Negotiating Space: The Construction of a New Spatial Identity for Palestinian Muslim Women in Israel
2. Public Space and Palestinian Identity: The Historical-Political Context
3. Beyond Location: Space as Identity
4. Shifting Space-Shifting Experiences
Just recently, I started to feel the importance of place in my life. This especially happened after I got married and moved away from the center of the city, Umm el-Fahm, to live in another neighborhood far from the center. My parents’ house is located in the center, and all services are available including a school, a bus, and a store. My new home has no internet connection, no paved street, and no adequate electricity. I realized that I cannot adapt to these changes. Prior to that, I had lived in Haifa for five years as a student. The people I used to deal with were students and academic professionals. The people I have to deal with now are my mother-in-law and my husband’s family and their friends. I even have to go to the hair stylist that they go to. This started to bother and affect me much. Before, I used to wonder why women in our society disappear after marriage and used to criticize this phenomenon. I am starting to understand the reason now.
Unlike other kids of my age, I was not born in a hospital but at home. This is probably why I am still connected to this place and the umbilical cord hasn’t fallen until this moment. When I became seven months old, I was given the wrong immunization, like all kids my age in my city. They either died or had some kind of disability. My case was the worst. The state just recently (I am now in my late 40s) acknowledged its responsibility and compensated us. However, my connection to this place is also connected to history, to my late father’s story of our dislocation as Palestinians following the 1948 war. Then, all women left, and my father and other men stayed to protect the village (it was not a city yet that time). Every “Independence Day,” my father used to tell us this story. It accompanied me all my life. They (the Israelis) got their independence, but at the same time, they took our homeland.
My father was a peasant, and he loved his land and cultivated it and cherished it and his olive trees. He taught us that the land has a higher value. I lived and studied in Haifa for six years, but while I was there, I used to see my town in everything.
5. Physical Buildings and the Politics of Space
The culture of buildings and architects are very different in the Arab communities than in Jewish or mixed towns. We build huge houses: villas. My house is 250 meters, and it is not considered above standard. In Haifa, I am ready to live in a 60-meter house. It takes half of my daily energy, about six hours, cleaning. The moment I enter my home, I see the kitchen, and I hate that. It is a reminder that this is the primary space for woman. The absurdity is that the kitchen is open to the living room, so it has to always be clean and tidy, something that is almost impossible. The social environment does not accept those who are different, and the community does not give support. Women have no control over the place. When a woman gets married, her house is already built and prepared by her husband and his family. It is not acceptable by the society that a woman says what she wants from her house or controls the way it is built. No woman I know had a say on her house.
I don’t think you can always assume that the houses in the village are bigger, because that is not always the case. It is true that usually there are more family members there. In my case, our apartment is adequate for two people, and we have a spare room for guests and an office.
Families with children do make sacrifices. Indeed the apartments are smaller, and parking is an issue. This is especially the case when the woman is a professional and the household owns two cars. We live in a mixed neighborhood, but it is one of the few mixed neighborhoods in Haifa. It used to be more mixed, but more Jews have moved out over the years and it has become mostly an Arab neighborhood. There are a lot of segregated Jewish areas in Haifa because Arabs cannot afford to buy or rent homes there and because they are far away from the Arab schools where Arabs prefer to live close to.
Our “Arab” localities still lag in their basic infrastructures. For example, here there are no sidewalks. A disabled woman, like me, or a mother who wants to go for a walk with her baby in a stroller, isn’t able to do so. Moreover, buildings are very close to each other, and neighborhoods are crowded. There is unbelievable daily traffic, especially in the only entrance to the city, due to state policies and lack of land allocations to public spaces. Our infrastructure suffers in all areas. No one wants to give up any meter of his private land, not out of selfishness but because we are politically trapped. Something has to change about state policies.
My home is my space; it means so much to me. I built it the way I wanted from my own money. I am strongly attached to my family, to my aging mother, to my brothers and their kids. We are becoming more and more of an individual and consuming society; the fertility rate is decreasing, everyone gets an education and gets a job, and people live on welfare and have overstated amenities. I built a wall around me and do not let anyone interfere with my life. Recently, my brother tried to interfere and dictate something on me. I was shocked at this masculine patriarchal attempt but stood firmly against it.
