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Israeli and Palestinian women campaign together for peace

Israeli woman Yanna Knopova holds a mask of a Palestinian woman over her face during a peace demonstration
(Women's Coalition for Peace)

When veteran Israeli peace activist Lily Traubman fled to Israel from Chile in 1974, her socialist beliefs led her to move to a kibbutz – a collective farm – in northern Israel.

Traubman had been raised in a political family and paid the price – her father was one of those “disappeared” by former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s henchmen.

“Once I got here in 1974 I realised rather quickly that the ideals weren’t true. Palestinians are not treated as equals – not in Israel and not in the occupied territories,” she said.

Her kibbutz, Megiddo, is located just north of the border between Israel and the West Bank, near the Palestinian city of Jenin.

During the first intifada – popular Palestinian uprising – in 1988, Traubman joined the Women in Black movement and participated in weekly Jewish-Arab demonstrations against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

She contacted Palestinian women's movements in Jenin even though some of these meetings were illegal under Israeli law, which until 1994 forbade Israeli contact with Palestinian political organisations.

“Even leftists in the kibbutz were critical of me for this,” Traubman said.

Those meetings no longer happen thanks to the construction of Israel’s West Bank barrier. Israelis are banned from entering Palestinian-run areas of the West Bank, while most Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel.

International Women's Day

Photo: IRIN  

  • To mark International Women's Day on 8 March, IRIN launches ‘The Shame of War: sexual violence against women and girls in conflict’ - a reference book and photo essay including portraits and testimonies on the sexual violence women suffer when men go to war.
  • In addition, IRIN is publishing a series of articles from the Middle East, Asia and Africa on various problems women face.

“I am very sad I can’t meet them now. I hear the sounds of conflict in nearby Jenin and I can’t do anything, except protest,” she said.

The Israeli government says the barrier is necessary to stop suicide bombers infiltrating Israel.

Terry Boulata, a long-time Palestinian activist who lives in Abu Dis in East Jerusalem, says the women’s movement was the first to introduce a joint struggle alongside Israeli activists.

Reaching out

“We accepted the hands of the Israeli women and reached out our hands as well,” Boulata said.

She believes the occupation in 1967 forced Israelis and Palestinians to come into increased contact with each other.

“As a result, some Israelis realised that Palestinians have rights as well,” she said.

A new generation of female activists is following in the footsteps of Traubman and Boulata.

An Israeli citizen of Palestinian origin, Khulood Badawi was born in Nazareth, in northern Israel, but now lives in Jerusalem where she works for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

Through her political activity she met Yanna Knopova, who immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1996 aged 15.

“Khulood is one of my best friends,” said Knopova, the coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace, an Israeli organisation that cooperates with Palestinian counterparts.

She said the outbreak of the second intifada – that has left about 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis dead since 2000 – had turned her into a feminist.

“There is something universal in feminism that allows us to bridge gaps and specifically allows for joint projects between Israelis and Palestinians,” she said.

“Tanks are not the only part of security. In fact, they harm personal security. We need to talk about ‘health security’ and ‘ecological security’.”

Traubman says women can push the peace process further than men.

“We women are more dialogue prone. Our meetings weren’t slogans – we managed to have real discussions on real issues. We were able to reach real decisions,” she said.

And as more and more women become prominent within the peace movements, they may introduce a more universal aspect to the Israeli-Palestinian struggle for peace, she argues.

“We need to have faith in the other rather than negating it. We need a more open view, based on human and democratic values,” said Badawi.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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