Through Women's Eyes: Report on the Gender-Specific Impact and Consequences of Operation Cast Lead

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(From AIC)

The recent Israeli offensive—codenamed Operation ‘Cast Lead’ by the Israeli authorities—claimed the lives of 118 women, and injured 825 more. In total 1,414 Palestinians lost their lives, 1,177 (83%) of whom were civilians. A further 5,303 were injured. The infrastructure of the Gaza Strip was decimated, for example, 2,114 homes were completely destroyed and a further 3,242 rendered uninhabitable, affecting 51,842 people.

The true impact of the offensive, however, cannot be measured in terms of statistics and figures alone. Although the numbers of victims and casualties illustrate the appalling human toll of this conflict, the true extent of the suffering lies in the day-to-day reality of life in the Gaza Strip following Operation Cast Lead, as civilians struggle to rebuild their lives, come to terms with their loss, and restore some semblance of human dignity.

Life in the Gaza Strip continues. It must. But the continuing effects of the closure, and the visible reminders of trauma and devastation make normality—even by the standards of the Gaza Strip—an illusion; the reminders of tragedy are ever present, and all too real. At the time of writing, over six months after Israel’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire on 18 January, the Gaza Strip is locked in stasis: the situation in Gaza remains exactly as it was on the day the offensive ended.

The visible scars of the offensive remain, rubble continues to litter the streets of Gaza, thousands are homeless, families are forced to live in houses with scorched interiors, blood stained floors, and bullet riddled walls. In some instances, victims are forced to look at the discriminatory and offensive graffiti scratched into their walls by Israeli soldiers.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) has released ‘Through Women’s Eyes’ in order to highlight the gender-specific impact of Operation Cast Lead and the illegal Israeli closure. As a result of the patriarchal nature of Palestinian society, women in the Gaza Strip—victims of ‘peacetime’ discrimination—are particularly susceptible to the marginalization, poverty, and suffering brought about as a result of armed conflict and occupation. Israeli attacks result in often ignored gender-specific consequences. PCHR has chosen to allow these consequences, and the reality of life after the offensive, unfold through the victims words; although this report is necessarily grounded in international law, it is perhaps fitting that human rights, and human suffering, are expressed through human stories.

In the Gaza Strip, men typically head the household, and are the primary breadwinners. Widows, thrust into this role, often find themselves falling victim to cultural discrimination, and economic and social marginalization. In the Gaza Strip, it is exceptionally difficult for a woman to live alone, and so widows are forced either to return to their own family home, or to re-marry. Both alternatives present difficulties, as a woman tries to recover from the trauma of offensive, and rebuild her life and that of her children.

In the Gaza Strip, women are traditionally regarded as the primary care-givers; many homeless women are now forced to  care for their families in temporary accommodation or crowded into the homes of relatives, a situation which often results in social conflict and tension. Under the current legal system in the Gaza Strip, a widow may retain custody of her children, as long as she does not remarry;2 at this point custody of the children would revert to the husband’s family.

This report presents the cases of 12 women affected by Israeli attacks over the course of Operation Cast Lead. These examples are intended to demonstrate the extent of the suffering inflicted on the individual civilians of the Gaza Strip, and the continuing difficulties they face as a result of the devastation wrought by Israeli forces and the ongoing illegal closure.

‘Through Women’s Eyes’ highlights the difficulties women in the Gaza Strip face as they attempt to come to terms with their grief and their injuries; with the loss of their children, their husbands, their relatives, their homes, and their livelihoods. These narratives are illustrative, not only of the trials faced by women in the Gaza Strip, but of the resilience and strength they have demonstrated over 42 years of conflict and occupation.

The Israeli imposed closure—an illegal mechanism of collective punishment inflicted on the population of the Gaza Strip—means that recovery and reconstruction are impossible. The dire economic situation means that many women and their families are sliding deeper and deeper into abject poverty. They have suffered the horrors of an illegal war, and now are struggling just to survive.

Operation Cast Lead lasted 23 days, yet for the residents of the Gaza Strip its consequences continue to be felt.3 The State of Israel has denied the possibility of rebuilding a ‘normal’ life; until the illegal closure is lifted, Operation Cast Lead will continue to exact its brutal toll.

To download the entire report, click here.

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