By Anat Cohen
Tuesday, March 11, 2003
Two prominent Middle Eastern peace activists--one Israeli, one Palestinian--believe that solutions would be found if women were invited to the Middle East peace talks.
JERUSALEM (WOMENSENEWS)--Amidst the explosive noise of shootings and bombings in the Middle East, another sound has emerged: The sound, almost unheard, of two women committing their lives to peace.
They are outsiders in their own communities, considered to be naive, quixotic, weird and impractical daydreamers. They are both accused of being a traitor for contacting people from the other camp. However, it never crosses theirmind to quit or compromise.
Terry Greenblatt, an Israeli peace activist and Amneh Badran, her Palestinian counterpart, share the same conviction--that women's participation in the peace discussions is indispensable for any lasting positive achievements.
Several weeks ago, the two women traveled together and met with U.N. Security Council members in the hopes of trying to persuade them to incorporate women into any future Middle-East peace negotiations.
The two women met in 1989 when they attended a conference in Brussels, held under the auspices of the European Union, in which prominent Israeli and Palestinian women peace activists participated. This meeting initiated an
on-going dialogue that in 1994 resulted in the establishment of The Jerusalem Link--comprised of two women's organizations--Bat Shalom on the Israeli side, and the Jerusalem Center for Women on the Palestinian side.
Greenblatt and Badran believe that lack of women during the peace negotiations is the main culprit of the chaos in the Middle East.
"During my meetings with Palestinian women I noticed a clear distinction in the communication methods of the two genders. Men exhibit a tendency to see the world in black and white, 'war' or 'peace,'" Greenblatt says. "I know of at least 7,000 other options in the middle."
"For men, negotiation is a synonym to playing cards. They would assemble in a room with a long table, sit one against the other and try to conceal their cards as much as they can. They are inclined to treat the man in front of them as an opponent, not as a partner.
"Women, on the other hand, would assemble and sit at the same side of the table. We put the strife and pains in front of us, look at them courageously and come up with a win-win formula. The Palestinian woman with whom I converse would be my neighbor eventually. I have no intention or any interest in playing infantile games with her. Making sure she leaves the room with a good feeling is my utmost interest," Greenblatt says.
Badran is convinced that the 1993 peace accords signed in Washington D.C. have failed, leaving both sides to interpret its unclear resolutions in completely different ways.
"It is well known that women usually delve into the little details and that they would never be satisfied with half-baked situations," she says. "Unfortunately, this kind of attitude was missing 10 years ago in Oslo. If they had only left the job for women to conduct those critical peace discussions, we would have completed the Oslo agreements with much better defined solutions."
Badran adds that having a military background is another flaw in a men's ability to realize peace.
"Many members of the negotiating teams in Oslo, both in the Israeli and Palestinian camps were at one time military men. They are used to the narrow concept of 'I win. You surrender.' I have no doubt that they funneled this kind of spirit into their discussions," says Badran. "This win-lose equation might be relevant in wars, but is not productive in making peace."
Badran was born and raised in Jerusalem. At age 32, she runs the Jerusalem Center for Women, a Palestinian women's center located in East Jerusalem. Communicating with Israeli women activists in order to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict is not the only project of Badran and her staff. The center monitors human rights violations (particularly those against women) committed by both the Israeli government and the Palestinian National Authority, as well as host a series of lectures, workshops and open-forum discussions promoting gender awareness and developing Palestinian women's leadership skills.
"Sometimes, I am criticized for communicating with the Israelis" she says. Palestinians often ask her: "Do you still believe there are peaceful people left on the other side? Do you really believe that a few women can make a change in this chaotic situation?" She adds that embedded in the question is the judgment that she is naive. "Of course, if a man was acting in my position, he would probably have been heralded as a 'man of vision,'" Badran says.
Greenblatt is the director of Bat Shalom, Israel's prominent feminist peace organization. Born in New York, she immigrated to Israel 32 years ago and founded Kol Ha-Isha ("The Woman's Voice" in Hebrew), West Jerusalem's feminist center.
The Bat Shalom's members demonstrate every Friday in Israeli intersections with "Women in Black," an international peace group. They hold signs calling for peace and justice and criticizing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Bat Shalom also holds small group meetings, encouraging both sides to start a dialogue and break stereotypes.
"We are definitely grasped as traitors" she says. Some drivers get out of their cars and "spit on us, tear the signs and curse us." She adds that "80 percent of men's reaction is somehow involved with sex. They call at us: 'whores' or 'go sleep with Arafat.' Other men would use chauvinist phrasings: 'It's Friday noon. Go home and cook,'" Greenblatt adds.
"Our reality proves that women are ready to stay around the table as much as it takes until achieving an adequate solution. As feminists, we are used to constantly looking for alternatives," Greenblatt says. "We do not necessarily accept what pinhead politicians and other opportunists are trying to feed us with."
Anat Cohen is a reporter living in Jerusalem.
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