Israeli Lawmakers Oppose Knesset Discussion on Women in Gaza Strip

The discussion, set by lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), is expected to deal with the difficulties of women who suffer from cancer and need to leave the Strip for urgent medical treatment

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and MK Nachman Shai, October 24, 2017
Yitzhak Harari

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and several other lawmakers who are members of Knesset Committee for the Status of Women oppose its chairwomen's intent on holding a discussion on the status of women in the Gaza Strip under the blockade. MKs Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) and Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) called to cancel the debate.

The discussion, set by lawmaker Aida Touma-Sliman (Joint List), is expected to deal with the difficulties of women who suffer from cancer and need to leave the Strip for urgent medical treatment. According to Touma-Sliman, Ben Ari and Shai opposed the debate without checking what topics were on the agenda before calling for its cancellation.

>> 'Life and Death Are the Same': What Gazans Are Saying About the Latest Round of Violence With Israel <<

Ben Ari asked Edelstein to intervene and examine the feasibility of the discussion, despite him having no authority to cancel it. Edelstein expressed his reservations regarding the discussion.

"I find it odd that after a hard and tense week for Israeli citizens, specifically for residents of the south who had to close themselves off in bomb shelters, that MKs in the Israeli Knesset decide to hold a discussion specifically about the condition of Gazan women," said Edelstein. "Why not hold a discussion about the condition of women living in the Gaza border communities? It would be appropriate that MKs would hold a parallel discussion on the condition of Israeli women who's daily routine is influenced by the whims of terrorist organizations."

Ben Ari was stunned to hear of the discussion. "I can't fathom how a Knesset committee is discussing the condition of women in Gaza," she wrote Edelstein, adding "it won't be long before the committee started dealing with the condition of women in Nablus, Ramallah and Palestinian Authority territories. This is not the role of a committee in the Knesset and there's no reason the chairwomen of the committee should use her position to advance a political agenda."

Shai, who is also a member of the committee, claimed this is an attempt to politicize the committee. He echoed Edelstein sentiment regarding Israeli women in the south. "They were the ones attacked, they were the ones who ran to the bomb shelters and they were the ones who sent their children to school in fear."

Following Haaretz's publication, Shai commented he was surprised to learn the discussion would deal with women who had cancer.  He stressed that "Nowhere did it state the topic of the discussion would be the aid of women who have cancer." He said his objection was to hold a discussion on the condition of the women of Gaza under the blockade, as was initially presented to committee members, and added: "My opinion on humanitarian aid is known. Israel needs to provide aid to any person in need of medical assistance."

Ben Ari said she requested Touma-Sliman to also deal with women in Sderot and the Gaza border communities. "She refused under the claim that the discussion was set two weeks ago and is related to events that took place at the border fence at the time. During our whole conversation, the topic of women who suffered from cancer wasn't mentioned. To this day we haven't received any update on the subject, I'm very sorry for her conduct on the matter," said Ben Ari.

Responding to the MKs, Touma-Sliman said "everyone knows that a cancer patient from Gaza, those who allow or prevent her from getting the treatment, are the Israeli authorities – meaning Shin Bet and the Defense Ministry. To come and ask us what we have to do with the subject is an attempt at being coy."

According to Touma-Sliman, "The reality is what proves to us, in the hard way, the connection between the status of women in Israel and Gaza. My political opinions are known but I believe there is a broad consensus about the importance of involving women in the political discourse. That's why it saddens me particularly to think that members of the committee would resist to having a necessary and important diplomatic discussion in our committee. I believe that the struggle for peace is a feminist struggle that will uphold the security of Israel's residents and assure the rights of the Palestinian people."

Touma-Sliman claims Shai never spoke to never before he attacked the discussion. "Ben Ari spoke to me, but at no point in the conversation asked what the discussion would be about. I didn't tell her the discussion would be held following the events at the fence, and it's too bad she's trying to explain her brash and unmeasured behavior by deepening the delusional attack by herself and Nachman Shai."

The Physician for Human Rights association said that "This is not about favors done by Israel, but its obligation to the sick in the Gaza Strip, under the policy of the blockade it lays on the Strip and its longstanding responsibility to the humanitarian condition, and to the underdevelopment from which the Palestinian health system suffers. It is the empathy of Israeli women with the disress of Gazan women that should be clear to all. What is more human, what builds a bridge of humanity more than this connection? Chiefly when dealing with women suffering from cancer who need all the empathy and treatment."