Waging War on the Womb: Women’s Bodies as Nationalist Symbols and Strategic Victims of Violence in Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin
Nationalism is a patriarchal construct that clearly delineates women’s roles in the social structure, and assigns female bodies specific roles in the nationalist, social, and political narratives, albeit passive ones; ironically, as integral to nationalism as women are, they are only ever pawns used by the state, never equal participants. They are often assigned the role of the mother figure who produces new citizens to populate the nation and who are expected to raise them to be “good citizens” and offer them up to the state as potential tools. The mother figure is a nationalist icon who is also often forced to be the nation’s sacrificial lamb. The woman is relegated almost exclusively to the domestic sphere and her body becomes synonymous with the land; therefore, if the nation is threatened, so too is the female body. If the land or the nation become vulnerable and exposed to the enemy, then the nation’s women are also placed in jeopardy. When the nation or land is “scarred” or damaged, so too are women’s bodies and minds “scarred” in various ways. In Susan Abulhawa’s Mornings in Jenin, most of the female characters rarely overtly go against their Zionist oppressors (though they do resist in other, subtler ways) and are expected instead to be the traditional domestic fixtures as mothers and wives, despite the fact that traditional Palestinian life as they know it is being destroyed all around them. Nationalism (both Palestinian and Israeli) hurts Palestinian women and silences them; grief and familial bonds are repressed all for the sake of the masculinist nationalist agenda. Young men are collateral damage placed before the tanks and missiles of Israel to be martyred and later used as symbols. These men’s mothers too become symbols of patience and stoic sacrifice for the state. Nationalism also establishes motherhood as a contested site of conflict; Israeli nationalism (Israel and Zionism) uses mothers, children, and motherhood as strategic targets, while Palestinian nationalist political groups politicize and uses motherhood as a weapon and tool for its cause. Still, these silenced Palestinian women do manage to find ways to adapt mothering and express themselves and to resist this silencing in their own unique ways. While Palestinian women are expected to sacrifice and endure in silence, the women and girls of the novel find their own ways to resist and assert themselves against masculinist nationalist expectations.