As reported recently in theHuffington Post, UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) cancelled a marathon run in Gaza, because the Hamas Government refused to permit Palestinian women to participate in this UN-sanctioned marathon.
Refreshingly, the feminist writers from The Nation and Ms. Magazine did not openly come out and lay the blame for this public relations debacle at the feet of Israel. But I will buy a free dinner at the vegan, slow food, locavore restaurant of your choice, in the city of your choice, if you can find one article in either publication by a feminist writer that explicitly and substantially criticizes Hamas and the Palestinians for their terrible and discriminatory mistreatment of women in Gaza. And especially this most recent incident of discrimination against Palestinian women.
(My thesis is ironically supported by journalist Eric Alterman, who too, criticizes the silence of his fellow feminist writers on The Nation, and other leftist feminist writers for ignoring the civil rights abuses against women in Gaza by Hamas and the Palestinians.)
Nor is there any outrage expressed on other well-known feminist sites: The National Organization for Women and Code Pink are equally mute on the subject of women's rights in Gaza. There is absolutely nothing about how badly the Gaza women are being discriminated against by Gaza men and Hamas.
A Hamas spokesman asserted that women running alongside the men would be contrary to Islam and the customs and practices of Palestinians. "We don't want women and men mixing in the same place," Gaza's cabinet secretary, Abdul-Salam Siam, said. "We don't want any women running uncovered." Apparently, Hamas leaders believe that fully-covered women riding on motorcycles or smoking water pipes are also contrary to Islam and Palestinian customs.
Some 216 Palestinian women and 119 women from other countries were prepared to participate in the race. And these women were prepared to dress modestly. Most of the women were going to wear full-length running pants and long-sleeve shirts, as they had done in previous Gaza runs. But it was not enough for the Hamas rulers.
The banning of women from the proposed Gaza marathon by Hamas occurred, coincidentally, a few days before International Women's Day. Talk about really bad timing.
The frustrating part of the failed race is that even under the most conservative interpretations, Islam has no specific ban against women running. So Hamas and the Palestinian men in Gaza cannot properly justify this overt discrimination on religious grounds. It seems that the mere sight of the movement of a woman's body, no matter how fully clothed, just makes Palestinian men uncomfortable. Therefore Palestinian women should be seen mostly stationary. Otherwise they will be viewed as immodest and probably on the verge of being wanton.
So why aren't American feminists raising a huge bloody stink about this?
If this marathon had been cancelled in Israel for these reasons, such militant feminists as Angela Davis and Alice Walker would be heading to the barricades. Naomi Klein and Judith Butler would frothing and fulminating on MSNBC, calling further for Americans to boycott Israel. Some American universities would be ablaze with renewed anti-Israeli fervor.
In fact, I challenge everyone to search on these sites for the phrase "discrimination against Women in Gaza" -- or any variation thereof. Do you find any significant articles by a feminist writer calling out Hamas or Palestinian men on their mistreatment of women? Or is all the criticism reserved for Israel?
Only Ms., in an article posted in July, 2010, published reports from international newswires that showed how Hamas is gradually depriving Palestinian women in Gaza of their rights and liberties: "Hamas Institutes Gaza Ban on Women Smoking in Public." This same article reported that Hamas was also preventing Gaza women from riding motorbikes in public. A year earlier, Ms. Magazine posted the news that "Gaza Judge Rules Female Lawyers must Wear Headscarves."
But there was nothing on the cancelled marathon. And nothing more about abuses since 2010. On none of these sites has any feminist writer written any article seriously and substantively criticizing Hamas for marginalizing the women of Gaza.
For further evidence, check out the transcript of the lengthy interview that Judith Butler gave to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2010. Ms. Butler is a well-known feminist, professor and together with Naomi Klein, leader of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel.
Notwithstanding that since 2007, there have been numerous reported examples of Hamas denying Gaza women their rights and liberties, Butler never once criticizes the Hamas leadership. It is all Israel's fault.
In the above Haaretz interview, Judith Butler states:
As a Jew, I was taught that it was ethically imperative to speak up and to speak out against arbitrary state violence.... I would also say that what became really hard for me is that if one wanted to criticize Israeli state violence -- precisely because that as a Jew one is under obligation to criticize excessive state violence and state racism -- then one is in a bind, because one is told that one is either self-hating as a Jew or engaging anti-Semitism. And yet for me, it comes out of a certain Jewish value of social justice. So how can I fulfill my obligation as a Jew to speak out against an injustice when, in speaking out against Israeli state and military injustice, I am accused of not being a good enough Jew or of being a self-hating Jew? This is the bind of my current situation.
It is telling that no where in the entire interview does Butler criticize the Hamas government for committing arbitrary state violence upon its own people, ie. killing and torturing members of Fatah and other opponents of its regime, or punishing citizens without due process of the law, or discriminating against women and denying them their civil rights and liberties. Why is that? Are these feminists so angry and hostile to Israel, and so supportive of the Palestinian cause, that they cannot rationally bring themselves to criticize Palestinian men who mistreat women?
Don't Palestinian women deserve concern and empathy?
There is a famous Latin saying: res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself.
The blatant failure of American feminists to speak up against the banning of women from the Gaza marathon by Hamas, speaks for itself. And this silence, ain't pretty.
(This blog has been adapted from a previous blog that appeared in Huffington Post Canada.)