Palestine: Interview with Janan Abdu.

This Week in Palestine

Some people seem to be born with the ability to rouse the passion of crowds with speeches or compel youth to rethink their lives with a poem, but most talents are cultivated over years. Janan Abdu’s multi-faceted talent for advocacy, however, was hatched out of necessity when her husband, Palestinian activist Ameer Makhoul, was arrested and sentenced to nine years in an Israeli jail. 

In just a few hours, in the early morning of May 6, 2010, Janan went from being the relatively comfortable wife of an internationally known civil society leader to being the wife of a political prisoner - a woman who needed to raise two daughters without their father, who was under constant scrutiny by the Israeli government, and who became a leader in the movement for rights, not only for Ameer, but for all Palestinian political prisoners.

“I have always been an activist and a researcher. I spoke out against ‘honour’ killings, helped victims of rape, and supported my husband’s work for the rights of Palestinians inside 1948 Palestine,” she explains. “But what I’ve learned from this experience is that I have more energy than I ever imagined. Now I have to write for international publications and speak at conferences and to the media, not only in Arabic, but in English as well. I have to keep motivating the international solidarity movement that has grown around Ameer’s case.”

Janan’s story is important because it is the story of many Palestinian women who, when their husbands are arrested, are called upon to use and develop talents and abilities that they never knew they had.

Living in Haifa, Janan lost the income Ameer made from running Ittijah, the Union of Arab Community-Based Associations in Israel. She also lost income when she left her job at the domestic violence shelter after Jewish clients started asking that she not be assigned to their children’s cases. She’s been unemployed for months, but instead of giving up, she has used the time to study law to strengthen her credibility as a civil and human rights advocate.

“What keeps me going is my outrage at the racism and injustice,” Janan continues. I feel it in social situations, the educational system, the economy, and in Israeli law. I feel the continuing Nakba. My refusal to accept it gives me more courage and more power.”

Janan says she isn’t special. “There isn’t one family from the West Bank and Gaza who hasn’t experienced a loved one in jail,” she says. “When I meet women in my situation, they are often young. Many have young children. Many are married to men with long sentences, even life sentences. The women go to the jail every two weeks, year after year, to visit their husbands. I look at them and realise that they are very strong. I say to myself, ‘If they can do it, so can I.’”

Video clips of Janan Abdu’s inspirational interview are available at The View from My Window in Palestine, at Information about Ameer Makhoul is available on his Facebook page or on his blog at
Nora Lester Murad, PhD, writes fiction and commentary from Jerusalem, Palestine. Her blog, The View from My Window in Palestine is available at She tweets from @NoraInPalestine.