women from Jerusalem. All are engaged in the project Bereaved to Bereaved that the Women’s Studies Centre and Women’s Affairs Centre run in the West Bank, including Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, respectively.

Through the project, Palestinian women, who have lost their homes or loved ones because of the conflict between Israel and Palestine, meet. The project offers them an opportunity to mourn and heal. It also empowers them to cope with their reality and support each other.

Here, Hedaya Shamun writes about her experience of the occupation, women’s suffering, and the trip to Sweden:

Self-discovery outside the siege
By Hedaya Shamun

The most difficult discoveries for the self are those that stand before yourself with all transparency and sincerity, to recognize that you are a human being oppressed to death… tortured by every breath you take, which you count whenever you approach the borders of your country! On our journey to Sweden, we were five Palestinian women from the Gaza strip, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah. We met outside the borders of our country. Each of us has a different identity card due to the division that Israeli occupation has imposed on us. Each one of us has a permit to move in her own country that has a different colour according to the Israeli permit system. We were all astonished with each other’s suffering caused by divisive politics that abolish our humanity and treats us only as numbers in the computer system that limits our movement. Yet we rediscovered ourselves as Palestinians in a foreign country like a child who discovers the world. We also considered ourselves lucky to be able to travel, as there are thousands of women who have no permit to travel or even move freely in our own country.

I met two of the women I travelled with to Sweden in Amman two days after I left the Gaza strip which is the largest open air prison in the world with only two gates, namely the Erez checkpoint in Israel and the Rafah crossing bordering Egypt. You feel trapped inside Gaza as these crossing never operate regularly. In Gaza, you are imprisoned in a limited space. It is only through dreams you can fly over its borders.

Demolished houses in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Magnea Marinósdóttir

From Amman, after crossing the Jordanian border, we travelled through Berlin to reach Stockholm. In the airport one of the women, 50 years old, was surprised by the huge plane that would take us to Stockholm. She was like a child astonished by its new toy. She had left behind her adult children, who never had seen a plane or travelled in one. She was documenting every moment and sending it to her family so they could see what she was experiencing. She was trying to videotape all the stages and steps of her trip and share it with her children who did not stop asking her about the plane, the airport, the sky and the new country she was traveling to. She kept documenting each event we had since it was her first time ever traveling outside her country. To her it felt like the first time she was leaving a big prison – her own country. The country that is torn into pieces by checkpoints and the Wall turning it into smalls enclaves separated from each other and making it even more difficult to move and travel from one town to another.  

Most of the time she was absent minded, thinking of her son who is imprisoned and was on hunger strike for more than 40 days. Sometimes she suddenly disappeared and we found her sitting in a corner reflecting on her life and her son’s life that is at risk. Suddenly she would question the life we are living and would start thinking: why are we locked in our own county?

In Stockholm, finally all of us met. The cruellest question pressing our hearts and our minds is: Why are we strangers in our country? Why do all of us suffer from dawn to dusk no matter if you are from the Gaza strip, Jerusalem or Bethlehem. We are affected by our suffering in our daily lives. That is what we came to Sweden to share, to people who are open to listen. People who are in solidarity with humanity and able to restore some hope that we have begun to lose!

We cried on many occasions, and every time we narrated our stories. We found that we are alone without any real Palestinian support. The only bond was with each other and the hearts of the people who are in solidarity with our humanitarian cause, which made us think a lot. Where are our Palestinian embassies? What is happening in our country? Where are the representatives of Palestine in Europe? And what do they share with the international community about the suffering we go through every day because of the occupation and dispersion?! Why do we suffer alone at the checkpoints and the crossings and because of the destruction of our homes and to our bodies? Thinking about this made us feel miserable and terribly frustrated inside!

We have seen ourselves outside the walls of the Great Prison we live within in Palestine. We have witnessed how much our humanity is affected because our hearts are full of pain and oppression because of the policies of the occupation and its fragmentation of our Palestinian identity.

We have struggled and resisted by words and images, and we are still moving. We have realised that the power within us that makes us strong women. At the same time, we do not deny the fact that we are wounded in our dignity and in our humanity when we are subjected to coercive searches at checkpoints or when a mother of a political prisoner is not allowed to visit him. Or when the mother of a boy, who was kidnapped and burned live, was not able to see her son before he was buried because nothing was left of his body!

We suffered and cried during our tour in Sweden. We felt how much oppression we still live with, and we do not know when we will be free of it. We also found hearts that love us more than we love ourselves because they felt the pain of our daily lives. We found hands that were open to us to relieve our pain. We have found love in the eyes of strangers – young men and women – who made us feel that they are like our sons and daughters. We felt sad for ourselves and for our Palestinian reality. At the same time, in Sweden, we got to know ourselves better and discovered that we still have our humanity and our dignity and that we are powerful women who can make change one day.

The text by Hedaya Shamun was translated to English by Rana Al Arja Khoury, Program Officer at Kvinna till Kvinna’s office in Jerusalem.

Updated in: 2017-06-15