Dykes Next Door
Cartoonist Alison Bechdel has built an enthusiastic
following with Dykes to Watch Out For. Now as dyke
subculture hurtles toward the mainstream, Beachdel's take
is changing with the times.
You'd Never Expect When You're Expecting
Naomi Wolf was shocked, during her own pregnancy,
to discover just how little power pregnant woman have.
An excerpt from her new book Misconceptions.
Rites of Passage
Documenting the many ways in which girls mark the
passge into womanhood.
With the Wolf
Guadalupe Beundia, known as La Loba (The Wolf) is
a political leader from a destitute slum in Mexico. Her
cutthroat tactics brought services to her town and made
her one of hte nation's most powerful ward bosses
until the 2000 election changed everything.
The Evolution of a Palenstinian Pacifist
- Word: Alone
- Women to Watch
- Know Thyself: An Abuser Wrestles With His Demons
- My Line in the Sand
Page: Singing Praises
Everyone Reading The Red Tent?
Secret for Julia, by Patricia Sagastizabal
Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood,
by Sandra Steingraber
A Novel of Tiananmen, by Annie Wang
Intimacy: The Regulation of Race and Romance,
by Rachel F. Moran
of God, by Lolita Files
in Front of the Children: "Indecency," Censorship, and
the Innocence of Youth, by Marjorie Heins
-Boldtype: Kim Chernin
The Naked Sell
Daisy Hernandez, Patricia Smith and Gloria Steinem
Sarah Jones Is Not Obscene
for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
By 8 a.m. in the Jabalya Refugee Camp in Gaza, there
are already more than a dozen women lined up outside
the al Ata center. They are waiting to see Naime Holoh,
a woman who has spent three decades fighting for the
liberation of Palestine. The center, which offers a
variety of literacy and small-business training programs,
promotes what Holoh sees as one of the keys to her people's
future: the economic and social empowerment of their
Holoh bears many scars from her decades-long confrontations
with Israeli authorities, the most visible of which
are her blind left eye and prosthetic right hand, injuries
she sustained as an armed
Then there are the not-so-visible scars, the emotional ones,
from years involved in the Sisyphean struggle for Palestinian
statehood. Holoh's political involvement has followed a trajectory
from armed revolutionary to impassioned pacifist, a progression
that has as much to do with the freedom of women as it does
with the freedom of her country.
Ironically it was in an Israeli prison, where other women
prisoners taught her to read and write and where she was exposed
to the works of Simone de Beauvoir and Karl Marx, that Holoh's
feminism was formed. Holoh explains as we walk toward the
waiting women: "It was at that time that I made the connection
between the liberation of Palestine, and the liberation of
women. I then came to realize that without educated women,
there could be no progress. And this is where it must all
start if we are to succeed."
Holoh's story begins in Jabalya, where her parents and many
other Palestinians fled after being forced from their homes
in 1948. She was born there in 1952. In 1969, at age 17, her
best friend was killed in front of her by an Israeli Defense
Force (IDF) grenade. "One moment," Holoh recalls, "she was
laughing and holding her baby. The next she was lying dead
in a pool of blood." Enraged by her friend's death, Holoh
volunteered to work for the PLO, at first carrying secret
messages on her bicycle, then carrying weapons. She soon became
the first woman soldier in the PLO to engage in direct armed
combat. In 1972, during a confrontation with the IDF, Holoh
was seriously injured and captured by Israeli authorities.
She spent the next five years in prison, where she endured
regular beatings and interrogations, but where she also developed
a solidarity with the other women prisoners and began crafting
a feminist agenda.
When she was released, Holoh started organizing women's groups
in Gaza, focusing on issues such as economic empowerment,
education, health, and child care. She staged protests (often
holding placards within inches of the cocked guns of Israeli
soldiers) and even worked with Israeli women's groups until
the Israeli government banned her from traveling to Israel
and other sections of Palestine. During these years, Holoh
began questioning the merits of armed struggle. "I felt that
I could have a much more direct impact by focusing my attention
on social and economic development issues," she says.
Despite the fact that her resistance efforts were now peaceful,
she was still arrested several times, spending an additional
nine years in prison. Her reputation as a fighter eventually
earned her the grudging admiration of her captors. "When I
was arrested in 1989," recounts Holoh, "the military governor
personally escorted me to jail. When I asked him why I was
being arrested, he said, 'When you organize women, you encourage
the people to rise up against us. What you're doing now is
more dangerous than when you were a combatant.'"
