Women Are Saying About
The Violence In the Middle East
By Lucinda Marshall
06 September, 2006
has been no shortage of punditry when it comes to the current crisis
in the Middle East, however most of the published and broadcast voices
have been male. If there is to be any hope of a sustainable peace in
this region it is critically important to also listen to what women
As Professor Cynthia Enloe
has pointed out many times, we must ask how armed conflict and militarism
affects women. How are their lives impacted, what are their needs, and
what are their thoughts. Unfortunately, every time anyone fires a rocket
or a gun, real news about women and what they are saying (not to be
confused with sensationalized coverage such as the Jon Benet Ramsey
‘story’) is almost completely blacked out. We get a few
pictures of anguished women holding dead children and husbands, but
mostly we see pictures of tanks, mobs of men and the voices of generals
and politicians, with only a token woman or 2 thrown in to ‘balance’
While many women have offered
thoughtful and intelligent analyses of what is happening in the Middle
East, very few of these voices have made their way on to the Op Ed pages.
One of the exceptions is a piece by Nobel Peace Prize winners Shirin
Ebadi and Jody Williams that appeared in the International Herald Tribune
, where the authors write,
“We do not understand
how the international community can continue to stand by while entire
populations are held hostage in what has been described as "self
No deliberate attacks against
civilians by armed groups should be condoned by the international community,
either explicitly or implicitly through inaction. Every new attack leaves
dead and wounded in its wake. Every new attack makes another woman a
widow and more children orphans. Every new attack demonstrates the inability
or unwillingness of governments to exercise their moral obligation to
stop the violence. Every new attack underscores our collective failure
to stop making violence our preferred choice for confronting the problems
facing us all.”
In a piece originally published
by Newsday http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0804-27.htm
, author and Holocaust survivor Silvia Tennenbaum makes these wise observations
about the Jewish response to violence between Israel and its neighbors,
“No matter what great
accomplishments were ours in the diaspora, no matter that we produced
Maimonides and Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn and hundreds of others of
mankind's benefactors - not a warrior among them! - look at the world
of our long exile always in the dark light of the Shoah. But this, in
itself, is an obscene distortion: Would the author of "Survival
in Auschwitz," Primo Levi, or the poet Paul Celan demand that we
slaughter the innocents in a land far from the snow-clad forests of
Poland? Is it a heroic act to murder a child, even the child of an enemy?
Are my brethren glad of it and proud?”
“The time is long overdue
for Jews to return to their role as the world's conscience, who come
to the aid of the dispossessed, the wretched of the earth. Once again,
we must join those who demand the end to unjust wars - in Iraq as well
as Lebanon - and an unjust occupation in Gaza. We must honor the example
of American civil rights workers Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner,
not that of the mass murderer Baruch Goldstein or Yigal Amir, killer
of Yitzhak Rabin.”
Finally, in a Letter to the
Editor of the New York Times, published August 10, 2006, Gila Svirsky,
co-founder of the Coalition of Women for Peace writes about Israelis
who oppose the violence:
“There is a continuing,
vocal and visible Israeli opposition to the war. Every day, the Women
Against War Movement holds vigils in three cities: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv
and Haifa ” yes, Haifa, even under shelling. Every Saturday, we
hold mass marches through Tel Aviv, the most recent one 5,000 strong.”
Other women, such as activist
Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, have
found voice in the alternative media of the web. Kelly addresses the
futility of violence in “Approaching a Ceasefire” http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0814-28.htm
, one of several of her essays that have been published in Common Dreams.
“If equipping an area
with weapons, including nuclear weapons, was a reliable way to ensure
security, Israel and Palestine would be paradise by now. Has the U.S.
policy toward Israel safeguarded homes and towns in northern Israel
in this sorry saga of spiraling hatred?”
“How desperately we
need trustworthy advocates of unarmed conflict resolution, dare I say
nonviolence, who can lead us, the willing and unwilling “displaced,”
to a place wherein we reclaim our collective capacity to share resources,
live simply, and put an end to war.”
Numerous women’s organizations from around the world have also
weighed in on the violence in the Middle East, however these statements
remain all but invisible to the general public, circulating primarily
by internet listserv. The Canadian Voice of Women for Peace offers these
thoughts in a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Harper,
“Where parties will
not talk directly together, we urge on-going shuttle diplomacy "
Track 1 or 11 or both " where a small number of men and women,
governmental or non-governmental, familiar with the nuances of the conflict
could be selected to carry demands and responses back & forth. We
warn of a failure to consider this: In WW1 this shuttle diplomacy was
done exhaustively and exclusively by non-governmental women led by Canadian
Julia Grace Wales. All heads of state visited thought it a fine process
but in the end dismissed it in favour of letting the war "run its
course. The lesson should be very clear. "Run its course"
meant MILLIONS of deaths, unfathomable costs, and ensured the cycle
And a statement by the Australian
Section of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
(WILPF) points out that,
“A just solution is
possible to the conflicts between the Israeli, the Lebanese and Palestinian
peoples but can only come when the peoples' representatives come to
the negotiating table with a commitment to achieving a good life for
all the peoples involved, not for one people seeking profit, privilege
and advantage at the expense of the other. Only in this way can nation
states finally emerge that truly respect each other.”
