"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
This study examines the sociopolitical and psychological factors affecting, hindering, and/or promoting Palestinian women's access to justice in the West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), with a specific focus on "Area C." It does not examine the situation in the Gaza Strip and in East Jerusalem; nevertheless, it is envisaged that similar research will be conducted in these two geographical areas of the oPt in the future. The aim of the research is to analyze the interrelationship between Palestinian women's experiences dealing with the local Palestinian legal system and the more complex militarized Israeli system within which it is embedded, be it through formal or informal institutions, while uncovering the various layers (both tangible and intangible) of bureaucracy, challenges, and restrictions they face in the process. The study also aims to examine the considerable hindrances Palestinian women face when they interface with civil society organizations, political institutions, and formal and informal Palestinian and Israeli agents and institutions of social and political control in their quest for justice.
The study identified the many factors that structure the experiences of Palestinian women when they engage with the various legal systems that prevail in this area: personal factors such as social status and family dynamics; social and political factors; spatial factors such as those found in Areas C, H1, and H2; legal system factors; bureaucratic factors; the relevant laws; and the case type and its specifics. These factors are analyzed in the context of settler violence occurring in the West Bank with the complicity of Israeli security forces. It bears noting that such violence constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law on the part of Israel as it is violating its obligation set forth in article 49 (6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits an Occupying Power from transferring citizens from its own territory to the occupied territory.
The research team included researchers and field workers who are familiar with research and fieldwork with female victims/survivors and women in conflict with the law. The study used qualitative research methodology, which can reveal meanings, processes, and attitudes. This methodology privileged voiceless Palestinian women and documented their experiences when they engage with the legal systems in the West Bank. The research used qualitative research tools such as semi-structured interviews and textual analyses for the relevant documents. Fifty-six women aged 19 to 50 were interviewed. They were from four main Palestinian areas: Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron. The types of cases in the study included: sexual assault and rape; violence within the family; divorce; and females whose lives had been threatened. The study participants
had the following social statuses: widow; divorced with and without children; re-married after divorce; married without children; married with children but separated; and single. The interviews also incorporated workers in the formal and the informal legal systems, including: lawyers, prosecutors, judges, directors of legal institutes affiliated with the Palestinian Authority, activists, and workers at relevant Palestinian NGOs in the area.
In addition, we conducted focus groups with women, including young women living in Areas C, H1, and H2. We analyzed various relevant texts, such as cases in which women are in conflict with the law; the articles of several laws; and previous studies on the issue, including formal statistics.
The main study findings fall into three focal areas as detailed below.
i. Paths to justice
The first focal area is the identification of the various paths Palestinian women in the West Bank take when they enter and engage with the prevailing legal systems as they seek to access justice. We examined cases of violence against women, looked closely at the hardships women endure when facing life-threatening crimes, and studied cases of rape and sexual abuse. Furthermore, we analyzed the multiple paths women victims/survivors and those in conflict with the law needed to take as they navigated the local legal systems. In particular, the study focused on the geopolitical and temporal factors affecting women's access to justice in geographic areas where highly complex arrangements for administrative and military control have resulted in severe fragmentation of communities and social services delivery, as well as extreme restrictions on Palestinians' freedom of movement—namely, Areas C, H1, and H2.
ii. Women facing injustices, charges, and attacks within the criminal justice system Police/Family Protection Unit (FPU)
The second focal area explored what happens to Palestinian women victims/survivors at each station along these various paths. In this regard, the study addressed and examined questions such as what happens to women while they stay at the Family Protection Unit (FPU) and how the staff perceive and respond to women's voices, rights, and needs. Within this area, the study also investigated how prosecutors, courts, shelters and prisons handle cases involving violence against women. The study also explored what kind of treatment the families give to these women.
iii. Main themes of analysis
Finally, the study analyzed the factors and hardships affecting women's access to justice. Here, both women's voices and the reactions of social control agents as well as the narratives gathered from focus groups allowed us to comprehend and fully explore the ways in which the militarized spatial politics, conflictinglaws, and discrepancy of legal frameworks negatively impact Palestinian women who seek to access justice. Furthermore, the study findings clearly show that the geopolitical fragmentation/closure of the entire area and the time spent to call for or get help create tremendous blockages to women seeking to access justice in the West Bank. This fragmentation is further exacerbated by the commuting of cases from one area to the other, from one judge to another, from one welfare or women's organization to the other—and all these obstacles delay addressing the urgent needs for safety, security, and life. In the process, female victims/survivors and those in conflict with the law are often stigmatized and end up being afraid of and regretting that they ever engaged with the legal systems in the first place.
Focusing on access to justice in the West Bank has allowed us to delve deeply into spatiotemporal, socio-legal, political, and economic factors and ideologies to uncover hidden abuses and analyze the policies and practices that hinder Palestinian women's ability to access the prevailing legal systems in the West Bank and enjoy their rights to a secure and dignified life. The study findings clearly demonstrate that Palestinian women and men, victims/survivors, legal professionals, and service providers tend to neither trust the legal systems nor believe in their ability to address women's needs or be attentive to women's hardships.
Our main conclusion is that without questioning the politics and bureaucracies of justice under such spatiotemporal constraints and violence, and without responsible, comprehensive, and contextually sensitive socio-legal formal and informal systems of intervention, Palestinian society will continue to suffer from profound abuse by the Occupying Power, and Palestinian women and girls will remain the most disadvantaged group in an unequal social justice system. The failure to defend women and girls, and wider society, from broken political and socio-legal systems not only violates theirs right to access justice but also entrenches a gender-discriminatory structure and mores that enable the continued abuse and traumatization of present and future generations of women and with them, their children. Until this systematic phenomenon is acknowledged, confronted, and transformed, Palestinian women and girls living in the West Bank will continue to find their access to justice denied, and the repercussions to Palestinian society generally will be felt for generations to come.
To even begin to make justice adequately accessible to Palestinian women in the West Bank, with the very complex situation of belligerent military occupation that currently exists there and all of its socio-political ramifications and multiple legal systems (both formal and informal), we recommend starting with the following:
1. Engaging with women's narratives and soliciting
their cooperation in increasing women's capacities to claim their rights in their own terms, languages, and strategies.
2. Ensuring that service delivery by legal actorsand other social control agents (e.g., civil society, feminists, social welfare centers) is gender-sensitive. Patriarchal ideologies—when embedded in a pre-structural condition of military occupation and juxtaposed with the multiplicity of service delivery in a fragmented geo-political space—result, as this study has shown, in jeopardizing women's access to justice. We therefore recommend that service providers be more attentive while putting women's safety, needs, and context at the forefront of their service delivery.
3. Evaluating compliance of the applicable legal framework to international human rights and humanitarian law standards, while contextualizing it with the political situation in the West Bank.
4. Learning, documenting, and disseminating best
practices that engage with the informal justice system, and which keep women at the center of any proposed informal community intervention.
5. Promoting cooperation between the various NGOs and international organizations in building special training projects for lawyers, judges, social workers, and women.
The study concludes by explaining that although specific practical steps can and should be taken to ease Palestinian women's access to justice, as women and girls should not be left alone in such a complex, fragmented, and dysfunctional system, the present conditions of political uncertainty, added to the pre-existing condition of dispossession from the Occupying Power, makes the likelihood of effecting the types of sweeping changes needed to ensure true access to justice very slim.