“Were I Human”

“Were I Human”

Ariel: Your charm so strongly works ’em.
That if you now beheld them, your affections
would become tender.

  PROSPERO
Dost thou think so, spirit?

 ARIEL
Mine would, sir, were I human[1].

Nita Schechet, a feminist literary scholar and peace and human rights activist passed away last November. I was deeply saddened by her untimely death not only because I knew her personally, but because she died before her writing and scholarship received proper recognition. I decided to write this blog post as a tribute to her contribution to the world of actively political literary critique. I wish I had thanked her sooner for the profound and wise way in which she wrote about the catalytic role that literary texts play in our work for social transformation. From the minute I first opened her book Disenthralling Ourselves: Rhetoric of Revenge and Reconciliation in Contemporary Israel[2], it felt like it was written especially for me. It is a book of artful intertextuality that pays tribute to texts – literary, scholarly and other forms of human discourse – from Shakespeare’s Tempest, to Rachel Tzvia Back’s On Ruins and Returns[3], and Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope[4]

Schechet’s book title is inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s address to the US Congress on December 1st, 1862, where he called for the emancipation of the slaves:

 “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Lincoln called upon the American people to hold themselves to higher moral standards, to re-create themselves as a nation.

Writing is a form of creation. In writing, we take that all-too-familiar raw material called words to create new meaning. Writing about Nita Schechet is my way of recognizing and appreciating her scholarly legacy; it is my way to make a small contribution to a body of works that seeks to make this world a better place.

Oh. And how our world needs healing right now. In times of politics of hate, racism and misogyny, of politics that mocks the rule of law and the values of justice and equality, our world is in desperate need of politics of profound humanity.

Humanity. This is what Schechet’s book is about. It is about the human potential capacity to hold itself to high moral standards; about humanity as that which urges us to disenthrall ourselves of violent and oppressive behaviors deeply rooted in a culture of victimhood and revenge.

Schechet wrote about the moral imagination as vital to achieving social transformation. Moral imagination requires two essential ingredients: first, the capacity to imagine a shared future good, even when it is out of sight, and second: the capacity for empathy and compassion. She believed that active reading of literary texts and narratives serves to spark moral imagination and foster communal resilience that can facilitate the transition from a culture of victimhood and revenge towards a culture of reconciliation:

“The catalyst for the essential change from collective repetition-memory to the recollection memory of reconciliation is the development of a moral imagination through active reading”.

Rachel Tzvia Back, a wonderful Israeli poet gave me Nita’s book as a gift. It dedicates a whole chapter to Back’s second book of poems On Ruins and Returns that she wrote during the terrible years of the second Intifada.

Back’s poetry is profoundly compassionate; her poems are woven with the deep concern for the safety and well-being of her own children, as well as for those of other mothers, Jewish and Palestinian. And at the same time, her poetry takes no mercy on its readers; it is a poetry that focuses its gaze on the death, loss and excruciating pain that are part and parcel of every war. Back’s poetic language takes the dust off the worm out words; it caresses them with a loving, firm hand, and gives them back their full and deep meaning. Death, in Back’s poetry is very graphic: dismembered bodies, blood, human tissues and nails scattered in the battlefield:

Soldiers on their knees in the sand

Mothers watching

soldiers on their knees

sifting and searching for body parts

do not think of next worlds

they think only of

lost worlds

I hope that after reading this blog post, you will want to read Rachel Tzvia’s Back poetry and Nita Schechet’s book. I hope that every elected politician that tells the world that “the next war in Gaza is inevitable” and every elected politician who will support this statement will read Back’s poetry and be reminded of the devastating, tragic, shattering, wounded and bleeding meaning of war.

[1] Shakespeare, William: The Tempest, Act V, scene I
[2] Schechet, Nita. Disenthralling Ourselves: Rhetoric of Revenge and Reconciliation in Contemporary Israel, New Jersey: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009
[3] Back, Rachel Tzvia. On Ruins and Return. London: Shearsman Books, 2007
[4] http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog.php?isbn=9780674027466

This world needs mothers

“Motherhood is not limited to the act of bearing and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations”.

