Women, Faith and Resistance in Palestine: An Oral History of the Women who Shaped Palestinian Liberation Theology
Graduate Research Grants
Palestinian Liberation Theology (PLT) describes the unique way Palestinian Christians have practiced a faith-based commitment to nonviolence, while also advocating for a just peace in Israel-Palestine. Most research on this topic has focused on the written work of Palestinian theologians, which has privileged male voices. This project explores how women have historically shaped PLT through conducting interviews with women who were involved with PLT in its early years. This research focuses on three central questions: 1) How did women in this movement understand the relationship between faith and nonviolent resistance? 2) Where do their stories converge and diverge with the written histories of Palestinian liberation theology? 3) How might their narratives shed light on contemporary nonviolent resistance in Palestine today? This research aims to center women’s voices in the history of PLT, and contribute to the broader literature on the involvement of women in nonviolent resistance movements.
I reach Rukab street a few minutes early. I call and find out that the woman I am interviewing today is already there. Her assistant comes to greet me and escorts me inside the Quaker Meeting house. I sit down and can’t quite believe I am about to interview Jean Zaru– an advocate for nonviolence and women rights in Palestine and author of Occupied with Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks. I am here as part of a series of interviews I am conducting on women in liberation theology movements. Part way through the interview, Jean Zaru pauses and then says, “So, as I have been seeking liberation for women and for the bible (laughter).” This phrase- liberating the bible– was a common thread in my interviews this summer. Many Palestinian Christians feel their holy book has been used against them to justify the ongoing, illegal occupation of their land. Yet, Jean Zaru also has a second, and equally weighty concern: she is also critical of both religious and social norms within Palestinian communities that marginalize women’s voices.
This summer, thanks to Kellogg’s generosity, I was able to interview eleven women who were significant in shaping Palestinian Liberation Theology–a movement that reads scripture through a non-Zionist lens, seeks nonviolent liberation for Palestinians, and hopes for a just society for both Palestinians and Israelis. My aim was to collect the histories of women involved in this movement. While some—like Jean Zaru—had published books, others had not, and as a result, their personal narratives are not widely known. Through these interviews I was able to come to a deeper understanding of how women have shaped this movement and the personal faith challenges and struggles they had to navigate in the process. Their narratives help illuminate how Palestinian Liberation Theology emerged, as well as how women navigate and challenge patriarchal religious and social structures.
This research has been foundational for writing my dissertation proposal. I plan to build on my interviews from this past summer through conducting further field research in Israel-Palestine next year.