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Jerusalem Women Promote Peace on U.S. Tour

Jerusalem Women Promote Peace on U.S. Tour


By Sonia Nettnin


Marianne Albina, Hidaya Said Najmi and Gila Svirsky spoke about the effects of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the people.

In a promotion-for-peace tour titled, “Three Women, Three Faiths, One Shared Vision,” the speakers talked about their life experiences with occupation, not prevalent in U.S. mainstream media. The UN-registered organization, Partners for Peace, sponsors their tour.

“By omitting the occupation, we will no longer have violence,” Albina said. She is a Christian Palestinian who lives in East Jerusalem. In 1948, Israeli forces expelled Albina’s family from their home. At present, 100 Israeli houses are on her parents’ land. She worked as a communications director for World Vision Jerusalem; and she worked with the Palestinian rights organization for youth, Pyalara. Albina believes peace is not just ink on paper, but it is the reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Part of the conflict-resolution requires the acknowledgement that Israel built itself on Palestinian land. However, recognition of this point does not mean the erasure of Israel, since the Palestinian people want 22 per cent of historical Palestine only.

Albina emphasized the livings conditions of the Palestinian children. “They go out to tanks waiting outside their homes,” she said. “Boys growing into men are humiliated by Israeli soldiers in front of their friends.” She talked about the children who witness the demolition of their homes; and how they watch their favorite toys and dolls buried under the rubble.

She told the audience that one boy asked her if she could guarantee him 90 per cent that he would not die soon. When Albina listens to the children’s life stories “they devastate me from the inside,” she added.

In response to the violence, Palestinian youth created Pyalara. The organization has a \weekly T.V. program and newspaper. Palestinian youth have the opportunity to channel their anger. Moreover, they established a help line, so youth have access to information and resources when they lose their homes or they cannot reach school.

The boys and girls want the world to know that they are not terrorists.

Said Najmi lives in Jenin, West Bank. She is a Muslim Palestinian who has a BA in Architecture. She is a Senior Design Engineer rebuilding the refugee camp. After the Jenin invasion of 2002 Israeli forces destroyed 500 apartments; and they damaged the infrastructure of 3,000 houses, which left hundreds of families homeless.

“In an Israeli compound I witnessed people die in front of me,” she said tearfully. She, her family and her neighbors survived eight of 21 days confined to her apartment. The ten adults and twelve children listened to a machine gun on their roof, which did not stop day and night. An Israeli tank smashed peoples’ cars and damaged the corner of their apartment building. They heard explosives and everyone prayed to stay alive. Said Najmi witnessed people kicked out of their houses. The smell of death was everywhere.

“I grew up watching everyone being humiliated around me,” she said. “We witnessed many terrible things.” At eight-years-old, Said Najmi experienced the death of a family member.

Instead of discussing design layouts and concrete plans of houses with people, she heard many terrible stories. The audience grew silent when she talked about a mother killed in front of her children.

“We have been denied our right to freedom for too long,” she said. “We believe in justice and we believe there are people in the world who believe in justice.”

Since September 2000, the beginning of the second Intifada (uprising), Israeli forces killed over 3700 Palestinians – 20 per cent of them are children.

Despite the billions of dollars in infrastructure damage, Israeli forces detained over 15,000 Palestinian people since the second Intifada… and over 7,000 people remain in prison under miserable conditions.

Svirsky is a Jewish Israeli who lives in West Jerusalem. At the age of 19, she moved from the United States to Israel. Svirsky’s parents escaped the anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe in the 1930s and they met in Jerusalem. Her mother’s family perished in the Holocaust. Svirsky believes in Israel’s right to defend and protect its welfare, but she believes in the end of the occupation.

“Israel would not be able to support its policies without the support of the U.S. government,” she said. Svirsky said the policy that leads to peace requires the U.S. to be an honest broker.

A resounding member of the Israeli peace movement, Svirsky held leadership positions in several peace and human rights organizations, including New Israel Fund, Bat Shalom and B’Tselem. As co-founder of the Coalition of Women for Peace, nine more organizations developed under the umbrella of the coalition. An avid writer, Svirsky is the recipient of the Kesten Medal of the P.E.N. Association of Germany and the Bremen Solidarity Prize.

The coalition has die-ins on the streets of Tel Aviv; they host concerts with Israeli and Palestinian dancers, musicians and poets who promote peace; and they march through the streets protesting the occupation. All of the women have dialogue about sharing Jerusalem. “We refuse to be enemies,” she added.

After Svirsky spoke, some audience members discussed how the men should heed these endeavors.

The organization, New Profile, helps the coalition members understand how militarism permeates Israeli society. They discuss the garrison state, how security dominates their lives and humanitarian-universal ideas. In Israeli households, twice as many women have been killed by domestic partners, compared to three years ago. The belief is that the Israeli government drives this culture of violence.

Svirsky shared survey results that conclude 69 per cent of Israelis believe they should leave all or most of the Occupied Territories. Eighty-three per cent of Israeli settlers would leave the territories in exchange for financial compensation. A two-state solution received 79 per cent support from the Palestinian people.

Overall, both sides are fed up with the violence and the killing. Whenever there is a call for reserves, less than half of Israelis show up. “It’s voting with your feet, which means you just don’t go,” she said.

Svirsky believes full pride in Israel will be felt when it stops the oppression of 3.5 million people (the Palestinians).

Every year, Israel spends 1.5 billions dollars on military presence in the Occupied Territories and its settlements. The women talked about how the U.S. funded wells in Gaza, which Israeli forces destroyed with guns funded by the U.S. government. The Palestinian people rebuilt the wells with more U.S. funding, which Israeli forces destroyed again.

All three women believe that the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea can be shared by two peoples. Since 1998, Partners for Peace sponsors this annual tour.

Albina said that participation from the international community brings light to a very dark tunnel.

*************

Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.


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