Streets are very crowded, and car jams and traffic became so suffocating. I now prefer to walk than to use a car. This traffic is not normal. It causes people stress and nervousness and sometimes leads to trouble. I live in the biggest neighborhood in Nazareth. Houses are very close to each other. It is like they are piling on top of one another. People cannot breathe. The atmosphere is uncomfortable, which causes problems with relatives who live right next door. It is suffocating, noisy, and has negative implications on all areas of our lives, especially the psychological ones.19
My neighbor’s house is so close to my balcony that I can literally enter their house. Housing and building land areas are very scarce, and there is very little freedom on where to build. Thus, men live usually above their parent’s houses. My house is built above my in-laws’ house, and this limits my freedom to a big extent. I have to share everything with them, even their emotions, regardless of my own mood or emotions. Moreover, because there are few houses to rent or for sale, a divorced woman may be forced to live with her kids in her divorced husband’s parents’ house. My friend lives above her husband and his new wife. She and her kids have no other option. Rental prices are very expensive, and at the same time, it is not accepted socially that divorced women live far from their parents or their ex-husbands’ parents.
Umm el-Fahm is a periphery; it is not what people expect to see. The neighborhoods have very poor infrastructures, and the local council suffers from a poor budget. The current mayor was a former member of the Islamic Movement who ran as an independent after the Islamic Movement decided it wouldn’t run again. The state is responsible, but the local council is also responsible because it works without any planning or efficiency. Additionally, the council establishes projects in a sloppy manner. Residents are also responsible because they build driveways for their houses and use the street while doing so, causing trouble for anyone driving or even walking through the area.
When I was single, I had a lot of freedom in my parents’ house, as they valued individualism and supported me. I got married to a family with old values. Before marriage, my soon-to-be husband supported the idea of my studying for my PhD in Jerusalem, but after we got married, his mother opposed that, and I did not pursue my PhD. She was very sick, and I had to take care of her and take shifts with other family members every day. The husband’s family in my society expects things from the woman, but they do not give her anything in return. The woman is considered their daughter in duties but not in rights. Shortly before my mother-in-law passed away, I applied for my PhD. But it is very hard, especially because I have a little kid; it takes me five hours to get to the Hebrew university in Jerusalem and come back home. It is very hard to pursue education after marriage without support. Although this is my city and these are my people, I started to feel alienated. When I sit with my female friends, we all talk about this and all have similar problems and feelings.
Nazareth is beautiful, but it also has a lot of ugly things. Its streets are not comfortable, violence and crime has increased, there is less security, and people do not care for each other like before. There is unseen racism, and sometimes it gets out in a very ugly way (between Muslims and Christians and between different classes). It is also very hard to find a job, and if we do, salaries are very little. Under a Jewish manager in the mall, for example, a girl younger than me could get paid better. There is more appreciation. Here, girls work long hours and accept a salary below the minimum wage. If I get an opportunity to live outside, I am not going to hesitate.
I live in Haifa, and I consider myself a city person. I’ve never lived in a village. The city to me is the place that I can be relatively more anonymous and where I feel freer to be who I am. Haifa provides me with a fair amount of diversity and a fair amount of access to culture (theater, film, lectures, etc.) It is a place I feel at home because of the climate and the presence of a certain percentage of Palestinian/Arab citizens.
I can say that my personal experience and the experiences of other women friends in Haifa point to a severe shortage in jobs for Arab women, and living in the city does not really open up doors that are closed to Arab women in Israel in general.
Maha expressed her impatience as the place keeps impacting her life in many ways:Over time, Haifa has become physically more crowded and has attracted intolerance. In July 2014, during Israel’s war against Gaza and in the midst of joint Arab-Jewish peaceful protests against the war, the protesters were violently attacked by right-wing, pro-war outsiders of the city who came loaded in buses. These attacks took place just a few minutes away from my neighborhood. However, no violators were caught or prosecuted. This event was very telling about the illusion of Haifa as a place where tolerance and diversity thrive, and that affected my sense of security.