“…if past injustices
are accepted as sufficient reason to oppress and kill others, then there
never can be an end to war and oppression"
Several women’s organizations
have also pointed out that in resolving the violence in the Middle East,
it is critically important that U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325
be followed. In a letter of appeal for an end to the bloodshed, the
International Coordinators and Board Members of Peace Women Across the
“We appeal to the Israeli
government and all parties to the conflict to meet at the negotiating
table to begin a serious, multilaterally negotiated, peace
process. We also demand the adherence to UN Resolution 1325 that requires
women be involved centrally in the formal peace process. Women are central
to creating and sustaining peace in communities all around the globe.”
However the voices that perhaps
mean the most are those of women blogging amidst the violence in Lebanon.
The excerpts below are just a few of the many, it is highly recommended
that you visit these blogs and see the pictures posted there as well.
Joumana, a graphic designer
expresses her anguish at the carnage that is taking place around her
on Hopeful Beirut http://www.hopefulbeirut.blogspot.com/
“My words echo and
return to me, distorted.
We are all prisoners, they
say - trapped in our house - in our land - in our nation.
We are being isolated and
left to ponder the fate of others, like us, stuck with no way out.
As blasts of light fill an
empty sky... and then darkness... I wonder...
How many families will be
offered on the altar of sacrifice?
How many will leave their
How many will have nothing
to return to?
How many will not return?
Today, they found people
buried alive in Houla. Can anyone imagine a more torturous situation?
While I still have the comfort
of my home, they were trapped under theirs, huddled together, not knowing
their fate. Parents and children, sharing a cramped, dark space; the
sound of lullabies filling the air as mothers sing their babies to sleep.
This was their prayer...
And this is mine... as long
as I still find the words...”
On Beirut Update http://www.beirutupdate.blogspot.com/
, Zena writes about how war transforms lives,
“In the beginning of
war, one is concerned about their personal safety... then after a few
days, you realize that you are still alive.. so your thoughts then go
out to those around you... you start spending your time trying to help
others in need... then you reach out and start thinking about all those
who are dying or being displaced... you try and help them.. if you can't,
you end up spending all your time thinking about them.. writing about
them.. then you realize how much time has gone by.. how much you miss
your old life... you try and pick up a few pieces.. you try and give
yourself some personal time during the day to do the stuff you miss
doing... then you start to feel selfish... i went to the studio, but
i could not work. i will try again. and again. until something happens.”
And a woman writing under
the pen name of ‘Delirious’ writes about what ‘normal’
means in a time of war at Life or Something Like It… http://computeraidedelirium.blogspot.com/
“In a normal world,
the masses would not be slumbering while their fellow human beings are
being killed. (I wonder, how does everyone still go about their business
normally? Do they wake up, switch on the news, and go: "Oh, it's
these Arabs and Jews that are killing each other again, pfffffff....
bo-ring. Hummm... what am I going to wear today?")
In a normal world, the UN
would be something other than just a prefix for the world UNABLE.
In a normal world, the media
would not be biased or misinformed. (too many examples to link to here,
but you all know what I'm talking about -- here's one anyways).
In a normal world, children
and infants would not constitute 1/3 of killed civilians in a war.
In a normal world, a cease-fire
would have been decreed a long time ago.
In a normal world, humanitarian
convoys would not be bombed, and fuel would be allowed to reach port
at least to prevent hospitals from shutting down.
In a normal world, bombs
would not be dubbed as birth pangs of a New Middle East (Rice's now
In a normal world, an end
to all this madness would have been sought a long time ago, instead
of finger-pointing and more destruction.
But then... who am I to define
what is normal?”
One wonders if things would
be different if these were the predominant voices that were being heard?
Footnote: Women in Lebanon and Gaza are in urgent need of humanitarian
aid. Donations to specifically help women in these war-torn areas can
be made by visiting Madre, www.madre.org. The Global Fund for Women
also has links to organizations working in these areas, http://www.globalfundforwomen.org/work/programs/middle-east-crisis.html.
The Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel is also in need of contributions
to carry on their urgent efforts to end the violence, http://coalitionofwomen.org/home.
is a feminist artist, writer and activist. She is the Founder of the
Feminist Peace Network, www.feministpeacenetwork.org. Her work has been
published in numerous publications in the U.S. and abroad including,
Counterpunch, Alternet, Dissident Voice, Off Our Backs, The Progressive,
Countercurrents, Z Magazine , Common Dreams and Information Clearinghouse.
She blogs at WIMN Online.