This Land, my Sister, is a Woman

Source: Instagram

My Stolen Revolution

Source: Owlcation

Nahid Sarvestani was born May 24th 1960 in Shiraz, Iran. She was an independent and curious child, and as a young adult channelled those same qualities to bring about revolutionary change. In 1978 she, along with millions of Iranians, was part of a grassroots movement to overthrow the country’s autocratic ruler, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. They were successful – on January 16th 1979 the Shah and his family were forced into exile, never to return.  

The vacuum created by the Shah’s hasty departure was fought over during the following months. Sarvestani was part of the left-wing socialist movement which lost, and she was imprisoned. After her release she fled Iran, travelling to Dubai before settling in Sweden.

Skip forward thirty years and Sarvestani was watching another round of anti-government rallies and arrests in Iran. The images were a trigger, transporting her back to her detention. Now an accomplished filmmaker, she decided to track down five comrades who were detained with her in 1979, and document the reunion. Within a few months she was sitting and filming in her living room, with Parvaneh, Sudabeh, Monir, Azar and Nazali. What followed was a dignified account by five brutalised women, each gradually revealing the pain and despair of the gendered violence visited on them during their captivity. It’s distressing to watch.

The scene is part of Sarvestani’s 2013 documentary, My Stolen Revolution.     

A Kind of Sisterhood


Nell McCafferty is eighty, with white hair that covers her ears and neck but never makes it to her shoulders. The hair is generous and thick and wisps fabulously around her head like waves rising and crashing. It’s a crown of energy.

McCafferty is a journalist, playwright, civil rights campaigner, and feminist from Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. She has written thousands of words, the most piercing in a 1980 Irish Times article: 

It is my belief that Armagh [prison] is a feminist issue.”

McCafferty’s article described how the British government’s counter-insurgency policies had a concentrated and particularly detrimental impact on women, and how the systematic violation was on display in Armagh prison. McCafferty concluded women detainees were trapped in a gender-based system of structural violence enacted by the British state.  

Teenagers at the time, Michelle Devlin and Claire Hackett were aware of the punishing and discriminatory conditions inflicted on female republican detainees. Both had protested and marched for improved prisoner rights but their biggest contribution to addressing the injustices would be in 2015 with the release of their film A Kind of Sisterhood.

The film contains first-hand accounts from nine women held at Armagh prison and is a meditation on McCafferty’s belief that the treatment of women detainees was gendered in ways designed to harm and hurt.

The accounts are harrowing. Women forced to choose between political beliefs and their new-born babies. Brenda Murphy had her six-week-old baby taken from her because she refused to end her peaceful protest calling for political status. Others tell of disturbingly intrusive strip searches that were introduced as standard practice in 1982. Today, the same searches would be considered sexual assault, some possibly rape. Some speak of being denied sanitary products as a form of punishment during the Dirty Protests of 1980.    

A Kind of Sisterhood unearthed the gender-based violence of occupation and colonialism by giving voice to the women who lived it some forty years ago.

A Warning Ignored

Source: Twitter

Neve Gordon is professor of International Law and Human Rights at Queen Mary University of London. He is an academic heavyweight, having published over 30 articles and two books as well as being a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, and a visiting scholar at the University of California, Brown University, and the University of Michigan.

Gordon has studied Israel’s settler colonial project extensively, and with encyclopaedic knowledge mapped its evolution in his 2008 book, Israel’s Occupation. In the book Gordon suggests Israel changed its approach to the Palestinian Occupied Territories after the Second Intifada, which began in September 2000. The change, he asserts, was from a biopolitical mode, with its emphasis on managing Palestinian health and reproductive capacities to support economic objectives, to a necropolitical mode, with an emphasis on taking life and, ominously, diminishing or disabling Palestinian forms of reproduction. Having failed to exploit an Indigenous people, Israel wanted to expunge them.

“In place of the politics of life that had characterized the OT [Occupied Territories] until the second intifada, a politics of death slowly emerged” Gordon concluded.

Fifteen years after writing Israel’s Occupation, Gordon’s forewarning proved deadly accurate.

Ghazzah by Numbers

Ghazzah is hunted: Since October 7th 2023 more than 33,000 Palestinians have been murdered by Israel and its sponsor states; 14,500 of the slain are children, 10,000 are women. An average of 180 people are butchered every day. Thousands more are assumed dead, rotting in the rubble. 

Ghazzah is hurting: 75,000 people have major injuries, or one out of every thirty of the territory’s population. An average of 400 people are injured by Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) every day.

Ghazzah is hungry: NGO Oxfam reported the population of Northern Ghazzah is surviving on 245 calories a day, or a meagre twelve percent of the recommended calorific intake.

