Sunday, November 18th, 2012
Coalition of Women for Peace invites you to a conference marking
The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women
Monday, December 3rd, 16:00 – 21:00, Na laga’at Center, Jaffa
With Hebrew-Arabic-English translation
In the program:
16:00 – 16:30 Registration
16:00 – 16:35 Opening – Aliyah Strauss, Coalition of Women for Peace
16:35 – 17:30 Home, Violence: From House Demolitions to Domestic Violence
Farida Shaaban, active in the struggle to end house demolitions in the unrecognized village Dahamash
Atidal Abu Aeesh, Maan – Forum of Negev Arab-Bedouin Women’s Organizations
Nabila Espanioly, Director of Al’Tufula Center in Nazareth, 5th candidate on the list of Hadash to the Knesset
Ragda Elnabilsy, doctoral candidate in the School of Social Work, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Moderator: Yael Ben Yefet, Director of the Mizrahi Democratic Rainbow, active in Hithabrut-Tarabut movement
17:45-19:15 Policies of Political Persecution and Violence Against Women Human Rights Defenders
Orna Kohn, Adv. , Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
Zabib Sultan, founder of the Community Center for Eritrean Women in the south of Tel Aviv
Zahava Greenfeld, active in the struggle for public housing and the Palestinian popular struggle
MK Haneen Zuaby – Balad Party
Moderator: Vered Lee, journalist
19:15 – 19:45 Dinner
9:45 – 21:00 Video Workshop and Discussion Tables
Video workshop (Claudia Levin); Women in the Negev (Muna Alhablin); Experiences of Activists (Esther Rapoport); Women and the Struggle in Jaffa (Sahar Saada); Women and Arms (Rela Mazali – project “Guns on the Kitchen Table”); Economic Violence (Asma Aghbariya Zahalka – Daam Party); Violence and Gender Difference; Women and the South of Tel Aviv (Shula Keshet); English-language discussion table on women’s rights in Israel – between international image and reality; Open-space
Thursday, January 1st, 2009
We, women’s peace organizations from a broad spectrum of political views, demand an end to the bombing and other tools of death, and call for the immediate start of deliberations to talk peace and not make war. The dance of death and destruction must come to an end. We demand that war no longer be an option, nor violence a strategy, nor killing an alternative. The society we want is one in which every individual can lead a life of security – personal, economic, and social.
It is clear that the highest price is paid by women and others from the periphery – geographic, economic, ethnic, social, and cultural – who now, as always, are excluded from the public eye and dominant discourse.
The time for women is now. We demand that words and actions be conducted in another language.
Achoti: For Women in Israel, Anuar: Jewish and Arab Women Leadership, ASWAT- Palestinian Gay Women, Artemis: Economic Society for Women, Bat Shalom, Coalition of Women for Peace, Economic Empowerment for Women, Feminancy: College for Women’s Empowerment, Feminist Activist Group – Jerusalem, Feminist Activist Group – Tel Aviv, International Women’s Commission: Israeli Branch, Isha L’Isha: Haifa Feminist Center, Itach: Women Lawyers for Social Justice, Kol Ha-Isha: Jerusalem Women’s Center, Mahut Center: Information, Training, and Employment for Women, Shin Movement: Equal Representation for Women, Supportive Community: Women’s Business Development Center, Tandi – Movement of Democratic Women, Tmura: The Legal Center for Prevention of Discrimination, University against Harassment – Tel Aviv, Women and their Bodies, Women’s Parliament, Women’s Spirit: Financial Independence for Women Victims of Violence
Tuesday, March 25th, 2008
Wednesday, September 19th, 2007
Sunday, January 28th, 2007
(Talk at the Haifa Symposium: “Security for Whom?”)
Exploring the diverse meanings of the term “security” remains a challenge for many groups all over the world. The meaning of security in the Israeli context was raised last week in the city of Haifa at a symposium entitled “Security For Whom? An Alternative Conference”. Organized by two organizations, Isha L’Isha–Haifa Feminist Center and the Coalition of Women for Peace, the gathering offered an alternative view about security issues from a feminist perspective.
In Israel, the word “security” is a key symbol that refers mainly to national security issues seen as the highest interest of the country. This perception is evident in the “Herzliya Conference”, an annual high-profile event which provides a platform for politicians and generals, including the Israeli prime minister and general chief of staff. This year, the Herzliya Conference focused on Israeli security in the wake of the Second Lebanon War and the Iranian nuclear threat. The feminist symposium in Haifa was held in parallel as an alternative to the Herzliya Conference in order to provoke a public debate about the hegemonic notion of “security”.
