Academic journal article Kadin/Woman 2000

Women, Conflict and Peace: Notes on Israeli, Palestinian Women's Experiences

Academic journal article Kadin/Woman 2000

Women, Conflict and Peace: Notes on Israeli, Palestinian Women's Experiences

Article excerpt

Abstract

Can women play an active, specifically gender-oriented, role in conflict resolution and peace processes? This study seeks to answer this question by analyzing a cooperative project carried out by The Jerusalem Link, initiated in 1994 by two Women's Centres: the Israeli Bat Shalom and the Palestinian Jerusalem Women's Centre. The purpose of the project was to open a dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian women from their two communities in conflict. This paper analyzes in particular the experiences of women participants from these Centres during a three year European Union funded initiative called "Building Constituencies for Women's Alternative Ways for Peace" (2005-2008), in which the Italian Women's Association Orlando and the author of this article were also involved. This paper demonstrates the progressive transformation of the various actors involved in the project and the difficult growth of a common "we", inclusive of these two groups of women, as well as of their unique and problematic relationships with the dominant discourses of their societies. In this process a crucial turning paint was a shift in discourse level: from the "official", traditional political discourses with fixed agendas to a more individual-based discourse of personal narratives, where women voiced their private experiences, feelings and emotions. This discursive shift made possible "reciprocal listening" and initiated a process, however contradictory and ambivalent it might in practice have been, of building trust and empathy between Palestinian and Israeli women. If evaluations of the "efficacy", or "effectiveness", of this, and similar, projects might be seen as controversial in terms of traditional political parameters, their symbolic value is, nevertheless, relevant in the current global context. It is in their capacity to construct an alternative "transversal politics" in deeply conflicted societies that we can most clearly see how women can construct an innovative, " gendered" feminist contribution to the peace process that emerges through practice.

Key Words: Gender politics, Conflict resolution, Personal narrative, Peace process, Transversal politics

A Women's Peace Project and its Background

Can women play an active and unique role in the resolution of conflict? Can gender provide an alternative framework for thinking through the dynamics of peace processes?--or even force us to rethink the received meanings of the terms "conflict resolution" and "peace process"? In other words, does gender difference actually make a difference?

I would like to discuss these issues in the light of a particular conflict resolution experience in which I have been personally involved as participant-observer : a three year EU-financed project initiated at the end of 2005 called "Building Constituencies for Women's Alternative Ways for Peace". The general aim of the project was to promote encounters between Palestinian and Israeli women and to support the peacemaking efforts of two Women's Centres: Bat Shalom on the Israeli side, Jerusalem Center for Women on the Palestinian side. Both centres have a long history of working together for peace.

In 1989, a meeting was convened in Brussels between prominent Israeli and Palestinian women peace activists. The meeting initiated an on-going dialogue that in 1994 resulted in the establishment of The Jerusalem Link comprising two women's organizations--Bat Shalom on the Israeli side, and the Jerusalem Centre for Women on the Palestinian side. As stated on the two organisations' websites (1): single space "The two organizations share a set of political principles, which serve as the foundation for a cooperative model of co-existence between our respective peoples. Each organization is autonomous and takes its own national constituency as its primary responsibility, but together we promote a joint vision of a just peace, democracy, human rights, and women's leadership. …

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