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Rita Giacaman

Rita Giacaman

Published: March 30, 2010
Rita Giacaman

Rita Giacaman

Palestinian founder and director of the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University. Giacaman has chronicled the effects of the Israeli military occupation, and has advocated for women to have a prominent role in an eventual Palestinian state.

Rita Giacaman is the Director of the Institute of Community and Public Health at Birzeit University, a program she helped found in 1978. Giacaman also has been a seminal figure in the Palestinian women’s movement, along with Zahira Kamal and many others.

Giacaman’s two main interests, women’s issues and public health, have led her to be one of the chief chroniclers of the effects of the Israeli occupation, especially since the Israeli reinvasion of the occupied Palestinian territories in 2002. At times in a statistical fashion and at other times in the voice of a passionate eyewitness, she has brought to the world’s attention the deteriorating health and social conditions in her country. A very accomplished public speaker, she is sought out by conferences and groups all over the world.

"What this population experienced in this unilateral war (2002) cannot be justified simply by the prerogatives of Israeli security," Giacaman says. "It can only point to a more insidious purpose for the reinvasion, a purpose that, in the Palestinian experience, could only have been the destruction of the structure and framework for the survival and the social development of the Palestinian nation."

Giacaman’s writing during the first intifada highlighted the leadership role women took in the nonviolence resistance movement. These writings were not only intended to educate audiences about the role of women in the Palestinian movement for self-determination, but also advocate for an important role for women in the Palestinian state as it develops.

The experience of women’s leadership in the first intifada also influenced her public health work, which grew to include a more holistic view of the role that the public health sector in a potential Palestinian state should play. Rather than filling a strictly medical need, Giacaman feels the public health sector should take all of people’s needs into account, including educational and environmental issues as well as gender and class issues.  

Giacaman also provided important dispatches about life under occupation during the second intifada and has brought the realities of Palestinian suffering to a wider international audience. This has been especially important at a time when foreign journalists have had trouble getting access to communities devastated by violence and destruction. 

Thus, in 2002, she published reports on the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Tulkarem, Nablus, and Jenin, carefully documenting the Israeli destruction of Palestinian infrastructures in places like the Ministry of Education, NGO offices like al-Haq, or Muwatin (the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy). These dispatches challenge the Israeli claim that they acted only to preserve their own security.

"I do not think that after all these sacrifices, we will settle just for any state," she says. “We want the state we have declared to be progressive. That is what our work has been all about."