Since very few women hold decision-making positions in the Israeli political system, it has been difficult for local women’s organizations to gain power from the “inside”. The absence of a public debate regarding women’s perspectives about national security has triggered a small group of feminists and peace activists to create an independent space for reflection and action. The Alternative Conference was designed to focus on issues that have been silenced and neglected by the dominant discourses of security, and to discuss the consequences of Israel’s “security policies” for the residents of Israel and the region in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War.
In their opening remarks, Nabila Espanioly, director of the Altufula Center in Nazareth, and Prof. Dalia Sachs of the Haifa University jointly expressed the need to formulate an alternative definition of “security” by “deconstructing the term itself”. According to them, this alternative definition needs to take into account the diverse experiences of civilians, including women, children, national minorities (i.e. Israeli-Palestinians) and people with low incomes. They also questioned the silence of local women and men regarding the effects of Israeli bombings in Lebanon, stressing that we need to understand the long-term connections between the lives and well being of people on both sides of the border.
A similar view was presented by Parliament Member Zehava Galon, one of the only Israeli politicians to speak out against the war. Criticizing Israeli politicians for being inexperienced, arrogant and irresponsible in their disregard for the lives of soldiers and civilians, the PM claimed that the war could have ended faster—or been avoided altogether—if diplomatic measures were taken more seriously. On a personal note, she shared with the audience the difficult emotional experience of being alone, as a woman politician talking about peace in the midst of war.
It is clear that in order to present an alternative definition of “security” we need a systematic understanding of women’s lives and experiences. The work done by Isha L’Isha during the past five years has taught us that the particular effects of the ongoing conflict on the lives of Israeli women need to be treated as historically and culturally situated. This means that those working to assist and empower women and girls in conflict zones cannot assume the specific vulnerability of women, but rather they need to document it constantly. This was the rational behind a report presented for the first time at the Alternative Conference entitled “The negative impact of the Second Lebanon War on the economic and social status of disadvantaged women in the north”.
The report was compiled by the Mahut Center in order to outline the personal stories of 130 Israeli women from low socio-economic backgrounds. These women had suffered severe economic, occupational and emotional hardships due to the fact that all governmental support, including the welfare system, failed to aid the Israeli civilian population during Hezbollah’s rocket attacks. The report highlighted the fact that the war left many of these women in a state of desperation accompanied by an overall loss of trust in the government. Strong military measures have been the focus of local and regional security policies for years. This has had a tremendous effect upon the political power of the Israeli military elite, lead by the army, which paradoxically became stronger during the period of the “peace process” (1993-2000). However, other means of controlling and policing populations do exist. For example, fear of the “demographic threat” (the numeric balance between Jews and Palestinians) has been used to created legislation meant to minimize the number of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Palestinian activist Terry Boullata explained in detail the result of these measures, especially the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank have restricted access to basic services, due to the lack of official residency documents. These practices are presented by Israeli decision makers as a necessity, resulting from “national security” concerns, and are neither questioned nor criticized by most of the Israeli public.
An even deeper silence exists when it comes to Israel’s nuclear arms strategy. Attorney Merav Datan from Greenpeace International and Dr. Helen Caldicott, president of the Nuclear Policy Research Institute (Australia), spoke about the link between nuclear arms and security. Both stressed the fact that nuclear arms pose a global threat and should not be perceived as a local matter, or as a way to achieve actual security. The ecological and physical effects of nuclear weapons should be better acknowledged, and international mechanisms are needed to encourage disarmament. Merav Datan expressed the view that NGOs need to express a clear demand for a Middle East that is free from all nuclear arms. She also recommended that Israel and the Arab countries revive negotiations about arms control.
In a militaristic society in which most of the population serves in the army and is educated to unreservedly support its actions, it is very difficult for women to raise a civil voice. The heart of this dilemma was presented at the end of the symposium by Hedva Eyal, general coordinator of Isha L’Isha. She spoke about the ways in which Israeli women are educated to become “mothers of soldiers” while many men from low socio-economic backgrounds join the army in order to gain a better future for themselves and their families. These are among the main obstacles that prevent the civil society in Israel from developing an effective anti-war movement or a new peace camp.
