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National NOW Times >> Spring 2003 >> Article

Vives Meets with Women Under Siege in Israel and the West Bank

by Olga E. Vives, Action Vice President

NOW Action VP Olga Vives (third from right) traveled to the Middle East along with Eve Ensler (on Olga's right), Jane Fonda (center), and other women's leaders from the U.S. to meet with Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli women. The photo was taken outside Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem at Mount Scopus.
NOW Action VP Olga Vives (third from right) traveled to the Middle East along with Eve Ensler (on Olga's right), Jane Fonda (center), and other women's leaders from the U.S. to meet with Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian and Israeli women. The photo was taken outside Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem at Mount Scopus. Photo courtesy of Eve Ensler

On Dec. 17, 2002, I boarded my plane to Tel-Aviv, on a visit to Israel and the West Bank as part of a delegation of women leaders and activists. Led by Eve Ensler, creator of The Vagina Monologues, and actor and philanthropist Jane Fonda, the gathering of Egyptian, Jordanian, Palestinian, Israeli and American women was brought together to discuss peace and coexistence and to give women a voice in ending violence in the region.

Women in the Middle East are under siege from state-sponsored violence and many other forms of brutality. There is an urgent need for women's security, equality, justice and peace in the region, and our purpose was to explore ways in which we, feminists and women leaders in the United States, may be able to join them in the quest for peace.

Prior to our trip, we established the following goals:

  1. To listen, explore, learn and build on joint peace initiatives and strategies to end violence that have already been developed by women in the region.

  2. To spotlight critical issues as determined by women in the region.

  3. To create long term support for key economic and political campaigns.

  4. To invite women to use V-Day benefit performances of "The Vagina Monologues" as a catalyst to help women.

  5. To bring back concrete recommendations to lobby U.S. policy-makers and the media.
The itinerary, packed into three and a half very full days, included visits to hospitals and rehabilitation centers both in Jerusalem and Ramallah, where we were able to see and talk with Israeli survivors of suicide bombings, wounded Israeli soldiers, and victims of violence in the West Bank as a result of Israeli incursions.

We toured a refugee camp and checkpoints in the West Bank, traveled to Neve Shalom/Wahat a-Sallahm, a village founded 20 years ago as an "experimental" community of Israelis Jews and Arabs and Palestinians as an example of peaceful coexistence.

We engaged in meaningful dialogue with women leaders in the region members of the Israeli Knesset, heads of non-governmental organizations, artists, professors, doctors, academics, lawyers, writers, poets, members of the Palestinian Legislation Council, and many others.

We also toured occupied Jerusalem and the separation fence being built around the West Bank, and joined "Women in Black" in their daily protest against the occupation in downtown Jerusalem.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, without a doubt, complicated. Many years of violence have taken a toll on the people in the region. Thousands of lives have been lost, the devastation of war on their homes, their infrastructure, the environment, continue to have an enormous effect on their daily lives.

Israeli and Palestinian women have been leading an amazing effort to bring about peace; their work, often invisible, is intended to promote a just resolution to the conflict, and to bring the voices of women to the process of finding common ground.

One of the many examples of collaboration is the work being done by the Jerusalem Center for Women, a Palestinian non-governmental women's center, and Bat Shalom, an Israeli feminist peace organization. These two organizations have joined hands in promoting their visions of a more secure and peaceful future in their land.

In August, 1999, the women of Jerusalem Center and Bat Shalom issued a joint declaration, "The Jerusalem Link," which is an affirmation of their commitment to working together "for the rapid realization of our common vision of peace."

The document's main points call for:
...the recognition of the right to self-determination of both peoples in the land through the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel on the June 4th, 1967, boundaries.
...women to be central partners in the peace process. Their active and equal participation in decision making and negotiations is crucial to the fulfillment of a just and viable peace.
...a commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict, as a means of promotion of democratic and non-violent norms and for the enhancement of civil society.

In their estimation, there will be no peace until Israel withdraws from all occupied Arab territory, including Lebanon and Syria. This is, they say, a prerequisite for a just and comprehensive, lasting peace.

The lives of the people in Israel and Palestine are filled with uncertainty. Their hearts are filled with pain and hopelessness.

In spite of many years of advocating for an end to the senseless violence, the voices of women and men who want peace are not being heard. Through their writings, their songs, their faces, their words, their sadness we get the same consistent message—"we are tired, we feel alone, we have been ignored, abandoned"—while the violence continues. They know that two peoples CAN live together in their land, they know that their children deserve a life of dignity and peace. They don't want their children killed, nor do they want them to become killers.

The words of a mother who lost her teenage son on a bus in Jerusalem and those of another who lost her two sons, 11 and 14, to a shooting in the West Bank will forever live in my heart. Their tears are ours; their pain, a call to a renewed effort to end violence in all of its forms.

We, in the United States, must support their work by advocating for a change in the reckless policies of the people in charge, both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The United States must abandon its bogus "hands off" approach and help negotiate a stop to the bloodshed.

For more information on the work of Bat Shalom and the Jerusalem Center for Women contact and

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