Presentation given by Anat Saragusti
Heinrich Böll Foundation UNSC Resolution 1325, Berlin, Germany, October 28 2010
Ladies and Gentlemen, good evening.
It was the night between the 30th and the 31st of May, when Israeli commandos attacked a ship in the Mediterranean. The ship, the Mavi Marmara, was part of a flotilla making its way towards Gaza to break the siege. 9 people died on the ship during the military takeover. Israel became a target to political attacks and condemnations coming from all over the world, and from within as well.
The political situation enforced the government of Israel to establish a commission of inquiry.
Why am I bothering you with this? Believe it or not, this committee may serve as a milestone in the struggle of women for equality in Israel. This may be so because it should come to you as not much of a surprise that of the five very honorable appointed members, not a single woman was to be found. Rather, these honorable men were mostly ex-army generals. A number of feminist organizations wrote a letter to the committee’s chair, pointing out the fact that under Israeli law, state-appointed commissions and decision-making bodies are required to include adequate representation of women from diverse groups.
This law was passed 5 years ago as a result of a long process, led by feminist organizations and several members of the Israeli Parliament. This process was a direct consequence of UNSCR 1325, which passed in October 2000.
Actually Israel was the first UN member to integrate this resolution and turn it into the law of the land. But unfortunately, since that happy moment of success, the official Israel refuses to abide by its own law. I will tell you in parentheses that a feminist organization – Itach-Ma’aki, women lawyers for social justice, is monitoring the implementation of the law, and this monitoring is possible due to the support of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.
This commission of inquiry is only one example. Our demand to include women in the commission was initially ignored, and we were forced to file a petition with the Supreme Court, in which we demanded our place at the table. The court ruling was clear: it ordered the government to search for suitable women to be part of the commission. The government made a very small effort in response – it offered that place to 5 women, all of whom refused to join the committee. The case was closed.
Not long ago, when Israelis and Palestinians were celebrating yet another ceremonial opening of the direct talks, it is important to remember that like before, here, too, no woman was nominated to the negotiating team. But unlike before, and subsequent to a letter that women’s organizations wrote to the Prime Minister, he announced that he intends to appoint a woman to the small advisory team to the negotiations with the Palestinians. This has not happened yet. And negotiations are not developing either.
These milestones point to dilemmas that we – women organizations, feminists and peace activists – face when we try to make ourselves heard and have an impact on the political process.
The first dilemma is criterial. It emanates from the fact that women form groups of different types. Common to all is the desire to promote women and their agenda; yet it is but natural, that women’s organizations are of varied political colors. What, then, constitutes a “suitable” female candidate for commissions or negotiating teams such as those I mentioned? Can we define, let alone agree upon, selection criteria? How does our struggle promote women from diverse groups? How do we make sure that our struggle will not end in promoting and strengthening the already strong women?
The second dilemma is political: who are the women that can bring to the table the feminine voice and perspectives? What is the feminine voice? And more directly: The struggle is not to integrate women as women, we want to integrate our world view, our political views. And we hope that “our view” sets us apart from men in meaningful ways.
We want a seat at the table to promote a political agenda. We want a seat at the negotiating table in order to integrate a political vision that would enhance the peace process. And we believe that women can do so in ways that men can’t. But is it really so?
Security Council Resolution 1325 – that marks its 10th year these days - enabled the decision-makers – locally and internationally – to focus on us – women in conflict areas.
In 2005 we, a group of women from Israel, Palestine and the international community, established the International Women Commission for Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace. This group was initiated by UNIFEM, and we worked together as one group who speak in one voice since. It was not easy to maintain the same views over the years. It was especially hard at times of national stress and violence. It was extremely difficult during the rocket shelling over the Israeli city of Sderot and more so during the military attack on Gaza, in January 2009. But we managed to overcome these times and continue to work together. We all share the same political vision. We all share the idea that peace between our peoples is possible, but we need to have it established on a two state solution, we need to establish it on the borders of June 4th 1967, we need to establish it on Jerusalem as a capital of the two states.
During the past two years, the International Women Commission conducted a series of public hearings among Israeli women, all over the country. We opened a space for women – from all avenues of society – to speak about themselves in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to speak about peace. There are two very strong conclusions that came out of these hearings:
The first was the painful realization that Israeli women do not have a vision of peace. They could not phrase what peace means to them. They could not dream. All they could do was talk about security.
The other very interesting point that came out of those hearings was that Israeli women in general did not have a different view than men. The only women that had different view and could come out with a different discourse were those who were already active in peace movements, those who made an effort and met with Palestinian women, those who were able to meet first hand with the occupation, those who could see the people on the other side. Unfortunately all other women could only recite the mainstream militaristic discourse, and did not present a different view from the average Israeli man. I think this is a direct outcome of a nation which is involved in a violent armed conflict for so long.
This is why it is extremely important that when we have women sitting at the negotiating table, and when we have women sitting at national decision-making processes, we have women who went through a process, women who are educated in women issues, women who had a chance to develop their own world view, coming from their life experience which is separated from the mainstream discourse which is very often dictated by not only men, but by ex-army-generals.
Before concluding, let me briefly mention a third, pragmatic, dilemma. It relates to the fact that Israel is overwhelmingly flooded with alpha-male militaristic discourse. The main political players are almost invariably ex-generals; the main decision-making forums are completely male. In such an environment, a single representative of the female gender wouldn’t really stand a chance. So, do we want to fight for a mere token female representation, and thereby help the male powers that be to pay lip service to the requirement of the law? Or do we, rather, choose to stay outside, thereby perpetuating the present dismal situation?
And last thing before I finish: I want to point out that Israel has the most right wing government ever. This government couples with anti-democratic forces in Israel – and together they orchestrate a planed, deeply designed, very sophisticated, multi-angled campaign against human rights activists and organizations, against peace activists and organizations. The last wave of attacks targeted the universities in Israel who dare present courses with critical views on the state. And right after there is a massive attack on theater actors who declared they will refuse to come and play in a theater in one of the largest settlements in the occupied west bank. So it is clear that in Israel today a human rights believer or an activist equals leftist, and a leftist equals a traitor. So here I am, standing here, a peace believer and an activist, considered a traitor in my own country. You know why? Because I still believe in a just and sustainable peace with the Palestinian people, based on a 2 state solution, and I strongly support the end of the occupation.
Additional information can be found via the following links:
* Coping with Crises, Endling Armed Conflict - International Conference page on the website of the Gunda Werner Institute of the Heinrich Boell Foundatin.
* UN Security Council Resolution 1325
*"Women at the peace table" Article by Robert Serry, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, published in Haaretz on the 10th anniversary of UNSCR 1325, October 31, 2010.
About Anat Saragusti
Anat Saragusti is the executive director of Agenda, the Israeli Center for Strategic Communication. Agenda is a unique non-for-profit organization working to reprioritize and reframe social change issues within the Israeli public debate and media. Agenda works with social change and human rights organizations.
Saragusti studied photography and law, and and was a photojournalist in a weekly news magazine for 12 years. She then workedto a TV leading news outlet, Channel 2 news, where she started as a correspondent in Gaza. She was promoted and held all senior editing positions, and for several years directed documentary stories, until she left some two and a half years ago.
Anat Saragusti is active in human rights, social change and mainly women rights organizations as a board member and as a consultant. She is a founding member of Itach-Ma’aki – Women Lawyer for Social Justice – a feminist organization that among other things monitors the implementation of 1325. She is also a steering committee member of the IWC – International Women Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace between Israel and Palestinians, which was initiated by UNIFEM in 2005.