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Saturday Oct. 13, 2012 9:21 PM (EST+7)
PROFILE: A woman's rights advocate in the 'dark heaven' of Gaza


Read more: womans rights, feminism, human rights, closure, blockade, travel restrictions, right to education, woman and child, women, media

RAMALLAH, October 13 (JMCC) - Andalib Radwan Shehada, a woman's rights advocate, loves her home in Gaza but still had dreamed of continuing her education in the West Bank. Last month, an Israeli court turned down a request by her and three other women to leave the confines of Gaza, where people and goods are restricted in their travels, to study in the other part of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory. 

The New York Times profiles Shehada and her life at once of the people and on the margins.
“I think life in Gaza is not suitable for a human — now it’s worse than yesterday,” she said in a recent interview, describing a “psychological siege” imposed by a combination of Israeli restrictions on travel and trade and the hegemony of the militant Hamas faction over local government and society. “If I accept that I deserve this kind of life, I will be losing the hope. I believe I deserve a better life than this, so I’ll still fight.”

Ms. Adwan, who goes by her original last name — which when combined with her first name means “aggressive nightingale” — lost a personal battle last month when Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a petition by her and three other women to study in the West Bank. Ms. Adwan began a master’s degree in gender studies at Birzeit University in 1999 but was blocked from attending classes after two semesters because of the second intifada.

Her larger crusade, though, continues here in Gaza, where she established the Community Media Center in 2007 to train Palestinians in using documentary films and other techniques to expose the difficulties of daily life. The center, whose $200,000 annual budget comes from Western organizations including Catholic Relief Services and the United States Agency for International Development, is the latest in a series of groups that Ms. Adwan has helped start or run since 1991.

Her activism dates to her childhood in the Rafah refugee camp, where she was the only girl to make announcements over the school public address system and to participate in the student movement of the early 1980s, which led to a two-day suspension. By 16, she published the first of many short stories about what is universally known here as “the situation.”

The 10th of 13 children born to a woman married off at age 12, Ms. Adwan was groomed for a distinct path by her father. He was the mukhtar — akin to mayor — of the village of Barbara, north of the Gaza Strip, and then of the Rafah camp, where his family landed after Israel’s establishment in 1948. Ms. Adwan remembers tagging along to meetings of the Rafah municipality and with Israeli officials.

SO, though she is the rare Gaza woman who has traveled to European and Arab capitals, Ms. Adwan “is more connected with people on the ground,” said Issam Younis, the director of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, a Gaza group whose board Ms. Adwan has been on for three years. “She’s not the kind of elite woman.”


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