Reposted with permission. Part 3 of a 5 part series.
We often forget that the faces on the other side of the television screen have thoughts and feelings just like our own. We forget to think about the common threads of humanity between all living beings. I’m obviously no expert on the subject, having only spent several months in the Middle East and studying the situation now for four years. But the following contains different sorts of observations, analysis and conclusions I had reached, having traveled throughout the entirety of the West Bank, meeting hundreds of families along the way, and engaging in countless enlightening and telling conversations about the conflict, culture, and lifestyle.
Religion in the West Bank:
I was rather disappointed upon realizing how secular a majority of the people were. The women wear hijab, but it seems nothing more than a cloth and something their ancestry had grown up practicing. Very few men actually pray, including those who are knowledgeable about Islam. Women are more likely to pray, as they are often indoors. Most people have crazy myths regarding the religion that have been inserted in due to the conflict. A lot of the people look down upon the men with big beards wearing the traditional clothes. A lot of the teenage males drink, watch pornography, and chase after female tourists.
I’m tired of Palestinian nationalism. It’s time for Islamic revivalism. Nationalism has yet to work anywhere on earth, and it surely is not working in Palestine.
Women in Palestine are extremely strong and bright. Palestine has a long-running tradition of education despite the conflict and economic difficulties. Females are extremely educated and have great potential. They are not disadvantaged in the workplace from what I saw. Never will a woman have to work a cruddy job that she never wished to do, as would be the case for a male, seeing as the male is responsible for economically supporting the family. A woman would either work a job she has always dreamed of, (i.e. a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, etc.) or more than likely, not work at all.
On the other hand, there are unnecessary chains and restrictions set on girls. Most males could easily get away with yelling at their mother or father, dating a girl, staying out late into the night, or even losing their virginity. To the contrary, most girls are kept on a very tight leash with an unfair bias against them. I never like to judge other cultures in harsh ways. But I could tell this was not something that only I understood as a western and Caucasian male. Sisters of male friends complained to me of unfair treatment. A lot of it is caused by the conflict. Women need to be propped up as good potentials for marriage, because the economic situation caused by the conflict puts families in a position that they wish to marry of their daughters as quickly as possible. But sadly, I have my doubts that such practices will end anytime soon, even if the conflict is to come to an end.
Unfortunately, a lot of women are treated as slaves. Males are completely dependent upon their mothers and sisters. I grew very close with a refugee family, and completely threw them off when I offered to make tea for the wife and daughters. Oh- the controversy that would be caused by a male cooking for his wife! It works out well for farming families, when the men are out in the fields while the women cook and clean indoors. But that only comprises of a small percentage of Palestinians. Especially for families that face unemployment, it is unfair in my opinion for men to sit down and watch television as their wives work all day to keep the family happy.
On the other hand, to have each person take care of different issues in the home keeps some necessary structure to the family-life and keeps families close-knit. I think the breakup of the family structure in America is a leading cause for drug-addiction, homosexuality, pursuit of destructive forms of happiness, and so on.
There is good and bad in every culture. There are positives and negatives to the treatment of women in America, as is also the case of women in Palestine. At the end of the day, women are the most prominent figures in society. They make up 50% of the population but also bring up the other 50% (males) and teach them their values and morals. Palestinian women practically live for their children, and nothing clings stronger than a mother to her son or daughter- a beautiful image that I do not think will ever leave my mind. Families are just so close-knit and caring there!