The Israeli separation wall is over 700 kilometres long and 8 metres tall. Its construction was approved by the Israeli government in 2002 as a security measure to prevent violent attacks by Palestinians in Israel during the Second Intifada. Its continuing expansion which often goes beyond the green line into Palestinian territory, coupled with an ever-increasing number of Jewish settlements being developed inside the West Bank, has resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of land that Palestinians can access and live on. This, in turn, has created a feeling of hopelessness and isolation among many Palestinians, who feel that the barrier restricts their movement, commercial activity and access to vital resources such as water and agricultural land.
Among those most affected are Palestinian women. Many of them are expected to be homemakers as well as breadwinners within a social context where entrenched gender norms largely confined women to the private sphere. This is despite their broad contribution to society through formal or informal labour and as unpaid family carers. Hence, Palestinian women are more at risk of social isolation than their male counterparts.
In response to this, peacebuilding organisations like KURVE Wustrow are playing a crucial role in improving the mental health of Palestinian women through the promotion of peaceful resistance. In 2017, together with the local women initiative in the village, they developed and launched the ‘Sumud-Existence is Resistance!’ project in Al-Walajah, a gardening and upcycling initiative targeting women that aims to ‘challenge’ their shrinking space through the development of relaxing, beautiful gardening spaces. They use litter such as spare tyres and pieces of wood to create furniture for the gardens, and these gardens are also being used as daycare centres for their children, lifting the childcare burden of many women given the shortage and lack of access to such centres in the West Bank, and making it easier for them to actually stay in the village instead of moving away (“Sumud”).
Likewise, the Rural Women’s Development Society (RWDS) is also working to promote gender equality and peaceful resistance through traditional economic empowerment and increased self-reliance of women. RWDS’ cooperative farming initiative in Al-Walajah teaches women new organic farming techniques and how to turn materials into furniture so they can sell them in the marketplace. They also teach women about food diversity and healthy living, including traditional methods of food preparation to help preserve Palestinian culture. For many families, such projects have allowed them to use their garden as their main food supply, alleviating financial pressures across households and protecting Palestinian families from restrictions on their movement – particularly in the face of a high unemployment rate and other complex social challenges in the West Bank.
These innovative forms of peacebuilding allow women to participate more meaningfully in their communities through non-violent resistance. Empowering them outside of their assigned roles has led to multiple benefits. KURVE Wustrow’s projects predominantly focussed on creating a more active role for women in their homes and in their communities. As a result, participants of this project not only reported increased skills and confidence but also witnessed a challenging of harmful gender norms in the home. Similarly, whilst the RWDS’ work concentrated on creating livelihoods for women, it also led to Palestinian women defying strict norms around women entering the public sphere (like markets) as independent entrepreneurs and businesswomen. Increased economic participation of women in the West Bank can not only lead to positive social changes, but can ultimately strengthen their involvement as key stakeholders in the conflict.