Education, General

Breaking Barriers: Dialog between Israeli and Palestinian women | Debi Shoua-Haim

6 Comments 27 January 2013

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.

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

"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"

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.

Can the gender perspective help end the conflict?

 

Your Comments

6 Comments so far

  1. betty carmona says:

    I commend you Debi and all the Israeli/Palestinian women that are involved in dialogue, because through these seminars there will be a better understanding of the human condition on both sides. Breaking Barriers is the key.

  2. I am so glad that you initiated a seminar for Palestinian and Israeli women! I will tell it also the members of our congregation, our Women in Black ans last not least to a Woman from “Holidays from War”.. Last year we also had two guests from “Breaking Barriers” in Cafe Palestine Colonia here in Cologne. It was such a wonderful experience! And now I hope that you will continue this work that more and more Israeli and Palestinian women will come together and work for a better understanding and just peace.
    In May I will come to your country with the group of Bergisch Gladbach/.Beit Jala and I hope to see you then! .

  3. Helga Dieter says:

    Dear Debi,
    I am Helga Dieter, the coordinator of the “Vacation from War” campaign. I usually don’t go in facebook because the program will immediately tell me that 135 friends from Bosnia to Palestine are waiting for an answer. But I am very excited that after 12 years a report about the Israeli-Palestinian encounters is published in Israel. (Altogether we invited more than 1600 participants from both sides for two weeks in Germany) . I know how sensitive it is to publish the dialogue process between “enemies” . On the other hand it is very important to make public what a Palestinian participant wrote already years ago: “We can live together – even under the same roof. This is a phantastic experience”. Did you personally had this experience before? I hope other reports will follow yours. Thank you.
    I know the “Rabbis for Human Rights” since 2003 when I was part of a delegation and met Rabbi Arik Asherman and since estimate your various peace activities.
    Rose told me that I was introduced to the seminar by her and Moran as a powerful and critical woman. According to my call I have a critical remark to your article:
    We understand our project as a grassroots initiative. In the majority of official funding nowadays the “Education for Leadership” is supported. Your impression of a strong Palestinian woman is that she is a “born leader” or a “leader by nature”.
    We don’t need leaders -neither born nor educated- in our real utopia of a democratic and peaceful society – where-ever..
    Perhaps this is the beginning of a lively discussion.
    Thank you very much for the article.
    Warm greetings
    Helga Dieter

  4. Joop Meijers says:

    Thanks Debi for your positive and optimistic report. Every drop in the sea, even if it is a drop, is important since in the end- hopefully- all the drops will form the new sea. You are an example, not only for all those Israeli women who still do not see the ‘other’ but also for all those Palestinian women who still refuse to see the ‘ other’ . I hope your example will encourage others to follow, not only to Istanbul and Germany but, more importantly, to Israel and Palestine where after so many years, it is time to start a dialogue.

  5. cynthia england says:

    This is important and valuable work. Women working together gives hope for our world. Thank You.


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    [...] but completely silences Assad’s use of f.e.white phosphorus Breaking Barriers: Dialog between Israeli and Palestinian women | Debi Shoua-Haim | @rhreng Website  http://rhr.org.il/eng/index.php/2013/01/breaking-barriers-dialog-between-israeli-and-palestinian-wom… [...]

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