The women who attended the conference were primarily activists. For them, this was another step in the ongoing effort to break the hegemonic, masculine perceptions of security and to challenge the notion that only “real men” can talk about nuclear arms or decision making processes. But above all, it was meant to show that some women do not accept the role that assigned to them by culture and society vis-à-vis security issues—they do not wish to remain silent. Approximately 200 women and men arrived in Haifa to prove that despite the persistent silencing of women within the hegemonic discourse on national security, women in Israel have a political voice.
Thursday, December 21st, 2006
Talk in Tel-Aviv for December 2 Demo—Coalition to Stop the Siege of Gaza
Let’s be clear about this: Israel’s fire at Gaza has not ceased. There is no Israeli ceasefire in Gaza. There is no Israeli ceasefire even when Israel’s soldiers aren’t shooting a single bullet in Gaza.
There are food shortages in Gaza. Israel is denying Gaza food. 70% of the families in Gaza do not have enough food. The prices of food have risen, are rising. The price of flour is up by a third. Israel prohibits fishing off the Gaza coast, denying a source of protein that is central to many in Gaza. Food shortages kill. Denying food is fire.
There’s a shortage of potable water in Gaza. Israel obstructs the regular provision of water there, both for drinking and for hygiene. Water shortages kill. Denying water is fire.
There are medicine shortages in Gaza. Israel is denying Gaza medicines. A friend’s brother, a physician who works in a hospital, is now calling himself a photographer. He x-rays patients’ conditions but cannot offer them treatment. Mostly, medicine shortages take the lives of infants, of children, of elderly and sick people. Denying medicines is fire.
There are power shortages in Gaza. Israel denies Gaza electricity. Power shortages take the lives of kidney patients who do not get regular dialysis treatments, of patients who depend on respirators, of diabetics who depend on refrigerated insulin, of babies whose food rots. Denying electricity is fire.
There is no reasonable economy in Gaza. For nine months now Israel has denied the Palestinian Authority tax revenues amounting to half its annual budget. Israel is withholding the salaries of 165,000 employees in both Gaza and the West Bank, 60,000 of them from Gaza, representing 40% of the employed workforce there. In Gaza and the West Bank over one million and seventy thousand people now subsist without basic living conditions. For nine months both Israel and the world have also withheld additional funds from the Palestinian Authority. Agriculture, production and commerce are dying within the Authority and with them, people are dying too. Economic siege is fire.
There is no freedom of movement in Gaza. Denying free movement kills those in need of life-saving medical treatment; those who depend on work away from home; women who are forced to give birth without vital assistance and babies born to such women. More than ever today, unemployed workers are confined to their homes, to frustrating humiliation, to enraging helplessness. More than ever today women exposed to domestic violence are imprisoned within the danger zones of their families. Denying free movement is fire.
The siege of Gaza is fire in disguise. Its victims aren’t counted among Israel’s casualties. It creates a dominion of creeping, blind death; it doesn’t even pretend to distinguish combatants from civilians. But first of all it kills the helpless.
Let’s be clear about this: Israel has made Gaza a death compound.
True, the siege isn’t total. There is no hunger as such in Gaza, there’s food, but not enough. There is power in Gaza, some of the time, not enough. There is medicine in Gaza, for some, not enough. There are exits and entries at the borders, sporadically, not enough.
Israel has created the semblance of a humanitarian siege; A weapon of mass destruction that is hiding in the details, reflected only through precise information and personal stories. But access to Gaza is difficult; communications are erratic. People there struggle to subsist day by day. How much can they invest in counting, recording, writing, in photography? The siege of Gaza is also a siege of freedom of information.
Therefore, for nine months now, the siege has been fairly successful at hiding this simple truth: The siege of Gaza is a crime; it is indiscriminate murder; it is a systematic execution of hostages; it intentionally sows arbitrary death.
And the pattern is clear: while the situation is worse right now in Gaza, Israel will extend it tomorrow to the West Bank behind the wall.
Both Gaza and the West Bank will go on igniting under fire, till they kindle Sderot again too. The bullet-less fire that Israel is shooting at the dispossessed of Gaza is fire that it is also shooting, by proxy, at the dispossessed of Sderot. The siege-fire of Gaza subtly exploits the photogenic suffering of Sderot to justify and conceal the fact Israel’s leaders are yet again choosing war.
