HER STORY #53 - aya
I am 28 years old, and I'm from Lyd [Lod in Hebrew, Lyd in Arabic, mixed Jewish-Arab city 15km southeast from Tel Aviv].
I am married and I have a daughter. I’ve been a feminist and political activist for ten years.
I’m very proud of my Palestinian identity. I talk about it all the time.
My maternal grandmother was from Lyd, but in the Nakba [literally “disaster” in Arabic, refers to the Palestinian exodus in 1948] they had to move because of the situation and the killing, so they moved to Ramallah [in the West Bank] and then returned to Lyd two years later.
My grandmother was eight years old at the time of the Nakba.
My father’s family is from a Aqir – a displaced Palestinian village. During the Nakba they moved to Gaza, then Jews came and took over the village, and it became Kiryat Ekron. It’s next to Rehovot [in Central District of Israel], and after few years, my grandfather moved to Lyd.
That’s why I always talk about the Nakba and how it affects me.
My husband’s family is from Ma’alul [a Palestinian village depopulated and destroyed in the war in 1948]. It’s a village near Nazareth. I think his father was almost two years old during the Nakba. They then moved to Jaffa [Yafa an-Naseriyye] in Nazareth, and now they live there.
There are a lot of Palestinian villages next to Nazareth.
I talk a lot about the Palestinian Nakba and about the suffering of the Palestinians living in occupied Palestine [reference to Israel]. It’s daily for me.
I started to become an activist ten years ago.
When I was in school I wrote a lot, and gave many speeches in school about the Nakba and about the issues of Palestinians living in historical Palestine [reference to Israel], the [First] Intifada and the Second Intifada.
I’m sure it also had to do with the fact that my maternal grandmother talked about the Nakba all the time, and my mother’s family was, in general, a family that talked about Palestinians’ rights all the time.
Today I’m also a feminist activist. I see women’s rights and Palestinians’ rights as something connected.
My mother is so strong. My aunts are so strong. My sisters as well.
When I was 16 or 17 years old, in 2006, I saw a man kill his sister.
I was studying in Ramle. It happened in the summer, on May 24th. I was on my way back to Lyd, so I was going to the bus station. It happened in a sort of alley in a Palestinian neighborhood in Ramle, what used to be a kind of ghetto. There weren’t many people around when it happened
There was only me, my two friends, and one old man. It was very, very hard for me, and very traumatic. I cried a lot, but from that moment I also knew that my activism would be stronger.
Four years later, in 2010, I participated in an event against violence against women, and I began to volunteer and take action within Palestinian women’s organizations.
I’ve always seen the rights of Palestinians as connected to Palestinian women’s rights. I think that freedom for Palestinian women equals freedom of Palestine. We would live in another kind of society. I want to live in a free Palestine with free Palestinian women. This is what I believe in.
Some people can say that Palestinian needs to be free first, and then we can talk women’s rights, and to this I say, No, it doesn’t work like this. We will be free people when women are free. So it doesn’t only have to do with being free from the Israeli Zionist occupation. It’s also freeing ourselves mentally. I don’t want to separate these two struggles. We would be a stronger society if we fought occupation with women up front and not in the back.
Gisha / Gaza
I have worked at Gisha [Israeli human rights organization, founded in 2005, whose goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents] for five years. I started working there after having finished my bachelor’s degree.
I worked as a researcher there, researching the impact on people of the closure in Gaza, especially in terms of rights to movement. It includes many numbers and statistics. It’s very challenging, but powerful at the same time.
I’ve never been to Gaza. Part of my father’s family lives there, and they have never seen each other. Two or three years ago I spoke to someone in Gaza, as part of my research and in order to help her, and then we realized that she was from the family on my father’s side. We were both very surprised. She was my father’s cousin.
I’ve also spoken to other people from Gaza, and when I told them that I’m from Lyd we realized that they were from the family on my grandmother’s side.
The work is not easy, especially because during my time here there has been Amud Anan [“Operation Pillar of Defense”, reference to war in Gaza in 2012] and Tzuk Eytan [“Operation Protective Edge, reference to war in Gaza in 2014].
Every day, I go to work, and the work is personal to me. I want us, as Palestinian people, to be together, to break the separation, to fight the occupation. It’s not fair that we can’t see each other. It’s not fair that we can’t be with each other.
