International Women’s Day: Providing a glimmer of hope for women facing discrimination in East Jerusalem

On International Women’s Day, Aseel Baidoun, Medical Aid for Palestinian (MAP)’s Advocacy and Communications Officer in the West Bank, spoke to Nour* about her experiences as a woman living in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem.

“People may think it is a blessing to be living here, but they have no idea that it is a curse, for Palestinians at least,” said Nour, who is a single mother of four. This area has been at the centre of Israeli military and settler violence recently.

Palestinian protests against forced displacement and systematic discrimination in the city have been met with excessive force. Hundreds of people have been injured, and the city remains a tense and insecure environment which has a grave impact on Palestinians’ physical and mental health.

“Every time my children leave the house my heart aches, wondering if I will ever see them again. The streets of the Old City of Jerusalem are loaded with Israeli troops that randomly stop Palestinians to interrogate them, arrest them, or assault them. There is a chance that they will even shoot them,” said Nour. “I am in my fifties, however I have been stopped several times, searched, and have been asked to raise my arms up and put my head against the wall, for no reason but being a Palestinian.”

“Leaving your house is very stressful as you may be putting your life at risk. Staying in your house, in this small space, where you cannot expand or renovate due to the Israeli regulations, is also putting your mental and physical health at risk.”

“We live in a reality where we cannot protest our lack of rights, and cannot keep living this life of never-ending obstacles.”

Israel’s discriminatory policies and restrictions mean Palestinians are only allowed to build on 13% of land in East Jerusalem, which has led to severe overcrowding in many homes. At least one third of Palestinian homes in the city lack a building permit, placing 100,000 at risk of displacement.

Amid this hostile and coercive environment, Nour has been seeking solace at the Saraya Centre, MAP’s partner in the Old City. The Centre provides mental health and psychosocial support to young Palestinians and women to help them cope with the challenges they face. They also offer training in legal rights, walking tours around East Jerusalem, and family trips to visit villages Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes during the Nakba (catastrophe).

Nour has been active at the Saraya Centre for years now and she goes there several times a week for a safe space to talk with other women, receive support for her wellbeing, and join women’s group activities including tours across the city.

“Saraya Centre is my space for learning, socialising and breathing. I meet with other women and we talk about common issues and burdens we face. We laugh to overcome our miseries,” said Nour. “My house is very small, and in the winter it leaks a lot of water and I can’t fix it, so going to Saraya also provides a warm and open space.” 

They destroyed my son’s future, ambition and wellbeing”

During severe Israeli military violence in May 2021, Nour attended a peaceful demonstration at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, to protest the systematic discrimination that she and her family face on a daily basis. “On my way to the protest, a gas grenade directly hit me in the leg. I got first aid treatment by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, but the paramedic told me: if we take you to the hospital, the Israelis will register your name and they will know you got injured while participating in a protest. Therefore, you can be arrested,” said Nour.

“I don’t want to be arrested, who would take care of my sons and daughters? A year on, my leg has not had the right treatment and I am still walking with a limp. I cannot even tell my family doctor about my leg, as it will be documented in my file which belongs to an Israeli system, and I can be arrested. Even the healthcare here can be a form of Israeli security surveillance. We live in a reality where we cannot protest our lack of rights, and cannot keep living this life of never-ending obstacles.”

Life for Nour son, Fadi*, is another story of injustice. Fadi was a student at Al Quds University in Abu Dis, a village cut off from Jerusalem by Israel’s separation wall. “Every morning on his way to the university, he was stopped and physically harassed by Israeli soldiers. Until one morning they beat him to a point when we had to take him to the hospital. Since then, my son has become paranoid,” explained Nour.

“He does not leave the house, he dropped out of university and he refuses to find a job. He is so scared of Israeli forces. They destroyed his ambition, his future, and his mental wellbeing. They assassinated his sense of security. My son is not the only case, most young Palestinians in the Old City have suffered assaults by Israeli forces.”

The Saraya Centre is one safe space that Fadi regularly visits. He is given support for his mental health and wellbeing, and participates in the centre’s range of educational, vocational and life skills activities.

Despite the difficulties of living in a fragmented city under Israel’s discriminatory domination, the Saraya Centre provides a glimmer of hope and positivity for Nour. “The activities at Saraya Centre are the highlight of my week. I feel like a human being here,” she said.

Please consider making a donation to help MAP and our partners continue to provide essential mental health and psychological support to Palestinian women and children.


*Names changed to protect identities.

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