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PeaceTimes Edition 64. Your Power as a Third Party

15 December 2006 No Comment

Following is the second of three essays that Peace X Peace Founder and editor of Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women Patricia Smith Melton wrote when she visited with Israelis  and Palestinians in 2006,  meeting with key leaders and strengthening the presence of our Global Network in the region. The first essay, Hope: Tempered Out of the Crucible, focused on the Palestinian perspective.

Here Smith Melton explores the power of the Third Party, taking us through an Israeli town half a mile from the border with Gaza, the Al-Am’ari Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Ramallah, and a gathering of Palestinian and Israeli Peace X Peace members in Jerusalem on March 8, International Women’s Day.

Smith Melton thanks Peace X Peace liaisons Elana Rozenman, Rula Salameh, and Ruth Gardner, and each of the women and men who supported her in understanding the complex dynamics of the beautiful people of this divided and troubled region.

Your Power as a Third Party

By Patricia Smith Melton

“What can I do, I’m nobody, I’m just an ordinary person?” The situation in our world now is too threatening to say those words as a limp, rhetorical question. This is the time to ask sincerely because this is when the power of the Third Party is most needed and version:2007 of the Third Party is you.

This trip to Israel and Palestine, my third in three years, differed from the first two. That I returned meant I had credentials with people I had met before and people who had only heard of Peace X Peace. I’d showed up, I’d gained my creds as a neutral Third Party of one, an “ordinary person” by returning yet again.

In official diplomacy, Third Parties are neutral nations or organizations that negotiate high-level talks or act as conduits between governing bodies that don’t speak to each other, or enter conflict zones with humanitarian goods such as food and medicines. Third Parties act to calm the situation enough to provide enough stability between factional representatives who do not trust each other—and who have often violently harmed each other—so that they can start to communicate to reach mutually better futures.

Third Party Diplomacy, while that might be a lofty title for it, works similarly at the level of refugee camps and beleaguered villages. Showing up, even as one individual who can empathize but who does not take sides, provides people with a way to begin the process of placing their wounds in a larger context. It has to do with the healing power of being heard, having a witness, having your pain acknowledged, and being given respect.

You don’t even have to have both sides of the conflict physically with you at the same time to be an effective neutral Third Party. It can be adequate to be just with one side or the other when they know you are moving equally and fairly between them. They know you are listening to each side, they know their truth will be compared with the truth from the other side, they know you have freshly seen their “enemy’s” wounds. You become a mirror in which they can see their situation in relationship to the “other.” Their rhetoric winds down, their language softens, and people begin to look, albeit subtly, for possibilities of connections. They stretch not because you ask them to but because you come to be perceived as a bridge for communication, that is, for healing, because you go—neutrally—back and forth between them.

Rivka Grabovsky calls herself and the people of Sderot “a shield for Israel.” Qassam missiles (see right) land routinely in her neighborhood, an Israeli development town half a mile from the Gaza border. Residents in the area typically have 7 seconds between first alert by overhead blimp and final impact on the ground. Seven seconds is not long enough for Grabovsky and the women who run the day care and after-school enrichment programs to get children to bomb shelters. Grabovsky says, “The rockets come and the rockets fall, and the children are all terrified, and we are taking care of them.” The tension and the isolation do not lend themselves towards generosity to the people, “terrorists,” who launch the missiles. (Read more here.)

Just outside Ramallah in the West Bank, in the Al-Am’ari refugee camp, approximately 9000 Palestinians suffer extreme unemployment, exacerbated by the wall which divides men from jobs they once held in Israle. Until recently, Al-Am’ari was known as a “hardened” camp, where most men were armed and the Palestinian Authority had, in fact, little authority. Here, Refa Mustafa Abu al Reesh holds a job comparable to Grabovksy’s. She heads the Women’s Center. Reesh told me she would not meet face to face with Israelis who are “oppressors and occupiers.” (Read more here.)

Grabovsky, Reesh, and the teams at their centers train women in skills and awareness of their rights, provide aid to the poorest among them, and educate and provide “normalcy” for children in a conflict zone. At Sderot the Peace X Peace liaisons and I toured the daycare center and children’s clubhouses. At Al-Am’ari we visited the home of a grandmother who is raising five grandchildren after their mother was murdered—a graphic example of the consequences of a society under extreme pressure.

Grabovsky and other women of the center in Sderot joined the Global Network. They told us later that the Center after our visit would never be the same. Refa has emailed me and we have started a deeper conversation about the women and the center, demonstrating that when moments of understanding and empathy occur between people, those who are injured and fearful begin to gain strength and healing, creativity returns, perspectives expand, and even forgiveness is possible. A third party can provide that understanding and empathy.

