Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Samar Saeed

Ph.D. candidate, Georgetown University

Revolutionary women in Jordan during the 1960s-1970s

Samar: Do you recall any women that were active during the events of Black September? [silence] 

Samar: Whether within the ranks of Palestinian factions or on the Jordanian side? Interviewee: Well, the Jordanian society, as I told you, used to help the fidayeen by fundraising.  But women as fighters, I do not know.  

Samar: Not necessarily as fighters, but in other capacities? 

Interviewee: No.

This paper focuses on the various roles Palestinian and Jordanian women played during the  Palestinian Revolution’s presence in Jordan between 1967-1970. Contrary to wildly held beliefs  that women were not politically active during that period, women played an instrumental role in  building and sustaining the Palestinian Revolution. I will argue that without the diverse roles  women assumed during those years, the revolution would not have been able to sustain itself in  the way that it did. I will specifically focus on the role played by two women, Sulafa Bahlwan and  Khuzama Rasheed. Sulafa was a teacher and a member of the communist party who played an  instrumental role in organizing the women in her neighborhood, Jabal al-Jofah, east of the capital  Amman. Under her leadership, women cared for the wounded, operated the bakeries, fed the  fidayeen and its poor residents, and avoided a crisis of hunger and chaos. The fidayeen took the  neighborhood as one of their bases during the events of Black September. The Jordanian military  surrounded the neighborhood and as such, no one was able to leave. Bahlwan helped the  neighborhood survive a siege that lasted for nine days. 

Khuzama Rasheed was a teacher and a leader in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of  Palestine (DFLP). Not only did Khuzama influence many of her students to join the ranks of the  DFLP, but she also led the fidayeen in Irbid, a city north of Amman. Khuzama was the lead  negotiator on behalf of Palestinian factions in Irbid. She negotiated with Tunisia's Foreign  Minister, al-Bahi al-Adgham, who was appointed by the Arab League to lead the negotiations  between the Palestinian factions and the Jordanian regime. Due to her political engagement and  the role she played with the Palestinian resistance, the Jordanian military destroyed Khuzama’s  house and imprisoned her.  

Examining women’s role in Black September complicates normative approaches to what we  conceive of as “political” and, therefore, worthy of historical inclusion. Just because women were  not visible on the battlefield and the majority did not carry arms does not render their actions  apolitical. Women's roles included guerrilla fighting, smuggling supplies, providing medical care  for fighters, cooking and feeding the revolutionaries, and fundraising for the Palestinian  Resistance. Women were also responsible for educating others on the historical and revolutionary moment they were witnessing. Such work was crucial for mobilizing the masses and uplifting  revolutionary consciousness. More importantly, these women made conscious political choices  when they engaged in these activities. Women were also responsible for recruiting other women  to join the Palestinian factions, and by doing so, challenged gender roles through their actions,  visibility, and the authority they exercised within their households and the community at large.

Samar Saeed is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Georgetown University. Her research is focused on women and gender in Jordan during the late 1950s and early 1970s. She uses oral history as her main methodology to understand the political transformations that happened during that period and their influence on gender roles and social relations inside of Jordan and beyond.