I spoke these words spoken at an event that Women Wage Peace held in the Baptism site north of Jericho on October 19th, 2016, as part of the movement’s  March of Hope.

It was an historical event; for the first in a very long time, Jewish and Palestinian women from Israel and the Palestinian Authority met and marched together for a peace agreement in our region.

It as a political event; a clear and resounding statement by women who are tired of war and bloodshed; who have had enough of being excluded from discourse and action for peace and security.

It was a formative event for me, personally; an opportunity to reflect on my own actions and leadership.

As we were getting ready to march to the sounds of drums and joint singing, I shed sweet tears of excitement and joy. Months and weeks of preparations and hard work culminated in this watershed moment. Holding and being held by other women; supporting and supported, I marched knowing that we are going to get far, together.

My face was beaming with tears and laughter; it reflected deep feelings of gratitude and determination. I knew there and then the mental and physical sensation of being in the presence of collective greatness.

As we took the stage, Huda Abu alarquob and I, to MC the ceremony, the collective greatness embraced and inspired us. “Women of the world, today is our day!” I heard Huda’s voice resonating in the desert. Her voice empowered mine. The blazing sun and the beaming faces of the women sitting in front of us shed their lights on us both.

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The March of Hope at the Baptism site near Jericho. Photo by Anat Saragusti

I continue to cherish these moments as I return to my daily routine. Thoughts of womanhood and leadership linger in my mind; thoughts of all that I am learning from my many partners to the March of Hope and the journey towards social change.

I am a feminist activist and professional; I am well aware that the discourse on the qualities of motherhood is a slippery slope towards essentialism; towards the quicksand of social constructs of “femininity” and “masculinity” that do injustice to all genders. Yet, I am compelled to make motherhood –  as position of moral leadership –  present in the political discourse on peace and security.

Society tends to perceive motherhood as a personal and intimate position that belongs in the private realm of the family. The tender care and containment that are essential to raising children are appropriate for “feminine” caring professions but less so executive positions of management and leadership that require firmness, decisiveness and determination. These “soft” qualities and skills that are vital for raising families and managing relationships are often shunned as unwelcome or irrelevant guests in the boardroom. The qualities that are the life line of human existence and perceived as signs of weakness at the negotiations table.

We tend to think it is so; especially in our region where the conflicts dictates a language of zero sum game.

Really?

In every human encounter; personal, professional or political a rainbow of emotions comes into play. Each situation triggers us and pushes unconscious buttons. Minor and major crisis erupt when we act out of blindness, vanity or aggression. In times of crisis, our own responses can calm things down or cause an escalation. History shows that in cases where political leaders on both sides of a conflict chose the path of increased aggression it only led to more violence and bloodshed; loss and grief. However, when leaders chose a different path; when they reached out and shook the hand of the enemy, they changed history. The willingness to make painful concessions and let go of past grievances led to breakthroughs in the relationship between people and countries in the Middle East and around the world. Some of those leaders paid with their life for their courage; their political adversaries made their peace seeking stance look like acts of weakness. However, the images of Menachem Begin and Anwar a-Sadat, of Yitzchak Rabin and King Hussein shaking hands are engraved in our collective memory. Those images remind us that peace agreements are possible.

I was only four years old when I ran with my mother and sisters to the bomb shelter in Jerusalem during the 67 war. I was ten when we ran for shelter in 73. I was a young mother when I caressed my 18-month-old son through a plastic sleeve during the first Gulf War in 1991. I can still recall myself considering how to get home when buses exploded in Jerusalem after the collapse of the Oslo Agreement. I recall my eight-year-old daughter and me venturing to walk to the community garden after a Red Alert during the Protective Edge war in 2014. I recall looking at images of the destruction on Gaza; images of parents on both sides of the border – their hearts broken – weeping over the bodies of their dead children. I sat and wept for those children.

Motherhood is not only about giving birth or raising our own children. Motherhood – or indeed parenthood –  is an ethical and moral position of responsibility towards the world we live in and towards our fellow human beings. It is a position of self-restraint, attentiveness and inclusion. It a position of passion and love and of setting high standards of human behavior.  It is a position of compassion and dedication; of determination and resilience.

