women and peace
WOMEN'S VOICE FROM PALESTINE:
Sumaya Farhat-Naser's Address
for the Global Fund for Women's
Sumaya Farhat-Naser is a Palestinian professor and peace activist, director of the Jerusalem Center for Women. Sumaya was scheduled to give a keynote speech at the Global Fund for Women's Celebration of International Women's Day on March 8th. When she was denied a travel permit (the current situation for all Palestinians), she accepted an offer of assistance from members of the Israeli women's peace organization Bat Shalom's board of directors to intervene with the Israeli Foreign Ministry on her behalf. The Jerusalem Center is the Palestinian partner of Bat Shalom, in a coalition called Jerusalem Link. After more than a week of negotiations with Israeli officials, the best they could offer Sumaya was travel to San Francisco for one day - March 8th - followed by an immediate return home. Bat Shalom's director and Sumaya's co-keynote speaker, Terry Greenblatt, did not face such obstacles to traveling abroad. Sumaya Farhat-Naser has shared with us the remarks she would have liked to present on International Women's Day.
Sumaya Farhat-Naser's Address
for the Global Fund for Women's
It was with enormous pleasure that I anticipated meeting all of you on this special day. I wanted to look into your eyes and receive your inspiration, knowing the compassion and strength I would have found there would have enabled me to fulfill the expectations you entrusted me with.
I wanted to personally express
my deep appreciation for the honor you granted me with this invitation,
and to thank you for the important contribution to justice you make
around the world. I wanted to highlight your love, your sincerity, your
concern for human rights, women's rights and
Yet, it is forbidden for me and for my people to experience joy. To plan, to decide, to simply LIVE as normal human beings. This is occupation. We have lived under these conditions for 34 years and continue to do so because too many people did not have the courage to name it as it is: OCCUPATION. Too often new definitions and interpretations are used to sabotage the truth - justifying the unjust, not admitting the brutal reality.
Since September 29, 2000, the people of Palestine have been subjected to collective punishment. Palestinian cities, towns and villages remain under "siege." Palestinian men, women and children are not allowed "in" or "out." All movement, work, education, life and development has become so restricted that Palestinian society is now on the verge of collapse.
Under such conditions, peace work is no longer possible - since it contradicts the reality of occupation. This limits our actions and undermines our intention for a just solution to the conflict for both peoples. The ideology behind such practices is exclusion of "the other," confiscation of Palestinian land and total control over the land and people of "the other." This serves one ideology - but prevents a secure and dignified future for both peoples. Such acts are destructive and irresponsible. We must recognize this danger clearly, if we are to avoid the tremendous pain and losses which inevitably will follow.
We need courage - and mutual recognition of equal political and national rights for both peoples. We need to say clearly and loudly that we all are the same people. No one superior, no one inferior. No occupier, no occupied.
I want to let you know that we women for peace will never give up. We face so many challenges and difficulties daily, yet we know that one day - slow step by slow step - we will reach our goal. The goal we together work towards. All of us are stronger and happier individuals when we maintain our beliefs and hopes. We do not have any other option.
When the Global Fund for
Women asked me whether I would like to invite a partner in peace to
speak with me on March 8th, I immediately agreed to have Terry with
me. This presented real challenges, since a decision had been made months
ago not to engage in joint work. But I believe in what I'm doing, and
therefore, I willingly take upon myself the subsequent risks and
I must tell you, Terry and I were so excited by the prospect of spending a few days together, learning more about one another. Such an opportunity, to see each other as normal people in a normal setting - the United States! We anticipated with delight the time - and the freedom - to be ourselves. Far way from a political situation that separates us in every sense of the word. Far away from the political situation we are BOTH imprisoned in.
Now we have missed this chance. But we will work to have such a moment come again. Prevented in this way from making our powerful joint expression, I still feel the obligation of keeping you, keeping me, keeping all of us standing tall - with uplifted hearts and minds. We must encourage ourselves to retain a message of strength and hope.