The death siege of Gaza is designed to go on igniting the Palestinian community. It is designed to go on exploiting disenfranchised groups inside Israel. It is designed to present the false image of an Israel seeking peace and holding its fire. It is designed, first and foremost, to prevent true political process and a just peace while simultaneously absolving Israel of responsibility for war. The siege imposed in the name of Israel’s defense is designed to defend only Israel’s powerful, to defend the policies of force and appropriation that serve them so well.
I’m here to tell Olmert, Peretz, Halutz and every individual who serves the government’s armies: Your siege on Gaza is a crime. It is unconscionable—under any circumstances, for any reasons. It is a manifestly immoral act.
An ex-Chief of Staff, Moshe Yaalon, just recently evaded charges for war crimes in New Zealand. For now. The world is beginning—maybe slowly but still—to take action against Israel’s war criminals. And today, standing with us against the siege, against the prolonged oppression of the Palestinian people, are groups and individuals from one hundred cities and communities in Europe, in North America, in Asia, in Australia.
The crime of this siege is no less shameful or horrific than the crime that brought hundreds of thousands to the city square, twenty four years ago, bearing our shame. Then too, in Sabra and Shatilla, the act was disguised. Then too, there was blind killing of imprisoned helpless victims. Today we again bear our shame to this square and demand of you: Stop. Now. Unconditionally. Stop the crime immediately. Stop the siege.
Saturday, December 2nd, 2006
Talk in Tel-Aviv for December 2 Demo—Coalition to Stop the Siege of Gaza
Early last week, I threw open the metal cover of my ‘security room’ which had been sealed shut for many months. The room, which is both my work area and my ‘protected space’ – filled up with sunlight at once. It was a huge relief. Within minutes and over the next two days, Qassam missiles landed around us, but something in our consciousness was already more calm and optimistic. Thus began the ceasefire.
For most of you here tonight, the ceasefire is an important political event. For us, adults and children in Sderot and the adjacent villages, and for those in the Gaza Strip as well, it is the simple human act of opening a window (if you have one at all), and a release, if only for a moment, from the chronic fear and oppressed uncertainty that have become our constant companions. It is called: normal life.
Allow me to share with you some personal insights and feelings of the past year.
I have been living in Sderot for almost twenty years. For five and a half years I have been ‘breathing’ Qassams. Some of them fell a few meters from my home, and for the first time in my life I comprehended the emotional meaning of the expression ‘victims of shock and anxiety.’ All the daily worries that were generously exported to the public are familiar to me too. All the rituals that emerged around the anxieties: To jump in response to any unusual noise, to watch the sky while walking in the city, to bolt out of bed like an automaton at three in the morning and run to the security room, to tensely wait for the boom, to verify that everybody is okay, and so on again.
Nevertheless, I want to sound a slightly different voice. Or at least, different than the stereotyped voices that are recycled endlessly in the media. I will not say anything new or original here that has not already been said before me. The only validity to my words is the fact that I am a resident of Sderot.
Let me start by saying that the repeated calls ‘to destroy Beit Hannon’, ‘to raze Gaza’, ‘to black out cities’ and to ‘turn off the water’ horrify me when they are uttered by a frustrated public. They are even more horrifying when they are stated by public figures, ministers and journalists who are expressing empathy with the people of Sderot. These are calls for which there cannot be empathy! When one repeats the same call so many times, it inadvertently becomes legitimate, part of the daily agenda. What singed the ear five years ago is suddenly transformed into acceptable music and then to sweet music. One gets habituated. This process of habituation scares me even more than the Qassams.
Sderot is a multicultural city, multi-tribal. Journalists must be extra cautious when they presume to reflect the ‘Feelings of the Residents’. Not all the residents of Sderot seek revenge. Not all the residents of Sderot wish to ‘Raze Beit Hannon.’ Not all wish to be rejuvenated by rivers of Palestinian blood. We have enough on this account – too many years, too much blood.
Because I belong to those who believe in a proper welfare state, it is important for me to say: The State of Israel did indeed absolve itself of responsibility for many areas of the economy, but it did not absolve itself of responsibility for Sderot. The media did not forget Sderot. The Israeli public did not remain indifferent. The army was no less aggressive because we are residents of the periphery rather then of Ramat Aviv C [an exclusive suburb of Tel Aviv]. On the contrary! The media grabbed Sderot in an empathetic and suffocating hug. The public and all its sectors expressed concern and solidarity and showered us with gestures and gifts. The IDF pounded the Gaza Strip, day and night. Government ministries poured money in here, lots of money. And that was how the State was supposed to continue until things would get better.