The world we live in is harsh and complicated; it contains too much injustice and violence; too much cruelty and misery. Our world needs compassion and healing; forgiveness and reconciliation. The world we live in needs that we see the person in front of us in their full humanity; it needs that we raise our voices against acts on acts against humanity.

“I see your humanity; do you see mine?” said Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Laureate in 2011 from Liberia who came to Israel for the March of Hope as a special guest of Women Wage Peace. She told us that raising hope in the hearts who have lost so much to conflict and war is a huge responsibility. “Do not get into it if you are not serious”, she said.

We are serious. As serious as the giants who paved the way for women as equal and engaged agents of change. As serious as the giants who fought for women’s voting rights; as serious as the giants who fought and are fighting for gender, social and racial justice and for human rights. As serious as the women who fought for peace in their countries.

We are serious and we will not stop until there is a peace agreement. We are serious about creating a new political discourse based on mutual recognition and care. We are serious about putting peacebuilding back at the heart of the work of our communities.

Motherhood is not only the act of baring and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations.

Autumn Time

Autumn. Such a poetic season; sweet melancholy, golden leaves and a sense of transition. Times of passage require that we let go of the past and wonder what the future will bring.  Rites of passage offer moments of discomfort and discontent intertwined with expectations and excitement of things to come.

Yom Kippur is an autumn High Holiday. It has nothing of the lightheartedness of summer. It is a time for contemplation and soul searching, asking for forgiveness and forgiving. It is an opportunity to let go and make new resolutions.

Asking for Forgiveness

Images of bodies of toddlers washed to the shore having drowned at sea in search of a sfae haven. Footage of a father holding his dead babies to his chest and refusing tp let them go. Images of terrible destruction, chaos and millions of refugees. Thousands of photos that show the naked horror. Good people providing aid and support to the lucky ones who found temporary shelter. Rare moments of human generosity.

But at the end of the day, no one has done anything to stop the carnage in Syria. Millions of words said and written in the news, in position papers and strategic plans and policy analysis on the “Syrian issue”.

  But at the end of the day, no one has done anything to stop the carnage in Syria.

On good days, we do not look away from the photos; on bad days, we ignore them.

We must ask for forgiveness for our tolerance to human suffering.

Open S(c)ores

New age doctrine tells us to let go; to loosen up our clenched fists that hold long time angers, insults and unfinished businesses. In return, there is a promise of tremendous relief and a sense of well-being to those who take the higher ground.

It is important to let go; to forgive and to dump the unnecessary load of tormenting memories that take up way too much storage space. Genuinely forgiving those who have wronged against us releases us from the burden of pain and anger. Otherwise, they continue to nibble on and rattle our soul.

It is easier for us to forgive those human weaknesses that we see in ourselves: blindness, narcissism, vanity and insensitivity.

Then there are things that are almost unforgivable.

It is so hard to forgive where there is no show of remorse.

It is so hard to reconcile when the truth is not spoken.

It is impossible to let go of what still torments and damages.

There are still unsettled scores, both personal and political.  Forgiveness and reconciliation are still waiting for truths to reveal their faces. Only then can the healing begin.

.

.Longing

Mad Cat Max was a simple little fabric doll, a sort of hybrid of a cat and a Panda bear. I won it at a street fair in a far and magical city in Brazil in the summer of 1986. I kept it for many years. It was a source of pride; the guy at the booth handed it to me while trying to hide his astonishment. I often wondered how I managed to bring down the pile of tin cans with shaky hands, eyes out of focus and a rag ball shot out of a toy cannon.

Mad Cat Max got his name and personality a few years later when I presented him to my first-born son, Daniel. He had a thick Argentinian accent, a quick temper, no manners whatsoever and a huge heart of gold. He knew how to make my son smile and laugh and they shared long intimate conversations. Mad Cat Max was what every child needs; a half-imaginary friend or simply a hilarious, crazy, footloose and more effective version of a mother.

