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Hommes armés, femmes aguerries

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Fenneke Reysoo

À leurs risques et périls

Palestinian - Israeli Women’s Peace Initiatives and Power Relations

Iniciativas femeninas de paz palestino-israelies y relaciones de poder

Femmes palestiniennes et israéliennes : initiatives de paix et relations de pouvoir

Amneh Badran

Résumé

Palestinian – Israeli women peace initiatives publicly started more than a decade ago. Women’s dialogue led to the first published political position paper made jointly by the two sides. Dialogue between prominent political activists on the two sides also opened the way for the first institutionalised work based on a continuously under development political principle, the birth of the Jerusalem Link.
Yet power relations between both sides and within each community have always determined, to a great extent, the process of roles shaping in the women’s quest for conflict transformation. In this regard, women’s politics has been very much connected to the political positions of their parties.
This paper intends to discuss these issues, with more focus on the Palestinian side.

Las iniciativas femeninas de paz palestino-israelíes comenzaron públicamente hace más de una década. El diálogo de las mujeres condujo a la primera publicación, realizada conjuntamente entre las dos partes, de un documento sobre la posición política. El diálogo entre pro m inentes activistas políticas de las dos partes también abrió el camino hacia el primer trabajo institucionalizado basado en principios políticos en continuo desarrollo que dio origen al “Jesuralem Link”.
El hecho de decir esto no debe hacernos olvidar que las relaciones de poder entre ambas partes, así como al interior de cada comunidad han siempre influido, en gran medida, sobre el proceso de configuración de papeles de las mujeres en busca de la transformación del conflicto. Las políticas de las mujeres han estado muy relacionadas a las políticas de sus naciones. El objetivo del trabajo consiste en analizar estos temas, con un énfasis particular en el lado palestino.

Les initiatives de paix des Palestiniennes et des Israéliennes ont commencé il y a plus de dix ans. Le dialogue des femmes a conduit au premier article politique écrit conjointement.

Le dialogue entre les activistes politiques connues des deux côtés a également ouvert la voie au premier travail institutionnalisé basé sur des principes politiques en développement continuel et a donné naissance à un organisme de liaison et de coopération entre deux associations féminines (l’une à Jérusalem Est et l’autre à Jérusalem Ouest) : «The Jerusalem Link».

Dire cela ne signifie pas oublier le fait que les relations de pouvoir entre les deux côtés et dans chaque communauté ont toujours régi, à un degré important, le processus de formation des rôles dans la quête des femmes pour une transformation du conflit. En tant que telle, la politique des femmes a été très liée à la politique de leurs partis.

Dans ce texte, basé sur les expériences de «The Jerusalem Link», nous traitons ces thèmes, d’une manière plus ciblée sur le côté palestinien.

Texte intégral

1Women on both sides of the conflict live in different cultural, economic, social and political conditions. Yet the conflict affects the daily reality of these women in both similar and different ways.

2Decades ago, as Palestinian women activists were strongly involved with the Palestinian people’s national political struggle for liberation, Israeli women activists were also very much involved in the quest to achieve equality in a society divided between secularism and religion.

3As feminist thought developed across that divide, the roles women saw for themselves expanded. More than ten years ago, prominent political activists broke the taboo of recognizing and meeting those on the other side. Dialogue between political activists and scholars, who met during the first Intifada or uprising, produced the first published joint position paper. Its main article was the recognition of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. This was a substantial step forward and a substantial step for the bi-national movement for peace making. Dialogue continued, mirroring the power relationships existing between the two sides and within each community.

4The Palestinian - Israeli dispute is based on the fact that there is an occupier and an occupied. This fact is reflected at the dialogue table. For example, while Palestinians have tried to re-shift the balance towards one between equals, the Israelis have aimed at finding a compromise with a “flexible” partner. But Palestinians, now without their basic rights and needs, can hardly give up more of these in a compromise.

5The Palestinians, who are the weaker party according to the conventional definition of power, demanded concessions from the stronger side on many occasions, saying that it had room to give. The Israeli’s readiness to make a change in positions and get closer to the Palestinians’ has very much been affected by changes in the political situation whether locally or internationally. For example, the Israelis would be ready to compromise if there was a Palestinian Intifada (uprising) because the price they would pay would increase. But as long as the price for peace is limited, they are more reluctant to compromise as if nothing was pressing. As such, throughout the process of dialogue, both sides had phases of strength and weaknesses.

