IADL Interview with Palestinian Lawyer Mai Attallah: “Palestinian women and girls have the right to live in safety and peace like other women in the world, and to enjoy basic rights.”

The following article was published in the March 2024 special issue of the International Review of Contemporary Law, the journal of the IADL.

“Palestinian women and girls have the right to live in safety and peace like other women in the world, and to enjoy basic rights.”

Dear Mai, First of all, thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with us in these difficult times. Can we start by talking about the conditions of women in Palestine in general?

Like other Arab societies, Palestinian society has been greatly affected by conflict, occupation, war and colonialism, all of which  have greatly affected the situation of women and women’s rights. The situation in Palestine is unique, because we are still under Israeli occupation and suffering from it on a daily basis. It affects every aspect of our lives, and it is impossible to speak about women’s rights in Palestine without first and foremost addressing the occupation, the primary party responsible for the oppression of Palestinian women.

We are a society like other societies. We have violence, we have violations, and we also have deprivation. There are many girls and women who are still deprived of inheritance rights, and many are deprived of the right to education, the right to work, and the freedom to choose a partner. We have also seen major changes due to developments in society, which mean that women have obtained all or some of their rights on an internal Palestinian level, despite the ongoing suffering as a result of the scourge of the occupation.

The most prominent threat to Palestinian women and their rights remains the occupation. All the crimes committed by the occupation forces against the Palestinian people severely affect Palestinian women. Since October 7 and as a result of the collective punishment policy imposed by the occupation forces on the Palestinian people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, many women and girls lost their jobs due to their inability to reach the workplace as a result of the closure of checkpoints and the placement of iron gates at the entrances to Palestinian cities, which obstructed the access of school students and workers, including women, to the workplace, and as a result, these women’s families fear that their daughters will be arrested, they are prevented from going to work by passing through these checkpoints.

To clarify: the Palestinian people are divided into four categories:

  1. Palestinian identity holders/West Bank residents.
  2. Palestinian identity holders/residents of the Gaza Strip
  3. Holders of Israeli citizenship/residents of the occupied territories (Israel) are called Israeli citizens from the1948 occupied Palestinian land, often called “Arabs of 1948” or “1948 Palestinians”.
  4. Holders of Israeli ID/residents of East Jerusalem (under Israeli rule) are called residents of Israel.

Each category is subject to specific laws and forms of oppression, and Palestinians in Category No. 1 and Category No. 2 cannot enter East Jerusalem or Israel. In addition to the classification of areas as A, B, and C stipulated in the Oslo Accords, and with all these complexities and challenges, Palestinian women are still struggling to obtain their rights amid an ongoing colonial occupation.

I would like to emphasize that my answers in this interview are my personal opinions and orientations.

As a female lawyer representing the Palestinian Bar, how do you perceive the role of women in Palestine amidst the ongoing genocidal acts perpetrated by Israel, and how has this conflict affected their daily lives and safety? 

The Palestinian women have participated and continue to participate effectively in various stages and forms of struggle, embodying their tangible national role since the beginning of the revolution in Palestine, and at all levels until the present day. The ones who made the most sacrifices were the Palestinian women, as they are the mothers of the martyr, the sisters of the martyr, the daughters of the martyr, and the Palestinian woman is also a martyr. Since the beginning of the aggression on October 7th of 2023, at least 8,570 women and 12,660 children have been martyred, meaning 65% of the martyrs of the aggression against the Gaza Strip were children and women. (Note, these figures are not complete and are based on earlier statistics from the ongoing genocide in Gaza.)

Given the situation of women today in light of the continuing state of aggression, they work side by side with men and more. Women in the Gaza Strip work to provide housing and food for their children. Many women sold their gold to pay for the expensive costs of life after displacement, and to provide food for the children, and we saw hundreds of women martyred while protecting their children. This aggression has greatly affected women’s lives. None of the women anymore cared about the obvious matters that concern every woman. Every woman in the Gaza Strip was displaced and left her home and her memories, and her only interest in this life became how to save her children. She no longer thinks about anything other than the survival of her children.

 In what ways do you think the international community can better support Palestinian women and their rights, particularly during times of war and heightened violence initiated by Israel?

Unfortunately, the international community has failed to hold the Israeli occupation accountable for the actual violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, including women, and has failed to achieve justice and ensure protection and respect for human rights.

As you also know the 8th of March is celebrated globally as International Women’s Day. Against the backdrop of the current humanitarian crisis and Israeli aggression, how do you see the significance of this day in highlighting the resilience and struggles of Palestinian women, especially during times of war? 

Many graphic images and evidence of the crimes that were violated against Palestinian women in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip can be displayed them on this day everywhere around the world. On International Women’s Day, raise the slogan, “Palestinian women and girls have the right to live in safety and peace like other women in the world, and to enjoy basic rights.”

 Can you share specific examples of challenges or successes that have advanced women’s rights in Palestine amidst the continuous violations of human rights and the ongoing conflict initiated by Israel? 

