Abeer Abu Khdeir lives in Jerusalem. She is a member of the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC), a member organization of the World March of Women, which conducts a daily work of resistance with Palestinian women inside their villages and communities.
In the following interview, Abeer spokewith Capire about how she felt after the recent escalation of Israeli attacks on Palestinian territories. Her powerful testimony shows the urgency of stopping the massacre perpetrated by the Israeli state and the need for Palestinian grassroots freedom and self-determination. As she said, “the occupation has to leave,”, because it is the cause of the continuous violence, poverty, and persecution experienced by the Palestinian people.
Abeer is now 54 years old and first engaged in politics at the age of 14. Working with the feminist organization and being part of what she calls a “political family,” political persecution has been part of her life: “I have five kids and I’m married to a Palestinian man who was arrested many times because of his political work. He has been in jail for 17 years of his life. I was arrested by this occupation too, so was my daughter and my son, who was in prison for a year and a half and got released last October.”
The interview was granted during the 13rd International Meeting of the World March of Women, in Ankara, Turkey, on October 10th, 2023, a few days after the beginning of the escalation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. When she got back home, her house was raided and her communication devices had been seized. Her daughter, the lawyer and human rights activist Asala Abu Khdeir, was arrested by the Israeli security forces after she posted about the situation in Gaza on social media. Asala then published on her social media profile, “It is a pity that a personal intimate post leads to an ongoing fanatic ncitement against me. I never thought, even in my worst nightmares, that I would find myself in a turmoil of a fanatic nature that refrains to fade away.” What is happening with Asala and Abeer’s family is part of the systematic intimidation, violence, and political persecution that must be denounced and stopped.
How are you? How was it being far from home during the escalation of Israeli violence against the Palestinian people this week, as we are here in the 13rd International Meeting of the World March of Women, in Ankara, Turkey?
We came to this meeting because we want to do our political work. In the morning, we woke up and got to know that there is a war in Palestine, which started after we came here. I felt like going back home, to be with my kids and my husband. The war is in Gaza, but it is not just in Gaza. They attack Palestine every day. There are many martyrs. When it begins in Gaza, it then hits Jerusalem, because of the importance of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Israel attacked all our villages on the first day. I heard that they were going to my village, Shuafat, in Jerusalem. These settlers were really close to my house, and they were shooting any Palestinian who was passing by car. So I got worried, I started to cry and say, “I want to go home, please, I want to go home.” After that, I spoke with my family and they told me to not be worried. I am a mother of five. One of them works in Tel-Aviv, so I told him not to go to work. He said, “Mom, don’t worry, we are at home, now take care of yourself, we are waiting for you.” I also asked about my daughter who works in Ramallah and knew that she got stuck there, waiting until the checkpoint would open. Israel closed all the checkpoints around Jerusalem, so people cannot go home. I’m worried about my family and about all the Palestinian situation. They are attacking Gaza every minute. They destroyed Gaza.
Could you please introduce the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees?
The UPWC has many members — more than 300 women inside Jerusalem alone. Even with all this bad condition, we are active, we are together. When somebody is released from a prison, we go visit her as the Women’s Committee. We also visit people whose family members have been martyred. We are holding lectures and leadership courses for women to understand that they are human, with their needs. All the women are under pressure all across Palestine. The UPWC has centers in the North, in Ramallah, in Qalqilya, Nablus, Tulkarm, and Jenin; in the West, in Bethlehem and Hebron; and in the Middle is the capital, Jerusalem, which was our first office, and was closed ten years ago.
Last year, 2022, Israel attacked our office in Ramallah and put ours and 5 other Palestinian human rights centers in a terrorist list: the Agriculture Committee, the Health Committee, Addameer (which works with prisoners), the Al-Haq (which does research on what Israelis do against the Palestinian people), the DCI (for children). The UPWC is the only one doing humanitarian work with women, specifically. We help women in many cases.
This conflict does not begin now. How is this new moment connected to the history of the Israeli occupation of Palestine since 1967? How did we get to what is happening today?
This is not the first time Israeli forces destroyed Palestine. Many people have been killed in all these years. Every day, settlers go to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, inside Jerusalem, and damage it, with the help of the Israeli police. Nobody can speak with them. They hit the women there. There are many pictures that can prove how they treat women who go pray in Al-Aqsa. Israel was warned about the call to stop all those attacks to Al-Aqsa and the people inside there, which was areaction to what they were actively provoking.