I was reminded of Mad Cat Max this morning when my youngest daughter and I walked to school with our dogs, imagining a conversation between them about us. Then she went to class and I returned to my adult tasks, but I could not shake the notion of how important it is to imagine that dogs can talk and make fun of the funny human creatures they live with. I thought of Mad Cat Max who was really my alter ego.

I kept Mad Cat Max for almost 30 years and then I lost him. I still miss him sometimes.

May the year 5777 be good to you. May we create goodness in the world together, as much as we possibly can.

shanatova

Illustration by Daniel Gouri De Lima

Passover: a Journey Through Tradition and Change

Passover always brings with it memories of smells and tastes and sights and sounds.

The smell of cooking and cleaning.

The taste of the gefilte fish that Grandmother Luba, may she rest in peace, used to make, that we will never taste again.

The sight of the shiny patent-leather shoes that I wasn’t allowed to wear until the night of the Seder.

The sounds of the reading of the Hagada, the songs, the family jokes that we tell year after year.

overcoming2

Memories….

The imperative, “and you shall tell it to your son” takes on a new meaning, as Daniel, my first born, sits on my knees for his first Seder, nine months old, smiling and enchanting.

My private exodus from Egypt, several years later, with a small suitcase and a shattered heart.

The first time that I took Na’ama, my daughter, to buy shoes for the holiday, so that she could stand tall and proud on a chair as she recited the four questions.

And the questions that repeat, year after year.  Why are women absent from the Hagada, and why are the answers to “How is this night different” always the same.  And what should I tell my son and daughter – what have I done to make a difference since last Passover?

And so, I wish everyone a happy holiday.  May this be a good holiday, celebrated with loved ones, and may you lack for nothing.  And, this holiday, as we sit around the table, we will ask, “How is this night different,” but we won’t be satisfied with the same answers.  Because there are many who are still waiting for an exodus from their own personal Egypt.  Because slavery has not been banished from the universe and freedom has not been distributed evenly to all.

May we be part of those who make a difference.

breakfree

حول الحكمة وإحساس المراعاة

حول الحكمة وإحساس المراعاة

ربّما وُلدتُ امرأة، وربّما، كما تقول سيمون دي بيفوار،  أصبحت امرأة. سواء أكان هذا ما حصل أم ذاك، فإنّ كَوْني امرأة يشكّل مركّبًا مركزيًّا للغاية في الفسيفساء التي تَنْبَني منها هُويّتي الشخصيّة وهُويّتي الفرديّة. إنّها العدسة التي أتأمّل نفسي والعالم من خلالها.

الكتابة حول الهُويّة النسائيّة في عصر ما بعد الحداثة قد تكون “دَقّة قديمة”، أو عملًا انتهت صلاحيته، وبخاصّة بعد أن قامت جوديت باتلير بزعزعة عالَمنا بفكرتها القائلة إنّ الهُويّة الجندريّة هي ضرب من الإنشاء الاجتماعيّ، ونوع من التمظهر، أكثر من كونها أمرًا “طبيعيًّا”. حقًّا، هذا صحيح؛ ففي الخطابات النسويّة يبدو أنّ الانشغال بالهُويّة النسائيّة يقف على حافة منزلق أملس يُفضي صوب الماهِيَويّة (الجوهرانيّة)، وصوب إنشاءات اجتماعيّة، وتنميطات رجوليّة ونسائيّة نسعى نحن النساء للابتعاد عنها.

لكن في معمعان هذه المنزلقات الملساء، أتلمس لنفسي حقّ تعريف هُويّتي كامرأة في الفضاءات المختلفة التي أتحرّك وأعمل فيها.

هُويّتي كامرأة قِوامها شذرات من التاريخ النسائيّ المتواصل؛ سلالة متواصلة من الساحرات والحكواتيّات، والمزارِعات والمطبِّبات، والنساء الكاتبات والمفكِّرات، والطاهيات والمغنّيات، والنساء اللواتي يحملن القلم، نساء يُدْنين طفلًا نائمًا إلى حضنهنّ، وأخريات يحاربن ويكافحن في سبيل مستقبل أفضل. قِوامها كذلك جدّتاي المرحومتان، وأمّي (أطال الله عمرها)، وأخواتي بالولادة وأخواتي اللواتي أدنيتُهنّ إليّ عبْر السنين. تتغذّى هُويّتي وتنمو من اللقاء اليوميّ مع أحبّائي. وقِوام هُويّتي كذلك نساء لم ألتقِ بهنّ قَطّ، أو قابلتهنّ من على صفحات الكتب، وفي الصور والحكايات. قِوامها نساء من لحم ودم وأخريات من الأساطير.

