Terry Greenblatt is director of Bat Shalom, Israel's National Women's Peace Organization, and a delegate to Women Waging Peace.
Editor's Note: This is the second in an occasional series of first-person commentaries from women working for peaceful solutions in conflict areas around the world, published at TomPaine.Com See also TomPaine.com's interview with "Women Waging Peace" founder Swanee Hunt.
(Sharon Basco produced this piece.)
A note from Greenblatt: "Bat Shalom works for peace and equality for all of Israel's citizens -- men and women, Jews, Muslims, and Christians. We work to provide Israeli and Palestinian women with the support they need to be visible and effective with local and international policymakers, and advocate for social and political change, lasting peace and co-existence."
Since the start of this second intifada, Jewish and Palestinian Israeli women have been relentlessly, creatively, and courageously opposing the escalating violence and human rights violations in our region. But -- yes -- indeed, we are scared.
We are scared as we protest in the streets of Tel Aviv and in Palestinian villages under siege. We have stood huddled in small groups of six or seven, as well as with the over 10,000 women and men in 150 cities and towns around the world who stood in solidarity with us this past June 8th. This date marks the anniversary of Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories. On June 8, 2001, Women In Black held a vigil and march in concert with other organizations around the world, calling for peace.
We are harassed and cursed, harassed and arrested. And again, I am scared as we raise our voices for a peace born in justice -- the only kind of peace that will ensure long-term security for our two peoples. I am scared as we demand a mutually negotiated agreement that provides each side with the land, historical narrative, resources, and dignity it deserves.
In the moments before an Israeli-Palestinian women's political dialogue, I feel anxious as I sit across from a Palestinian peace and liberation colleague. But she smiles at me, and then her eyes are moist, and she says, "Terry, my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." This frightens me again, and I worry that if I join her in her desperation we will drown in a well of depression.
Some days, I stand witness as part of the Israeli women's checkpoint watch, monitoring and documenting human rights abuses at Israeli checkpoints around Jerusalem. The three women on duty with me exchange emergency phone numbers, in case something happens to us while we're on duty. My nervous stomach calms down only when I have crossed back into West Jerusalem. And there I deal with the normal level of anxiety that accompanies us as we make our individual ways home, traveling on the public buses and in taxis that do not always make it to their destinations without blowing up.
Some of the more profoundly scary situations are about the larger picture. In recent months, Israeli, American, and Palestinian participants in the Oslo and Camp David negotiating teams have been publishing opinion papers on the collapse of the peace process. Their documentation reveals the original spirit and intention of Oslo -- which was based on the understanding that the imbalance of power between the occupier and the occupied, and the negative history between our two peoples -- represented almost insurmountable obstacles for conventional negotiations.
As Israeli negotiator Dr. Ron Pundak noted, "Our goal was to work towards a conceptual change, which would lead to a dialogue based, as much as possible, on fairness, equality, and common objectives. For many years, our two peoples had tried to attain achievements at the expense of the other side. Every victory won by one side was considered a defeat for the other. In contrast," says Dr. Pundak, "Oslo was, from the start, guided by efforts to abandon this approach and to achieve as many win-win situations as possible..."
The spirit of Oslo was never tested, and therefore it is unacceptable to say that a negotiated settlement is impossible. Oslo didn't fail, we did.
I am terrified to know that our leadership was aware of the profound shift in consciousness and public education for peace that were necessary to attempt a negotiated agreement. But they were unable to, or chose not to, risk acknowledging the other side as an integral partner for our own success. We never sat down together on the same side of the table and together looked at our common and complex joint history, with the commitment and intention of not getting up until -- in respect and reciprocity -- we could get up together and begin our new history as good neighbors.
People often ask me what I have learned, living and doing peace work with Israeli and Palestinian women living in a conflict zone. What I can tell you is that women learn from women's lives:
"Women's characteristic life experience gives them the potential for two things: a very special kind of intelligence, social intelligence, and a very special kind of courage, social courage. The courage to cross the lines drawn between us, which are also the lines drawn inside our heads. And the intelligence to do it safely, without a gun, and to do it productively." This is a quote from Cynthia Cockburn, City University, London, England.
I believe that existing borders are not necessarily an obstacle for women. Led by our feelings and instincts, women will cross them. Nothing will stop us.
It is scary to me that as bad as the current situation is, no one is asking us what we -- the women -- think or have to offer; no one has yet realized how critical our contribution is to the process.
As women we want to be able to look our children in the eyes, without shame, and tell them that injustice was committed in our name, and we did our best to stop it. Even when we are women whose very existence contradicts each other, we will talk; we will not shoot.
I believe it is constructive for all of us to individually and communally examine our fears. There is much that informs our political positions and passions that has its root in those fears. In that process of examination lies much of the potential for the genuine unity and identity we might one day be able to reclaim -- together. For though we promise and envision according to our hopes, we perform only according to our fears.
There is not much I know in my bones to be absolutely true these days, other than this: if time and time again, the "answer" is war, then we have not yet learned to ask the right question.
This is Terry Greenblatt for TomPaine.com.