But last June, during the week in which the protest tent went up in Sderot pointing its darts against the Israeli government, youth at high risk (and there are lots in Sderot) went out to demonstrate in the town squares. ‘Where is the money?’, they shouted when they learned that their support networks were about to close, and they would find themselves thrown out exactly during that difficult hour. This is the really important question which remained echoing in space, without an answer: Where did the money go to? What are the priorities? Does the municipal structure provide a true and correct response to the needs of this exhausted city? The Qassam produces true anxieties and mental burnout, but it also dangerously conceals the economic and social problems, which are no less deep, and with which the city must still deal.
During that same week in June, Shimon Peres chided us to maintain restraint, and earned the unfortunate headline ‘Qassam, Shmassam’. I did not fall off my chair. The wording certainly did not shine with political wisdom, but the content and the criticism were worthy of examination. What Peres essentially said was that Panic is not a plan of action, that the destruction of Palestinian cities is not an agenda. It is better for us to focus on the defense and strengthening of Sderot rather then grabbing the profits of short-term media coverage at the expense of the real tasks. The town is indeed exhausted, but it is not under existential threat.
Leadership does not need to promote hysteria; it needs to provide calm. It does not need to aid hyperventilating; it needs to help all of us live in a complex reality in which there are no magic solutions, and certainly none provided by power alone. Leadership does not need to black out a city and block its entrances; it must continue the routine of life and broadcast stability. It does not need to rush and close the education system; it needs to nurture and strengthen it. After all, the kids that are wandering outside are less protected and more traumatized than children who are inside a stable and supportive framework. Brave leadership can go far by transforming the calls for the blood of Palestinians into extraordinary initiatives such as meetings between youth from Sderot and Gaza.
The media coverage during the past year raised my threshold for disgust to high levels. The media reinforced emotions and fanned instincts and creatively orchestrated an endless number of dramas, without blinking and without inhibition. The communities of the ‘Gaza Wraparound’, all in the same boat as Sderot, are almost forgotten. Sderot became a byword for Ritalin and fainting.
For years, the media narrative has been addicted to the Power Paradigm. Our screens depict, one after another, the non-smiling and ‘non-apologetic’ security types, who reveal their hypnotic plans to defeat the Qassams through deep penetration, daring commando raids, and a host of other creative ideas that seem to come from the operational arsenal of ‘Terminator 2’ or ‘Rambo 3.’ One after another they emerged this month in Sderot where the microphone caught their deliberations with uninhibited commitment.
Even the Hebrew language has long since been mobilized for the cause and created an inventory of terminology cleansed of unnecessary sentiment, thereby enabling the selective reporting of what happens in the territories. The media collaborated obediently and the Hebrew language was reborn, cleansed and easy to pronounce: ‘Exposing,’ ‘Engineering Tasks, ‘Non-Combatants.’
Also in June, the ‘Festival of Southern Cinema’ took place in Sderot. This uplifting experience somehow did not rate media coverage. In the darkened halls, David Ben Shitrit’s jolting movies about the refugee experience of Palestinian women were screened. Also, the story of the ‘refusenik’ pilots was shown. It seemed almost hallucinatory: Outside, the Qassams whistled and, on the screen, endless Palestinian suffering splashed. Many spectators bolted out of the theater; they did not want or could not allow the images to crack their defense mechanisms. The power ethos and the victim mentality that we get intravenously injected by the culture after our first breath on earth is so deep that, at times, it appears impenetrable. For me, it was a most powerful moment. This is a Sderot I want to live in – a Sderot that does not forget that on the other side of the equation there is human suffering as well.
I am revolted by our Palestinian neighbors who recycle again and again historical errors and are not building a Riviera in Gaza instead of shooting Qassams at us. By doing so they are passing the verdict that millions of ‘Non-Combatants’ will live in a more horrible squalor than the one in which they already live. But he who sows wind during forty years of occupation is destined to reap a storm, and this is occurring before our eyes and doesn’t let up. Yes, even after Disengagement. Reality is becoming increasingly more complicated and the State of Israel is heavily responsible, too heavily responsible, for this quagmire.
