Picture: Hanun Al-Lahsa and Debbie. Hanin is a prominent woman in the health field, a born leader, with deep wisdom, who does much to improve the lot of the Palestinian people. From left to right: Nanun Al-Lahsa and Debbie Shua-Hayim at Dialogue seminar between Israeli and Palestinian women.
Debbie Shua-Hayim, assistant to the Director of the Education Department of Rabbis for Human Rights, returns from a dialogue seminar for Israeli and Palestinian women, and shares her gender insights regarding new possibilities for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
By: Debi Shoua-Haim
As part of my work at Rabbis for Human Rights, I was fortunate to be able to take part in a 10 day meeting of dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian women. This seminar is part of an initiative called Breaking Barriers. The initiative is funded by the German committee for basic rights and democracy as part of their “Vacation from War” project.
Breaking Barriers has been conducting dialogue seminars for the past 11 years and during these years has started to conduct women-only seminars based on the fact that in conflict and war situations women suffer more.
In this seminar 18 young women from each side took part, as well as facilitators from both sides. All in all, there were 42 women ages 19-31. The Palestinian women were mainly from the West Bank and few from East Jerusalem.
My aim for this seminar was to get to know the personal stories of the women on both sides and to learn about how these personal stories affected their national, religious, and gender identity. For me, this aim was fulfilled in a vey deep sense.
This seminar focused on talking about the conflict, but by talking about the conflict other issues and complexities of the lives and societies on both sides were exposed.
On the second day of the seminar, when we told our personal stories, women on both sides expressed a deep pain, the pain of everyday life, of fear and of loss. Although I was very much aware that violations of human rights happen every day to Palestinians, it was very powerful to hear it first hand from women who feel the occupation daily.
On the third day of the seminar we shared each others family stories and drew maps of Israel/Palestine and the world to show where our families came from. It was then when Fatima, one of the Palestinian participants, asked a critical question: “what are you doing here? Go back to where you came from!” Only then did I understand that many of the Palestinian women did not know that the Jewish people have a long running and strong relationship to the land of Israel. I then found myself telling the story of this connection from the days of Abraham till today. In addition, I made a presentation about RHR for all of the seminar participants. Again, many of the Palestinian women were surprised to hear about the existence and work of such an organization, that voices a Jewish connection to this land but does not forget the people who lived on it for centuries and that favors human rights for all people of this land.
The intensity of this seminar enabled me to deconstruct different aspect of my identity and to ask hard questions about what it means to be Jewish/Israeli/Woman. I was able to learn a lot about the complexities within Palestinian society and about the hardship of life for people living in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
At the end of the seminar, I received positive feedback from both Palestinian and Israeli participants: “we are proud of what you are doing,” “you showed us a different kind of Judaism,” “You showed us that there are Israelis that care.”
I was only one voice out of many in this seminar, but to my content, this voice was heard loud and clear: This is the homeland of the Jewish people but this doesn’t mean that we ignore and violate rights of the people that are living here and were living here before us.
Most importantly, I met inspiring and strong women from both sides and I know that they will be my partners in slowly breaking the wall of separation between us two nations living on one land. The picture is of Hanin al-Lahaseh and me. Hanin is a prominent young woman from Ramallah, leader by nature, wise and very dedicated to bettering the life of the Palestinian people.