When Jamileh Abu-Duhoupresented us with a copy of her book, and after quickly flicking through its pages and reading the table of contents, the first impression that raced to my mind was: I will read this book at some point in the future, not right now. With so much going on across the Arab landmass, I felt that the central theme of Jamileh’s book was somewhat peripheral.
Before I answer this question, I should say a brief word about the central theme of the book:
Broadly speaking, “Giving voices to the voiceless” is about gender-based violence against women in present-day Palestine. For those who are not very familiar with this problem, gender-based violence, in its widest sense, refers to any act that results in, or is likely to result in physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life. Gendered violence is not a rare occurrence in armed conflict, and the problem in Palestine is no exception.
If you think that gender violence in Palestine is insignificant, think again. A study published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics has revealed that:
61.7% of ever married women in the Palestinian Territory were exposed to psychological violence, 23.3% exposed to physical violence, and 10.9% exposed to sexual violence at least once by husband during the year 2005.
These numbers are astounding, and certainly demonstrate the dire need for change.
Any book that tackles a complex issue as that of gender-based violence and does so with incredible clarity and depth deserves attention and admiration. Jamileh’s book “Giving voices to the voiceless” deals with a very human problem by a very human writer and from a very human perspective. Jamileh succeeds not only in highlighting and explaining the problem of gender violence in Palestine, but also paves the way for understanding gendered violence beyond physical acts. She uses the voice of Palestinian women to explore the factors that have allowed the ahistoricization of Palestinian women and reduced them to captives of moral and ethical codes, antiquated social conventions, and religious dogmas.
“Giving voices to the voiceless” offers the reader a detailed glimpse into another way of life, another time, on a personal level that traditional histories cannot match, and on a factual level that historical fictions cannot achieve. It provides personal and social detail that often is difficult to find elsewhere. It also provides a wonderful way to study the relationship between gender and violence by breaking down stereotypes and presenting innovative ways to judge the issues at hand.
A lucid, clear-eyed narrative of life in Palestinian territories, Jamileh’s book is an excellent primer on gender-based violence in her original homeland. But what makes the book exceptional is the strong focus on the problem from a national perspective. Thus, instead of treating gender violence as a strictly traditional and social problem, as most past studies have done, Jamileh situates the problem within a broader national context and demonstrates, with compelling clarity, how the Israeli occupation and maltreatment of the Palestinian people is exacerbating the problem of gender violence. In this regard she observes:
The analysis of the roots and causes of violence against Palestinian women must take into consideration the effect of the Israeli occupation and the continuation of the violent political conflict.
Why? Because, under occupation, "families become the primary sufferers of violence as they are made to bear the brunt of the frustration that men suffer due to political oppression."
In “Giving voices to the voiceless” Jamileh offers ample examples of this and many more of how the patriarchal system and the systematic and structural oppression of the occupation are chocking the process of change. The result is a devastating effect on gender violence in general and women's life in particular.
“Giving voices to the voiceless” should be read by every person interested in Palestinian society, the patriarchal system, social inequality, and Israeli oppression. It makes major contributions not simply to studies of human rights, but also to our knowledge of gender violence in Palestine and in the larger and plural region of the Middle East.
The book is an eye-opener written from a first-person perspective. I certainly would recommend it.
Giving Voices to the Voiceless
Published by Berkshire Academic Press
Reviewer: Adel Beshara