Israeli And Palestinian Women: The Only Way Forward Is Together – Forbes

Posted By on September 4, 2021

Ashager Araro, Dalia Fadila, Layla Alsheikh, Tami Hay-Sagiv, and Lama Abuarquob use various tools to ... [+] promote coexistence and equality for Israelis and Palestinians.

Its been almost four months since the latest escalation between Israel and Hamas violence that left 243 Palestinians dead, including 100 women and children, and 12 Israelis, including two children. Although the violence has stopped and people worldwide have moved on to the next trending international crisis, Israelis, Palestinians, and their families in the diaspora continue to suffer the consequences of living in a constant state of war.

Because even when the bombs arent falling, and rockets arent ignited tensions remain.

These tensions have festered for 73 years since Israel declared its statehood from the British Mandate For Palestine after Britains 30-year rule over the region. The two sides are well entrenched in their positions and comprehend reality accordingly.

But, despite the varying understandings of the conflict, a few things remain true. Both Israelis and Palestinians, two groups with their own cultures, identities, and histories, are connected to what is known today as Israel. And they both live there. There are more than 9 million people in Israel, including Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Of that number, 1.9 million are Arabs, comprising roughly 20 percent of the population. Most are the descendants of Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and automatically became citizens of the country. (There are also approximately 2.1 million Palestinians living in Gaza and over 3 million in the West Bank, often referred to as Palestinian territories.)

Although the two groups technically live among one another and next to each other, Israelis and Palestinians are growing up and living vastly different lives. Israeli and Palestinian children are learning different histories about the creation of Israel. They have different views of what life was like pre-Israel. And many say both peoples are groomed by their respective societies with a lack of understanding and empathy towards the other. Oftentimes, they say, this leads to each group misunderstanding and mischaracterizing the other.

So whenever an escalation in the conflict arises, like the latest situation in Gaza, loud voices on both sides call for the statehood of one group at the expense of the other.

Oftentimes, though, the hate and noise overshadow voices that call for equality, peace, and unity. These voices advocate for a future where Israelis and Palestinians two groups of people with historical ties to the land can live among and next to each other, break bread together, with equal protection, rights, and without a border and separation wall.

These voices believe coexistence and understanding is the only way for an equitable future for Israelis and Palestinians and many leading the fight are women.

These women both independently and part of nonprofits and organizations are working to bridge the gap, break down the walls both literally and metaphorically and build a world where Israelis and Palestinians arent enemies but neighbors and friends.

For the last three months, ForbesWomen interviewed more than two dozen Israelis and Palestinians who live in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and throughout the diaspora. ForbesWomen also interviewed multiple organizations on the ground in Israel whose missions are unique but all whose purpose is to promote coexistence and bring Israelis and Palestinians together.

Each persons story about their experiences is powerful, as each person interviewed has suffered trauma because of the other group. But everyone here puts aside their pain and anger to advocate for a more just future for both peoples.

Over the next several weeks, ForbesWomen will release profiles of each woman and organization to share their authentic truths, stories, connection to Israel/Palestine, and why they believe the only way forward is together.

Below is a snippet of each woman and organization profiled.

Note: We struggled to find a Palestinian woman in Gaza to openly speak in fear of retribution from Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group, or fundamentalist, militant, and nationalist organization that controls the region. We spoke to a Syrian woman instead who lived in Gaza from 2017-2020 and who worked with the Gaza Youth Committee before being arrested and jailed for months for organizing a Zoom call with Israelis.

Lama Abuarquob, 49, Palestinian living in the West Bank

Lama Abuarquob, a Palestinian woman living in the West Bank, uses her voice to promote equality and ... [+] peace with Israelis.

Lama Abuarquob, who grew up in Dura, a city just a few miles from Hebron, in the West Bank, and whose family had lived here for generations, says her earliest memories of Israelis include immense horror and pain.

From hiding in a shallow grave when she was a child from Israeli soldiers to protecting her young son from being hauled off to Israeli prison for accusations that weren't true Abuarquob has suffered time and time again because of the occupation and at the hands of Israeli soldiers and people.