On January 19th 2024, the UN reported that two mothers were killed every sixty minutes by the IOF in Ghazzah.

I cannot write a poem about Ghazzah because I can do the maths.” Tusiata Avia, Samoan poet and performer.

Source: Instagram

Abandoned Women of Ghazzah

When the IOF attacked Ghazzah the West’s feminist movement largely fell silent. Despite overwhelming evidence of a gender-based campaign of harassment, violence, and murder – ten thousand and counting – feminist movements stretching from San Francisco to Stockholm sat on the side-lines, mere witnesses to an all-out assault on their Palestinian sisters. 

Social media channels lit up with images of the IOF flaunting female underwear as prized trophies in attempts to ridicule, mock and objectify Ghazzah’s women.

Source: @NaheedMustafa
Source: @NaheedMustafa
Source: Twitter

Corroborated testimonies referencing acts of gender-based terror and cruelty began to emerge.

I gave birth with a caesarean. On the third day, we left Jabaliya Refugee Camp, while I still had stitches. And she [baby girl] was not doing well. No diapers, no milk, we had nothing. Since we came here [UNRWA school shelter], she has had the flu, cold, and coughing.” Tagreed Al-Ashqar, Jabaliya Refugee Camp, Ghazzah.


Transcribed from an interview with Ghazzah City resident Nabela: “On December 24th

the IOF entered the school where I sheltered. I was terrified, imagining they wanted to execute us and bury us there.”


Nabela was then forcibly separated from her 13-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, put on a truck, and driven to a detention facility in southern Israel. She remained incarcerated for forty-five days during which she was denied access to basic sanitary products. Nabela was eventually transported to Rafah in Southern Ghazzah and prohibited from returning home.

Arbitrarily separating mothers from children is common practice for the IOF. Tamam Alaswad, from Ghazzah City, recalls: “They [IOF] took me from my kids and told me, ‘You are under arrest, you are sentenced to five years in our [Israeli] prisons.’ I was shocked. I told them, ‘I am just a housewife,’ but they blindfolded and handcuffed me and humiliated me badly.”

Alaswad was released weeks later: “I still know nothing about my family, and they know nothing about me.”

Al-Shifa hospital Source: Twitter












Next, reproductive healthcare infrastructure was targeted and decimated. Current estimates indicate some 500,000 women have been displaced since October 7th 2023, and are living in temporary shelter, often lacking in privacy. One in four are of reproductive age, and the wanton flattening of pharmacies, clinics and hospitals has severely limited the availability of healthcare supplies.

“Imagine having to manage your period with no period products, toilet paper or soap, and no chance of being able to wash yourself. Some women cut part of towels to use on their periods – this is not healthy. They are using parts of the tents or fibres. They cut off part of it to use as pads. Using unclean materials as sanitary products can cause a risk of infection and potentially deadly toxic shock syndrome.” Riham Jafari, ActionAid.

Pregnant women are even more vulnerable. Medical journal, The Lancet, reported over half of the women who are pregnant in Ghazzah are anaemic, creating risks for both mother and baby. Women are regularly forced to give birth in unsafe surroundings and without proper medical care or supervision. The rate of miscarriages has risen sharply.

The effects of Israel’s genocidal assault on Palestinian women are appalling, and despite being on open display, it has been permitted by western democracies who parrot a feminist conviction.   

“The message leading Western feminists are sending to Palestinian women is loud and clear: your suffering does not matter.” Maryam Aldossari, Researcher of Gender Inequality in the Middle East.

Ghazzah is a Feminist Struggle

Leopoldina Fortunati is an Italian feminist, theorist, and author of the 1981 book The Arcane of Reproduction. The book is dense, despite its 180 pages, and continues to challenge conventional thinking forty-three years after it was first published.  

In the book Fortunati introduces us to an expanded concept of societal reproduction. She suggests it is appropriate and necessary to expand the concept to include not only the biological reproduction of life—birth, nurture, and the maintenance of health—but also the reproduction of relational, social, and cultural life.

Fortunati’s definition could rightly be considered an expanded ‘form of living,’ which is why it is targeted by oppressors and colonialists. And as women are disproportionally the guardians of this ‘everyday living’ in Ghazzah, they will bear the brunt of its violence and the burden of survival.

This land, my sister, is a woman.” Fadwa Tuqan, Palestinian poet.

During the writing of this article imprisoned Palestinian author, organiser, and activist Walid Daqqa, 62, died from cancer after being denied appropriate medical treatment. Daqqa published a number of books, including A Parallel Time, about his life in prison, which was later adapted to a play. 

Body arrested; mind liberated.  – Walid Nimer As’aad Daqqa (July 18, 1961 – April 08, 2024)

©2024 Sul Nowroz – Staff Writer