وفي الأشهر الأخيرة تبيّن لي أنّ هُويّتي “ترضع” كذلك من نساء ليبيريا البطلات الباسلات.

قبل عامين، تعرّفت للمرّة الأولى على شريط مصوّر يوثّق نضال نساء ليبيريا المسلمات والمسيحيّات من أجل إحلال السلام ووقف الحرب الأهليّة الدمويّة في بلادهنّ.  فيلم   Pray the Devil Back to Hellيشكّل جزءًا من سلسلة أفلام وثائقيّة حول النساء كصانعات سلام في أرجاء العالم، في صراعات دمويّة ومرّة.

وفّر لي نشاطي في حركة “نساء يصنعن السلام” فرصةَ مشاهدة هذا الفيلم مرّة تلو المرّة في العروض التي تقيمها الحركة في أنحاء البلاد. أكتشف فيه مواطئ قدم جديدة وتنحفر هذه الجملة أو تلك في ذاكرتي، وتقضّ صورةٌ من الصور مضجعي. لكن في كلّ مرة أشاهده، يتعزّز إيماني بالروح الإنسانيّة التي تحمل معها قدرة هائلة على الرأفة، والحكمة الفائقة، والاصطبار النفسيّ حيال القسوة التي لا توصف.

بعد كلّ عرض للفيلم، نُجري نقاشًا ومحادثة مع الجمهور. كل ّمحادثة  تحمل خصوصيّة وتتباين عن غيرها، وفي كلّ مرّة تطفو على السطح أفكار  ومدركات جديدة.

عدت قبل عدّة أسابيع من عرض في الملجأ الصغير والدافئ التابع لمسرح “ماشو- ماشو” للتغيير الاجتماعيّ. كانت تلك ليلة مقدسيّة باردة، فوجدتُني والمشاعر تطغى عليّ أشرع بالكتابة عن المعرفة، النسائيّة منها.

وجدتُني ألهو بتفكيك وإعادة تركيب أمور متضادّة اعتدنا على تقبُّل “صحّتها”: الرجولة مقابل الأنوثة؛ العقل مقابل الوجدان؛ العقلانيّة مقابل الممارسة الاندفاعيّة؛ الحراك مقابل الحياد؛ القوّة الجسميّة مقابل الطراوة والنعومة. لهوت كما تعلّمت بشقّ الأنفس من جاك دريدا الذي كان يتناول أزواج كلمات ويفكّكها إلى حين تصبح هذه الكلمة تلك، وتصبح تلك هذه.

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غنّت نساء ليبيريا وبكَيْن، ورقصن وتعانقن  وصولًا إلى اتّفاقيّة السلام وتأسيس حكومة منتخَبة في انتخابات حرّة ونزيهة وديمقراطيّة. وقفن تحت الشمس الحارقة والأمطار الغزيرة، ولم يبرحن مواقعهنّ. عملن في صفوف الأولاد الجنود على نزع السلاح، وقمن بعمل مجتمعيّ وسياسيّ يشكّل مصدرَ إلهام للجميع. وفي اللحظات الحرجة، قمن بتوظيف الخوف من اللعنات…

كشفت نساء ليبيريا بحكمة ورباطة جأش عن بؤس القسوة، وعن حدود القوّة الجائرة والغاصبة والناهبة. فضحن الطمع والنهب والجشع والطمع وشهوة التسلّط التي اختبأت من وراء خطابات قادة الميليشيات المتصارعة. حاربن في سبيل إعادة الطفولة إلى أولاد وبنات ليبيريا، الطفولة التي حُرموا وحُرمن منها.