But today, the mother of five and school teacher uses her voice to promote equality and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.

"My hope is that one day we [Israelis and Palestinians] will share wedding parties, we will share graduation parties, and we will share and enjoy the sea together," said Abuarquob. "My hope is that one day, my children, and my grandchildren and my Israeli friends' children and grandchildren will go to the same schools and universities. My hope is that they will be able to cross borders without being humiliated at checkpoints."

"Everybody needs a place to belong to, and I really hope that Israelis would feel that they belong to Dura as much as I feel that I belong to Jerusalem or Yaffa. Hopefully, one day, everybody will realize what's so obvious the life of a human being is more precious than anything in the world."

Ashager Araro, 30, Israeli living in Tel Aviv, Israel

Ashager Araro's family escaped persecution for being Jewish in Ethiopia. She's first-generation ... [+] Israeli and living her parents' and grandparents' dream.

In 1991, after facing years of persecution for being Jewish in Ethiopia, Ashager Araro's parents decided it was time to flee. They became part of what's known as Operation Soloman, an Israeli operation that airlifted more than 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Araro says Israel saved her family; she grew up living her parents' and grandparents' dreams as a first-generation Israeli. But that doesn't mean she always agrees with the Israeli government. Araro uses social media as a tool to fight for equality for both Israelis and Palestinians and to share information about what it means to be Jewish and Israeli.

"There is only one solution. And the only solution, the only viable solution, the only acceptable solution is self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel is a country with almost 10 million people, a diverse community with different backgrounds, and we're not going anywhere," she said. "We're built like any other immigrant country of different nationalities, and we come from different places. And we came here because we were chased out of everywhere else, every other place, and the Palestinians, the people that have been here, deserve the same rights and to have their own state and the ability to govern themselves and be able to control their own lives."

Dr. Dalia Fadila, 49, Arab Israeli of Palestinian descent living in Tira, Israel

Through education, Dr. Dalia Fadila works to improve life for Palestinians and Arab Israelis in ... [+] Israel.

At least ten generations of Dr. Dalia Fadila's family have lived in Tira, a city in the center of Israel. And after 1948, when Israel became a country, her family remained.

Today, Fadila and her family are some of the nearly two million Arabs who live inside Israel with full citizenship.

Fadila has dedicated her life to education and using it to improve the lives of Palestinians and Arab Israelis in Israel. She became the first female dean of an Islamic college in Israel and opened her own set of schools with multiple locations around the country.

"It's as if we [Arab minority] are on hold, waiting until there is kind of a resolution a two-state resolution and Palestine is independent and as if there is no legitimacy to whatever investment we have to do for our infrastructure, resources, economy, even cultivation of a kind of a culture of our own," Fadila said.

"If we want two million people inside Israel, Arab citizens in the state of Israel, raising our kids here to be excellent students in an Israeli schooling system and higher academic system and to go on and be employed and be part of the workforce inside Israel it is our responsibility to give back to this community."

"And of course, I am looking for a solution. And, of course, I am for a just solution and a humanitarian solution. But, still, my career and whatever I do around education, development of resources, intellectual resources, and economic resources, I do it because I believe our community inside Israel is entitled to investment and unique investment of its own."

Robi Damelin, 77, Israeli living in Jaffa, Israel

Robi Damelin's son was killed by a Palestinian sniper. But instead of seeking revenge, Damelin uses ... [+] her anguish for good to promote coexistence with Palestinians.

Robi Damelin, a native of South Africa, moved to Israel in her early twenties to escape Apartheid. Years later, her son David was killed by a Palestinian sniper.

But instead of seeking revenge, Damelin used her anguish for good.

For the last several decades, she has used her story to promote coexistence and peace with Palestinians, with the hope of preventing other families from experiencing her heartbreak and pain. She's a member of a nonprofit called The Parents Circle, a grassroots organization of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate family members due to the conflict.