On March 8, International Women’s Day, our liaisons, Elana Rozenman and Rula Salameh, brought Israeli and Palestinian women together, under the neutral umbrella of Peace X Peace. This celebration was the first time most of the women had been in the same room with their counterparts from “the other side.”

At the celebration, Peace X Peace presented awards to Tali Shachar, the Director of the Israel Women’s Network, and Jihad Abu Zneid, head of the Women’s Committee in the Shu’fat Refugee Center and an elected official of the Fatah party in the Palestinian Legislative Council, for their outstanding work connecting and empowering women in the Middle East to build sustainable peace.

The Women’s Committee of the Shu’fat refugee camp just outside Jerusalem invited the Israeli women to visit them. Together, the women stood in a Circle, holding hands. An Israeli said, “I want things to be good for your children, so that things can be good for my children, and all our children can grow up together here.” A Palestinian said, “I have learned that woman is woman.”

We are each Third Parties for others. We can step into the fire, right into the fire, with love and a compassion that doesn’t take sides but listens. I never said, not once, to either the Israelis or the Palestinians, I agree with you. I didn’t seem to say much of anything, but I did feel love, even when I was disturbed or disbelieving. No one I met wasn’t trying her or his best.

Peace X Peace gives you the opportunity through our Global Network to be a Third Party and make a difference. Not everyone in the Global Network, which includes women and men from more than 70 nations, lives in a conflict zone. Some do and some don’t, but each member joins the Peace X Peace Global Network in order to improve lives and build peace through connection and communication.

This is the citizens’ diplomacy needed now. Person by person, ordinary person by ordinary person, multiplied exponentially. It is what the Peace X Peace Global Network is about, the evolution of connections where you and I are witnesses for each other to be our strongest, most creative, and best selves. It is the only way peace will be real.

Read More

Interviews with Odelia Ben Porat, Anat Karavany, and Rivka Grabovsky
The rockets come and the rockets fall, and the children are all terrified, and we take care of them. We pray the Qassams won’t fall right where we are and that we will be safe. It is very traumatic to care for young babies and have rockets falling around you, when you know that you have to protect them but there is really not much you can do. Read Full Transcript »

Rivka Grabovsky, Odelia Ben Porat, and Anat Karavany of the Women and Children’s Center in Sderot, Israel speak to Patricia Smith Melton for Peace Times

PSM: Odelia, you live in Sderot, an Israeli development town that by government policy has been strengthened and stabilized. Sderot is a half-mile from the border with Gaza, it is targeted by Qassem bombs almost daily, and at the Center you tend to the needs and stresses of its children and women. How do you do that?

Odelia Ben Porat: Our offices were established in 1993 with programs to promote and advance education and social welfare in our community. One program is our after-school youth club houses and children club houses. The idea is to provide children and teenagers with second warm houses. We give them educational reinforcement through several enrichment activities. From the moment the children leave school until 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening, they are in our clubhouses.

Another project is the Khazat Center, the Charity Center. We distribute food parcels each week for needy people. We have a store for selling second-hand clothes. We also have an after-birth parental counseling center. We have workshops for parents on how to work with their family, on how to work with their children. Another project has a library and a daycare center. Most of our kids are at the daycare center. Currently, we have around 90 children.

Rivka Grabovsky: The day care center is an example of the advancement of women because the women caretakers were homemakers and housewives who lived in the limitations of that. Many hardly finished their education and we trained them as child caretakers, how to take care and communicate with children in ways that help them at home with their husbands and families. All of them are so proud of the work they do. It enables them to feel they earn money and have a real skill. It empowers them in their families.

We are very professional. Regardless of whether the rockets are falling, we always show up and keep the same routine and keep things stable for the children. The rockets come and the rockets fall, and the children are all terrified, and we take care of them. We pray the Qassams won’t fall right where we are and that we will be safe. We stay together, and we do everything we can so the children can have a normal life in the midst of a situation where rockets are falling and things are being destroyed. We feel strongly the children need the stability of the center.

It is very traumatic to care for young babies, even as young as 3 months, and have rockets falling around you, when you know that you have to protect them but there is really not much you can do.

Courage to me means never to give up, to go to work every day from 7 am to 4 pm, taking care of the children. Regardless of the rockets, we continue to be there and stay there and never leave. We are the shields for Israel.

PSM: Anat, were you born here or did you come to Sderot to help?

