New research unravels obstacles in access to justice for Palestinian women in occupied East Jerusalem


When Nawal, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, turned to the Israeli police to report the violence she was experiencing from her husband, she was making one of the most difficult decisions in her life. She was aware of the stigma it could bring from her community and family but she could not bear his terrifying abuse any longer. Parts of the process she found empowering: “They [social services] followed my case, got me a restraining order against my husband, and discussed with me how to stop his abuse. I learned and gained a lot of power from their support,” remembers Nawal. However, it also brought her stress and anxiety: “I always feared them; feared their visits to our house and feared their knowledge of our intimate problems, such as my brother-in-law’s lack of Jerusalemite ID.” Not long after, her brother-in-law was arrested, and Nawal’s family, including her children, held her responsible for having brought the Israeli police into their lives.

Nawal’s story is not an isolated case, and echoes many of the testimonies gathered in the newly released study In the Absence of Justice - the second publication in UN Women Palestine-supported series on women’s access to justice in Palestine* - which details the many obstacles to justice Palestinian women in Jerusalem face on a daily basis.  

Discriminatory and competing legal systems, lack of trust in and responsiveness of justice services, the difficulty to navigate a foreign language bureaucracy to seek redress, and family and community stigma and pressures are not unfamiliar challenges to women in Palestine when it comes to accessing justice. However, the study reveals that those are dramatically amplified for Palestinian women in East Jerusalem, by an institutionalized socio-political context of exclusion, surveillance and militarization. If, as in the case of Nawal, a semblance of justice and protection is at first achieved for those who come into contact with the Israeli justice system, subsequent new layers of violence are created.

Talking about access to justice for Palestinian women in East Jerusalem therefore often comes down to questioning the very definition and concept of justice. “I do not know what to say about justice” tells a 17-year-old Palestinian girl in East Jerusalem “I never felt it, or experienced justice in my life. Do Palestinians in the old city live justice? All I know is that the laws, the lawyers, the judges, the police, the courts, all in one way or the other, hide the Palestinian women, and subordinate her to authority.

The complex system of IDs and permits at play in East Jerusalem control and maintain its Palestinian residents in constant fear of revocation of their residency rights, eviction, home demolition and restricting their movement, with specific gender dimensions. The research outlines how occupation – and its discriminatory legal system – and internal mechanisms of patriarchal control within Palestinian communities work together to create significant obstacles for East Jerusalemite women to realize their social, legal, political and economic rights as well as physical safety, and ultimately limit opportunities to access justice.

Where to turn to when one cannot trust the very institutions whose role should be to guarantee rights and protection equally, regardless of identity? How to escape the nexus of patriarchal and Israeli power that defines and controls your life and body as women and girls? The study uncovers initial elements of response employed by women and girls to re-appropriate entitlement to justice and regain power. From women workers abused by their employers with no access to redress to young girls facing harassment from Israeli security forces and settler groups, Palestinian women and girls transform the pursuit of their normal routine in daily life into powerful acts of survival and resistance in the absence of justice.

* In the Absence of Justice is the second publication in a UN Women supported series on access to justice for Palestinian women. The first publication in this series, Access Denied (2014), examined the socio-political and legal context of access to justice for Palestinian women in the occupied West Bank, with a particular focus on the ordeals faced by Palestinian women in Area C and H2, under the full civil and security control of Israel and the Israeli military, and where women are limited both physically and procedurally from accessing justice and security institutions.