And we cannot forget the situation in Gaza. They closed Gaza from everywhere and control it, so people cannot breathe. Even if anybody needs a hospital, they refuse many times to let this person come out of Gaza. Gaza is without food, without work, without anything. Young peoples finish their Master’s and Doctoral degrees and don’t have one dollar in their pockets. This is what Gaza is doing under pressure. We want to work, we want to live like any other people. Why are we enclosed?
In Gaza, agriculture is their food. They put all the settlers around Gaza and destroyed Gaza’s agriculture and land.
We are worried about this situation. Gaza is in danger. We don’t know when will it stop and what will happen. Until now, thousands of Palestinians have been killed inside Gaza.
What does this escalation of the conflict mean for Palestinian and Middle Eastern women?
We, women in the Middle East, have a problem with the governments around us, but we don’t have a problem with the people. All the people are with the Palestinians. You can see the demonstrations against the Israeli occupation in Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Scotland, Lebanon, Venezuela, America Latina, everywhere around the world — even in Washington there was a big demonstration. The problem is with the governments that are with Israel, because the people are with us, they believe in our cause and that it is our land.
What are the contemporary methods of colonialism used by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people?
Yesterday, they attempted against Gaza with a kind of bomb called phosphorus, an illegal weapon. This causes many diseases — since the last time when they used it, many women had cancer. Now, you can hear that they closed all the checkpoints. Yesterday, I heard some news and a guy sent a message from inside Jerusalem. So two guys went to buy bread near their houses, in a Palestinian area, not a Jewish area, and the police caught them, took their money, their phones, everything they had, then hit them. They shared a message in many social media groups, saying, “This is what happened to us, don’t let anybody go out of their house.” What’s happening in Gaza, the Israeli police want to make it to the Jerusalem people.
Yesterday, near Jerusalem, two guys used fireworks in a demonstration. So they shot them. In Huwara, near Nablus, they killed one. In Al-Khalil/Hebron, they killed people too. Everywhere, they kill. They don’t care, they don’t worry. The United States of America gave them the green light to destroy Gaza. Why? There are kids, women, families. What are they doing for you to kill them? Now they are doing this enclosure in Jerusalem too. For Israel, Jerusalem is the religious dream of making a Jewish country. How do they want to do that? By controlling the people inside of it. Nothing can enter Jerusalem. There is no bread, no food, no vegetables, nothing. Whoever has anything doubles their price. We cannot shut our mouth and seat at home watching it, saying “poor Gaza.” It is dangerous for women to go outside and fight.
How to resist? You mentioned internal communication — sharing what’s happening, saying, “don’t go there,” “don’t go to this place…” Is that a way of resistance?
Yes. Look, I am a mom, but I can’t control if my son will go out. He is a human being. My son was arrested two years ago, when they attacked the Sheikh Jarrah village. I can’t tell my son “don’t go there,” “don’t save your country,” because I was like my son, going to the streets. I spent all my life doing that. I was arrested many times, sitting in front of the Damascus Gate, being against the war. It is not just me. We go on the streets, we fight for our rights, we hold many marches and demonstrations.
All women share now, in demonstrations, the right to political expression against the war. Now women started to collect money and food to send to people in Gaza, collect clothes for the people who had their houses destroyed. 300,000 people are displaced today [one millon in one week]. They need help now. The Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees is a national organization. It is for all women’s associations. But, also, everybody, all of us, inside Palestine or around the world, can work together to help the people who are under attack.
What are the tasks of feminists from other countries around the world to support Palestinian freedom and self-determination?
International support is very important for us. As I told you, when I heard the news, I knew that most governments are with Israel: the British, the French, the European Union, all of them are against Palestine. But I’m sure the people and social movements are with us. I can see the World March of Women and La Via Campesina, for example, supporting Palestine. Thank you to all the women’s organizations, all the movements, the women and men who work for Palestine. Thank you, also, to Capire, who always wants to write about Palestine. The challenge is the language, but don’t worry — we will have more women writing and translating it.
The occupation has to leave. It’s our land, so I will fight until the end of my life to see this occupation out. And if I don’t see it happen, I hope my children can see it and fight for their land.