نساء ليبيريا وضّحن لي معرفة فائقة الأهمّيّة: المشاعر مَعْرفة. القدرة على التنازل والقبول بحلول وسط من أجل المصلحة العامّة هي ضرب من المَعْرفة. القدرة على وضع الاختلافات والفروق جانبًا هي ضرب من المَعْرفة. القدرة على قيادة مجتمعات محلّيّة جريحة وممزّقة ونازفة في طريق طويل ومتعرّج نحو الشفاء هي ضرب من المعرفة. قدرة العفو عمّن ارتكبوا جرائم فظيعة ضدّ الإنسانيّة هي تاج المَعْرفة. القدرة على توظيف المعتقَد الدينيّ لصالح إحلال السلام هي كذلك ضرب من المَعْرفة.

المعرفة قوّة. القوّة قد تكون ناعمة ومرنة واحتوائيّة ومدرِكة لحدودها، وقد تكون أمرًا نختار تَقاسُمَه، بغية تعزيزه.

على خطاب الأمن والحرب وإمكانيّة إحلال السلام أن يضمّ هذه المعرفة بين ثناياه. الأمن ليس حكرًا على الرجال أو المقاتلين. العكس هو الصحيح. جميعنا نملك معارف حول الأمن؛ وكذلك حول الأمن الشخصيّ، والبدنيّ، والاقتصاديّ، والجندريّ، والاجتماعيّ، والثقافيّ.

على الخطاب الذي يسعى لإحلال السلام أن يتضمّن جميع أنواع المعرفة المذكورة.

أشعر بالامتنان العميق لجميع النساء اللواتي علّمنني هذه الدروس.

وأدعوكم/نّ لمشاهدة الفيلم

رابط لموقع الفيلم: http://www.forkfilms.net/pray-the-devil-back-to-hell/

زوروا صفحة نساء يصنعن السلام على موقع فيسبوك، للاطّلاع على قائمة عروض الفيلم في أرجاء البلاد

 

Women’s Knowledge

Women’s Knowledge

Perhaps I was born a woman; perhaps, as in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, I have become a woman.  In any event, being a woman is a very central part of the montage of my personal and political identities.  Womanhood is the lens through which I view myself and the world.

It may be anachronistic to write about my identity as a woman in this post-modern era – especially ever since Judith Butler disrupted our universe with her concepts of gender identity as social construction, a form of performance, rather than something that is “natural.” Indeed, it seems that in feminist discourse, identity is always perched at the top of a slippery slope, tipping towards essentialism, social construction, and the very stereotypes that we seek to escape.

Yet along these slippery slopes and within the different spaces in which I move, I demand the right to actively define my own identity as a woman.

My identity as a woman is made up of pieces of women’s continuous history; it is composed of an ongoing dynasty of witches and story-tellers; farmers, cultivators and healers, women writers and scholars; women who cook and sing; women who have held a sleeping child close to their breasts. My identity is made up of my grandmothers, may their memories be a blessing, and my mother, may she be blessed with a long life; the sisters in my own family and the sisters I have drawn in close to me through the years. It is nurtured by and develops from my daily interactions with those whom my heart loves above all.  It is made up of women I have never met and those I have met in the pages of books, pictures, and stories.  It is made up of real-life women and mythological figures.

And over the past few months, I have come to realize that my identity also draws from the courage of brave Liberian women.

About two years ago, I first encountered the film that documents the struggle of Liberian women, Muslim and Christian, to bring peace and put an end to their country’s cruel, bloody civil war.  The film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, is one in a series of documentary films about women throughout the world who have brought a peaceful conclusion to bitter, brutal conflicts.

Activism in the “Women Wage Peace” movement has brought me the opportunity to see the film again and again in screenings throughout the country.  Each time I see the movie, I see another detail; another sentence engraved into my memory; another scene troubles my sleep. Yet each viewing also restores my belief in the human spirit and its capacity for great compassion, deep wisdom and emotional resilience in the face of unutterable cruelty.

After each screening, we conduct a discussion with the audience.  Each discussion is different and special, and each one brings new insights and different understandings.