"I come from a liberal family who defended Nelson Mandela, and my distant cousin walked with Gandhi from Pietermaritzburg to Johannesburg, so maybe it's something in the DNA," Damelin said. "But when David [Damelin's son] was killed, and the army [Israel Defense Forces] came to tell me, I said, 'You can't kill anybody in the name of my child.' I have absolutely no idea where that came from. Well, yes, I do have an idea; it's my background and why I am the survivor and not the victim.

"Since joining The Parents Circle, I have told my story all across the world. I have met so many extraordinary people along the way and there is a sense of gratitude that I could be a part of change for other people, almost saving their lives in a very strange manner and changing this attitude of hatred to something completely different."

Manar Al-Sharif, 23, Syrian who lived in Gaza from 2017-2020

Manar Al-Sharif met Palestinian people in Gaza who wanted to be promote peace with Israel but who ... [+] were scared because of Hamas. She did it for them and ended up in jail for months and then extradited out of the Palestinian territory.

In 2017, Manar Al-Sharif traveled to the Gaza strip to attend the Islamic University of Gaza, the only university her family would permit her to attend.

But soon after moving to the Palestinian territory run by Hamas, she knew she needed to do more. Al-Sharif said she made friends with Palestinians, many of whom wanted to promote peace with Israelis and find a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but all who were too scared that speaking up would mean risking their lives.

So Al-Sharif decided to do it for them: she joined the Gaza Youth Committee. The committee was created by Rami Aman in 2015 and organized small-scale video chats and initiatives to bring Israeli and Palestinian peace activists together.

Because of her involvement with the committee in hosting a peace chat, Al-Sharif was arrested and detained for three months before being extradited to Egypt, where she is currently living.

"What most people outside say about Gazans, it's like they say, 'Oh, they are not doing anything for this situation,' you know, but the truth is, they are trying, but there is no option. Hamas prevents them from speaking out," Al-Sharif said.

Ruth Mayer, 85, Israeli born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel

Ruth Mayer's family lived in Israel for several decades before the creation of the state under ... [+] British rule. They helped create the Jewish homeland something they'd been fighting for since Jews were exiled thousands of years prior.

Ruth Mayer was born in 1936 in Tel Aviv to parents who immigrated to the British Mandate for Palestine in the 1920s from Romania and Latvia. Like many Jewish people in Europe leading up to and during WWII (and during previous generations), Mayer's family wanted to immigrate to Israel. It is what is taught and known as the Jewish homeland in all Jewish and Torah (the Jewish/Hebrew Bible) teachings. The Old Testament says Jewish people, considered an ethnoreligious group and a nation, originated from the Israelites and Hebrews of historical Israel and Judah.

Mayer remembers mostly a happy childhood one full of Jewish tradition and love. But she says she also has significant memories of terror during that time, as she grew up during the Arab Revolt (1936- 45) and the Jewish resistance. There were countless moments of curfew and sirens warning of possible bombings. Mayer and her family sometimes spent days in a makeshift shelter with their neighbors. Although some neighborhoods were mixed with Jews and Arabs, she doesn't recall growing up among her Arab neighbors. And when she did encounter them, she says, she usually experienced antisemitism.

Mayer's husband, who also immigrated to the British Mandate for Palestine with his family as a young boy, volunteered for the Haganah, the leading Zionist paramilitary organization that eventually became the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). He fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War for Israel's independence and the wars following.

Mayer expresses her love for Israel every chance she gets. As she tells ForbesWomen, "It's the Jewish homeland that saved so many people," people including members of her and her husband's family. But still, she hopes for equality for both Israelis and Palestinians.

"I hope for peace," Mayer said.

Layla Alsheikh, 43, Palestinian living in the village of Battir, the West Bank

Layla Alsheikh's son died because Israeli soldiers wouldn't let her pass a checkpoint to get to the ... [+] hospital. But despite her turmoil, Alsheikh has become a peace activist, hoping for a world where Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace.

Six months after giving birth to her son Qusay, Layla Alsheikh experienced a heartbreak no mother should ever encounter.

