Life & Culture

Hope is a Woman’s Name by Amal Elsana Alh’Jooj book review: A feminist’s battle for peace

This autobiography by the Israeli-born human rights activist powerfully conveys the inner life fuelling her achievements


Amal means “hope” in Arabic. As in English, it is a girl’s name.

In this autobiography by the Israeli-born human rights activist, it refers, not to the newborn child, but to her parents’ hope that subsequent children might be boys.

Five boys follow, joining Amal’s seven sisters: 13 siblings sleeping nights with the extended family under a camelhair tent where, from the age of five, Amal spent her days herding sheep in the Negev desert.

Born in 1972 inside a Bedouin settlement, she describes herself as “a Palestinian Arab, a citizen of the State of Israel and a Bedouin in culture. The sky is the limit for the Arab and Bedouin society in Israel and for Bedouin Women in particular”.

However, in a contested land, her courageously personal account inevitably includes confrontations, some shockingly violent, with both Israeli and Arab authorities.

The most painful battles in overcoming punitive traditions are those within her own loving and beloved family.

Amal always honoured her (illiterate) mother and grandmother, despite discovering early that formal education was her pathway and vocation.

Aged 12, she wrote a letter begging her father to permit her to attend a Hebrew school in Haifa. Although he refused, he called it a “good letter”, leading her to recognise it as “my first feminist document and formal attempt to stand up for women’s rights”. Aged 13, she established a literacy group for local women in El-Sana.

Aged 17, she founded the first Bedouin women’s organisation to expand professional capacitation and carry forward campaigns for social justice.

Amal embarked on a stellar academic career, from Ben Gurion to McGill universities, where she co-founded and directs the International Community Action Network. Her application of Social Work qualifications to practical action establishes access to education; legal advice: and the expansion of civil society. It has won her international plaudits, including the New Israel Fund’s Human Rights Award and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Hope powerfully conveys the inner life fuelling Amal’s achievements. It vividly describes battles won and lost and how, even then, there can be much worth rescuing and rebuilding. It is unsparing in calling out injustices and persecution inherent both in government institutions and within the Bedouin community.

From the beatings she received for riding a bicycle or the shooting of a young girl in an “honour” killing, her passion and determination infuses every page. Her insistence is that the only option lies in fighting for peace and change in a properly civil society. In this too, she remains true to her name.

Hope is a Woman’s Name
By Amal Elsana Alh’Jooj
Halban £16.99

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