Maha accused the Israeli government of causing this alienation: “The government is ultimately responsible for the intolerance and the fact that Arab citizens feel that belonging is lacking.”I have changed as well, as I find myself being more and more impatient as the city gets to be more crowded and the general political environment in the country becomes more aggressive toward Arabs. Only recently, in November 2016, and during the fires in Haifa,22 the prime minister announced that this was Arab terrorism, when in fact the police continue to announce that they still do not have any evidence of that. The general atmosphere is poisoned.
Everyone speaks about nostalgia, about a city that many leaders and graduates came from. My mother says the only thing in common between our city today and forty years ago is ignorance. People still value a strong person and do not dare to challenge him. She is a remarkable woman.
Mobility and the Search for New Opportunities
This connection is confirmed by all the women in this study. Amal commented that having a private car increases women’s independence and the opportunity to participate in the workplace, and Maha, who has been driving a car for 38 years, said that “no doubt it increases women’s freedom and creates opportunities.” According to Esheh,I’ve had my driver’s license for nine years, but I do not have a car yet. I use my father’s car or walk. Someone has to bear in mind the many expenses of having a car before they buy a car, yet lately, I have started thinking of buying one.
Having a car is one of the most useful things I’ve ever experienced. Before I got a car, I had to use public transportation or walk to my workplace, which consumed a large portion of my time. This also made it harder to stay out in the evenings because it is not safe. No doubt having private cars increases women’s freedom and mobility, especially for women who cannot do their basic errands such as going to the store or to the doctor without asking the help of others. That is especially true in our city as well as most Arab localities, where public transportation is not adequate.
I was not harassed in the past when I took public transportation. Now, as a driver, I face harassment from male drivers who shout at me to move although they are the ones who are not following the rules. Lately, I have started to shout back at them and use the same phrase they use against my driving: ‘Who gave you a driver’s license?’
Racist treatment against us [Palestinians in Israel] is becoming a phenomenon in the Israeli society today, especially after the right wing government took over. It has become more frequent that Palestinians with religious appearances are the subject of racist harassment.
Maha commented that Haifa, too, is a city with multiple means of transportation and that there are no problems with mobility in this area. She also said that Haifa feels particularly safe although she does not usually walk late at night in the downtown area.Tamra is a small city, and recently the local authority introduced a new transportation system that eased mobility. Some roads are still not safe and lack proper lighting or sidewalks. But generally speaking, I am not afraid to walk at night. It is a safe place, and the people of my city are peaceful.
6. Publicizing the Personal: Space and Islamism
Suddenly these women began to have a life outside their homes. You see them participating in all kinds of activities and meetings in the town. The hijab is not very widespread--maybe because the Islamic Movement itself is not strong here or maybe because of our closeness to the Jewish centers. Although some might think that the last factor might push people more toward religion or conservatism as a reaction to the Jewish influence, this did not happen.
In Umm el-Fahm, a city where tradition is stronger than religion, the city does not encourage face covering but the hijab with light makeup. The place definitely affects attire. Most women my age wear the hijab with jeans. They prefer the Turkish style.
Umm el-Fahm is geographically close to us, but it is oppressive toward women. Unlike women there, women in my city are a model for change and leadership. Many political and active women brought change and are deeply involved. Here, the Islamic Movement has negative and positive impacts on women and people. One example is IM’s support for the poor. Women of the Islamic Movement here also participate in remarkable activism. Unlike other women’s groups from other parties, they work quietly and effectively. Still, there is a social pressure of the place that expects women, especially the married with older kids and the elderly, to veil. But I believe that the hijab and religion are not related. I do not wear a hijab but view myself as religious.
I did not want to wear the hijab. My husband forced me. He joined the Islamic Movement and it was not acceptable that a wife of an IM member goes unveiled. All my sisters are unveiled. Now, with the IM outlawed by the government, I suspect the younger female generation won’t be under such pressure. My friend was pressured in a different way. She was beaten by her husband because she refused to vote for his political nominee.
