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.