In a move that has outraged Palestinian women and various Palestinian factions, a number of Palestinian lists contesting the upcoming local elections, scheduled to take place on October 8, have decided to omit the names and photos of female candidates.
Instead of referring to the female candidates by name and publishing their pictures, the electoral lists are using the terms "the wife of" or "sister."
Critics have denounced the move as a "sign of retardation, extremism and bigotry." Other Palestinians have gone so far as comparing the removal of the female candidates' names and photos from the lists to the cruel pre-Islamic practice of infanticide (wa'd).
The decision to conceal the names and photos of female candidates is seen in the context of the increased "Islamization" of Palestinian society, which is already considered highly conservative.
Apart from being a severe blow to the struggle of Palestinian women for equality, the move is in violation of the 2005 Palestinian Local Election Law, which stipulates that candidates must be fully identified by name, age, address and registration number in the electoral list.
This anti-woman undertaking is not taking place only in the Gaza Strip, under the control of the Islamist Hamas movement. It is also baring its fangs in some parts of the West Bank, which is ruled by the Western-funded Palestinian Authority (PA), headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
Yet Palestinian women's names and pictures have been hidden from electoral lists before. In the previous local election, for example, which took place in 2012 only in the West Bank after Hamas decided to boycott the vote, female candidates' names and photos were replaced with images of a rose or pigeon.
Nahed Abu Taima, gender unit coordinator in the Media Development Center at Bir Zeit University, expressed resentment over the disappearance of females from the electoral lists and called on women to boycott the vote:
"I'm against the participation of women in this manner. Let men participate in the election alone. Either we have an honorable appearance or we don't want this fake appearance, which ignores the reality of women. The Palestinian Election Commission is not fulfilling its role as required. It is disgraceful that they are using the terms 'sister', 'daughter of' and 'wife of'. Women are not nobody, so as to be hidden or have their names removed or replaced with the names of their husbands. This is the pinnacle of betrayal and repudiation."
Another prominent Palestinian female activist, Nadia Abu Nahleh, strongly condemned the misogynistic move:
"We consider this action a grave regression in our performance as Palestinians because we are proud of our women's major and basic role in society. Our women have always been partners in our national life. Therefore, it is disgraceful for any Islamic, national or independent list to scrap the names of the women. If they are not willing to recognize the woman's name, how will they accept the role of the women after they are elected? If our names are 'awra [the part of the body of a Muslim that is required to be covered] then our votes should not go to those lists that conceal the names of women."
In Islam, a woman's 'awra is the whole of her body except her face and hands. However, some Islamic clerics have ruled that the entire body of the woman is 'awra, including her nails. By contrast, the 'awra for men includes the area from the end of the navel down to, and including the knee. Exposing the 'awra is unlawful in Islam and is regarded as a sin.
Many Palestinians took to social media to denounce the practice of hiding the women's names and pictures. On Twitter, activists launched a hashtag entitled, "Our names are not 'awra."
"It is deplorable that we have to resort to social media to prove that our names are not 'awra," wrote Palestinian blogger Ola Anan in a post on Twitter.
"It is very piteous that a there are people today who are ashamed to mention the names of their mothers or wives. It is deplorable to see that our society is not marching backward, but is in fact living behind. Months, years and decades pass by and our society does not want to move forward from this 'backward' attitude - not even one step."
Palestinian experts and activists are in agreement that the anti-woman move is both illegal and immoral.
"What some of the lists did against women is a violation of human rights and the rights of women, as well as a breach of equality," protested Najat Al-Astal, a Fatah female member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. "All women must reject this practice by some of the lists because the conditions for running in the election include publishing the name and identity of all candidates, including females."
Karm Nashwan, a lawyer and legal rights activist, said that the removal of the women candidates' names and photos was a breach of the Palestinian law. He added that the move was in the context of attempts to marginalize the role of women in Palestinian society. Female activist Intisar Hamdan condemned the move as being "part of the culture that is ashamed of women's names."
Some men have also come out against the move. Furthermore, the Palestinian Central Election Commission has ruled that the move is in violation of the law and its regulations. This is good news for those women who are now threatening to boycott the upcoming election. But the lists that removed the women's names and photos from the public eye do not seem to be deterred by the outcry and protests. While they did submit the full details of their female candidates to the commission, the lists continue to conceal the names and pictures of the women in their public election campaigns, most of which are taking place on social media.
Dr. Walid Al-Qatati, a writer and political analyst specializing in Arab and Islamic affairs, said that the move reminded him of wedding invitations that are sent out without naming the brides:
"The name of the bride has become a letter or an image and those invited to the wedding can only guess who it is. It is as if this is a new form of female infanticide. During the jahiliyyah [pre-Islamic period of ignorance and barbarism], females were being buried alive. Today, they are also being buried alive, but above the soil. They are being buried as human beings first and as women second."
Another Palestinian man, Hassan Salim, noted the hypocrisy of those Palestinians who often boast of the progress women have made in Palestinian society:
"What kind of hypocrisy is this that while they boast of the role and struggle of women, describing them as angels, we are at the same time ashamed even to mention their names and we replace their pictures with images of roses? ... This degradation of women requires a boycott of these lists."
Some Palestinian political groups have also come out against the move. One of them, the Palestinian People's Party (formerly the Communist Party), said in a statement: "The humanity of a woman is not 'awra, the name of a woman is not 'awra, the voice of a woman is not 'awra." Calling on the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Central Election Commission to dismiss the "alien and aberrant phenomenon," the party warned against attempts to "drag the Palestinians back towards the Stone Age or even worse than that."
When Palestinian women carry out attacks against Israelis, Palestinian society glorifies them as heroes. Then the names and photos of these women are plastered across billboards for all to see and applaud. Yet it appears that when the women wish to work for life rather than for death, their identities are not fit for public consumption.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.