Gender, State and Religion: Palestinian Feminist Politics




Palestinians, gender politics, state, religion


Religion-based personal status laws and religious courts are an intrinsic component of the Jewish character of the State of Israel. The association between one’s religious affiliation and the law governing one’s personal status issues is longstanding. However, the significance and dynamics of this association cannot be analyzed in isolation from the context of the identity of the state, or the identity of the local subjects in terms of their nationality, religious affiliation, and gender. In the case of Palestinian citizens of Israel, the personal state laws that govern them bear the imprint of the state’s hierarchical and discriminatory citizenship regime. This article examines the struggles of Palestinian feminist activists, citizens of Israel, in their attempts to improve their personal status issues, which began in the 1990s and were led by secular as well as religious Palestinian feminists. In doing so, it reveals the complexity of feminist politics at the juncture of religion, gender and colonialism. It identifies similarities and differences in feminist discourses and activities, while delineating the boundaries of these politics. It argues that, in many instances, activists had to choose between ‘collaboration’ with a colonial regime and ‘complicity’ with a patriarchal establishment. The paper is based on a variety of sources, including media articles, archival documents, protocols of parliamentary committees, and personal interviews conducted with leading feminist activists.


Abdo, Janan. 2008. Palestinian Women and Feminist Organizations in the 48 Areas. Haifa: Mada al-Carmel, Arab Center for Applied Social Research. [Arabic]

Abu Ershied, Sleeman. 1997. ”Women in Sharia Courts.” Fasl al-Maqal, May 8-14, 1997. [Arabic]

Abu Rabia, Rawia. 2011. ”Redefining Polygamy among the Palestinian Bedouins in Israel: Colonialism, Patriarchy, and Resistance.” American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & The Law 19, no. 2: 459-93.

Atamleh, Riham. 2015. ”Amending the Personal Status Law raises the dissatisfaction of Palestinian judges.” Bokra New, November 12, 2015.

Bäuml, Yair. 2011. ”The Military Government.” In The Palestinians in Israel: Readings in History, Politics and Society, edited by Rouhana, Nadim and Areej Sabbagh-Khoury. Haifa: Mada al-Carmel, Arab Center for Applied Social Research.

Bishara, Azmi. 2000. ”Inspired by a One-Day Experience.” Fasl al-Maqal, February 25, 2000. [Arabic]

Bishara, Azmi. 2017. ”Zionism and Equal Citizenship: Essential and Incidental Citizenship in the Jewish State.” In Ethnic Privileges in the Jewish State: Israel and its Palestinian Citizens, edited by Rouhana Nadim. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Boulos, Sonia. 2019. ”National Interests Versus Women’s Rights: The Case of Polygamy among the Bedouin Community in Israel.” Women & Criminal Justice 31, no. 1: 53-76.

Boulos, Sonia, and Batshon Shirin. 2022. The Right to Access Courts and the Right to a Fair Trial in Ecclesiastical Courts in Israel: An International Law Analysis. Haifa: Mada al-Carmel, Arab Research Center for Applied Social Sciences.

”Fatwa Advisory Opinion.” 1997. Sawt Elhaq Walhoria, May 2, 1997. [Arabic]

Ghanem, As’ad. 2011. Ethnic Politics in Israel: The Margin and the Ashkenazi Center. London and New York: Routledge.

Hallaq, Wael. 2009. Sharī'a: Theory, Practice, Transformations. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Harel-Shalev, Ayelet. 2017. ”Gendering Ethnic Conflicts: Minority Women in Divided Societies - The Case of Muslim Women in India.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 40, no. 12: 2115-134.

Hawari, Areen. 2019. ”Islamic women’s activism: A Gender Perspective.” Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. [Hebrew]

Jabareen, Hassan. 1997. ”The Broader Context of Personal Status Law: Towards the Development of a Theory of Collective Rights.” Fasl al-Maqal, June 10-16, 1997. [Arabic]

Kandiyoti, Deniz. 2004. ”Identity and its Discontents: Women and the nation.” Dossier, Vol. 26. London.

Karayanni, Michael. 2020. A Multicultural Entrapment: Religion and State Among the Palestinian-Arabs in Israel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Karayanni, Michael. 2016. ”Tainted Liberalism: Israel’s Palestinian‐Arab Millets.” Constellations 23, no. 1: 71-83.

Lamrabet, Asma. 2015. ”An Egalitarian Reading of the Concepts of Khilafah, Wilayah and Qiwamah.” In Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition, edited by Mir-Hosseini Ziba, Mulki Al-Sharmani and Jana Rumminger. London: Oneworld Publications.

Mahmood, Saba. 2011. Politics of Piety: The Islamic Revival and the Feminist Subject. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Manaa, Atef. 2015. ”Women and Horizons Association: The Issue of Amending Personal Status is a Whirlwind in a Cup.” Bokra News, November 3, 2015. [Arabic]

Mir-Hosseini, Ziba. 2009. ”Towards Gender Equality: Muslim Family Laws and the Shari‘ah.” In Wanted: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, edited by Anwar Zaina. Kuala Lumpur: Musawah.

Pappé, Ilan. 2011. The Forgotten Palestinians: A History of the Palestinians in Israel. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Sarisi, Naifeh, Ziad Asaliya, and Taghreed Jahshan. 2014. The Ottoman Family Rights Decision: Law in Force in Sharia Courts in Israel, with the Proposed Amendment. Kufr Qari’: Women and Horizons Association. [Arabic]

Shahar, Ido. 2015. ”Islamic Law as Indigenous Law: Sharīʿa Courts in Israel from a Post-Colonial Perspective.” Journal of Levantine Studies 5, no. 1: 84-108.

Sonbol, El-Azhary Amira. 2009. ”The Genesis of Family Law: How Shari‘ah, Custom and Colonial Laws Influenced the Development of Personal Status Codes.” In Wanted: Equality and Justice in the Muslim Family, edited by Anwar Zainah. Kuala Lumpur: Musawah.

”The Islamic Movement: Amending the Personal Status Law must be based on Sharia.” Panet News, 4 November 2015. [Arabic]

Zahalka, Eyad. 2017. Islam and Sharia in Israel. Tel Aviv: Moshe Dayan Center and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. [Hebrew]

Zion-Waldoks, Tanya, Isrshay Ronit and Shoughry Bana. 2020. ”The First Female Qadi in Israel’s Shari’a (Muslim) Courts.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 38, no. 2: 229-61.

Zoabi, Haneen. 2015. ”Our problem is with the Islamic Movement, not with Islam.” Fasl al-Maqal, July 16, 2015. [Arabic]




How to Cite

Hawari, A. (2024). Gender, State and Religion: Palestinian Feminist Politics. Politics and Religion Journal, 18(1), 159–183.