Despite the occupation and its obstacles, Palestinian women were able to reach decision-making and leadership positions. Palestinian women also compete and enter elections side by side with men and compete with them to reach leadership positions and positions (we have women ministers, governors, leaders in political parties, associations and unions, judges, and lawyers, doctors, and there are many examples). Palestinian women embody outstanding steadfastness. Palestinian women are subjected to the most heinous crimes, especially in the occupied city of Jerusalem, the areas close to the settlements and the annexation and racist expansion wall, and in the Gaza Strip, which is subjected to massive crimes, including the crime of genocide. The genocide continues, and despite this, Palestinian women have persevered and contributed to building the institutions of the Palestinian state, defying the extreme oppressive circumstances of the Palestinian people under occupation and colonialism.

 How does the ongoing genocidal acts and political situation in Palestine impact women’s access to basic necessities, healthcare, and education, especially during times of war when resources are scarce and communities are displaced? 

Without talking or addressing what happened before the 7th of October, it is enough to mention a simple example that embodies the suffering of Palestinian women and their deprivation of the most basic rights: Women in the Gaza Strip cannot find sanitary pads to use during their menstrual period, and they do not even find medications that postpone their menstrual period. This is a simple example of the suffering and denial of the right to health care which is followed by the violation and deprivation of all basic rights. You have all seen births in tents, without anesthesia, and without providing any kind of post-natal health care. I believe there is nothing worse than that in the world.

 What grassroots initiatives or community programs have been effective in supporting and empowering Palestinian women, particularly during periods of heightened conflict and aggression by Israeli forces? 

There are many initiatives, whether from the official level or the private sector and international organizations working in Palestine, but because of the aggression and the destruction of all local institutions in the Gaza Strip by the Israeli genocide, none of them can be activated at the present time.

 Gender-based violence tends to increase during times of war and conflict. How do Palestinian communities address such cases, and what additional measures are needed to protect women, especially in the context of Israeli aggression and the displacement of Palestinian communities?

International humanitarian law grants women in times of conflict general protection, as they are civilians, and special protection, given that women can be exposed to specific types of violence. This need for special protection focuses on the needs of women, especially if they are mothers, and on the need to protect them from sexual violence in particular. In the Palestinian case and the ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip, the occupying power is flouting all international human rights conventions. This comes in addition to cases of violence within families, which have increased, especially after displacement and with the presence of dozens of families in one place of displacement and without providing the minimum necessities of life. The pressures resulting from deprivation have increased the rates of this violence within families and even between women and men.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is “Break the Bias.” How do you interpret this theme in the context of Palestinian society during times of war, and what are the specific challenges faced in breaking such biases amid ongoing conflict initiated by Israel?

Given the crimes of genocide committed in the Gaza Strip, and the collective punishment imposed by the occupation forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, we see that Palestinian women oftenmake the greatest efforts and sacrifices during the aggression, side by side with Palestinian men. Hundreds of  thousands of women in the Gaza Strip were displaced with their children in search of security and protection. Women and children make up 65% of the total martyrs in Gaza today, which confirms that women are fulfilling their social role as well as the traditional roles of men during the genocidal war and the state of aggression against the Gaza Strip. There are many scenes and examples in the Gaza Strip that prove this. The most prominent challenge to Palestinian women remains the occupation.

Looking ahead, what are the key priorities or goals for advancing women’s rights and gender equality in Palestine amidst the ongoing occupation, aggression, and war initiated by Israel, both within the community and through international advocacy efforts?

Looking at the legal environment in occupied Palestine, you find it very complex. It is a mixture between the laws left by the British Mandate, the Jordanian laws that were applied during the period of Jordanian rule in the West Bank, and the Egyptian laws that were applied in the Gaza Strip after Egyptian rule of the Strip. The Israeli occupation. also imposes new sets of military orders of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This comes in addition to Palestinian laws issued by the Palestinian Legislative Council as well as international laws and conventions that apply to the Palestinian situation. I believe that with this complex mix of laws and the classification of areas into A, B, and C in Palestine, it makes it difficult to talk about the future  priorities related to women’s rights and equality. How can I talk about women’s rights when my friend is in the Gaza Strip looking for milk for her child and the entire world has not been able to provide a box of milk for her child? What rights for women will I introduce or plan for her future when she is unable to provide milk for this baby for two months! In my opinion, international advocacy efforts should now focus on stopping the aggression and bringing in aid immediately.

Adv. Mai Attallah

Adv. Mai Attallah is a prominent figure in the legal landscape of Palestine, holding key positions in the administration of legal profession. Currently serving as the Head of Public Relations and Media at the Palestinian Bar Association since 2016, she has demonstrated exceptional communication skills in promoting legal advocacy and awareness within and out of the community.

In addition, Adv. Attallah has been entrusted with the responsibility of heading the Palestinian Bar Association’s President’s Office since 2018, further showcasing her capacity for strategic management and administrative acumen.

With a longstanding dedication to the legal field, Adv. Attallah became a member of the Palestinian Bar Association in 2005, laying the foundation for her illustrious career. Her commitment to legal excellence is underscored by her academic achievements, having earned a Bachelor of Arts in Law from Alquds University in 2005, followed by a Master of Laws from Birzeit University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies in 2009.

Beyond her professional endeavors, Adv. Attallah is deeply engaged in promoting social justice and human rights in Palestine. Her passion for advocacy extends to various community initiatives aimed at empowering marginalized groups and fostering a more equitable society.



All articles published in the International Review of Contemporary Law reflect only the position of their author and not the position of the journal, nor of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.


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