My goal [in relation to work in Gaza] was also to meet Palestinian women in Gaza, to see which societal problems they suffer from, to see if they suffer from the same problems [that Palestinian women in Israel suffer from].
While working in Gisha, I’ve always wanted to help Palestinian women in Gaza get out of Gaza, so I made it possible for them to receive professional training in women’s rights [in Israel]. I talked with Palestinian women’s organizations [in Israel] and told them to start working with women’s organizations in Gaza. They got to know each other, and I prepared a program that would enable them to meet each other.
The women came here in May  through Gisha.
I used the knowledge from my work and my feminist activity [on the side] and connected it. When the women from Gaza came, we organized an event and a conference, and it was the first time in history that this had happened – that women in Gaza were receiving feminist training in Palestine48 (I am a Palestinian who stayed in the occupied Palestine ’48 that became Israel [in 1948]. The rest of Palestine is the West Bank and Gaza).
But I am actually finishing up my work there. I want to keep growing, and I’m looking for something else. I’m not sure if it will be within the political-social sector. I would like it to be, but it’s not easy. I want to earn a good salary, so I need to find something else. Perhaps if I work within a well-paid sector, I could still do activism on the side.
I would love to work with Palestinian women’s rights. That is my passion, although it is difficult, and with every day it gets harder with the destruction of houses, incidents in the West Bank, and the settlements.
It’s tiring but we need to continue.
I don’t view the [Israeli Jewish] people in Gisha as representatives of the people who make up the Israeli society. They are something else. I really value the people that I work with in Gisha, but I have been forced to work with the rest of Israeli society, in terms of the different institutions and governmental offices.
I don’t feel connected to this, and I don’t want to be connected to this [this part of Israeli society].
It’s very important to me that people not only recognize the Nakba, but that they also recognize that I’m part of the Palestinian people that are living under occupation – and then I can develop a dialogue. If it’s not there, I don’t want any connection. I can’t deal with Zionist Israelis.
It has become much easier in recent years to be like this.
I don’t want to hide my Palestinian identity, and it’s difficult for Israelis to deal with this. They can’t hear it; they don’t want to hear it.
You Don’t Save Me
I accept to take Israeli women who want to be a part of my struggle [for Palestinian women], the struggle of the two struggles: against the occupation, and against a patriarchal society. I’m okay with taking in women who are not Zionists, who will agree to fight against the occupation, who will recognize that we live under occupation, and that Palestinians went through the Nakba and the Nakse [abbreviation for Yawm an-Naksa, meaning "day of the setback, in reference to the displacement of Palestinians that accompanied the Six Day War in 1967].
It also has to be on the condition that she [Jewish/Israeli feminist] doesn’t come and try to change me, because there are many Israeli women, who will say, “Come, I’ll tell you how you need to fight.” I don’t want women to come and tell me this. I know what I’m doing.
If you want to participate in the way that I want, ahlan wa sahlan [“Welcome” or “be my guest” in Arabic]. If not, stay where you are. I don’t want it. I don’t need it. You don’t save me. I don’t like to feel that Israelis are my lifebelt.
They [Jewish women] want us [Palestinian women] to be strong in the way they want. I don’t want that. Do it with someone else, not with me.
So my struggle is mostly with Palestinian women, but if there are women, who are not Zionists and want to participate in our struggle, then sure, join us, but not others, like Ayelet Shaked, for example, who recently introduced a law against polygamy.
There is a law that forbids polygamy, or at least she [Ayelet Shaked] is trying to introduce it. She said that it’s mostly for [Palestinian Bedouin] men in the Negev, who are now being forbidden to marry more than one woman as a continuation of the law that they introduced against the Bedouins in the Negev. So it’s also part of the ethnic cleansing, because then they [Bedouins] won’t build more houses, and then they [Israeli state] won’t have to destroy more houses.
I’ve always been against polygamy, and I don’t want polygamy in my society, but when someone like Ayelet Shaked brings this law, in relation to ethnic cleansing, I don’t agree with it. It takes me backwards. It ruins the project of my feminist struggle because then I find myself in the middle.
Palestinian women have always tried to request from the Israeli state to dig into cases of polygamy [within Palestinian society], and the Israeli state didn’t react. Suddenly Ayelet Shaked comes and talks about it and introduces the law against polygamy. She doesn’t really take care of Palestinian women. She takes care of herself, her Zionism and her country’s Zionism and that’s all.
It won’t help women, because she doesn’t want them to be there.
I was included in an alternative list of Women of the Year [in Israel]. They made an alternative list, as there weren’t enough Palestinian women on the mainstream list, and I was one of them, but along with Miri Regev [Minister of Culture and Sport] and Ayelet Shaked [Minister of Justice].
It was said that Miri Regev had been chosen because “women choose other women,” and apparently Mizrahi [Jewish women of Middle Eastern descent] chose Miri Regev as a feminist, and religious women had chosen Ayelet Shaked as their feminist representative.
I don’t see it [feminism] in either case, because someone who wants to destroy a community or another is not a feminist. To build settlements and to come live in places at the expense of other people and other women are not feminists, and you can’t only look at feminism from a social perspective. It’s political – on all levels. It should also be feminism on the national-political level, and I say that with pride.
I gave birth during Operation Protective Edge.
It was very difficult for me to give birth during the war. There were sirens and missiles, and I was always in touch with people from Gaza, even until the very last minute before giving birth.
I was talking to them, asking them if they were okay. I called them every day and I was scared that people that I knew wouldn’t answer, so it really affected my pregnancy and my birth – psychologically.
We chose a very strong Arab name, Aneel – for our daughter. Neel is the Nile in Egypt.
My husband really loves Egypt, and we also believe that the hope of the Arab world is located in Egypt, and we need this hope.
Egypt is weak today, but because we really love Egypt, we chose to call her Neel, and I hope that Egypt will go back to being empowered and to be the empire of the Arab world. In Arabic we call it [Egypt] Um El Dunya meaning “Mother of the World”. We need it.
When I was eight or nine years old, eight houses belonging to my extended family were destroyed.
We lived together with my father’s siblings in Lyd.
It happened during a time when there wasn’t as much awareness about such incidents as there is today, and people didn’t talk about it. The houses were destroyed practically at the same time.
Now my parents live on the land of my mother’s brothers.
They [Israeli state] just took this land, because they said it belonged to the government, so my mother insisted on buying the land from the state. That process took two years, until they [Israeli state] approved it, and eventually my parents bought it. But they only got a piece of what used to belong to their family. It had been a huge piece of land. Eventually they built a house on the smaller piece of land.
My aunts told me that on this land they used to come with my mother and pick olives.
It [such an incident] empowers me. It strengthens me, because we know we are right. We know that these are our historical territories, of our people.
It’s because of incidents like these that we have the Palestinian struggle, and that’s why I believe we have to continue – in order to become more powerful and in order to get our rights, because we are right in doing this. We deserve our rights.
They conquered us. They destroyed us. We will continue. It’s my right to fight for it and to continue as a free person, a free woman.
[In Israel] there is this feeling that Palestinian women are the only women experiencing oppression and disadvantage. It’s part of the Israeli policy towards Palestinian people. That’s what they created in us: You are a closed people and your women are oppressed. Thus, this makes us seem primitive.
But with them [Israeli Jewish society] it’s the same shit. [Female] soldiers are being raped, harassed, and experiencing violence.
There’s also the whole thing about women being encouraged to want to get married and have children – to have this as their life’s dream. It’s not only a Palestinian thing. It’s a world thing – that’s how we treat women. Women and people in general take it in and believe it.
I’m a different voice. I won’t say this about my society on Israeli TV, even if there is truth to it. My society does oppress women, and women are fighting for their rights, but it doesn’t only happen in our community.
When they [Channel 10, Israeli TV] did an interview with me on the phone, they tried to bring me to certain subjects, and I just responded to their questions in ways that they didn’t expect. For example, they asked me if I thought that Tel Aviv was a city where Palestinians feel free, and whether it’s because of that they moved from the village to Tel Aviv. To this I responded, “Would you ask this question to an Israeli, who is from the periphery, such as the north, and who is moving to Tel Aviv? No, you wouldn’t ask her that because it’s normal that people move from the village, the periphery, the north, and the south to come to Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv isn’t a freedom-giving city. It’s like any other Jewish city, and it doesn’t exactly give freedom, because there are many barriers. You can’t be Arab and speak Arabic freely in the streets.
On the train sometimes, during tense periods, you are scared of speaking Arabic because then people will know that you’re Arab, and sometimes there are moments when you are scared of being recognized.
Sometimes I have refrained from speaking in Arabic, for example, by not answering my phone. There have been days like these.
It’s not that I’m hiding my identity. I’m not. I’m really proud of my identity. I always say that I’m a strong Palestinian women.
I fight against the violence inside of my patriarchal society, and I fight the Israeli occupation with all my power because it’s patriarchal.
It [patriarchy] tells women not only when to go out, but where they can go. It gives women permits to places to go to. What is more patriarchal than that? All the patriarchy is there, in the Israeli occupation, within the Israeli state.
Sometimes I feel afraid of expressing myself. For example when I was interviewed by Channel 10, I was scared.
To tell you the truth, I’m more afraid of the Zionist establishment than my own society, because I know what I can expect from my society. I know what they are, what it’s possible to be, how I can change, and which words I can use, and I know that they will accept me. It’s something that we [Palestinian women] learn with time, but in terms of Israeli society I don’t know. It’s not secure. It’s very dangerous.
Personally I haven’t experienced anything, but it’s a feeling that Palestinians and Palestinian women experience. You don’t need to experience a palpable threat. It’s just a feeling that you have – it exists because you see what happens to others.
In my surroundings, women who demonstrate and write, have been arrested. Even women who have written posts and statuses [on Facebook] have been arrested, especially since the last war in Gaza in 2014.
There is a woman named Darin Tatur that until this day is going through a legal process about such an incident.
It’s there, but it’s also not there.
In my daily life I don’t feel secure. It has to do with all of our history and what happens, all the laws and the many incidents.
When I see what happens in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Jerusalem, in Umm al-Hiran, and in Lyd, I see arrests and violence. There was a lot of violence around October 2015. It was the most insecure period for me. There was a lot of incitement and evil.
They [Israeli government] let people go around with weapons [in October 2015]. If someone saw an Arab that looked suspicious, you were allowed to call the police, even if this person hadn’t done anything. It’s apartheid in terms of everything, and to live under such a regime is scary.
I don’t know if things will change. The policies will stay the same, and the US-Israel relations will stay the same – perhaps there are even details that will change for the worse, although I don’t think there were many differences before.
Was there someone who tried to stop Israel?
Under Obama’s regime, it was difficult, even if he wasn’t a friend of Netanyahu. It was still bad, so I don’t know what to expect now, since Trump is a friend of Israel.
Trump appointed his son-in-law to take care of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If an Arab had done that they would make a story out of it. But Donald Trump, being the “non-primitive” American, didn’t bring someone professional in from the outside. He did everything within his family.
They say that this only happens within the Arab world, and of course it’s not right, but nobody is bringing it up [with Trump], only when Arabs do it [nepotism], calling them undemocratic and unprofessional. On the other hand, the US can allow itself to do this.
Foreigner In Your Place
Every square and every street is named after an [Israeli] soldier or Zionist icon. It makes you feel that you’re in your place, but not really. You feel like a foreigner.
In certain Arab neighborhoods [in Lyd/Lod], you can see Arabic streets with Arabic names, but they’re not on the actual street sign. I’ve noticed this because I’ve seen it on Waze [GPS-based geographical navigation application program] in one of the very poor Arab neighborhoods [in Lyd].
But you will only see this [signs in Arabic] in Arab neighborhoods, but then again, not in all Arab neighborhoods.
In Jaffa they tried to change it [street signs in Hebrew] and turn them into Arabic ones. For example, the street Shivtei Israel changed to Najil Aley. They put a sign under Shivtei Israel with the Arabic word. But then it was removed, and they [municipality] even tried to find out who did it, who dared to do this.
I feel estranged and strangled. That’s what it feels like when you feel like a foreigner in your home, in your homeland, on your land. It’s like this.
It’s to force the existence of Zionism onto you at every price. It’s their agenda.
That’s The Society I Want To Live In
We currently live under a regime and an occupation that sometimes prioritizes what it deems to be more important.
I hope that we, as Palestinians and Palestinian women, can succeed in overcoming the gaps between us, and that we can succeed in leading one struggle together, based on equality and justice, and which won’t differentiate between men and women.
That’s what I want. That’s the society that I want to live in.
Interview conducted on April 18, 2017