Dr. Mona as a child holding her mother's hand

Me and my mother when I was four-years-old

Palestinian women have participated in every stage of the Palestinian struggle since the beginning of the last century. We Palestinian women have stood side-by-side with Palestinian men fighting against the Israeli occupation. But we have also had extra responsibilities to struggle socially to advance our rights, our daughters’ rights, and our role in the community.

I learned a lot from my mother when I was a child. She used to tell stories about women who were very active on the ground. I remember one woman named Moheba Khorshid who led demonstrations and protests in Jaffa City. They protested the confiscation of the lands of the Palestinian farmers. Historically, one of the main organizations that led women’s struggles against the occupation and for women’s rights was the General Union for Palestinian Women, which used to represent all women in Palestine despite their different political backgrounds.

Samar in Gaza does embroidery for the Sulafa Embroidery Center

Today, on International Women’s Day, I’d like to highlight women’s role and accomplishments in protecting the Palestinian identity. We have dozens of organizations inside Palestine and in the diaspora that sustain the Palestinian identity by protecting our heritage and folklore. These organizations don’t just create opportunities for women to make an income and to survive their difficult situations, especially in marginalized communities like refugee camps. The Palestinian crafts they teach and promote—especially embroidery—keep Palestinian culture vibrantly alive, transferring it from generation to generation. Women educators also play a big role by planting seeds to sustain our national spirit and vision.

As a Palestinian woman working with the Middle East Children’s Alliance who lives in the Gaza Strip, who has experienced 11 years of the Israeli siege and survived three military bombing onslaughts, I can say that Palestinian women are the force that allows families to survive despite the devastation and barbarity of the Israeli attacks.

Each year, many Palestinians are killed here by Israeli bombs and bullets. Israel’s blockade and confinement of the Gaza Strip has created increasing shortages of the goods needed for a decent life: food, medicines, building materials, clothes, electricity, and even clean water. The aim of the siege is to destroy Palestinian families and community, so we will give up our rights and stop our struggle against Israeli oppression.

But we are determined not to let that happen. Despite the hardships, women protect, heal, and keep our families intact. The siege causes more tasks to fall on our shoulders. One of the most difficult is that Gaza women take care of the younger generation that is growing up traumatized by the violence, oppression, and blockades. As mothers and sisters, wives, doctors, teachers, etc., we are the key to protecting and maintaining the Palestinian family unit and culture.

I am really very proud of these women. We keep fighting on two fronts: first, against the Israeli occupation; second, for social change in our community. For example, the majority of the recipients of the MECA Scholarship Project are women who become doctors, engineers, nurses, teachers, and other professionals. I can see them inspiring younger generations. I know girls who at the beginning of the siege were 11 years old. Now they are working professionals and devoted to helping their families and their communities.

Meeting with some of MECA’s scholarship recipients in Gaza

I am so proud of the projects we do here and of how MECA functions in the community to create a space for women to learn and grow and survive and lead.