Shortly after her third jail term, Holoh became the head of
the al Ata society (which grew out of a project sponsored
and still partially funded by the Swedish Organization for
Individual Relief), a group dedicated to the promotion of
women's economic survival. And through her work with the Palestine
Democratic Union, a progressive group, Holoh educates women
about their political rights.
Holoh is a survivor. And it is her survival skills that she
transmits to the women who come to her center. "Those who
have sacrificed their lives," she says, "who have paid with
blood and limb, those who have lost the most, are women, whose
children and husbands have been killed, injured, or imprisoned.
And they suffer daily."
"Those who have sacrificed their lives, who have
paid with blood and limb, those who have lost the most
in Palestine, are women."
As if on cue, Oum Rashid, a woman in her early fifties, approaches
us. Her husband, she explains, is out of worknot an
uncommon story in Gaza, where the unemployment rate is more
than 50 percent. He had been employed as a construction worker
in Israel, but when the border closed in the autumn of 2000
he lost his job. Now the family of eight has exhausted their
savings. Oum Rashid has sold most of her possessions, but
she still has gold earrings that have been in her family for
generations. "I might have to sell them soon," she says. Instead,
Holoh suggests a few sources of financial assistance, including
some community benefactorsfamilies who are willing to
share what they have with the less fortunate. She also promises
to intercede on Oum Rashid's behalf at the local Islamic welfare
society, which along with the United Nations Relief and Works
Agency for Palestinian Refugees and the Palestinian Authority,
is one of the few sources of aid.
Holoh encourages Oum Rashid to attend a knitting workshop
so she can start selling sweaters in the market. Although
no one in Gaza has much money now for buying sweaters, several
women in Holoh's center are still managing to support their
families on their meager earnings. In an adjoining room, a
woman works on the center's one knitting machine while others
wait their turn. Across the hall, a group of mentally disabled
young women and men are learning carpentry skills from a local
tradesman, a project also initiated by Holoh. Her pottery
workshop has closed because there is no money for materials.
Similarly, a beauty parlor that trained women in aestheticswhich
included anything from the art of manicures to the art of
fitting prosthetic limbshas shut down.
Holoh speaks patiently to the rest of the women, many of whom
have simply come seeking moral support. She then retreats
to a back room, where she expresses frustration with the current
situation that has put women's issues "back to square one."
While the status of women improved during the eighties intifada,
she says, with many women playing a prominent role through
resistance activities, that is no longer the case. Women's
status has been diminished because the "building up of civil
society," which includes education and women's issues, is
"not an urgency for the Palestinian government." In addition,
she says, the signing of the 1994 Oslo Accord "sold out" her
people for the sake of political expediency. Social services
have been usurped in favor of security forces. And increasing
economic difficulties have further damaged the position of
women. "Now," she says, "food is more of a priority than education."
The work that Holoh has done has been dwarfed by the basic
struggle for survival. "The current political situation is
desperate," she says.
A few months after my meeting with Holoh, the situation has
fallen ever closer to the abyss. "This is the worst it's been
since 1967," she tells me by phone. "We have no sugar, flour,
or rice." Many people are using what little firewood they
have for fuel, and many homes are without water because Israel
controls much of the supply. Hardly anyone has electricity
since they can't afford to pay their utility bills. It is
summer, but there is no produce: the Israeli army has destroyed
thousands of olive and fruit trees.
Al Ata may close if money can't be found to pay the rent,
now five months overdue. But if it does close, there will
be nowhere for these women to go. The women come not only
for practical help, but also, says Holoh, "Because I respect
them and understand what they're going through." Holoh also
acknowledges that "it's hard to liberate women in a state
of siege with no functioning economy."
The difference, she says, between the current intifada
and the one in the eighties is that Israel's overt bombing
campaign, military and economic blockade, and border closure
have caused massive unemployment. In addition, many businesses
and factories that were part of Gaza's fledgling internal
economy have been bombed or bulldozed, leaving their workersmany
of whom were womenwithout jobs or income. Summing up
the situation, Holoh says, "We are trapped, trapped in a giant
B Hadani Ditmars is a freelance writer in Vancouver, British