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Women’s Rights and Occupation

Palestinian women deprived of their human rights to land due to occupation and patriarchy


Palestinian women play a key role in agriculture production. Yet they cannot own land, nor can they participate in decisions on land tenure. Their access to land ownership is not only constrained by social and cultural norms, but also by the Israeli occupation, which targets land and natural resources so as to dismantle the Palestinian collective homeland. This strategy is forcing Palestinians into a situation of permanent instability in which their right to food and nutrition cannot be guaranteed. However, Palestinian women continue fighting for their rights as women and as Palestinians. They protest collectively against gender-based violence and occupation; and at the individual level, they struggle every day to set up agri-food enterprises and secure recognition for their rights within the family and the community. In these circumstances, the Tenure Guidelines can provide a holistic framework for conflict resolution in which land rights are bound to the principles of human dignity, non-discrimination, equity, justice, and gender equality.


Palestinian land: a target of Israeli occupation

The Northern part of the Jordan Valley, in the West Bank, is considered the breadbasket of Palestine. The soil is very fertile and, for centuries, Palestinians have made a living from agriculture, pioneering and innovating in food production. Agriculture is a pillar of Palestinian social, economic, and cultural life. However, due to the Israeli occupation, Palestinians are losing their land and, therefore, their source of livelihood as well. In 1980, agriculture production comprised 19% of the Palestinian GDP, but by 2019 that percentage had dropped to 3.5%. Today, more than 30% of the Palestinian population —1.6 million people— cannot access adequate and nutritious food. In the Gaza Strip, food insecurity is even more acute and affects 64.4% of the population. 

Palestinian food sovereignty has been undermined by the Israeli occupation and Mufeeda, a Bedouin woman from the herding community of al-Farisiyah in the Jordan Valley, is one of the many Palestinians who have been adversely impacted. She experiences relentless Israeli intrusions onto her land. Israeli military vehicles stormed the area at night flashing their headlights at us. Then they stepped over our beds and dirtied the bedding. We cannot sleep at night,” explains Mufeeda in this video made by the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC). She has lived in al-Farisiyah for more than 45 years, but in 2010, the village was completely demolished by Israeli forces, pushing Mufeeda and her family into a situation of permanent instability. Now, Israeli settlements and outposts surround Palestinian compounds where the community lives in shacks and tents without access to electricity or water.

In the Jordan Valley, Israeli forces perform military operations on a daily basis. They have seized 7,518 donums (the Ottoman unit of area equivalent to 1,000 square meters) and have disrupted the geographic continuity of the Palestinian territory through checkpoints and fences. Thus, Mufeeda’s son cannot take his sheep to the mountains and has no other option but to graze them in the courtyard. Before, when my father was alive, we used to tour these mountains, but now freedom of movement is restricted. Life has become unbearable to us. We are living a life of misery and humiliation,” denounces Mufeeda.

The Israel colonial project deliberately targets the land and space of Palestinians to force the population to move out, thus tearing apart the Palestinian collective homeland. Home destructions facilitate the Israeli expropriation of Palestinian land. Since 2009, Israel has demolished 8,865 structures in the West Bank, of which 30% are agriculture infrastructure and 26% are residential homes, according to data gathered by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). 

In Gaza Strip, the situation is even worse. 75% of the population are refugees or displaced persons and Israel has restricted Palestinians’ access to the area within 300 to 1,000 meters of the fence separating Gaza and Israel, taking 29% of Gaza’s farming land. About 150 female pastoralists can’t access the area anymore to graze their herds, which has impacted their livelihood sustainability already exacerbated by climate change. In 2019, 55% of landowners in Gaza could not reach their land and 74% faced obstacles to working it. Accessing clean water is even harder, as 97% of the existing aquifers are unfit for human consumption. 

The Israel colonial project deliberately targets the land and space of Palestinians to force the population to move out, thus tearing apart the Palestinian collective homeland


A Palestinian Woman in the Jordan Valley fights for her land and access to water

Mufeeda in her yard where she faces daily the Israeli occupation. / UAWC

Women’s rights up against the dual forces of occupation and patriarchy

In this context, Palestinian women are doubly burdened as occupation and the patriarchal system of land ownership and inheritance both violate their rights to land. Although women are responsible for food security and represent 30% of the labor force in the agriculture sector, they do not own the land nor participate in the decision-making. 76.3% of the agricultural land in Palestine is owned by men, while only 15% is owned by women as the sole proprietor, according to a report published by the Palestinian Working Woman Society for Development (PWWSD). Despite Palestinian law allowing women to own land, in practice, cultural, and social norms prevent women from fully enjoying their rights to land. Only 5.5% of women own land a mere 7.7% own their own home, says the report, and these are exceptional cases such as when a woman’s husband has died, or the parents leave equal shares of their homes or land to their sons and daughters. 