Every time in the past few years when a little quiet sets in, or some understandings were reached, there comes the next ‘targeted assassination of a senior or junior wanted person; Sderot immediately braces itself for the worst. Who benefits from all these liquidations? What kind of security did we earn at the end of the day, save for the next barrage? After that comes the Big Blitz. For months we did not close our eyes, not only because of the Qassams. The IDF pounded the ‘launching areas’ 24 hours a day from the ground, sea, and air. Restless nights for Sderot and the neighboring villages. A nightmare for the residents of the Gaza Strip. An endless and useless bombardment. On whom? For what? To what end? For whose benefit? What security was achieved?
At the beginning of his term, Amir Peretz took a brave step as Minister of Defense. He reintroduced the moral discussion into the narrative, the very morality that was pushed outside the public debate many years ago. If and when it was mentioned, it was generally only in soft tones and mumbling apologetics that were whispered only after all the advantage calculations and image problems were reviewed. Not what we did, but how we will look to the world. However, the person that reintroduced the moral dimension into our narrative has built a cemetery in his heart since last June, where hundreds of bodies of innocent Palestinian children and civilians are lying. Yitzhak Ben Aharon [labor leader] once said: ‘I am trampling my own soul.’ Last June, Amir Peretz became, in my eyes, a tragic hero. He trampled his own soul. Or at least that is how I wished to see him – one whose heart did not turn to stone, that the power of the IDF did not completely intoxicate him. However, after the second Lebanon War, after the wholesale slaughter and destruction in Gaza under the cover of war and following it – I don’t know what to believe.
Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, something incredibly important happened here this past week. Don’t miss it!! You even competed for the credit. The terrible thing that happened to us the citizens is that we stopped believing. Give us hope that there is something to believe in. Allow us to open a window. The window in the ‘security room’, and the window of opportunity and the window of dialogue. Stop the liquidations policy. Do not lead us under the populist deception of more force and more force. It is not calming; it provokes panic!!
Talk to them already!! Through overt channels or covert ones. Propose a creative policy. Break the myth of ‘There is nobody to talk to’ with which we are being drugged time and time again by cynical politicians and their loyal spokespersons in the media. Do not close any window of opportunity, and don’t quash any initiative in its infancy just to maintain a fossilized thought paradigm.
Break this insane ‘Had Gadya’ paradigm’ [‘one young goat’ Passover song]. Everything was already tried ad nauseam. The slaughterer already slaughtered the ox, and the fire consumed the stick that had beaten the dog that had bitten the cat that had devoured the young goat. Only the water has not yet extinguished the fire.
At least try, but honestly, without fear and preconditions, the political option. It is your civil duty!! It is your moral duty!! Because if you do not, Hava Alberstein’s chilling rendition of the never-ending Had Gadya song will exemplify our reality just as I close with these words: “Once again, we start from the beginning.”
Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
(Title: “War No!” in Russian and Arabic. Translated from Ha’aretz, 10 August 2006)
At the vanguard of the radical left protest against the war are two women – an Arab and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union – leading the demonstrations with “End the War” chants in Arabic and Russian.
The evening before we met, Khulood Badawi escaped the horrors of war to go to the al-Hakawati Theater in East Jerusalem. But even escapism is not what it used to be. She was watching the Lebanese movie “The Kite”, directed by a friend’s sister, in which a young Lebanese woman falls in love with a Druze soldier from Israel during the first Lebanon War. At the height of the story, her cell phones began to ring. The news that Katyusha rockets had fallen on Haifa quickly moved through the theater. Badawi, who had lived in Haifa for several years, fled the theater to watch the TV news, where she recognized the offices of al-Ittihad, the newspaper of Hadash, Badawi’s political party. Among the ruins she saw many offices she knew, and began calling her friends. [photo from Ha’aretz by Guy Ravitz]
At that same moment, Yana Knopova [photo, left], who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine 11 years ago as a young Zionist activist, was fielding phone calls to and from friends and colleagues. The rockets had fallen not far from the Haifa apartment she shares with Abir Kopty, the spokeswoman for the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, and in the heart of the neighborhood of many Arabs and Jews who share her uncommon political path.
The two met the next day in what they call “the Tel Aviv bubble”, where they have been orchestrating the key protests against the war on behalf of the Coalition of Women for Peace and Ta’ayush. An Arab and a Russian. Another of the strange phenomena to emerge from this war.
The 30-year-old Badawi has a long history of political activism: The former militant chair of the Association of Arab University Students in Israel, Badawi is today a field worker for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. The 25-year-old Knopova, a student of psychology at Haifa University [and coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace], strayed far from the Zionist dream though she had worked five years for the Jewish Agency,
In those years, she believed that “the left was only the Meretz Party”, as she put it, and then she discovered what she calls the lies and arrogance on which Israel is based, which not only create primitive men in Israel, but undermine the judgment of the entire country. Thus she found her way to a political and social home in the radical left.
