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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Women in Struggle

Film Review: Women in Struggle

By Sonia Nettnin

(Photo courtesy of Majd Productions)

This film will be showing at the 4th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival on Sunday April 24, 2005 at 5:45 P.M. and Monday April 25, 2005 at 8:00 P.M. at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. Director Buthina Canaan Khoury will be present for audience discussion at both screenings.

The documentary “Women In Struggle,” explores the lives of four Palestinian women, ex-political detainees, who grew up in the West Bank and in Jerusalem. While military occupation shaped the course of their lives and it created economic, family, mental, and emotional hardships, the women made individual choices as well.

While in prison, they endured physical, emotional and psychological abuse from prison interrogations, beatings, torture, and poverty, alongside other political prisoners. After several years of imprisonment, the women share how prison affects their lives in the current intifada. Director Buthina Canaan Khoury provides a space for these women to share their perspectives and their reflections, who express their beliefs and their conscience to the public.

Although Israeli prison guards attempt to dishonor the women, especially since Palestinian society is conservative, the women’s testimonies illustrate that the Israelis who perpetrate these crimes and human rights violations only disgrace themselves, the Zionist militants of Israeli-Jewish history.


Aysha remembers 1948 Deir Yassin, where Zionist militias slaughtered dozens of Palestinian women and children. Her aunt’s family left with nothing. Aysha explains that her family’s house became the central point for resistance fighters. Some people may refer to them as militants also.

From their point of view, the Israeli colonizers would not leave unless the Palestinians used force -- the pamphlets, petitions, and public demonstrations were not enough.

She learned how to prepare explosions and she planted two bombs. Although the second bomb did not detonate, the first bomb killed several Israelis.

When she came home, she felt agitated.

“I felt uncomfortable deep inside,” Aysha says. In front of the camera, she holds back tears.

During 45 days of interrogation, Aysha describes the details of her torture, which had a new set of rules every hour. She saw Israeli prison guards drag out Yacoub Obdeh, whose lifeless body made Aysha think he was dead. After her torture, Aysha lost consciousness.

While she spent ten years in prison, Aysha describes prison as a place where women are free from the restraints of society. Yet, the restrictions of prison, its surveillance and deprivation confiscate personal freedom.

Aysha finds enjoyment creating art work out of pressed flowers. She opens a photo album that has a photo of her mother holding a framed photograph of Aysha in front of a prison.

“Don’t let my daughter die,” is often said by mothers whose daughters are in prison. Even today, the mothers line the prison walls in hopes of seeing their sons and daughters. They raise their framed photographs into a sea of faces.

“I have not seen my son in one year and two months,” one woman cries out. As mothers, they want people to understand what it is like to know the torture endured by their sons and daughters. They make peace signs with their fingers.

While an Israeli soldier yells at the director for filming at a checkpoint, Aysha says: “Let us do peace.”



She spent time in prison with Aysha for the same crime. For the family’s survival, Rasmieh’s father immigrated to America. Her father would return when the family got back their land. For Rasmieh, the return of their land meant the return of her father.

During Rasmieh’s torture, Israeli guards involved her father also.

“I was worried about my father,” she says. During their torture, “…something major inside him was destroyed.”

She witnessed the killing of Qase Abu Aker, who died from electrocution. Aysha confessed to storage of weapons when she saw Rasmiyeh’s hands go numb from electric shock.

Aysha and Rasmieh sing a line from a song: “Freedom we will give our lives for it.”

While imprisoned, both of the women’s families received collective punishment. Israeli forces demolished their homes. Both of their families, including extended family members, became homeless.

Now, Rasmiyeh is a lawyer.


The name, Rawda, means garden. Rawda is a garden of emotions.

When she was 14 years-old, Rawda experienced the June 1967 war.

“An Israeli warplane shelled us and tore a huge hole in the cave,” she says. “I will never forget that day.”

Afterward, her family split apart: her mother and younger brothers and sisters remained in Taybeh, while Rawda, her father and oldest brother lived in Jerusalem. They moved so she could receive an education.

As an adolescent girl living apart from her mother, Rawda found life difficult. Eventually, she joined an armed resistance group. While preparing a bomb in her home, it exploded and killed several members of the group. Rawda spent eight years in Ramleh prison. Most family members and friends dissociated themselves from Rawda and her family.

During her imprisonment, Rawda analyzed what she did and she focused on comforting her mother. It gave her the time and the space to think about the women’s movement and women’s oppression. During a strike against Israeli guards and prison conditions, Israeli guards sprayed women detainees - held in four or five prison cells - with 4.5 kilograms of tear gas.

Rawda points to a past photo of herself working outdoors. Sometimes, Israeli guards prevented her from working the land. She hopes to keep prisoner issues alive.

When Rawda and her husband could not have children because of their prison torture, they adopted a child. Their son simplifies her life and he brings her joy.


Over the years, Terry was in prison for weeks or months at a time for various political demonstrations. Her main concerns are her children’s safety and her husband’s West Bank I.D. Since the wall’s construction and changes in Israeli law, her husband’s Abu-Dees residence I.D. jeopardizes his stay in their house, which is located on the Jerusalem side. Israeli soldiers make comments about it to her. The construction of the wall in Jerusalem divides neighboring families.

Terry and her family focus on living their lives.


“Women In Struggle,” is a film that does not pass judgment on these women and the director captures their life testimonies in a humane light. Khoury allows the women to share their life experiences and struggles, their “herstories,” including regret for past actions. The archival footage adds to the accuracy and credibility of events retold by the women. Despite intimidating obstacles, such as the soldier with a gun waving his hand in front of the camera, Khoury makes filmmaking look easy.

Then again, history illustrates women face so many challenges in culture and society, occupied or not, because women live in the behemoth of patriarchal government policy and implementation.


This film will be showing at the 4th Annual Chicago Palestine Film Festival on Sunday April 24, 2005 at 5:45 P.M. and Monday April 25, 2005 at 8:00 P.M. at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago. Director Buthina Canaan Khoury will be present for audience discussion at both screenings.

Directed by: Buthina Canaan Khoury

About the Director: Palestinian independent filmmaker Buthina Canaan Khoury established Majd Production Co. in Ramallah city (2000). The company’s main objective is to produce documentaries about different and vital Palestinian issues. Khoury has over fourteen years of experience in the media field and holds a bachelors degree in filmmaking and photography from Boston, MA. She worked as the first Palestinian camera woman, producer and coordinator covering special events in the Middle East area for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and other well-known European TV stations in Palestine. “Women In Struggle” is her first, one-hour documentary.

Country of production: Taybeh-Ramallah/Palestine

Year: 2004

Language: Arabic, with options for English, French or Flemish subtitles

Minutes: 56

Production Company: Majd Productions

Producer and Camera: Buthina Canaan Khoury

Co-Producer: Lichtpunt Belgium

Editor: Saed Andoni

Sound: Jesse Ehredt

Music: Wasim Kassis

Funder: Medea Spain


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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