This is what happened to Nima Ibrahim Qasqas, whose parents left their property to be divided among all their children. Her brothers, however, opposed the idea of Ni’ma receiving her own plot of land, alleging that she was already married, and she was already working on the land, thus, she did not need to own it. “They told me that if I didn’t give the land to them, they would not treat me as a sister,” Ni’ma explains. This family dispute has been going on for 20 years and, although Ni’ma has not managed to reach an agreement with her brothers, she has continued working on the land as if it were her own.

Depriving women of their land rights is not unique to Palestine. Rather, it is a deeply engrained and widespread global issue. The FAO affirms that women are “significantly disadvantaged” in terms of their rights to land, regardless of the indicators. Globally, less than 15% of landholders are women, and in the Middle East and North Africa, that percentage drops to 5%. In half of the countries in the world, women cannot enjoy equal land rights despite legal protections. Nonetheless, in the last decades, women have made progress in the recognition of their rights to land and their economic and social empowerment around the globe.

Globally, as well as in Palestine, less than 15% of landholders are women. Despite representing 30% of the agriculture labor force, women cannot enjoy equal land rights.


Palestinian women enterpreneur Suha Saeed Ali Hashem harvesting her products

Palestinian woman entrepreneur Suha Saeed Ali Hashem harvesting her products. / GUPAP

Palestinian women fighting for their rights

In Palestine, although women’s empowerment is hindered by the Israeli occupation and social norms, women are achieving important milestones in the recognition of their rights. Thanks to the work of the Land and Water Settlement Commission (LWSC) —which was created to solve disputes related to Palestinian rights to land and water—, 32% of the people who have benefited from the settlement process since 2016 have been women. Moreover, women are also engaging in entrepreneurial agriculture activities to gain economic independence and secure adequate and nutritious food. 

In Gaza Strip, there are 2000-2500 agro-enterprises owned by women based on estimations by the Palestinian Ministry of Agriculture and the Gaza Urban & Peri-Urban Agriculture Platform (GUPAP). GUPAP, a multi-stakeholder platform that focuses its work on human rights advocacy and policy influencing in the agricultural sector, has been supporting women’s work reconstructing and promoting their farms. In May 2021, 50% of these farms were damaged or destroyed due to sustained bombing by Israeli forces for eleven consecutive days. Gazan women have engaged in projects such as beekeeping, rabbit farming, seed bank collection, cheese production, and dried food shops, and are creating viable and successful agriculture enterprises in a context where merely surviving has become an everyday struggle.

Palestinian women have also been key actors in the resistance against Israeli occupation. While they have been active since 1917, on 26th September 2019, the Palestinian women’s mobilization took on a new issue. Thousands took to the streets in twelve cities across the Occupied Territories of Palestine and refugee camps in the diaspora in a coordinated protest against gender-based violence. The Tal’at movement came together under the slogan “No Free Homeland without Free Women,” which claims that there cannot be a just future for Palestinians without the meaningful participation of women and the recognition of their rights.

In Gaza Strip, where 64.4% of the population faces food insecurity, there are around 2,000 agro-enterprises owned by women


Nidaa Tayeh is a Palestinian woman owner of Al Karam Farm

Nidaa Tayeh owner of Al Karam Farm. / GUPAP

The Tenure Guidelines: a tool for solving land issues amidst occupation and gender-based discrimination

So far, Israel especially shows little respect for international norms and agreements which could help to solve this conflict. Specifically, Israel violates the two-state solution established by the UN every time it occupies and grabs Palestinian land in order to expand its borders. In this context, socializing and applying the Tenure Guidelines among governmental representatives and civil society is extremely challenging. Nonetheless, bearing in mind the vital role of land in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Tenure Guidelines can serve as a key tool in a conflict resolution process to establish a holistic and durable approach. 

These guidelines bind land rights to principles of human dignity, non-discrimination, equity, justice, and gender equality, among others. They clearly state that women and men should have equal tenure rights (Article 4.6). Considering the historical disadvantages of women regarding access to land ownership, the guidelines urge states to remove obstacles that prevent women from enjoying their rights as well as provide adequate legal protective policies (Article 5.4).

The guidelines also offer recommendations to address situations of occupation in which both parties are obligated to apply international humanitarian law, such as the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol, and the United Nations Principles on Housing and Property Restitution for Refugees and Displaced Persons (Article 25.1). Given that there are more than 9 million Palestinian refugees and displaced persons, guaranteeing their rights to a voluntary, safe, and dignified return, as well as a just land restitution process, is key to bringing long-lasting peace to the region. 

Moreover, procedures for restitution, rehabilitation and reparation should be “non-discriminatory, gender sensitive, and widely publicized, and claims for restitution should be processed promptly” (Article 25.5). When restitution is not possible, states and other actors will have to guarantee alternative access to land and a decent livelihood in the host communities without jeopardizing the livelihoods of others, with special procedures for widows and orphans (Article 25.6). Policies should also address pre-existing discrimination (either ethnic or gender-based) and international agencies should provide support to re-establishing responsible tenure governance. 

The Tenure Guidelines can serve as a key tool in a conflict resolution process to establish a holistic and durable approach


This article has been possible thanks to the information and support provided by UAWC and GUPAP