UPDATE #3- April 15, 2003: Israeli women share Palestinian women's voices

In addition to reporting on the experiences of our Palestinian contacts during the past two weeks, we are including some thoughts on the upcoming Pesach holiday, a festival marking a time of freedom and liberation in Jewish history. Additionally, Pesach is an opportunity to reflect on a time in which both our Jewish and Arab foremothers found ways to support one another.

Our Israeli callers continue to report on their conversations with Palestinian women throughout the Occupied Territories over the past 10 days. Despite differences in locations and specific details of their experiences, the response from the women is an overwhelming chorus of exhaustion, depression, despair and frustration. On one hand the situation day to day remains the same, however the daily interactions with soldiers at the checkpoints and the military presence in their neighborhoods create snapshots of oppression and humiliation that have become "normal," regardless of how awful these conditions really are for the women and their families. Overall, conditions are bad, consistently so.

Images from Iraq, as seen on the television, have been mentioned throughout the conversations with their Israeli contacts. One woman worries about her family in Baghdad, as she has had no contact with them and is unable to reach them. Another woman in Bir Zeit watches the news from Iraq and thinks that "the Iraqi people who are rejoicing at their 'liberation' simply don't know what is in their future; occupation is the worst thing that can happen to a people." She also says the images of the Coalition (U.S. and British soldiers) army at checkpoints in Iraq is similar to the environment in Palestine.

The checkpoints are often a source of danger and true representation of the brutality of the occupation. One of our contacts in Bir Zeit has a much longer walk between the two checkpoints and witnessed soldiers beating up a taxi driver because he took advantage of their temporary absence and tried to pass through undetected. This woman approached the soldiers, reminding them that the taxi driver is a human being. They responded by putting a gun in her face.

Military presence was reported in Bir Zeit, Tulkarem and Ramallah, and as of April 4, the closure on Tulkarem had been lifted. Concern for their families who live beyond their neighborhood or in a different city is exasperated by the fact that often they cannot visit one another. Women struggle to find alternatives for their children to occupy them indoors after school, mainly because it is unsafe to be outside. A woman in Ramallah echoes what has been said by many of the women, "we live in a big prison."

Every Pesach, Jewish families around the world sit around tables replete with traditional and symbolic foods and retell the story of the Exodus. We learn that we were liberated from living as slaves in Egypt. God liberated us, as it says in the Bible, "with a strong hand and an outstretched arm." And we are told that the strong hand was God's hand, as he brought the 10 plagues down upon the Egyptian people. And we are to understand that God's outstretched arm opened the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to pass through to the holy land, and then closed it, to drown the entire Egyptian army. But, if we go back to the beginning of the story, to the birth of our liberation story-what do you think we find? What we find is all of these extraordinary women, who act together, Arab and Jew, against oppression and hate and exemplify a different kind of strength with arms wide enough to stretch and embrace the other. Their images resonate throughout the story. We find the strong hands of the midwives, Shifra and Puah, who catch the Hebrew babies when they are born, who tend to the Israelite mothers instead of throwing the newborn babies into the Nile River as the Pharaoh has decreed. We find the strong hands of Moses' mother, who broke and softened the reeds to weave a basket to put baby Moses into the river to try and save her son. We find the outstretched arm of Pharaoh's daughter that reached out over the vast differences of nationality, religion and class to rescue this innocent child.

Pesach is an opportunity for each of us to examine how we are using our strength and how far, and to whom, our arms are outstretched.

(With special thanks to Rabbi Sharon Cohen.)

Hag Sameach.

Bat Shalom is a feminist peace organization working toward a just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Bat Shalom, together with The Jerusalem Center for Women, a Palestinian women's peace organization, comprise The Jerusalem Link. Visit our web site for more information and our latest activities: http://www.batshalom.org