September 11, 2006
What Women Are Saying about the Violence in the Middle East
By Lucinda Marshall
There has been no shortage of punditry when it comes to the current crisis in the Middle East, however most of the published and broadcast voices have been male. If there is to be any hope of a sustainable peace in this region it is critically important to also listen to what women are saying.
As Professor Cynthia Enloe has pointed out many times, we must ask how armed conflict and militarism affects women. How are their lives impacted, what are their needs, and what are their thoughts. Unfortunately, every time anyone fires a rocket or a gun, real news about women and what they are saying (not to be confused with sensationalized coverage such as the Jon Benet Ramsey 'story') is almost completely blacked out. We get a few pictures of anguished women holding dead children and husbands, but mostly we see pictures of tanks, mobs of men and the voices of generals and politicians, with only a token woman or 2 thrown in to 'balance' the picture.
While many women have offered thoughtful and intelligent analyses of what is happening in the Middle East, very few of these voices have made their way on to the Op Ed pages. One of the exceptions is a piece by Nobel Peace Prize winners Shirin Ebadi and Jody Williams that appeared in the International Herald Tribune http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/07/31/opinion/edebadi.php , where the authors write,
"We do not understand how the international community can continue to stand by while entire populations are held hostage in what has been described as "self defense."
No deliberate attacks against civilians by armed groups should be condoned by the international community, either explicitly or implicitly through inaction. Every new attack leaves dead and wounded in its wake. Every new attack makes another woman a widow and more children orphans. Every new attack demonstrates the inability or unwillingness of governments to exercise their moral obligation to stop the violence. Every new attack underscores our collective failure to stop making violence our preferred choice for confronting the problems facing us all."
In a piece originally published by Newsday http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0804-27.htm , author and Holocaust survivor Silvia Tennenbaum makes these wise observations about the Jewish response to violence between Israel and its neighbors,
"No matter what great accomplishments were ours in the diaspora, no matter that we produced Maimonides and Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn and hundreds of others of mankind's benefactors - not a warrior among them! - look at the world of our long exile always in the dark light of the Shoah. But this, in itself, is an obscene distortion: Would the author of "Survival in Auschwitz," Primo Levi, or the poet Paul Celan demand that we slaughter the innocents in a land far from the snow-clad forests of Poland? Is it a heroic act to murder a child, even the child of an enemy? Are my brethren glad of it and proud?"
"The time is long overdue for Jews to return to their role as the world's conscience, who come to the aid of the dispossessed, the wretched of the earth. Once again, we must join those who demand the end to unjust wars - in Iraq as well as Lebanon - and an unjust occupation in Gaza. We must honor the example of American civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, not that of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein or Yigal Amir, killer of Yitzhak Rabin."
Finally, in a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, published August 10, 2006, Gila Svirsky, co-founder of the Coalition of Women for Peace writes about Israelis who oppose the violence:
"There is a continuing, vocal and visible Israeli opposition to the war. Every day, the Women Against War Movement holds vigils in three cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa " yes, Haifa, even under shelling. Every Saturday, we hold mass marches through Tel Aviv, the most recent one 5,000 strong."
Other women, such as activist Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, have found voice in the alternative media of the web. Kelly addresses the futility of violence in "Approaching a Ceasefire" http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0814-28.htm , one of several of her essays that have been published in Common Dreams.
"If equipping an area with weapons, including nuclear weapons, was a reliable way to ensure security, Israel and Palestine would be paradise by now. Has the U.S. policy toward Israel safeguarded homes and towns in northern Israel in this sorry saga of spiraling hatred?" She continues:
"How desperately we need trustworthy advocates of unarmed conflict resolution, dare I say nonviolence, who can lead us, the willing and unwilling "displaced," to a place wherein we reclaim our collective capacity to share resources, live simply, and put an end to war."
Numerous women's organizations from around the world have also weighed in on the violence in the Middle East, however these statements remain all but invisible to the general public, circulating primarily by internet listserv.
The Canadian Voice of Women for Peace offers these thoughts in a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Harper,
"Where parties will not talk directly together, we urge on-going shuttle diplomacy " Track 1 or 11 or both " where a small number of men and women, governmental or non-governmental, familiar with the nuances of the conflict could be selected to carry demands and responses back & forth. We warn of a failure to consider this: In WW1 this shuttle diplomacy was done exhaustively and exclusively by non-governmental women led by Canadian Julia Grace Wales. All heads of state visited thought it a fine process but in the end dismissed it in favour of letting the war "run its course. The lesson should be very clear. "Run its course" meant MILLIONS of deaths, unfathomable costs, and ensured the cycle of revenge."
