Naila Ayesh

Face of the resistance

It is often overlooked that women played a key role in the first Palestinian intifada, the popular uprising against Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The documentary Naila and the Uprising sets the record straight. Naila Ayesh, special guest at the Movies that Matter Festival 2018: ‘I am proud of the work we did to tell this story.’

When Naila Ayesh was 8 years old in 1967, the Six-Day War broke out. During this conflict between Israel and its neighbouring countries, which resulted in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Ayesh’ family home was destroyed. ‘I remember the sadness in my father’s eyes,’ she says in Naila and the Uprising. ‘This experience planted a hostility in me towards the occupation.’

Leadership positions
When more than twenty years later, in December 1987, a spontaneous popular uprising against the occupation broke out, Ayesh played an instrumental role in it. As Naila and the Uprising makes clear, it was Palestinian women who devised and led the strategy of resistance and civil disobedience. As many men were arrested or forced into exile – like Ayesh’ husband Jamal – women stepped up to take leadership positions. Ayesh was imprisoned twice; the first time, in 1987, she was pregnant and was denied medical care. When she was released, she had lost her child. During her second imprisonment, she chose to bring her infant son into prison with her for six months.

Her two spells in jail would not diminish her will to stay politically active, however, as the intifada became a source of great optimism: ‘People were convinced this intifada would succeed,’ she says. It did focus the world’s attention on the situation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, and would eventually lead to hopeful US-led peace negotiations in the early 1990’s.

However, when after the Oslo accords of 1993 the Palestinian Authority was set up, women were forced to take a back seat again. ‘Women started to be disappointed by all the parties,’ Ayesh says now. ‘The left parties, on paper, they say very good things about women being equal. But in reality, it’s not there.’ That’s why Ayesh continues to work to advance Palestinian women’s leadership, empowerment and participation. She is happy that her story is now being told. As she said to the audience at the Middle Eastern premiere of Naila and the Uprising in December 2017: ‘I will never forget the pain I had at that time, but I am proud of the work we did to tell this story.’