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GLOBAL | summer 2002


Dispatches from the Middle East
Voices Not Heard in Mainstream Media

Ms. Summer 2002

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Summer 2002 Table of Contents

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Ms. Magazine Digest
Weekly News Digest

Jerusalem Spring 2002--Sharon seems to be our worst nightmare. Since this Intifada erupted, over 1,700 Palestinians and over 400 Israelis have been killed, with some 35,000 Palestinians and 4,000 Israelis wounded.* The terrorist attacks in Israel are horrible, but they have been used by Sharon to carry out deeds far in excess of "destroying the terrorist infrastructure." The Israeli army deliberately trashed the inside of every Palestinian institution that it did not entirely destroy-schools, charities, health organizations, banks, radio and TV stations, even a puppet theater, [and] all the records of every government ministry. In a few locations, Israeli tanks even rolled over mosques and cemeteries. . .

The peace march was called for 7 PM [April 28 in Tel Aviv], and only a few hundred people had shown up by then. In the morning, a large peace demonstration had been held in Nazareth; in the afternoon, a vigil [was held] opposite Prison #6 to support those brave men inside [who] refused to serve in the army of occupation. Who would have the energy for another march?

The Demon Lover Syndrome
by Robin Morgan

Considerable press attention has been lavished on recent acts by, as of this writing, three Palistinian shaheeds (martyrs/suicide bombers) who were young women aged 18, 20, and 21. All three were claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant secular group distinct from such religious-fundamentalist organizations as Hamas, Hizbollah, or Islamic Jihad. Religious groups permit women to serve only in low-level support roles, if at all; such extremist organizations as Al Qaeda are strictly male. Ironically, the Palestinians have heretofore been acknowleged as the most secular, literate people in the Muslim world, although fundamentalism has been growing in the fertile climate of despair, especially in the Gaza Strip.

Cross-culturally, internationally, and historically, well over 80 percent of those commonly termed "terrorists" (e.g., militant insurgents) are male; their average age is between 22 and 25, and their violent acts are regarded, in part, as integral passages in "manhood struggles." Female terrorists are rare, but receive disproportionate media attention. These token terrorists are invariably involved because of what I call the demon lover syndrome, their love for a particular man: a fraternal or paternal connection but more commonly a romantic or marital bond. The majority of male terrorists have a history of political involvement predating their actions; most of the women do not. In effect, the men become involved because of the men (that, too, is "political"). Reportedly, two of the young women shaheeds had fathers and/or brothers who had been tortured while in custody of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces); a third was reported to be depressed about her impending arranged marriage.

Certainly such women share the plight, anguish, and rage of their people. Palestinian women have, like female Israeli peace activists, marched, demonstrated, and organized nonviolently. But such a woman discovers that to be taken seriously--by her men, her culture, her adversary, and even eventually herself--she must act through male modes, preferably violent ones. In fact the message left by the youngest of the women shaheeds, Ayat al-Akhras, was pointed in its sexual politics: in a videotape before her death, she posed reading a statement that assailed male leaders of Arab nations for merely "watching Palestinian girls fighting alone"-- laying down, in effect, a challenge to their manhood.

 

Ten thousand people, apparently. The march through Tel Aviv was led by banners proclaiming "The Occupation is Killing Us All." Many contingents marched, and the presence of many Palestinian citizens of Israel could be heard in the mix of Hebrew and Arabic slogans. . . Rela Mazali declared that women also refuse-to raise our children to fight in war, to live in a military state, to support partners or children who serve in the army. In a country where the army is sacred, these blasphemous thoughts are a breath of fresh air. . . It was a respite from the endless chainsaw of anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, anti-European propaganda that grinds out at us all day long.

* These are contested figures. At press time the UN Relief and Works Agency could confirm Palestinian fatalities as three times greater than Israeli losses.

 

 

Joint Plea

In a special meeting May 7, the UN Security Council heard Palestinian and Israeli women offer a joint vision of peacemaking. Maha Abu-Dayyeh Sharnas, founder/director of the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling in East Jerusalem, and Terry Greenblatt, director of Bat Shalom, an Israeli womeds peace group, called for international intervention, a womeds advisory committee, and a 50-50 gender balance in all negotiating teams. Equality Now sought the meeting in accord with Security Council Resolution 1325, calling for equal participation of women in conflict- resolution efforts. When "both communities are gripped with fear that leaves no room for wisdom and long-term thinking," said Shamas, international peace-keepers would "allow space for constructive dialogue [which] should not be subject to electoral platforms of various politicians in both societies." Greenblatt spoke of Palestinian and Israeli women's 10-year record of creating political dialogue, one "grounded in understanding that while we had independent and often conflicting connections to the same land, we could continue to talk-we would not shoot."