Shalhoub-Kevorkian, Nadera. “The Grammar of Rights in Colonial Contexts: The Case of Palestinian Women in Israel .” Middle East Law and Governance 4.1 (2012): 106-151.
This article examines the limitations of human rights activism in a colonial context by invoking the voices, experiences, and insights of Bedouin women living in Israel. Through extensive interviews, Bedouin women living in unrecognized villages in the Naqab/Negev reveal their struggles as unrecognized and “invisible“ members of society. The article explores the ways in which the prevailing “grammar of rights“—the formal and informal mechanisms constructed and maintained by the colonial power to accord or withhold rights—delimits and confines the lives of the women, and also human rights activism. The women’s personal stories are juxtaposed against the legal justifications used to regulate and discriminate against them, as members of the indigenous Palestinian community, within the context of a “fear industry“. The article explores, from the perspective of the interviewed women, the internalization of that culture of fear, where they are constructed as the ones to be feared, and its personal, familial, and communal implications.
The interviewed women offer a critique of the existing human right framework, and question whether a human rights activism operating in a colonial context can be an emancipating force, so long as it is constrained by the regime’s rules. Furthermore, their voices assert that acknowledging historical injustice and its effect on women’s rights is central to re-thinking feminist human rights activism. The article ends by returning to the voices of women living in the unrecognized villages of the Naqab/Negev to investigate whether, and how, feminist politics and human rights activism could operationally function together within the context of Israeli state law. The article concludes that, in order to create a “grammar of rights“ that is based on equality, respect, and dignity, and which challenges the balance of power in colonial contexts, it is essential to fully include the lived experiences and insights of “invisible“ and unrecognized women.