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Palestinian and Israeli Women Speak: Regaining Humanity at a Time of Violence

Sarah Little
October 20, 2023 - Women and children sheltering in Gaza from ongoing Israeli airstrikes

The physical and psychological toll of war is immense, and for women and girls, the impact is compounded by the gender inequalities that already exist in society. 

The October 7th massacre by Hamas claimed more than 1400 lives and saw the abduction of over 200 people, many of whom were women and children. There were reports of rape by Hamas fighters, and in one verified video, a young German-Israeli woman is paraded naked and unconscious through the streets by a group of men in the back of a pickup truck.

The subsequent Israeli bombardment of Gaza has displaced nearly half a million Palestinian women and girls and left more than 18,000 people injured, according to Palestinian officials; of those killed and injured, 62% are women and children. UN Women reports approximately 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza are without access to essential health services and 5,522 women are expected to give birth this month, all in the absence of adequate medical facilities. 

The war has left thousands of Palestinian children fatherless, propelling many women into the role of breadwinner—a position that comes with its own set of challenges in a society with a 19% female labor force participation rate, among the world’s lowest. The loss of a father can be especially detrimental for young girls, as financial strain may push them into early marriages. According to the  Global Partnership for Education, girls in conflict zones are 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys and are less likely to return after a ceasefire.

The physical and psychological toll of war is immense, and for women and girls, the impact is compounded by the gender inequalities that already exist in society. Here are the voices of young Palestinian and Israeli women on the ground about what life is like today, trying to retain their humanity against the backdrop of ceaseless violence. 

The names of the women I spoke with have been changed to protect their safety.

We moved to a place in the south, but honestly, nowhere is safe. I’m freaking out. It’s f*cking crazy. We can’t sleep, we can’t eat. We’ve lost friends, relatives, and neighbors. I’m still in shock about everything. We only get one meal a day, and we can use the bathroom once. There are approximately 30 people in here. We considered going to an UNRWA school, but they just bombed it. Nowhere is safe, literally. I’m worried about my married sisters and my niece. We lost contact with them. I’m trying to survive. 

- Lina, a 24-year-old Palestinian Muslim woman in Gaza.

I just slept a full night for the first time this week, and I started eating again. It's absolute horror. I don’t have any more to say about it other than we are all grieving, shocked, mourning--Jews and Palestinians. Our ancestral traumas are all heightened. I have friends in Gaza who lost family, and I’m trying to be there for them while also somehow praying for the end of this military revenge. I have Israeli friends who have lost half their family and are still waiting to hear from their loved ones held hostage. It’s all so sick how we have all been used as pawns in this global imperialistic war.

Please be gentle with all of us. I keep on believing in God through these times. To me, right now, God is the transmutation of fear, anger, and thirst for revenge into love, and remembrance of humanity. I believe our thoughts have power and that prayer is powerful. My ask of my people is to really pray--to transform our inner hatreds into desires for peace. We can't control everything, but we can tend to our minds and our inner worlds which ultimately shape our external reality.

- Nadia, a 31-year-old Arab Israeli woman born and raised in Jerusalem. 

Social media is definitely doing more harm than good. Each individual's algorithm is feeding them more and more content to support what they believe in. That means, someone who feels slightly towards something will feel very strongly about it after 15 minutes of browsing on Instagram or TikTok. Content on social media is also not verified, which means sharing distortions of the truth or misinformation is easy and damaging. Social media has become a platform for fighting, and it’s leading to real-life violence, when really, people should be coming together, looking at the whole picture, and trying to stand up for humanity on both sides. 

- Noa, a 27-year-old Jewish woman in Israel.

This has become dark and twisted. If you actually want to be human and focus on the fact that people are dying on both sides, you’ll be attacked by both sides. It seems like there’s no space for being human anymore. 

The other absurd phenomenon is the virtual war taking place in parallel with the actual war, where the winner appears to be the one with the most child casualties. We are seeing a lot of lies being spread, but we can’t open our mouths. We can’t say anything. It has become a vicious war in and of itself, and it’s dehumanizing the tragedy on the ground. 

There has been some violence in the West Bank, but it’s mostly under control. People are not doing well mentally or emotionally; they are spiraling. Many of them are now thinking that death is better than living here. 

Today, I just spent the day in bed. You know when you feel heartbroken and numb at the same time? The more people I see die in Gaza, the more I wonder, “When will this nightmare end?” 

- Rania, a Palestinian Christian woman in the West Bank. 


About the Author

Sarah Little

Sarah Little

Journalist; Founder, More to Her Story
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Middle East Program

The Wilson Center’s Middle East Program serves as a crucial resource for the policymaking community and beyond, providing analyses and research that helps inform US foreign policymaking, stimulates public debate, and expands knowledge about issues in the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.  Read more