We go to cinemas and cafes at night, and more and more women in the past years have enjoyed entertainments in the city. We also have a lot of freedom in our dress. We do not face any issues in these matters.
I do not see the influence of the Islamic Movement in Haifa. The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality (DFPE)/Communist party is definitely weaker and has lost its influence on the city. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has a presence here, and due to NDA’s influence, there is a general tone of competition regarding who is more loyal to the Palestinian heritage and who is more patriotic. NDA also feeds a sense of us (Palestinians) vs. them (Israeli Jews) and contributes to a sense of separation between Arabs and Jews in Haifa. The election of Ayman Odeh (DFPE and a resident of Haifa) to the Knesset and his lucid and inclusive rhetoric have helped ease tensions and raised a feeling of pride among the Arabs in Haifa.
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Interviews with women in this paper were conducted by the author between January and April 2017.
Esheh is a Ph.D. student and a mother of one child, in her 30s; Amal is a Kindergarten teacher and mother of five, in her late 40s; Zuhriyyeh is a project manager in her town, single, in her 50s; Raghda, is a student, single, in her 20s; Maha is an instructor, a mother of two, in her 50s; and Susan, is a lawyer and mother of two, in her 40s.
In 1996, the Islamic movement in Israel split. The more pragmatic Southern Faction (IMSF) recognized the Oslo Accords and members ran for national elections as part of a coalition of other Arab parties. The Northern Faction (IMNF) on the other hand, opposed the Oslo Accords and active participation in national elections. The latest faction was outlawed by the state in 17 November 2015. On this topic see (Daoud 2016a).
It is the second majority Palestinian city after Nazareth with over 52, 000 resident citizens of Israel.
A city of about 80,000 Christians and Muslim Palestinians.
Haifa is the third-largest city in Israel located on the Mediterranean, with a population of over 270,000 in 2015. About 82% of its population is Jewish, almost 14% are Palestinian Christians, and some 4% are Muslims.
Palestinians constitute about 21% of the 8.615 million citizens of Israel in 2016; among them, 84.4% are Muslim. See (CBS 2016).
This is aside from forced communities of Bedouins in the Negev area, south of Israel. More on this topic, see (Ismael 2005).
This phrase largely refers to the assumption that the capitalist system feeds on a pre-existing system of oppression, patriarchy, and enforces women’s oppression in economy and beyond. See (Comanne 2010).
See (Nakhal 2015, pp. 24–28).
Interview by Author, 30 March 2017.
See for example discussion of Tu Fu on the emotional meaning of space, pp. 409–11.
See also (Towsend 2000, pp. 2, 40).
Follow-up interview with Raghda, 25 March 2017.
For more on the urbanization of Arab communities in Israel, see (Shmueli and Khamaisi 2015).
There are Arab 17 cities in Israel, among them 6 mixed of Arabs and Jews.
A wave of fires in Israel during November 2016 that affected various regions, mainly Haifa.
In 2012, Israeli authorities shut the only school in this un-recognized Arab Muslim small village in Israel. Israel does not recognize more than 40 Arab localities that existed prior to the foundation of Israel and does not provide them with any basic services including electricity, water, paved roads and education. More on this topic, see (Ismael 2005).
DFPE is an umbrella organization including several Palestinian groups with a dominant Israeli Communist party leadership.
For obstacles facing Palestinian women in Israel face in workplaces, see (Daoud 2012).
© 2017 by the author. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Abu Oksa Daoud, S. Negotiating Space: The Construction of a New Spatial Identity for Palestinian Muslim Women in Israel. Soc. Sci. 2017, 6, 72. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6030072
Abu Oksa Daoud S. Negotiating Space: The Construction of a New Spatial Identity for Palestinian Muslim Women in Israel. Social Sciences. 2017; 6(3):72. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6030072Chicago/Turabian Style
Abu Oksa Daoud, Suheir. 2017. "Negotiating Space: The Construction of a New Spatial Identity for Palestinian Muslim Women in Israel" Social Sciences 6, no. 3: 72. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6030072