(2021) 2 TWAIL Review 97-121
Published under a Creative Commons licence.
The article focuses on the activism of the early Palestinian women’s movement in the terrain of Mandatory Palestine. It illustrates the tensions between transnational understandings of women’s rights and questions of orientalism and imperialism within the international arena. This tension is framed through a critical historical perspective that, on the one hand, includes women’s contributions to and strategic interventions in the legal infrastructure of the British Mandate for Palestine, and on the other hand, reflects on the weight of critical historical writings to foreground the relevance of decolonial and critical feminist approaches to international law for Israel/Palestine. By highlighting the oscillations of the first wave of the Arab feminist movement between resistance to and compliance with international law, it argues that transnational histories of an early Arab feminist activism challenged the horizon of a liberal Western feminism and that these interventions are often neglected in the international legal history of the origins of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Arab-Palestinian feminists, in fact, often swung between establishing women’s participation in the anticolonial nation building project dominated by male elites and the struggle to have their anti-colonialism recognised in the feminist international fora advocating for gender equality, which were often dominated by white feminists. By highlighting the contradiction between anti-colonialism and the social progressivism experienced by Arab feminists at the time, the article aims to re-draw the history of feminist endeavours in Palestine, not along a linear trajectory of the struggle for gender equality in the Middle East, but rather as a movement for individual and collective self-determination anchored in cosmopolitan and anticolonial understandings of citizenship.