What Being A Medic In Israel Taught Me About Zionism Being Pushed Out Of Feminism
For me, feminism is the belief that women are deserving of equal rights in all areas. It has always been a way of life. I was fortunate enough to grow up as a millennial in New York, where I rarely felt sexism or limitations because of my sex.
It wasn’t until I entered graduate school that I realized people would challenge my skill and credentials because I am a woman. Throughout dental school, I encountered patients and acquaintances who questioned whether I was as qualified as my male counterparts. This was shocking, but it only made me more committed to feminism and making sure women never felt limited because of their sex.
However, my relationship with the feminist movement changed when I read an interview in The Nation with Linda Sarsour, one of the most prominent leaders of the landmark Women's March. The interview questioned whether Zionists (those who believe in the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state) are welcome in the modern-day feminist movement. In the interview, Sarsour said, “It just doesn’t make any sense for someone to say, ‘Is there room for people who support the state of Israel and do not criticize it in the movement?’ There can’t be in feminism.”
Sarsour’s interview with The Nation was in response to an op-ed in the New York Times, written by Emily Shire [Editor's Note: Shire is the politics editor at Bustle]. Her piece challenged the platform for the International Women's Strike, which included calling for the “decolonization of Palestine” without any recognition of the state of Israel. It also pointed out that the strike was introduced in a piece written in The Guardian authored by eight women, including Rasmea Yousef Odeh. Odeh was a member of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which the State Department recognized as a terrorist group, and was convicted for her involvement in a 1969 terror attack that killed two Hebrew University students.
Both of these aspects of the International Women's Strike were difficult pills for me to swallow. I felt like a movement that I loved was now not only excluding me, but celebrating a woman who was linked to terrorist activities against Israelis.
Ultimately, I have decided not to be dictated by how others define feminism and to rely on my own Zionist experiences.
I’ve grappled with my understanding of feminism versus this new wave that sometimes seems to discount me. Ultimately, I have decided not to be dictated by how others define feminism and to rely on my own Zionist experiences.
During the months of January and February, I volunteered as a medic with Israel’s ambulance service, Magen David Adom. Over the course of six weeks, there were many calls and patients that had a profound and lasting impact on me. I performed CPR and regained a pulse, held an airway open for a child who was seizing and transported a patient having a heart attack, but there was one call that affected me more than any other.
Towards the end of my second week of volunteering, we were dispatched to the scene of a minor car accident. Upon arrival, there was a woman, visibly shaken, frightened and crying in the front seat of a car. She was wearing a hijab and long modest garb. Three languages were being spoken as we stepped out of the vehicle, Hebrew, Arabic, and English, but there was no breakdown in communication.
This woman and I had no trouble understanding one another. As I offered my hand, she squeezed it tightly. I stroked her shoulder and head, covered in a Hijab, with the same fingers bearing a ring that read, "Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad" which translates to “Hear of Israel, The Lord is Our God, the Lord is One."
I saw no contradiction here, I saw love, unity and the true presence of Holiness. This is my Zionism. This is what I wish the world knew.
Magen David Adom is a microcosm of what the land of Israel and the people of Israel truly represent, a place where individuals of all faiths walk together. There are moments of dissension, fright, and sheer terror, but we must remember that there are also moments of harmony, tenderness, and overwhelming hope for the future.
This story merely touches the surface; it barely makes a ripple in the ocean of kindness and generosity I was lucky enough to be a part of. If this is the Zionism Sarsour does not think can be a part of her feminism, I want no part of her movement.
The feminism I ascribe to goes hand in hand with my Zionistic values. During my time spent as a medic in Israel, I was educated to treat people. Kaffiyeh, yarmulke, cross — it's all the same. Beneath it, we find identical hearts beating to the same rhythm, lungs breathing the same air, and eyes taking in the same world. This is the Israel I believe in. This is also the feminism I believe in.
My claim is not that Israel is a perfect country with flawless policies. However, if we are going to speak regarding the oppression of Palestinian women, let’s look at the facts and turn our attention to the Palestinian government.
As the New York Times reported last year, in the Gaza strip, the ordinary act of a woman riding a bicycle is groundbreaking because it is still widely seen as immodest and can be considered reason enough for a husband to beat his wife. Abortions are also difficult and dangerous for women under the the rule of Palestinian law, which permits jailing women for terminating a pregnancy. As Reuters reported in 2016, "According to Wafa Muammar, head of the Palestinian police family protection unit, a woman who has an illegal abortion could face 1 to 3 years' imprisonment."
If Sarsour and other activists who view Zionism as antagonistic to feminism do not recognize the direct role of the Palestinian government in oppressing its own women and only blame Israel, their arguments ring hollow at best.
I point to these examples to highlight the problems of certain feminists making Israel the enemy of Palestinian women. Choosing to ignore the oppression imposed on Palestinian women by their leaders and deciding, instead, to blame Israel alone is grossly ignorant. If Sarsour and other activists who view Zionism as antagonistic to feminism do not recognize the direct role of the Palestinian government in oppressing its own women and only blame Israel, their arguments ring hollow at best. At worst, they suggest a scapegoating of the one Jewish country — and I cannot abide by a feminism that sees fit to do that.
Sarsour does not possess the power to decide who may or may not consider themselves a part of the feminist movement. I will proudly wear blue and white while marching with my head held high to support women across the globe — Palestinian, Israeli, American, or otherwise — because I believe in inclusion, love, and equality. This is my Zionism and this is my feminism.