Mother’s Day: Women Forced to Give Birth at Checkpoints

Palestinian Mother by Lisa Nessan

Palestinian Mother by Lisa Nessan

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the US. In most of the Arab world Mother’s Day is celebrated earlier, on March 21, the date of the Vernal Equinox, when the Sun crosses directly over the Earth’s equator. The Latin derivation of Equinox is ‘equal night’ because when the Sun passes over the equator the lengths of day and night are equal all over the globe.

Mother’s day in the Arab world celebrates not only motherhood but the birth of Spring. When the Sun straddles the northern and southern hemispheres it creates a moment of transformation, a fleeting borderland between two seasons.

Since 2000 more than 70 Palestinian women have been forced to give birth at borderlands of a different kind: those made by Israeli forces to control access to Jerusalem from the West Bank.

Palestinian women must travel through a checkpoint to access necessary medical attention in Jerusalem. They often suffer long delays at the checkpoints from lines and elaborate search and detention procedures. Of these women, 36 have miscarried and five have died in childbirth. (Palestinian Health Ministry, Annual Report for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights).

I spent much of Mother’s Day reading stories of pregnant women who started to bleed at checkpoints, and pleaded for hours with guards and soldiers to let them pass. A woman at the Zayem Checkpoint was forced to undergo a strip search after her water broke in the car to prove to Israeli guards that she was indeed pregnant. She arrived at Red Crescent Hospital in Jerusalem hours after giving birth in the backseat of her vehicle, with umbilical chord cut and the afterbirth in the car, her blood pressure dangerously low.

One can imagine the overwhelming fear these women must feel while detained at checkpoints, cut off from their family and emergency medical care, and given no context by soldiers and guards for when they will be released. Their partners must contain their rage and watch helplessly while the women undergo humiliating search procedures while in labor or, if detained long enough, assist them through the birth with no training or medical supplies.

As detailed by the Jerusalem Center For Women, an organization that works to further the rights of women and peace processes between Israel and Palestine, the effects of checkpoint delays are felt by women and their families before and after the birth of their babies,

“Complications with pregnancy increase due to late arrivals after delays at checkpoints, and it also discourages women from seeking quality post-natal care.
Mobility restrictions impede the continuity of medical care throughout the cycle of pregnancy and thus the development of a relationship of trust between medical staff and the patient.
Restrictions on movement result in pregnant women being deprived of psychosocial support by her wider family, which in Palestinian culture and society is especially important. It is often the case that close family members are prevented from accompanying pregnant women to hospital or are impeded from arriving on time.
These severe restrictions on movement are unlawful as they are disproportionate, discriminatory and violate the right to freedom of movement.”

This story is about the trials of Palestinian women, but  does not reflect a partisan, and specifically an anti-Israeli view. One could easily invoke the number of Israeli women widowed or killed since 2000 as a result of Palestinian attacks. Rather, this story and the image of a woman giving birth at a checkpoint, is the most appropriate to capture the ways in which the consequences of war and occupation are meted out on the bodies and psyches of women and foregrounds the power of war to arrest and sometimes destroy the most natural processes for sustaining life.

The Jerusalem Center for Women has worked for the past two decades to empower Palestinian women to take active and visible roles in their communities to advocate for peace. They have partnered with an organization of Israeli women, Bat Shalom to foster dialogues between Israeli and Palestinian women and create a ‘just and lasting peace.’ Together they are attempting to collapse the arbitrary political and physical borders that divide their respective cultures. They are creating different borderlands: spaces in which creative, enduring solutions to conflict and meaningful connections might occur between women, and by extension their families and communities.


If you wish to get involved with this issue, please visit the sites for the Jerusalem Center For Women, Bat Shalom and the Parent’s Circle Family Forum. For more insight in to a particular healing process involving those who have lost family members in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, check out Speaking of Faith’s Podcast “No More Taking Sides.”

Also, check out Naama Nagar’s blog from the Nobel Women’s Initiative Conference, “Women Redefining Democracy” in Antigua, Guatemala May 10-12, 2009.
For Writing By Palestinian Women:


Palestinian Women Bloggers:

Amal A
Dr. Mona el-Farra

Writing by Israeli Women:

Dreaming the Actual

The Triumph of Deborah

Al-Naqba, The Catastrophe

Israeli and Palestinian Women Talk about Peace:

Video about Israeli Women Soldiers:

Video about a Palestinian Activist:


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