The Bomb and the Hope
Clearly the sense of marginalization in Israeli society – which views Arabs as the enemy and ignores immigrants – strengthened the solidarity between them. “The police see Khulood as a natural enemy,” says Knopova with a bitter smile; “while in the exact same situation, the police refuse to see me as an enemy. They also live with the stereotype that there are no Russians in the left. Khulood is always dangerous, I am never dangerous; Khulood is a demographic time-bomb, I am a demographic hope. This is an approach that regards the wombs of us both as in the service of the state, and we will not give them this pleasure.” [photo left of Knopova by Yair Gil]
Over the past month, they have orchestrated all the demonstrations of the left, and held them in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and Russian. Based on the number of calls coming in to Badawi’s three cell phones, one would think that opposition to the war is the new consensus; based on the calls to Knopova in Russian throughout our conversation, one would think that a million Russian speakers in Israel changed their political views.
This is not true, of course, but there is no doubt that something different and new is happening. Much has already been said about the uniqueness of this war; the fact that at the vanguard of protest are two women – an Arab and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union – is without a doubt another unique element. Everything is new about this: Most of the protest in Israel, including that of the more left-wing activists, used to spring from the pool of Ashkenazi Jewish men. Not anymore. Today the protest of this war is being led to a large extent by women.
And that is not the only difference. In the past, Arab citizens of Israel refrained from going to demonstrations in Tel Aviv during a war. At most, they would make do with token representation in the later stages of protest. They would also generally hold their demonstrations in Arab towns. Not any more. From the very first week, the Arabs became equal partners to the demonstrations in Tel Aviv. Thousands of Katyusha rockets falling on them erased the reluctance of the past. In their eyes, this is no longer a Jewish war, but a civilian war in which they have an equal right to make themselves heard. Badawi says that they deliberately bring their voices to Tel Aviv, which is seen as the capital of Israel. [photo left of Badawi by GS]
Another kind of change is transpiring among Russian speakers, considered the hard core of the Israeli right. Once, bringing a few Russian speakers to demonstrations of the Zionist left was considered a big achievement. Today there is a small, but visible and consistent participation of Russian speakers in the protest movement of the radical left. Thus, the Arabs are learning to chant “Vynya Nyet!” (no war), while Russian and Hebrew speakers are chanting “Salaam Na’am, Harb La” (peace yes, war no). It looks like this connection will last long after the voices of war subside.
The Old Left Failed
To Badawi and Knopova, all this seems quite natural. Above all, they feel that the role of women in this protest is obvious. “All the elements of this war bring the issues together – feminism, social justice, class distinctions, environment, and the occupation,” they say; “Women make this connection in a natural way. The Old Left, even Gush Shalom, has not managed to connect these struggles. We do. Even the social justice and political networks of women are stronger. This war is taking place on our social turf, in our homes. As women and citizens, we create an alternative voice of women facing the militant voice of men.”
“This is a male war about honor, both that of the Israel Defense Forces and the Hizbullah,” says Knopova. “Women are less into matters of honor. Russian women instinctively understand that this war is a man’s game. We grew up in that kind of society, and it’s obvious to us.” Perhaps this is why the group of Russian-speaking women in the radical left in Israel grew over a short period from 3 to 200 activists who are now involved in protest.
Knopova explains that even her father now visiting in Israel, a profoundly non-political person, “understood the lie” from watching the Israeli TV channel in Russian. Even he, reports Knopova, noted in amazement that one Israeli soldier seems to be worth the lives of ten Israeli civilians and a hundred Lebanese. “He feels instinctively that something is wrong,” she says, “but the Russians in Israel get brainwashed.”
“Human life is valued in Israel only when it is in uniform,” contends Badawi. “From our perspective, the struggle now is for the dignity of everyone in Israel. Every human being. Arab women have a common socio-economic interest with Russian and Mizrahi women. Our parents will have nothing left to eat after the war. When we speak from the stage – Yana in Russian, I in Arabic – that in itself is a political message. It also conveys to the Arab world that the claims by Israel and the U.S. that Jews and Arabs cannot live together is a false message.”