On a cold Jerusalem night several weeks ago, I returned home from a screening that had taken place in the small, cozy shelter of the Mashu Mashu Theater for Social Change.  Moved by my experiences, I sat down to write.  About knowledge.  Women’s knowledge.

I found myself playing with the deconstruction and reconstruction of the binary oppositions that we have learned to accept as “proper”:  masculinity as the opposite of femininity; intellect as contrasted with emotion; rationality as compared to impulsivity; activism versus passivity; physical power as different than gentleness.  I played with the words, as I have learned to do, with great effort, from Jacques Derrida, who would deconstruct binary oppositions until the terms melded into each other.

The women of Liberia sang and cried, danced and embraced all the way to a peace agreement and the establishment of a democratically-elected government.  They stood in the scorching sun and in the rain; they sat and refused to budge; behind the scenes they mediated between the antagonists when they thought that these efforts weren’t enough. They worked with the children-soldiers to bring about disarmament and acted as inspirational political community workers. And at key moments, they knew how to enlist the terror of the curse…

Patiently, with great wisdom, the women of Liberia showed just how pathetic cruelty is and exposed the limits of thieving, raping, plundering power. They revealed the greed, avarice and lust for power and control that were behind the fighting groups’ rhetoric.  They fought to bring back to the sons and daughters of Liberia the childhood that had been stolen from them.

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For me, the women of Liberia distilled the essence of a very important insight:  Emotion is a form of knowledge.  The ability to yield and to compromise for the greater good is a form of knowledge.  The capacity to put differences and arguments aside is a form of knowledge.  The skill required leading a wounded, torn; bleeding community over the long, winding road towards healing is a form of knowledge.  The ability to forgive those who have committed the most heinous crimes against humanity is a form of sublime knowledge.  The ability to enlist religious beliefs in the service of peacemaking is a form of knowledge.

And knowledge is power.  Power can be gentle, flexible, all-encompassing, and aware of its own limits.  Power can be something that we choose to share, thus making it even stronger.

The discourse about security, war and the possibility of peace must include this knowledge.  Security is not the province of men or warriors alone.  In fact, the very opposite is true:  Each and every one of us possesses knowledge about security – personal, physical, economic, gendered, social and cultural.

A discourse that seeks to make peace must encompass all of these forms of knowledge

I feel very grateful to all the women in my life who have taught me these lessons.

And I invite you all to see the film.

Follow this link to the film’s website: http://www.forkfilms.net/pray-the-devil-back-to-hell/

For a list of screenings throughout Israel, please visit the “Women Wage Peace” facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/WomenWagePeace/events

Or visit our website at:

http://womenwagepeace.org.il/category/%D7%90%D7%99%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A2%D7%99%D7%9D/%D7%90%D7%99%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A2%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%A7%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%91%D7%99%D7%9D/

English translation: Etta Prince Gibson

 

The Importance of Being Hopeful: Women Wage Peace

The importance of being hopeful

A year has passed since the terrible war of last summer, and we were beginning to hope that this summer – aside from the infernal heat – would be more peaceful. But then came the stabbing hate crime at the Jerusalem Pride Parade and the murder of 16 year old Shira Banki, and the terror attack on the home of the Dawabshe family in the village of Duma near Nablus, which has taken the lives of 18 months old Ali Dawabshe, and of his father Sa’ed. The vicious circle of hate and terror and revenge continues, demanding its pound of flesh, there is no respite, and compassion still conceals its face.

Shortly after the horrendous hate crimes, come the wave of condemnations – the genuine ones, as well as those paying lip service – as well as grief and indignation, and the urge to meet and dialogue. And of course there are the politicians who insist on arguing for moral superiority in the face of atrocity, in this aching and bleeding region, which years for a little less of that, and a little more compassion and a little integrity.

But within a few days, public life resume their course, and the grieving families are left alone with the loss; left alone to pick up the pieces of life shattered by hatred.  Daily routine settles in, and the plethora of Neshama candles of condolences from strangers gradually disappear. The Israeli Hebrew press is more interested in the Obama-Netanyahu feud and their battle of the hearts and support of Jewish Institutional leaders, then in those who insist on creating islands of sanity, of human encounters, of listening, of mutual respect.