And a statement by the Australian Section of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) points out that,
"A just solution is possible to the conflicts between the Israeli, the Lebanese and Palestinian peoples but can only come when the peoples' representatives come to the negotiating table with a commitment to achieving a good life for all the peoples involved, not for one people seeking profit, privilege and advantage at the expense of the other. Only in this way can nation states finally emerge that truly respect each other."
And further, ".if past injustices are accepted as sufficient reason to oppress and kill others, then there never can be an end to war and oppression."
Several women's organizations have also pointed out that in resolving the violence in the Middle East, it is critically important that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 be followed. In a letter of appeal for an end to the bloodshed, the International Coordinators and Board Members of Peace Women Across the Globe write,
"We appeal to the Israeli government and all parties to the conflict to meet at the negotiating table to begin a serious, multilaterally negotiated, peace process. We also demand the adherence to UN Resolution 1325 that requires women be involved centrally in the formal peace process. Women are central to creating and sustaining peace in communities all around the globe."
However the voices that perhaps mean the most are those of women blogging amidst the violence in Lebanon. The excerpts below are just a few of the many, it is highly recommended that you visit these blogs and see the pictures posted there as well. Joumana, a graphic designer expresses her anguish at the carnage that is taking place around her on Hopeful Beirut http://www.hopefulbeirut.blogspot.com/ ,
"My words echo and return to me, distorted. We are all prisoners, they say - trapped in our house - in our land - in our nation. We are being isolated and left to ponder the fate of others, like us, stuck with no way out. As blasts of light fill an empty sky... and then darkness... I wonder... How many families will be offered on the altar of sacrifice? How many will leave their homes? How many will have nothing to return to? How many will not return? Today, they found people buried alive in Houla. Can anyone imagine a more torturous situation?
While I still have the comfort of my home, they were trapped under theirs, huddled together, not knowing their fate. Parents and children, sharing a cramped, dark space; the sound of lullabies filling the air as mothers sing their babies to sleep. This was their prayer... And this is mine... as long as I still find the words..."
On Beirut Update http://www.beirutupdate.blogspot.com/ , Zena writes about how war transforms lives."In the beginning of war, one is concerned about their personal safety... then after a few days, you realize that you are still alive.. so your thoughts then go out to those around you... you start spending your time trying to help others in need... then you reach out and start thinking about all those who are dying or being displaced...
you try and help them.. if you can't, you end up spending all your time thinking about them.. writing about them.. then you realize how much time has gone by.. how much you miss your old life... you try and pick up a few pieces.. you try and give yourself some personal time during the day to do the stuff you miss doing... then you start to feel selfish... i went to the studio, but i could not work. i will try again. and again. until something happens."
And a woman writing under the pen name of 'Delirious' writes about what 'normal' means in a time of war at Life or Something Like It. http://computeraidedelirium.blogspot.com/
"In a normal world, the masses would not be slumbering while their fellow human beings are being killed. (I wonder, how does everyone still go about their business normally? Do they wake up, switch on the news, and go: "Oh, it's these Arabs and Jews that are killing each other again, pfffffff.... bo-ring. Hummm... what am I going to wear today?")
In a normal world, the UN would be something other than just a prefix for the world UNABLE.
In a normal world, the media would not be biased or misinformed. (too many examples to link to here, but you all know what I'm talking about -- here's one anyways).
In a normal world, children and infants would not constitute 1/3 of killed civilians in a war.
In a normal world, a cease-fire would have been decreed a long time ago.
In a normal world, humanitarian convoys would not be bombed, and fuel would be allowed to reach port at least to prevent hospitals from shutting down.
In a normal world, bombs would not be dubbed as birth pangs of a New Middle East (Rice's now infamous metaphor).
In a normal world, an end to all this madness would have been sought a long time ago, instead of finger-pointing and more destruction.
But then... who am I to define what is normal?"
One wonders if things would be different if these were the predominant voices that were being heard?
Footnote: Women in Lebanon and Gaza are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. Donations to specifically help women in these war-torn areas can be made by visiting Madre, www.madre.org. The Global Fund for Women also has links to organizations working in these areas, http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/work/programs/middle-east-crisis.html.
The Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel is also in need of contributions to carry on their urgent efforts to end the violence, http://coalitionofwomen.org/home.
Lucinda Marshall is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including, Counterpunch, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive, Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse. She blogs at WIMN Online.