SANTA MONICA, Ca.(FinalCall.com)–Before addressing nearly 250 members of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel Nov. 14, Jean Zaru, Adi Dagan and Muna Shikaki explained to a small contingent of press how they were trussed together by devastating results of an over 35-year-old war that has impacted life, death, economics, and social well being for citizens in their warring nations of Israel and Palestine.
Despite having never met each other, Ms. Zaru, 62, a Christian Quaker Palestinian, Ms. Dagan, 31, a Jewish Israeli, and Ms. Shikaki, 22, a Muslim Palestinian physically united for the first time Nov. 10 in Washington, D.C., as they began a 16-day tour of peace themed, “Jerusalem Women Speak”, even though they have been joined spiritually and principally for decades through individual works to end the deadly standoff between their countries.
Ms. Shikaki, an activist with the Defense for Children International/Palestine Section in Ramallah, embraced the difficult speaking tour, she said, to share more personal stories about the conflict and to help make the occupation of Palestine seem more real to others.
As a young student, she said, she wore heavy overcoats daily, even in extreme heat, because she thought they would protect her from bullets during student demonstrations.
She told the dinner audience that three main emotions that plague her are feelings of anger, fear of ethnic cleansing or death by shooting or bombings, and hope for reaching a just solution to the problem.
Although Ms. Shikaki resides just 10 minutes from Jerusalem, she has been prohibited from visiting the holy city for the last two-and-a-half years because of her Palestinian heritage.
A grave day, she said, was the beginning of the Oslo Period–a peace process born in 1993 out of meetings with Norway, Israel and Palestine aimed at solving the age-old conflict. She said it was a superficial time of peace that brought with it the birth of checkpoints denying Palestinians access to Jerusalem or Gaza.
She dispels the idea that land or sovereignty for Palestinians equals a reward for violence. “Giving Palestinians a state is a right. It is not a reward it is the way, it is a solution out of the violence and not something that will make it continue further,” she stated.
The passionate panel related their concerns for the children of the uprising.
According to Ms. Shikaki, at least 90 percent of the over 250 child prisoners held for stone throwing are between 14- and 18-years-old. And over 350 have been killed.
Ms. Dagan stated that the occupation’s impact on children, who rarely meet, is far worse because the apartheid system of separation makes it much easier for them to demonize the other side as wicked and bad. For some, she said, all of what they know is derived from the media.
For this reason and more, she has worked tirelessly to document and influence the actions of Israeli soldiers at Jerusalem checkpoints.
To the disappointment of some audience members, the 15-year peace camp activist and former Israeli soldier for 2 years, echoed the anti-occupation, anti-war sentiments of both Ms. Shikaki and Ms. Zaru.
Growing up in Israel met with continued talks of the occupation, the conflict, uncertainty, and what would become of them, Ms. Dagan stated.
“This has been hanging above our heads like this huge, dark cloud making it impossible for us to live as a normal nation, to concentrate on our inner problems, and our conflicts,” she stated.
She said the majority of Israelis perceive the settlements as an obstacle for peace. They consume much of Israel’s economical resources, and Israelis are also concerned about the issue of constant and collective punishment that is excused for the security of Israelis, she added.
“We as Israelis are also wondering more and more about the price that we are made to pay for this policy, the policy that supports the settlements and the occupation,” she said.
Ms. Dagan said some Israelis feel victimized by the policy, and believe the government is indifferent to this victimization, the deteriorating economy and the rising unemployment it has caused.
After each woman shared their unique, lifelong experiences amidst the constant violence, they fielded questions from attendees.
Despite obvious anger and resentment from some questioners, Ms. Zaru, the presiding clerk of the Ramallah Friends Meeting in Palestine, shared sentiments of hope and solutions for peace, along with her co-panelists.
“If this is difficult for you to hear, then how much more difficult is it for us to live through it?” she asked of the lives rapt with war and violence.
Internationally, there are many critical issues impacting peace that people are not aware of, or which are directly shielded by the media, the speakers stated. For instance, the Israeli and Palestinian people do not hate each other and, in fact, many work daily in their respective territories to improve the quality of life for those affected by the fighting and checkpoints in the West Bank and on the Gaza Strip.
“Jerusalem Women Speak” is simultaneously thought provoking, informative, agitating, comforting, and optimistic, depending on one’s position regarding the divergence in the Middle East. It has drawn emotions of curiosity, anger, and concern from many who have witnessed the union for peace from these three women of three different faiths.
Tour sponsor, Partners For Peace, a non-profit organization which seeks to bring to Americans in their own communities the voices of women from Israel and Palestine who are living with fear in the midst of conflict and diminishing hopes for peace and to expand the impact of their message through extensive media coverage.
The current “Jerusalem Women Speak” tour is its fifth since 1998. The women said they have been met with mixed emotions, but overall, people are aware of their peace mission and want to know more and assist.
Women give life, they do not take it, and it is time for the women to be heard on this important issue, stated tour creator, Jerri Berg.