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There Is a Partner
Gila Svirsky, Israel
January 2, 2005
Israelis have gotten used to saying, "There’s no partner", referring to the perceived unwillingness of Palestinian leaders to make peace with Israel. So we think we raised a few eyebrows by posting stickers everywhere this weekend saying (in Hebrew) "There IS a partner", with the word ‘partner’ in the female gender. Yes, there IS a partner for peace, and she may very well be a woman. Write if you want the 1.5 Meg version of this sticker, or even an original snail-mailed to you. Or just practice saying "Yesh Partnerit" in Hebrew, so you can inform your Israeli friends…
We had a wonderful end-of-year roundup in Tel Aviv, where hundreds of women from the nine member organizations of the Coalition of Women for Peace came together to mark the close of another year of hard work and good energy. We invite those of you who couldn’t be with us to review a summary of our efforts below.
We also invite you to visit the websites of some Coalition member organizations:
And check out our new website Coalition of Women for Peace, in English, Hebrew, and Arabic.
We wish all our friends and partners, of all genders, a New Year of peace and justice.
2004: Highlights of Our Activity
1. Advocacy to support an end to the occupation—in Israel and abroad.
In 2004, the Coalition used a wide range of strategies—public education, posters, billboards, street theater, creative public events, placement of articles in the media, petitions, and mobilization of the international community—to help increase support for peace in Israel and abroad. Some highlights of that activity:
Large public events: In January, our large semi-annual event included a conference about the negative effects of occupation specifically on women, followed by a march through Jerusalem streets, and a mass public rally. In June, we held a variety of events across Israel: A large "End the Occupation" demonstration in the north, panel discussions about the occupation at the annual feminist conference, public screenings of the video we produced, and a poster campaign throughout Israel "Dai Lakibush, Yad L’Piyus" [End the Occupation, Seek Reconciliation] covering billboards in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Tel Aviv. We conducted a "walking exhibition" in Tel Aviv, showing photos of destroyed homes in Gaza. In September, we took advantage of Madonna’s visit to Israel to publicize the plight of the Palestinians, and won excellent coverage in both the Israeli and international media, including ABC-TV. In December, we held a large demonstration in Tel Aviv and public screening of the play, "Winter in Kalandia" showing some of the bitter reality at the military checkpoints.
Public education: Public education events in 2004 included programs analyzing the Hague ruling on the Separation Barrier, the Gaza disengagement plan, the economics of occupation, panels on "Women and Peace" and "What is Russian Feminism?", and seminars on the role of Mizrahim in the peace movement, examining the relationship between peace and social justice issues.
Human rights: Human rights activity, with its humanitarian help, is an important part of our work. It not only supports and gives solidarity to Palestinians, but it serves to educate and raise public awareness of Israelis. Some activity:
During a January emergency, the Coalition delivered several tons of infant food to Gaza and Nablus. In May, Coalition and Bat Shalom women together set up an encampment at the checkpoint leading into Rafah to protest the intensified violence by the Israeli army in Gaza. This action spurred the formation of other vigils around Israel that continued for as long as the army remained in Rafah. We also helped organize (led by Ta’ayush and together with other organizations) a major rally of hundreds of Israelis at the Kissufim entrance to Gaza, which won considerable media attention.
In the summer, Coalition women organized a fun day in Israel for 500 Palestinian children whose villages are sliced by the Security Wall. In the fall, we sponsored a "women’s day" of olive harvesting, helping Palestinians gather their crop despite inaccessibility due to the Security Wall and assaults by settlers.
The Coalition played a significant role in the late summer campaign to prevent the expulsion of 2,000 Palestinian cave dwellers from the South Hebron Hills (a campaign led by Ta’ayush). Specifically, the Coalition organized an international petition (which garnered 4,000 signatures) and a public letter endorsed by some of the leading anthropologists in the world. There was partial success on this, as Israel’s Supreme Court granted a 4-month reprieve to enable the residents to legalize their homes.
One clear success in 2004 was our campaign to demand that Israel allow UNRWA to resume food deliveries to Gaza, after the Israeli army halted them following a bombing in Ashdod. The Coalition of Women for Peace mobilized local and international pressure to compel Israel to re-open the gates to this vital supply line, and Israel relented three weeks later. While we have no proof of a causal connection here, the Coalition of Women was the only NGO working on the issue and gathered 7,000 petition signatures within days, leading the UNRWA spokesman to state that our campaign made a significant contribution to this success.
The Security Wall: The Coalition campaigned extensively, often in cooperation with other organizations, to halt construction of the Security Wall along its present route. We held events in Israel, on-site demonstrations at the wall (four with Palestinian women), an extensive Internet campaign, mass e-mail exposure, full-page ads, and a brochure that we put out in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic, English). We placed op-eds explaining the problem of the wall in Israeli Internet portals and major newspapers in the U.S., Europe and Africa. Above all, the Coalition conducted tours of the Security Wall for 1,500 Israelis, most of whom had never seen it before, and many of whom were so stunned by what they saw, they sent others on the tour.
