Leila Khaled’s Keynote Speech, IWA 2nd General Assembly
Comrades, Sisters and Friends,
It’s my pleasure to be with you in this conference.
Thanks to Gabriela who gave me this opportunity to address you.
On behalf of my people, I extend warm greetings to you all.
I come from a very disturbed region where people of the Middle East are facing imperialist powers and their allies who are launching wars on our countries, particularly in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.
This war aims to destroy the societies beside the countries.
Meanwhile in Palestine, our people have been facing the Zionist Apartheid Israeli occupation for 67 years.At present, Israel is launching another genocidal war against us, supported by American imperialism by all means: military, economic and political.
The fascist government in Israel is led by the most extreme of factions, Netanyahu and representatives of the settlers are carrying out a policy of ethnic cleansing against us in an effort to subjugate us according to the Zionist project.A new Intifada broke out a month ago spurred by the Zionist policies. In this context women and children are always the victims of these wars.
Palestinian women are always in the front lines as a part of their people in the struggle for their freedom and rights.Palestinian women resisted all kinds of repression and occupation of all stages, since 1917 and developed a resistance that still exists today.
At the beginning women participated as individuals. They then found the need to be organized. So, in 1921 Palestinian women called for a conference and established the first women’s union. 100 women met in Jerusalem and declared the creation of their union as a part of the forces that fight for the freedom of their country Palestine, from the British colonizers and the Zionist immigration to Palestine.
Their role was significant at that time. Participating in demonstrations, and strikes, taking care of the wounded, establishing the first shelter for the martyrs children. In 1936 an armed revolution broke out in Palestine, women took arms as a step forward to their role.
In 1948, the Naka year of the Palestinians, women found themselves facing a new situation.They were expelled with their people out of Palestine by the Zionist armed gangs. The Palestinian society was destroyed. Women and children were severely impacted. They were located in camps in Arab countries. Many families were dispersed. It was a real catastrophe, we call it the Nakba.
Since then, Palestinians found themselves in a very harsh situation. Yet, they did not give up.
They turned to education as a first response. Families sent their daughters to schools at a time when women were not allowed to, except if you ‘re from a rich family. That was another step forward for women to go to work to help their families to better their lives.
In 1965 Palestinian women established the General Union of Palestinian Women. That was after the establishment of the “PLO”, the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964.
The first conference of the Union was held in Jerusalem. The conference adopted a program based on political and social issues.
The political program called for women to participate in the struggle to liberate the Palestinian homeland, which is occupied by Israel, and to mobilize women for the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees.
The social program was based on women’s rights. On the organizational level, branches for the union were established in the diaspora in the countries where the Palestinians were living. Women established committees in camps, villages and cities to prepare for the second conference. But, Israel launched another war in 1967 and occupied all what remained of Palestine.
The General Union of Palestinian Women was prohibited in Palestine, its President IssamAbdulhadi was put in jail with her daughter and then deported with her family.
Due to the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and armed revolution broke out.
Women joined this revolution. They held arms, in spite of all the difficulties from the traditions of a society, that prevent women from taking decisions on their own without the permission of their father or brother or husband. Yet, they challenged this and overcame these difficulties and joined the armed revolution.
In occupied Palestine women worked secretly. They used social charity organizations to carry on the program of the Women’s Union. Others in the Union joined armed factions. They differ, however, from one group to another in the Palestinian Resistance. Depending on the ideology, social and political tenets of each group. Keeping in mind that theliberation of women cannot be effective and lasting except through organized channels.
Form my experience, we women, gave our attention to armed revolution more than thinking of our rights as women. We wanted to prove that we are equal in the struggle, as men, because we are equal in our suffering from the occupation, repression and exploitation.
We were determined to achieve the goals of our revolution and Return to our homeland, end our refuge in other countries, and liberate Palestine from the Zionist Israeli occupation.
Many women were arrested and are in Israeli jails, and sentenced for life. They were tortured brutally.
The first woman martyr was Shadia Abu Ghazaleh. The first woman prisoner was Fatima Bernawi. Women were and still are ready to sacrifice and bear the results of being freedom fighters.
We held the second conference of our Union in 1974 in Lebanon. The conference included elected members of various local branches in the Union.
Women practiced democracy through elections from the bases of the Union. I was elected in that conference to the Executive Committee of the Union.
We adopted a progressive program to enhance the participation of more women in the revolution. At the same time,, the program included social issues dealing with women and children.
To implement this program, the Union established nurseries, kindergartens for children in camps, villages and cities where the union acted. We also held training institution to help women work, classes for illiterate women to raise their capacity for reading and writing . . .delivering lectures about the roles and rights of women . . .etc.
We, women members of the different factions began to raise women’s issues in our factions. Special departments were established in the faction’ structures to create programs dealing with women’s issues.
The 8th of March was adopted by factions as a day to celebrate the recognition of the women’s role in the struggle. Women were represented in the Palestine National Congress, a Parliament for all the Palestinian People. Women reached to the highest ranks in the Palestinian factions as well.
Comrades and Sisters,
Considering our women’s movement as a part of the Arab Women’s movement and a part of the International Women’s Movement, we worked on these levels, believing that women’s issues are common in different societies, based on a belief that our rights are human rights.
We participated in many Women’s conferences and seminars on the regional and international levels. But, we believe that we have a long road to walk to achieve our rights along with the freedom of our societies from the hegemony and austerity of the imperialists and reactionary governments.
Imperialism is a global system, and we who are fighting for our freedom and peace have to globalize our struggle.
Comrades and Sisters,
I call upon you to extend your solidarity to our people in their struggle, especially these days where the Zionist Israel is launching a policy to kill our young women, children and men. When settlers burn our children alive.
Join BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaigns against Israeli is a way of supporting the Palestinian struggle against the occupation.
I call upon you to include a final declaration to release the more than 7000 prisoners in Israeli jails. Especially women, like the woman Member of Parliament KhaledaJarrar.
I hope that this conference will arrive to specific decisions to coordinate our efforts and show our mutual solidarity.
Long live the women’s struggle!
We shall overcome!
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