It is scary to see how quickly the dust of everyday life covers the fresh wounds.

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That is why I keep going back to the “Protective Fast” tent in Jerusalem, camped across from the Prime Minister’s residence. This campaign of 50 days of fast, marking the 50 days of Protective Edge War, was initiated by Women Wage Peace, a movement I joined since its inception as a member of its steering committee. I keep going back to the tent because there I find the compassion, the human capacity to forgive and fight hatred; I find the ability to have a conversation without storming out, to sing together songs of peace and hope without a shred of cynicism and with great intent.

I am 52 years old, not a girl anymore; I have a very healthy sense of humor, a capacity for sarcasm, and just the right amount of harmless nastiness. And of course, I know that a group of women huddled together and chanting will not bring peace, not on our own, anyway. But, this is a beginning, and it is a persistent and inspiring resistance to despair, to indifference, to inaction, to denial. And as Margaret Mead said, this is the only thing that ever made a difference in this world.

People call us names; naïve, stupid, pathetic, menopausal and deprived of sexual satisfaction. All has been said about women determined to wage peace and then some. But I am 52 and I really don’t mind being called pathetic, naïve, touchy-feely or sticky, oh, and I have earned my approaching menopause fair and square. But as a mother, I wish for a better life for my children, for all children. As I woman, I know that indifference is not more sophisticated than compassion, despair is not wiser than hope, and cynicism doesn’t know anything that faith in the human capacity to heal doesn’t.

In addition, people tell us to go to Ghaza and to Ramallah; they tell us we are barking up the wrong tree. “We” want peace; it is “them” who do not want it. This is a valid argument that merits an honest answer. What I have learned through life, and through our conversations with Jewish and Palestinian women and men who came to tent to support us, to have an open conversation, is not a new thing, but it is important nevertheless. What I have learned is that most people on both sides want to reach a political agreement that will end the violent conflict. There are inspiring people on both sides who suffered terrible losses and grief, yet have found a way to forgive, to reach out and seek like-minded partners.  And on both sides there are those who benefit from the status-quo, from the political power they draw from the standstill in the negotiations and the escalation in violence. There is fear and distrust on both sides; real fear, justified fear, anchored in an impossible reality of violence and revenge.

In addition, there is criticism from the left, as well. Mostly because we attempt to create a movement that reaches out to women from the center and the right (well, soft right); because we strive to be political, but not another anti-occupation movement. Our critics ask: “How can you be political and no talk about the occupation?”. Personally, I agree. I want to talk about the occupation; I want a lively public discourse about the occupation. Yet, I have never demanded nor made my membership in the movement conditional, and I agree that avoiding the issue of the occupation and avoiding laying blame on Israel (or Palestine for that matter) was a wise strategic choice. Women like me, who oppose the occupation, have space where we can be active and vocal. In Women Wage Peace we seek to create a more pluralistic and inclusive space, for women who may not be comfortable with anti-occupation discourse, but who still believe that the only way to achieve sustainable peace is through a mutual and respectful process of negotiations that will lead to a lasting agreement. These women – with whom I may disagree on a host of political issues – are my allies and partners.

It does not mean I am always comfortable with this type of discourse, but them stepping outside of our comfort zone rarely feels comfortable… Nevertheless, being part of a movement means I embrace the fact that it does not represent me 100% all the time. However, I can represent me; I have my own voice, and the capacity and privilege to make my voice heard. Being part of a movement means to discover the benefit – as well as the discomfort – in listening to a woman holding a view different from my own.  Being part of a movement is to understand that the only thing that has ever made a difference in this world are shared actions of people with a shared vision. Being part of a movement is to listen to the woman next to me, recognize that her words are different from mine, and appreciate that the power of movement is in its diversity.

DAVID BROZA“Good will come some day”. Musician and singer David Broza at the Protective Fast Tent.

They say “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”; in the Protective Fast tent, in our movement, I find beauty and compassion that give me the strength to keep waging peace.

Dedicated to the memory of:

Ali and Sa’ed Dawabshe, son and father

Shira Banki

Victims of hate crimes and terror. May their memory, their lives and loves be a blessing.