The 3-week International Human Rights March of Women (held December-January 2003–04) brought 120 women from 14 countries for a fact-finding tour of the situation in Palestine and Israel. As a result of direct exposure to the occupation, these women—as individuals and members of their local organizations—have become inspired and well-informed activists in their own countries. This program was jointly run by organizations in 3 countries: in Israel, the Coalition of Women for Peace; in Palestine, the Palestinian General Union of Women Workers; and, in Europe, the Norwegian Peace Alliance and the Norwegian WILPF section.
The Coalition increased its international outreach by constructing and running an active website in 3 languages; activating an e-mail list of 4,000 subscribers worldwide, which reaches tens of thousands more; placing articles and giving interviews in media throughout the world; speaking at conferences worldwide; sending women to engage in extensive speaking tours in Europe and North America; and addressing a UN conference in Geneva on the subject of the Security Wall (in April).
Bridges with the social justice movement: The Coalition of Women for Peace was a co-founder (in May 2002) of the Social Forum, which brings together peace and social justice organizations to support each other’s work. Together with this group (now independent), the Coalition helped organize this year’s "Alternative Caesaria Conference", which provides an alternative forum to the annual Israeli conference that brings together the wealthy with those in power. In April, the Coalition was a co-sponsor of Israel’s Activism Festival, patterned after the World Social Forum, in which social change activists share information and strategies. In December, we co-sponsored the "Poverty Conference" in Tel Aviv, which drew large numbers of people.
Bridges with the women’s movement: In December, the Coalition, together with Woman-to-Woman of Haifa, ran a gender-sensitivity training for the staff of B’Tselem, explaining the importance of interviewing women, documenting the human rights violations of women, and doing gender aggregations of human rights data. The Coalition also worked together with other feminist organizations to protest the lack of women presenters in two conferences: the Herzliya Seminar, sponsored by the Israel Democracy Institute, and a conference on multiculturalism, sponsored by Haifa University.
2. Outreach to new audiences.
In 2004 we launched three new outreach programs:
Outreach to Russian speakers. Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel and the Russian-language media are dominated by extremist right-wing views. In this project, we found and brought together 100 progressive women who are Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel, and wish to bring a progressive voice to their community. Meeting biweekly, the women address a broad agenda—feminism, racism, human rights, social justice—and seek ways to bring their voice on these issues into their community. These women are in the process of shaping a strategy that will introduce their views to the Russian-language media and impact their community directly.
Reality Tours are geared toward Israeli women and men who do not share our views, but are willing to expose themselves to facts on the ground. Led by trained Coalition guides, the tours expose the participants to the social, economic, political, and environmental realities of the conflict—checkpoints, refugee camps, the Security Fence, etc. The tour typically has a powerful impact, showing participants a reality that most have never before witnessed. In several cases, participants became directly involved in activism following the tour, and almost all send friends and family to participate. Approximately 1,500 Israelis participated in these tours in 2004.
The Political Education in the Negev project is conducted by Ahoti, an organization for the empowerment of women from disadvantaged Mizrahi families (Jews from Arab countries). This project operates in Mitzpe Ramon—a Negev town with high unemployment and low morale, but a recent history of activism. A group of women who are local opinion leaders meet biweekly to discuss the implications of the ongoing occupation for their lives, and to shape a peace program that reflects their concerns. A second framework brings together women who are already Mizrahi activists from the center of the country to explore the complexity of the peace issue and its relationship to Mizrahi rights, in an effort to broaden the culture of peace, currently regarded as a concern of ‘the privileged’.
3. Capacity building in the member organizations.
Thanks to additional resources, the Coalition has been able to support, empower and build capacity in our member organizations, each of which has a different strategy and audience. To that end, the Coalition engaged in the following activities:
The Media Project: The Media Project helps member organizations access the media and publicize their activities and views. Begun in July, the Media Project has already had dramatic success in boosting media access: publicity for the Tali Fahima case, emphasizing the lack of due judicial process; footage by MachsomWatch of army abuse of Palestinians at checkpoints, which caused a stir in the Israeli mass media; coverage of organizational events; and placement of major articles and op-eds in the Israeli media.
Public Exposure: The Coalition produced a 20-minute video, "Women Resist the Occupation" that describes the work of its member organizations. Over 300 copies of this video were sold throughout Israel and abroad for use in advocacy and consciousness raising (and are still available for sale). In general, Coalition members attend each other’s events and cite each other in public forums, such as presentations to groups in Israel and abroad, enhancing the visibility of us all. . . .
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.