Three Jerusalem Women Share the Hope of Peace

By Sarah White, IAR Staff Writer.
On Thursday, November 20th, the Middle East Policy Forum at the Elliott School of International Affairs, hosted three Jerusalem women of different faiths to talk about their experiences of working for peace in the volatile region. Each woman recounted her story and how she came to be involved in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Noting that so much of today’s focus in the region is on facts and statistics, they said they hoped to bring a human element to the issue and are traveling around the country to share their visions of hope for the conflict-ridden area.

Julia Chaitin was born in the United States and describes herself as a “secular Jew,” meaning that she identifies as Jewish but is not observant. She believes in the values that Judaism teaches, namely “human dignity, human rights, and egalitarianism.” She attributes growing up in the 1960s to her interest in social justice issues, including becoming a staunch supporter of Israel. As a teenager, she joined Habonim, a socialist Zionist youth movement that, in her words, taught that “we should be good socialists and live cooperative lives in kibbutzim.” At the age of 17, Chaitin moved to Israel to live in a kibbutz and made her aliyah (“ascent,” when a person of Jewish faith officially immigrates to Israel) two years later. Chaitin said her family did not talk about Palestinians when she was a child, but rather about the “Arabs who wanted to throw us in the sea.” It was only when she was older that she learned about the Palestinians’ history and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. She would never live in the West Bank or Gaza, she said, “because that land isn’t ours.” Instead, Chaitin, a college professor, lives in an area about 20 minutes from Gaza, where Qassam rockets are regularly fired. Chaitin described, in calm detail, the procedure she and her students follow after a “red alert” warning announces that one of the homemade Qassam rockets will be headed their way in 5 to 15 seconds.

Her matter-of-fact descriptions belied the terror residents of the area must feel on a daily basis. However, she said, “I know that the military option is not an option. The violence has gone on too long. It is killing us, and it’s killing them [the Palestinians]. Our leaders have failed us. There is no protection. There is no end in sight. We citizens have to take it on ourselves to find a peaceful solution.” According to Chaitin, that solution involves grassroots peace efforts coordinated with the Palestinians in Gaza so that the people come to know one another, not as soldiers and terrorists, but as human beings.

Lucy Talgieh is a Palestinian Christian who lives in Bethlehem. She recounted her family’s experience of occupation and struggle. Having lost many relatives to war and violence (including her father, who was killed by an Israeli soldier during the First Intifada), Talgieh decided to study religion in college in order to better understand the conflict. She described her feelings towards Israelis at the time as “hatred.” When she initially became involved in conflict resolution groups and had a chance to talk with Israelis, she said she thought “an eye for an eye was the only solution.” However, as she persisted in the dialogues, her feelings began to transform.

Enas Muthaffar, the third woman to speak, noted she has an “identity problem.” Though she identifies herself as a Palestinian and a Muslim Arab, she is not a citizen of any country. She has three ID documents, none of which give her full citizenship status: a UN refugee ID card, an Israeli travel document that says she is Jordanian and allows her to live in Jerusalem on a visa and a Jordanian passport that does not allow her to stay in Jordan or live there. She does not have any “proof” of being a Palestinian.

Ten years-old when the First Intifada started, she said the struggle united Palestinians for the first time in a common cause. Describing the struggle as nonviolent, she said she missed those days of unity. The Second Intifada was an “ugly war,” according to Muthaffar. The Palestinians were, for the first time, confronted by tanks and F16s, and it made Palestinians, including Muthaffar, “very angry.” She said Palestinians need to release their anger and be assured of a timeline for Israeli withdrawal or the violence will continue.

Both Talgieh and Muthaffar advocated for a two state solution. Talgieh said, “A two state solution is my wish - to have my state flag, to exist as a Palestinian, without a settlement, without the wall.” Muthaffar agreed, proposing that somehow the West Bank and the Gaza Strip be connected to form a sovereign Palestinian state without settlements, a wall, or checkpoints. Chaitin agreed that Jewish leaders should sign and implement the UN agreements, but, she said, this is not enough. Peace will only hold, Chaitin noted, if people get to know one another through grassroots efforts and civil society activities. Peace cannot be left to the politicians. It must start with the people. As Chaitin stated, “We are ordinary people. Ordinary people can commit extraordinary evil, and ordinary people can do extraordinary good. We can all do something.”

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