NGOs Fail Palestinian Women at the UN
By Paula Kweskin
In April 2010, a 32-year-old woman was shot to death in a town in the northern Gaza Strip. Several men, including her father, were arrested for the crime. A year prior, a girl from a Palestinian village south of Qalqilya was smothered to death by her brother. In 2005, a father murdered two of his daughters and badly injured a third for an alleged sexual affair. In December 2008, two Palestinian girls were killed when militants’ rockets directed at Israel fell short of their targets. Two years later, a teenage girl was injured in central Israel when Hamas militants fired rockets on her kibbutz.
Unfortunately, at the UN review of Israel’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in January, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) squandered the opportunity to give voice to these Palestinian and Israeli victims. Instead, they pursued a politicized, anti-Israel agenda, which excludes victims that do not fit an ideological paradigm.
In advance of the review, the Israeli government and various NGOs submitted statements for consideration regarding the women’s rights record in Israel. NGOs and civil society actors could have highlighted discrepancies in the workplace, human trafficking, gender violence, and other obstacles facing women within Israel. (Israel asserts they are not responsible for the application of the Convention to the Palestinian Authority or Gaza, but some NGO submissions focused on these populations as well.) Notable submissions failed to mention these issues; others avoided an honest discourse on gender discrimination entirely.
One such joint NGO submission, co-authored by Palestinian NGOs Badil, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, and the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, blames injustices suffered by Palestinian women on Israeli “apartheid” and “occupation.” These NGOs attribute violence against Palestinian women solely to settlers and Israeli security forces. In their distorted perspective, Israel’s security policies, not the local authorities charged with providing key services, are responsible for the lack of adequate healthcare for women in the Palestinian Authority.
Similarly, the NGOs claim, without evidence, that “cultural discrimination can also mean that girls are more likely to be withdrawn from school as a result of these [i.e. settler violence] incidents, with parents particularly fearful for the safety of their daughters.” More probable factors for students’ withdrawal, such as early marriage and societal obstacles to education, are ignored.
In a supplemental submission, Badil argues that “Israel’s repeated military incursions
characterized by the indiscriminate and excessive use of force” causes unemployment and poverty in the Palestinian Authority. The $3 billion in annual foreign aid to the PA, that could be used to improve the situation of women, is absent from Badil’s discussion.
Domestic violence was not discussed in the NGO submissions either. A 2005 survey revealed that over 60 percent of Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip and Palestinian Authority were psychologically abused by their husbands, 23 percent had been beaten, and 11 percent experienced some form of sexual violence.
So-called “honor” killings in the Palestinian Authority have increased in recent years and are treated with impunity. According to a 1999 UNICEF report, two-thirds of all murders in the Palestinian Authority and Gaza are “honor” killings. These crimes go unpunished and laws grant impunity to those who kill based on “family honor.” In interviews and press releases on their websites, the NGO authors have decried “honor” killings and the lack of legal protection for Palestinian women; yet they are silent when given a forum to address these problems before a UN committee.
By ignoring these realities, which do not conform to the narrative of Israeli violence and Palestinian victimization, these NGOs demonstrate that the advancement of Palestinian and Israeli women’s rights is not their aim. Rather, they hijack an international platform and the rhetoric of human rights to demonize Israel, using Palestinian women as pawns to advance a singular political agenda. These groups have abandoned the women they purport to advocate for, and as such, have once again called into question the sincerity of their pursuit of universal human rights.
Paula Kweskin is a legal researcher at NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution.