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Why the Occupation is a Reproductive Justice Issue

This piece was originally published on the Community site. It was written in collaboration with Gabi Kirk (@GabiElectra).

At this time last summer, we watched as Israeli explosives rained down on Gaza. Surrounded by splintered remains of the dead (over 2,100 by the end), Palestinian women were forced to give birth outside of bombed out maternity wards. In the meantime, Jewish Israeli women counted contractions between sirens.

In war and occupation, there is reproductive oppression. It’s past time to recognize the reproductive oppression of the Israeli military occupation.

As Jewish feminists, we find inspiration in the reproductive justice movement. Developed by women of color in the mid 1990s, the reproductive justice framework represented an important shift from the (mostly white) pro-choice movement. It acknowledges the racial, economic, and cultural systems of oppression that interlock to limit autonomy. And it centers basic human rights, including the right to have full autonomy over our bodies, the right to have or not have children, the right to birth or parent our children with dignity, and the right to live and raise a family in a safe and healthy environment.

The Israeli military occupation actively violates these rights. It perpetuates a system of reproductive oppression, and we’re calling it out.

Palestinian women cannot be pregnant or give birth in peace

In the West Bank, between 2000-2005, 67 Palestinian women were forced to give birth at checkpoints. Half of those babies died.

Still, despite potentially dangerous military roadblocks on the way, Palestinian women will go to dramatic lengths to give birth in Jerusalem. Why? Because Palestinian babies must be born in the city to receive a Jerusalem ID. And families with different IDs (i.e mother with Jerusalem ID and child with West Bank ID) can be torn apart.

Further, settler violence poses a special threat to pregnant Palestinian women. Mary, a woman living in the Old City of Jerusalem, tells of experiencing a settler attack as she was going into labor.

I needed to walk four minutes [to the meeting point] but one them [a Jewish settler] saw me, and started saying:  “Rooh moot (go die), rooh moot,” and I started walking faster from fear, hoping to meet my husband, but he pushed me, and I fell on the ground, with my pain, in the middle of the street.  People came to help me, but my water broke, and I was embarrassed to get up… *

Reproductive justice means access to quality healthcare and freedom from violence while physically giving birth, at the very least.

Hospital

Remains of Tank Shell in El-Wafa Hospital, Gaza, Summer 2014]

Palestinian families live in a constantly unsafe environment

The Israeli authorities have made it practically impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits, regularly demolishing “illegal” structures (their homes) that they build to accommodate growing families.

Palestinian children are also routinely imprisoned and abused. Recently dozens of U.S. Congress members called upon the State Department to defend Palestinian children’s’ rights. Over 500 Palestinian children were killed in the most recent bombing of Gaza, and an estimated 40% of Gazan children suffer from PTSD. Any child in Gaza over the age of six has now lived through three sustained bombing campaigns.

Reproductive justice means bringing children into a world where they will not be threatened and targeted by the state on the basis of their ethnicity or nationality.

Jewish women are treated as weapons in a demographic war

Early Zionist thinkers viewed female fertility as a fundamental mechanism of securing Jewish survival. The Jewish state was established in the wake of the Holocaust, simultaneously reeling from the loss of six million Jews and preparing for a demographic battle of dominance against the local Palestinian population.

At its inception, Israel enacted pro-birth policies like “maternal rewards” to increase the Jewish birth rate, and in the 1970s the advisor to the Minister of Health proposed that abortion committees force every woman considering abortion to watch a slideshow of dead children in Nazi concentration camps. Today, Israeli public discourse still maintains the crucial role of Jewish women as vessels for the Jewish nation. This means that intermarriage (between Jews and other religions) remains impossible. And this means that fascistic groups continue to grow, handing out flyers to Jewish women warning, “The women of Israel for the nation of Israel.”

Caption: Lehava Activists Holding Sign in Hebrew Saying, “Jews, Let Us Be Victorious! Girls of Israel for the Nation of Israel"Not every Israeli woman buys into this rhetoric. But, their bodies, without their consent, are used by the state in a demographic project. Reproductive justice means that your body solely and completely belongs to you.

Demographic policies are inherently oppressive

This all boils down to Israel’s demographic policy. In order to maintain a Jewish state, Israel believes it must maintain a Jewish majority — simply put, Jewish population growth must outpace Palestinian population growth.

The Israeli government aggressively encourages Jewish fertility and invites Jewish immigration through an exclusivist Law of Return. Meanwhile, Jewish Israeli politicians wring their hands over Palestinian population growth and pursue coercive state policies designed to keep Palestinian families separated. So Palestinian women bear the brunt, their wombs symbolically weaponized as carriers of demographic time bombs, and Jewish women are devalued as vessels of a state project.

As Jewish feminists, we’re not going to stand idly by. We are raising our voices loud and clear for the liberation of the Palestinian people. And if and when we decide to have children, we refuse to let them be statistics of Jewish demographic warfare.

This piece was originally posted on the All That’s Left Anti-Occupation Collective Blog.

*Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, “Birthing in Occupied East Jerusalem: Palestinian Women’s Experiences of Pregnancy and Delivery,” YWCA-Jerusalem

Images via.

Washington, DC

Leanne Gale is a Jewish feminist activist based on Washington, DC. She is an active member of the All That's Left Anti-Occupation Collective (www.allthatsleftcollective.com), a group unequivocally opposed to the Israeli occupation and committed to building the Jewish diaspora angle of resistance. She has studied and worked in Morocco and Israel/Palestine and holds a B.A. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania. When she is not protesting, organizing, or writing, you can find her exploring independent bookstores and attempting complicated food blog recipes.

Leanne Gale is a Jewish feminist activist based in Washington, DC.

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