Sara from Labour2Palestine interviewed Cllr Raghad Dweik, a member of Hebron City Council and Head of English Department at Hebron University, during her recent visit to the UK.
When were you first elected to Hebron City Council?
I was first elected in October 2012
Why did you decide to stand for election?
I was not politically involved in the beginning, but after the division that took place between Fateh and Hamas I felt that we Palestinians should not stand by as spectators, and we should get involved in politics because the situation was becoming dangerous.
That was back in 2006. That’s when I became politically active. I have always been close to Fateh; most of my friends were Fateh members.
How many women have been elected to Hebron City Council?
We have 3 women, and that is 20%, which is the minimum quota decided by Palestinian law [you can’t elect fewer than 20% women].
How do you hope to get more women elected onto Hebron Council?
During the last elections we had many women nominees, about 40%, 26 out of 40 candidates, but the problem is that there are some social perceptions regarding women. Because we didn’t have elections for 30 years people were a little skeptical about what women can do. It was if they were saying ‘men will face troubles, how about women?’ so probably being a reserved community that was the perspective, and that is why the all-women list did not get many votes, just a few hundred, and they did not win any seats.
How do you encourage women to get involved in politics?
Actually, women are involved in Palestine society, but they are involved in education and health sector. For example, I work at a university where 80% of the students are female in some departments, so women are actively involved everywhere. But politics is sometimes looked upon as something thorny and problematic. Because we Palestinians are facing a many problems at the international level securing our rights and because the Israeli authorities sometimes target political activists; people are protective of their daughters they think that it might be a bit risky. But I think the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas are trying to involve more women using the law, like the quota systems used in Parliament and local councils.
What are the main challenges that women face in Hebron today?
There are different challenges. The basic and the most important is the occupation, especially for women who live at the borders of settlements and in the Old City. We have many cases of women who face the settlers on a daily basis – they cannot get to their homes or they can not have visitors except if they get a special permit from the Israelis. They cannot drive – they have to stop their car some distance away regardless of whether they or their children are sick, and sometimes they can’t get an ambulance to a sick person in that area.
And you know because certain streets are blocked for Palestinians they have to walk a long way to get their schools or their workplace.
Sometimes they are stopped for no apparent reason, because the Israelis think there is some danger there, sometimes school kids are kept waiting for a long time whilst some perceived danger is cleared by the Israelis. This is because we have settlements inside the city itself; we have about 400 settlers. But actually some of the settlers are temporary as they are attending religious school, so we say 400 but actually there are 300, with 100 there temporarily.
Sometimes during the raining seasons there are floods inside the Old City the municipality does not always get their quickly to deal with the water, because they need to co-ordinate with the Israelis, and this takes a very long time. This is one of the problems that we face at the municipality.
Also, the settlers are always intent on owning more, they have tried to buy a house that is owned by, for example, a Palestinian woman, and she is pressured to sell buy the settlers, so they offer her large sums of money. Sometimes because the municipality does not have large resources it is strain on our budget to buy these houses.
We have two shift schools, and we at the municipality were hoping to buy more pieces of land so we can build more schools. Because Hebron has a large population – the largest growing population in the West Bank – we face this problem more than any other city. We are trying to end this 2nd shift, and it has a worse effect on girls than boys, because when a young girl has to go home after sunset on the 2nd shift.
What are you main hopes for the future?
Well, we hope that we can have our State, as promised by the international community; we hope that we can enforce international law regarding Palestinian rights. The Palestinian partition plan resolution 181 was passed more than 60 years ago, which decided that two states would be established: Palestinian and Israeli. There is also resolution 242, to free the land that was occupied by force.
We must have East Jerusalem for our capital, there are many important religious sites for all the religions and the Israelis cannot have it all to themselves. And the return of refugees, which is right at the heart of the Palestinian issue. The Israelis are bringing immigrants from all over the world to live in Israel, and it is the Palestinians right also to return to their own land, which they were driven from only recently, only over 60 years ago.
After this is achieved I think that we will be able to continue building our civic institutions and continue building a normal life just like everyone else on this earth.
And of course you know it is the longest and the last occupation on the face of this earth.
And I hope of course if women get more involved in the negotiations, in the international representation, that will gain us more favour with the international community, because increasing women’s participation is a pressing all over the world; it will make us look more progressive and more civilized! There are many gifted Palestinian women who can participate – they just need to be given trust and confidence.
And final question, what can women and men in the UK do to support women and men in Hebron?
From what I have seen there is a lot of support in the UK, and there is a lot of support within the Labour Party. When I go to America sometimes I feel I am educating people about the Palestinian question. The past two days I have felt that I can learn from these people who are supporting Palestinian people, and that’s a great feeling. Just more work in the same direction – America should not be the sole player in the mediating between Palestinians and Israelis because we tend to think they are biased and they work in the best interests of Israel because of the strength of the Zionist lobby in America, so they shouldn’t be left alone on the international scene.