Before I continue, I must thank you, Terry, for struggling alongside me on so many different levels. We both know quite well what challenges we've faced - and continue to face - in keeping our work and our relationship alive. During the past months, we were the only ones (I mean here Palestinian and Israeli) who talked and met despite "a call" to suspend all joint meetings. The challenges I faced - and continue to face - is securing political protection for each step I take with you. Such protection was not given to me in the past five months, creating risks and real dangers for me.
Additionally, I had the responsibility of securing funding for the Jerusalem Center for Women, the Palestinian half of The Jerusalem Link, alone, since all joint "peace work" had been put on "hold." Indefinite hold. The same holds true for you, Terry. We both had to submit new proposals, seek funding. But when it is impossible to work together, we lose the opportunity of getting support. Despite this, it encouraged me that we both agreed to come and share our thoughts and feelings - even our depressions! - with you.
I thank you now, Terry, for
presenting your point of view. I know it reflects mine, too. Because
there are other women like you - committed and radical in seeking the
truth, and working hard for peace - I will remain your partner in peace.
Irrespective of where my position of work will be.
On this special day, I would
like to remember and commemorate the spirit of Hagar Roublev, a courageous
fighter for peace. We (and here I mean Palestinian women, especially
the staff and board of the Jerusalem Center for Women) S we all loved
Hagar. Hagar was sincere - truly committed to the struggle for justice,
truth and peace. Whenever we were outraged by a particularly brutal
Israeli military action, or by especially provocative remarks said by
a far-right Israeli politician - it was so easy to jump to the conclusion
that all Israelis are bad. "Yes, all Israelis undermine truth;
none can be trusted." But then we would remember the existence
Hagar was special. "Something else," as you would say here in America. She showed us how to keep our minds open for respecting differences and searching for fresh options.
One day last summer, without warning, Hagar suffered a heart attack and died. It was a terrible shock for all of us, Palestinians as well as Israelis. I found myself irritated, because I didn't know how to behave. I had never before felt, upon hearing the news of the death of a Jewish-Israeli, such severe loss. Our relationship - here I mean, mine and Hagar's - was young, only a few years old. Yet, for the first time upon learning of a death, I was in a real dilemma.
I didn't even know if I was allowed to attend her funeral - since, as the representative for the Jerusalem Center for Women, I must first consult with my board. What to do? They suggested I write a letter of condolence to Hagar's family. This, of course, I did. But I felt a need and desire to do more for Hagar.
I consulted with my husband. He said "it is very dangerous, don't dare to do it unless you have political protection." I then called Hanan Ashrawi, one of the founders of The Jerusalem Link, and asked her: "Should I attend?" Hanan's suggestion was a good one. She said, "do what you feel is right."
I realized it was my responsibility to do this human act, and decided to go to the funeral accompanied by two colleagues from the Jerusalem Center for Women. Held on a kibbutz in the north of Israel, the funeral reminded me of a peace demonstration. Hundreds of women and men who dedicated their lives to a sincere pursuit of peace were present. I knew many of them, although some I had not seen in recent years. We looked into each other's eyes - we smiled - as tears covered our faces. We exchanged emotions of sorrow, pain, loss - and also wonderful feelings of being connected.
For the first time in my life I felt the power of sharing sorrows together. It's easier to share joys -but sharing sorrow brings people close together. I believe this may be especially true for those considered "enemies." This was a gift from Hagar to me. To all of us.
Hagar was a "secular"
Jew, and would not have wanted a funeral filled with religious rituals.
But Hagar's mother wanted to have a prayer read at the graveside. One
person began a prayer in Hebrew. Another person responded. A kind woman
standing beside translated the words they were speaking: "God,
give Israel peace." As this sentence was spoken, Hagar's father
I was overwhelmed with feeling by this small act of Hagar's father. The support and consideration he was giving me - giving all of us - during his time of intense grief. I will never forget it.
I tell you this story now so that you can understand the deep conflict in which we are engaged, and how much still needs to be done to bring our peoples together. So that we can achieve understanding. Admit responsibility. Reach peace. Work towards reconciliation.