It is easy to elicit endless criticism from them about Israel, but harder to pry from them statements against the Hizbullah. “Clearly we as feminists cannot support a fundamentalist religious organization,” they agree, “but we do not want our statements to be used manipulatively against our views. Israel gave the Hizbullah reasons to attack, but our struggle is waged on behalf of our own society, to prevent a regional war that would hurt us all.”
Badawi says that this is also the beginning of a way to repair the fractured relations from the events of 2000 [when 13 Arab citizens were killed by the Israeli police], after which it was practically impossible to find Arab partners for political protest. “The age is over when we would accept Jewish partnership at any price,” she says. “Today the connection is genuine, with Jewish activists paying the price of their participation by demonstrations against the wall in Bil’in, refusal to serve in the military, activism at the checkpoints. We have a common fate, but it is different than in the past. These demonstrations can help us out of the severed relations of October 200. Now the Arab-Jewish partnership is egalitarian.”
Only one area remains outside the joint space: the emotional memories. When Badawi talks about the evils of the Separation Fence, her personal baggage takes her back to 1948. Knopova agrees to every word, but has other associations from the collective Jewish memory. “I do not want Germans guarding us within the ghetto that we created for ourselves with the Separation Walls and security zones,” she says. “In the tragic evolution of Zionism, Israel has become the final solution of itself.” Perhaps this is not the text that will accompany the official lighting of torches on Independence Day in Israel, but it is the only moment when the thoughts of the two good friends part ways.
Wednesday, August 16th, 2006
A war is being waged in the north and south of Israel – a war that invades our private as well as public space. Our homes are no longer protected, but exposed to risk on many levels – national, economic, social, family, and emotional. In this war, hundreds of thousands of civilians including children are under attack in Israel, Lebanon and Gaza.
This war mixes a ‘military’ with a ‘civilian’ reality, breaking down the distinctions between army and society, political and personal, strength and weakness, military and social allocations. In this war, the home front is being asked to show strength, but not asked its opinion. In the media, the masculine-military discourse is the only one heard. This language does not express our lives.
As activists in feminist organizations, we call attention to the population that has been abandoned in the home front – many of them women and children – who lack all protection. These include Mizrahi, Arab, and immigrant women with no resources and support networks, many of them single mothers, some whose lives were already troubled by violence. This war has had a special impact on women.
Decisions are being made about military and political measures that bring massive harm to the civilian population, but there is no real examination of non-military alternatives, no representation of women, no attention to the civilian and gender considerations, and no discussion of the ethical and humanitarian implications of war policies on civilians in Israel and beyond its borders.
We call upon the government of Israel:
• To prefer political channels to resolving this conflict, avoid harm to the civilian population, and promote a diplomatic solution.
• To implement the amendment to the Law of Equality for Women in the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This law mandates the inclusion of women in all political decision-making, whether formulating domestic policies or policies regarding the continuation or discontinuation of the war, including ad hoc task forces to promote a diplomatic solution through negotiations.
We call upon the Israeli authorities:
Regarding compensation for loss of income: To recognize that most women who remain in the war zone are those lacking the means to leave, and struggling with difficult circumstances. These women need immediate and ongoing assistance, and should be included in all decisions regarding compensation for their loss of income as a direct and indirect result of the war. This compensation must be accomplished rapidly, without undue bureaucracy, and with dignity.
Regarding violence against women during war: To recognize that war situations increase the incidence of gender violence against women and girls, and to undertake to prevent and deal with this violence. The security of women is jeopardized by a discourse of national security that fails to include the security of women.
Regarding assistance to families: To provide material and emotional support to women and families in their shelters and homes – food, medical attention, emotional support, communication tools, police responsiveness.
Regarding Arab citizens of Israel: The state of Israel must provide equal services to its Arab citizens – accessible help, infrastructure, and information – to create physical, social and economic security to all its citizens. Arab women are particularly vulnerable to the economic and social repercussions of war, which should be addressed.
We call upon the Israeli media:
To include women in every program and deliberation regarding military, political, social, and economic issues, and to bring a gendered and civil society perspective to these programs.
Isha L’Isha: Haifa Feminist Center
Mahut Center: Information, Guidance and Employment for Women
Amuta for Economic Empowerment of Women
Itach – Ma’aki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice
Kol Ha-Isha: Jerusalem Feminist Center
Feminist House, Tel Aviv
Feminist College for Empowerment of Women
Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel
Ahoti: For Women in Israel
Coalition of Women for Peace
Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006