‘Braking’ boundaries: Palestinian women seek new chances

Dalia Al-Darawish prepares for an exam to become one of only a handful of qualified female Palestinian truck drivers. (AFP)
Updated 15 October 2019

‘Braking’ boundaries: Palestinian women seek new chances

  • Palestinian women are pushing boundaries in the traditionally conservative city of Hebron
  • ‘(Society) has changed a little. There have been some developments, but not enough’

HEBRON, Palestinian Territories: As the 30-ton truck weaves through the crowded Palestinian streets, groups of men stop and gawp at the diminutive figure of Dalia Al-Darawish in a purple headscarf seated behind the wheel.
Darawish is preparing for an exam to become one of only a handful of qualified female Palestinian truck drivers, a test the 26-year-old sees as about more than just driving.
“It is symbolic,” she said. “It shows we can do anything — that as a woman you can work, drive a trailer or whatever.”
The mother-of-two is among several Palestinian women pushing boundaries in the traditionally conservative city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, amid a growing assertiveness of women’s rights.
Darawish said she had faced criticism from both sexes as she trained, but the men were far more vocal.
“They are some who supported, a minority,” she said. “But then there are people shouting in the street, ‘No, why are you driving a trailer?!’”
“Whenever I made any mistake you would find men shouting, ‘It’s impossible (for you)’.”
At the driving center, she shakes slightly as her black-moustached examiner Issam Bedawi explains the test.
After briefly demonstrating her ability to detach and re-attach the trailer, the two clamber up into the carriage and drive off.
Recent months have seen protests in the West Bank after a 21-year-old woman was allegedly killed by her family members after posting a photo with her soon-to-be fiancé on Instagram.
The demonstrators are demanding more protection for women, but also a more prominent political movement for women’s rights.
Palestinian women still often give up their careers to care for children.
A World Bank study last year found that 58 percent of skilled women between 25 and 34 were unemployed, compared to 23 percent of men.
The general unemployment rate for women (44 percent) is double that of men, according to official Palestinian statistics.
Wafaa Al-Adhami had long dreamt of being an artist, but didn’t have the opportunity to study growing up.
But five years ago and with the kids older, she returned to her passion, studying hours of videos about artists on YouTube.
“Painting and art courses are expensive and I had no time,” she said. “So I loved educating myself.”
“Every artist has their own style, and I wanted to find mine,” she said.
From her living room table with an array of children passing through, she developed a specific layering technique for her work, pouring the paint onto the canvas before sculpting and manipulating it.
The result is a 3D texture that she says is unique among Palestinian artists.
Her inspiration ranges from Palestinian icons such as the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem to more Jackson Pollock-inspired surrealism.
A recent 40-work exhibition was a big hit.
Elsewhere in the city, 31-year-old Asia Amer has set up what she believes is Hebron’s first women-only restaurant.
The idea behind the Queen Restaurant, she said, is to give women a space to feel at home.
Those who normally wear the hijab can remove the headscarf if they wish.
“I felt that it was the right of women to have a place they can relax in — where there are no restrictions or people watching her,” she said.
“I am proof that Palestinian women don’t just stay at home to cook and look after the children.”
Back at the driving test center, Darawish pulls the trailer to a stop and waits nervously as Bedawi tallies up the score.
“I’m happy to say she passed,” he announces. “Everything I asked of her during the test she did fantastically.”
Darawish doesn’t even know if she will work as a truck driver, as right now she is still looking after her children.
But she said she wanted to help drive change in attitudes.
“(Society) has changed a little. There have been some developments, but not enough,” she said.
“If there had been big movement, men who see a woman driving a trailer would be happy or they wouldn’t say anything at all.”


Bombings kill 6 civilians in main Kurdish city in Syria

Updated 12 November 2019

Bombings kill 6 civilians in main Kurdish city in Syria

  • More than 20 people were wounded in the simultaneous attacks
  • The blasts come after Daesh claimed to have killed an Armenian Catholic priest from Qamishli

QAMISHLI, Syria: Three simultaneous bombings killed at least six civilians in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northeastern Syria on Monday, a Kurdish security source and a Britain-based monitor said.
There was no immediate claim for the bombings, but they occurred shortly after the Daesh group said it was responsible for the killing the same day of a priest from the same city.
In Qamishli, an AFP correspondent saw charred cars and smoke rise from the site of the blasts.
Firefighters tried to put out the flames caused by the explosions, as rescue workers carried away the victims.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor, which relies on sources inside Syria, said two car bombs and an explosives-rigged motorcycle blew up in a market and near a school in the city.
More than 20 people were wounded in the simultaneous attacks, said the Britain-based monitor said.
The blasts come after Daesh claimed to have killed an Armenian Catholic priest from Qamishli.
The Observatory said the priest and his father were killed by gunfire as they made their way to the eastern province of Deir Ezzor to inspect the restoration of a church there.
Kurdish fighters have led the US-backed battle against Daesh in Syria, expelling the extremists from the last scrap of their proto-state in March.
But the jihadists have continued to claim deadly attacks in northeastern and eastern Syria ever since.
In July, IS said it was responsible for a massive truck bomb that killed at least 44 people in Qamishli.
A Turkish cross-border attack against Kurdish fighters on Oct. 9 heightened fears that Daesh fighters could break out in mass from Kurdish jails.
But a fragile Turkish-Russian cease-fire deal has more or less halted that offensive, and seen Kurdish forces withdraw from areas along the Turkish border, except Qamishli.