Anat Karavany: I came five years ago because I wanted to do something more with my life. I wanted to come to a place where you are doing something. I am very satisfied to be a little part of a big organization that is doing so much for the people, the community here. The people are under stress, we are always thinking how we can help, what we can do in education terms and social terms.

We want to stay many more years. We are fond of this place. Sderot is our home.

Interview with Refa Abu Al Reesh
We don’t have a real Palestinian state that can support us. The women in the United States, you have a government that can sometimes support you…. The law depends on the traditional law that the man put for us. This does not help the woman to find a good way or get support from the father, brother, or the husband when we get married. There is no pride in this life but this is the life. Read Full Transcript »

Refa Mustafa Abu al Reesh of the Women’s Center at the Al-Amari refugee camp outside Ramallah speaks to Patricia Smith Melton for Peace Times

PSM: Your offices are one kilometer from Ramallah, in the heart of the West Bank. The camp was started in 1948, a year recognized by the Jews for the establishment of the state of Israel and recognized by Palestinians as the year of the Naqbah, “the catastrophe.” How many people live here, and where did they come from?

Reesh: The people came from middle Palestine, Ramallah, Jaffa, and surrounding villages. Around 9000 people live here. They did a survey under the UN umbrella, and found nearly two-thirds of them to be women, plus children, because many men are in prison or they left because of the bad political and financial situation. So the Women’s Program Center was established in 1993 by the German government to focus on the needs of the women and children.

Every woman in the camp has come here to get training such as sewing, computer and Internet, hairdressing, and to take workshops such as on legal matters, religion, health, children’s rights, human rights, woman’s issues, especially in the family, and even how to protect herself against her husband.

PSM: How have the wall and the checkpoints affected women in the camp?

Reesh: The checkpoints affect us because our men used to work inside Israel. After the checkpoints were installed, because we don’t have permits to enter and Israel is closed off, most of the men inside the camp are not working.

PSM: We know that everywhere in the world violence against women tops the list of problems. We also know when a culture or community is stressed, violence increases.

Reesh: The main reason for violence against woman here is the occupation. The man used to go for hours and hours to work in Israel and return with good money, and always he was outside the house, so there was no bad relation with the wife. Now most of the men are not working. They stay in the houses while their wives and children—and the family size inside the refugee camp is really big—always ask for money for food and support, and the men can’t provide it. You see the number of men sitting outside doing nothing.

This intifada affects the men more than the women. Why? Now, the woman has the chance to go find work and she will succeed. The man doesn’t want to do a job that pays less than 20 shekels a day, which is less than US$5 a day, but the woman accepts this to support the family and the kids. Now the wife earns the salary and the man does not have the right to say to the children, “Do this or do that.” So, there are problems between the husband and wife.

PSM: Do you feel violence against women and children here is different from, say, in the United States?

Reesh: Yes. To live under occupation always adds a lot of difficulties to the life of a woman. My mother and my generation, we don’t know how life looked before the occupation. We don’t have the opportunity to breathe well and be aware of how we will live without occupation, and what is the meaning of our life. This is not like the woman in the United States.

We don’t have a real Palestinian state that can support us. The women in the United States, you have a government that can sometimes support you. The situation for the women from the last generations was really terrible. We lived under the rule of the large family, with the father or the brother taking care of everything, and then we were moved to the husband. There is no law to support the woman in this country. The law depends on the traditional law that the man put for us. This does not help the woman to find a good way or get support from the father, brother, or the husband when we get married. There is no pride in this life but this is the life.

We can say that the main issue in the camp is violence against the family but the violence is born from the occupation. If a man suffered from that occupation in how he is treated at the checkpoint, he will return to his family and he will try to do this thing to his children or to his wife. This is different from the West, where there is no occupation but you still have violence in the family.

If you ask the woman here, she will say that she has problems in her family, they have a financial problem, but the last thing she will mention will be the violence within the family or between husband and wife.

PSM: If you could talk to women in the United States, what would you like to tell them?

Reesh: It is not easy to do empowerment for women here because even men don’t have rights. We need to give trainings to the woman so she knows and asks for her rights in an empowered way.

One major problem is we have early marriage. We need to train the woman who suffers from the early marriage on how to take care of her health and the health of her children. Then we should train them for a kind of work to become gradually financially independent.

Also the houses are not suitable for a human being to live in. They don’t have the money and the support from the owner to fix the houses. The financial situation is a big, big issue. We will take you to see a house and you will see it is not suitable for human beings.

PSM: If you could tell one thing to the women in the world, what would it be?

Reesh: Women in the world, we need to take care and to serve our societies and work to stop the war in all the countries in the world.

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