6The progressive thought of feminists on both sides geared the process of political dialogue towards trust building and creative thinking. Both aimed at moving towards a joint vision for peace making. Agreed-upon political principles constituted the basis for institutionalized cooperation (such as the Jerusalem Link) and joint initiatives. Specific strategies were aimed at the public opinion and personal attitudes of both sides.

7Still, not much was achieved. Each side worked within the framework and structures of its own political parties and affiliations. The Palestinians had different and changing strategies for struggle that reflected individuals’ political party line. The Israelis made many moves forward and backward, reflecting the ongoing change in political realities and coinciding with their surroundings.

8To talk about women’s substantive yet limited effect on national politics in the peace building process on both sides, one must speak of each community’s internal politics. On the Palestinian side, patriarchal relations dominate. The cultural heritage does not provide fertile ground for women’s participation in community and political life. According to traditional values, males are the independent breadwinners, while females are the subordinate caretakers. Of course the Palestinian feminist movement consisting of many factions has challenged this norm. The movement is still developing and has many challenges to overcome.

9The Palestinian feminist movement, that represents a plurality of thought from conservative to liberal, has been developing for decades. Still, it has not been able to overcome the traditional nature of the main political establishment, the Palestine Liberation Organization. The PLO praised women’s participation in the political struggle, but it did not include or empower women to take part in the decision-making process.

10The first Intifada, which erupted in 1987, introduced a progressive political discourse calling for the liberation of the land and people.

11The United Leadership of the Intifada encouraged women to participate in all aspects of the uprising, including demonstrations, local committees, and cooperatives. Women’s grassroots organizations and activists were strongly involved.

12But despite recognition of their central role, women’s contribution to decision making was highly limited. Political parties from left to right had this same position, not least because of their internal lack of real democracy.

13The establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1994 gave women more of a role - albeit cosmetic - in political decision making. There is one female minister in the cabinet of thirty members appointed by President Yasser Arafat. The minister of Social Affairs, an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, is the wife of assassinated PLO leader, Abu Jihad. Only five of the 88 elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council are women. One of them is active in the bi-national venture for peace building, the Jerusalem Link.

14Lately, the leftist political parties have been enhancing their internal democracy. Women are encouraged to apply for top positions and many have succeeded. Still, conservative and religious parties lag behind.

15On the Israeli side, the women’s movement is also facing tremendous difficulties in overcoming existing rivalries between secular and religious groups. After years of activism to achieve equality, patriarchy continues to negatively affect women’s quest for equality and social justice. No wonder then that the democracy practiced in Israeli parties only produces limited women’s representation. Fifteen of the 120 Israeli Knesset members are women. One of them is a Palestinian Israeli, another is Mizrahi (from Arab roots) and 13 Ashkinazi (from European background). Few of these women are active in the Jerusalem Link. Experience has shown that each Bat Shalom board of trustee member represents the position of her party in discussion. Decisions made in Bat Shalom are the result of consensus accepted by all.

16This process is very similar to what occurs at the Jerusalem Center for Women, the Palestinian partner. This means that both sides are very connected to existing political structures with limited space to maneuver. It also indicates how much internal power relations can affect one side’s position in an external power relationship.

17No wonder then that the Jerusalem Link is currently in crisis. The Israeli public is moving to the political right. The same can be said of Israeli leftist parties. It took the Israeli “peace camp” over a month before it reacted positively towards the Palestinian Intifada for independence, rejecting the Israeli government’s practices. Members of Bat Shalom have made a shift in their positions, from a discourse close to the Zionist mainstream to that of the Zionist left. For example, at the request of the Palestinian members of the Jerusalem Center for Women, the Israeli members managed to present a position on the Palestinian refugees’ issue that left the door open for continuing dialogue between the two sides’ board members.

18The Palestinian side was astonished by the limited involvement of Israel’s peace camp during the recent Palestinian Intifada. It took Bat Shalom weeks to react at a time when their counterparts’ lives were in danger. Emotion is now very high on the Palestinian side due to the rapid increase in the number of killed and injured. As a result, the Palestinian side gave a clear message to its Israeli counterpart that a measure of trust building must come from their side. All joint projects and activities have been stopped. Boards members and staff of both sides can meet whenever it is necessary. Jerusalem Center for Women now tries to reach an agreement over political principles that leaves no room for misinterpretations. Only then can joint activities be resumed and new strategies be defined by both parties.

Auteur

Jerusalem Centre for Women, Jerusalem, Israël.

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