1325 PeaceWomen
Design creator
Text writer
"My political life began the moment I was born"

The life of Hanan Ashrawi has been divided among her three great passions: her family, literature, and a passionate political commitment to her people which has led her to spearhead the struggle for human rights, the emancipation of women and for a future of peace for Palestinians. She played a key role during the talks held in the nineties and currently she is an active Member of Parliament and the founder of various organizations. She was born in the city of Nablus, on the West Bank, into a Christian family marked by destiny. “My political life began the moment I was born”, she states.

“As a Palestinian, you are born with responsibility and a challenge. To be  Palestinian is something that is very controversial, something you can’t take for granted, something that evokes extreme reactions,” says Hanan.  From a very young age she knew that she should speak out, be rebellious, and follow the advice of her father, whom she describes as a man ahead of his time. He encouraged her to write at a very early age and he taught her that she should first liberate herself in order to liberate her land.

Hanan was studying in Beirut when she began to be actively involved, first by helping Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and later in what she calls “the revolution”. It was 1967, the year when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, West Jerusalem, Sinai and the Golan Heights after the Six Day War. During her time in the United States, she continued to be involved as a Palestinian student representative in several groups, and she resumed her work when returned back home. At university she founded a committee that would provide legal assistance and organized women’s study groups.

After the outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987, Ashrawi doubled her activism by participating in political committees, developing economic projects and opening opportunity for dialogue with moderate Israelis.  As Hanan recalls, she was never alone in the struggle. She acknowledges that “In times of threat and danger, there are always more ways for women to assume responsibilities” and, this came into play even more so during that period, when so many men were imprisoned.  As she remembers today, the women of this time mobilized, founded organizations, took part in non-violent resistance activities and, as a result, many were also arrested.

She was thrust into the political spotlight when she served as the official spokesperson for the Palestinian Delegation in the Middle East Peace Process between 1991 and 1993. She was a member of the Palestinian Committee at the Madrid Peace Conference and she witnessed how “Israel wasted the opportunity to sign a quick and definitive agreement” in those crucial moments.

Hanan recounts that with the creation of the Palentinian National Authority (PNA) and the creation of the government in exile, both of which were comprised mainly of men, women were forced into the background. Despite this time of male dominance, she became a Minister, a post from which she would later resign due to differences with the government.  Ashrawi is the founder of organizations such as The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (Miftah). She combines that position with her seat in the Palestinian Legislative Council, but she maintains that she will not stand for re-election when the following elections finally take place in the Palestinian Territories. She wants to leave the path free for a motivated, young generation, especially for women, who will help their people to regain their confidence in politics.

However, this will not be easy in view of the deep division between Hamas, the power that controls ‘de facto’ the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, the main party of the PNA. Ashrawi sadly observes that faith in the national political movement has been lost. “Pragmatism, negotiations and dialogue have failed to produce visible results, and therefore extremists are gaining territory with their message of violence and confrontation.”

“According to public perception, religious people are good and honest, but this is not necessarily true”, regrets Ashrawi. She explains that Hamas imposes on women a obvious demarcation. They offer them basic services and a right to education and work, but only providing that this doesn’t interfere in their fundamental mission, which is to be mothers and wives. Women occupy a place in the background of society, and they feel safe here because they adhere to the rules and traditions.

In contrast, Ashrawi has chosen the most just and also most difficult path, the one of equality, of presence of women in public life and of their inclusion in all political parties. “This is a critical period for Palestinian women, who have to redefine and empower themselves in order to gain political representation”.

This is a great challenge in the complex context of the Israeli occupation, which marks the life of every Palestinian, including Hanan’s. After immigrating to the United States Israeli authorities didn’t allow one of her two daughters, Zeina, to renew her Palestinian identity card. After getting married in the USA, now Zeina is unable return to her native Jerusalem nor reunite with her family, and this is not an unique case, as Ashrawi sadly comments.  She is specially grieved by the situation of East Jerusalem, the city which was destined to be the capital of the Palestinian State, but which was instead annexed by Israel. “Jerusalem is being transformed in front of our eyes. The houses of the Palestinians are being demolished, their identity cards are being confiscated, the Wall is being completed, and settlements continue to grow. Jerusalem is being strangled and isolated from the West Bank. This is ethnic cleansing; there is simply no other name for it.”. This explains why Israel carries out a strategy of ‘fait accompli’ which makes any negotiations irrelevant and that destroys any hope of the option of two States.

Palestinians have turned to every commission and forum to explain what is happening, but “when has any international government defied Israel?” Hanan asks, remembering the recent offensive against Gaza. “Words alone are not worth much; they must be followed by immediate action,” States Ashrawi.

If things carry on like this, if the building of settlements persists, if the expansion of the Wall and Israeli military presence in Palestinian territory continues, her people will be condemned to live in isolated reserves, Hanan sadly predicts. She is sure of one thing, however, which is that “they will never manage to make the Palestinians disappear”.