On April 11, 2002, the tragedy began after Israeli military troops hurled tear gas in her village. Before sunrise, Alsheikh said she awoke to her son, growing sicker from the tear gas. Alsheikh, along with her husband and father-in-law, tried to rush him to the hospital in Bethlehem but were stopped by Israeli soldiers who wouldn't let them through, citing a "military zone."

They then tried their next best option: drive to a hospital in Hebron, but the main road was closed. One last time, they tried to take a windy, more dangerous backway to Hebron, but they were stopped again at a checkpoint, where Israeli soldiers searched them. Even after pleading with the soldiers to let them pass because of the baby's deteriorating condition, they were forced to wait for four hours before they were permitted to continue traveling.

Hours later, Alsheikh's baby boy died at the hospital.

For years after, because of the trauma and pain Alsheikh experienced, she despised Israelis. But she has since become a peace activist, working for coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians.

"We want the best future for our children and our grandchildren and for all the people around us. It's time to stop killing. We really feel sorry for every family who has lost their loved ones, even the people who lost their homes or their land," Alsheikh said. "I want to have peace and reconciliation because we want to live life, a normal life like other people."

Tami Hay-Sagiv, 41, Israeli living in Tel Aviv

Tami Hay-Sagiv grew up during a time where Palestinian suicide bombers were prevalent killing ... [+] Israelis around the country. But despite the pain and horror she's felt she's become a peace activist hoping to promote a better society for both peoples.

For years before the creation of Israel, when the land was under rule of the Ottoman Empire (followed by the British Mandate for Palestine), Tami Hay-Sagiv's family traveled there from Bulgaria with the hope of creating a Jewish country.

They were Zionists, or people with an ideology that supported establishing a Jewish state centered around what was referred to in the Torah as Canaan, or the Holy Land (modern-day Israel) based on a long Jewish connection and indigeneity to that land.

Her great-grandfather, she says, was a pioneer. His jobs ranged from paving roads to working in agriculture. The more he did, the more the patriarch of Hay-Sagiv's Israeli family fell in love with what he hoped would become a Jewish homeland.

Eventually, her family officially moved during the Mandate and fought in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, with Israel winning.

This victory established the Jewish state, the dream of Hay-Sagiv's great-grandfather.

Hay-Sagiv grew up hearing stories from her elders about the tensions between Jews and Arabs pre-1948, the Holocaust, and pogroms in neighboring Arab countries, such as The Farhud in Iraq. And then, during the 1990s, she experienced and saw countless terror attacks and Palestinian suicide bombings firsthand, which only solidified her strong right-wing views and animosity towards Palestinians.

At this point in her life, Hay-Sagiv had never actually met a Palestinian person in her life. To top it off, she never learned their history or plight in school, helping cement her views.

She never questioned Israel's handling of the conflict until she was 22 and in academia. Attending Tel Aviv University changed her life. She was introduced to Palestinians, learned their history and narratives, and opened her mind.

She eventually started working for the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, improving relations between Israelis and Palestinians and promoting coexistence and equality.

"Through the work at the Peres Center, I was always being challenged with my views because, in the end, it's there, it's deep-rooted," Hay-Sagiv said. "It shaped part of my personality. And what I've been doing during the last 20 years is fighting and going against it every day."

"I understood that if I'm living my life, I want to be on the side that believes in the values of human rights, morality, and seeing the good in people."

Rana Salman, 37, Palestinian living in Bethlehem, the West Bank

Rana Salman is the first female executive director for the nonprofit Combatants For Peace, an ... [+] organization made up of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian freedom fighters working for equality and co-existence.

After Israel declared its independence in 1948, Rana Salman says her family was forced out of their home in Haifa and told to flee. She says Israeli officials told them that if they didn't leave, they would die.

This happened during what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, the Arabic word for catastrophe. Palestinians refer to Israel's independence as a catastrophe because, during that time, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs fled or were forcefully expelled from their homes.

Salman's family ended up in Bethlehem in the West Bank where Salman was raised. During her childhood, despite the Israeli occupation, Salman remembers traveling to and from Israel easily; her father worked in a hotel in Jerusalem.

But after the first intifada or Palestinian uprising in the early 1990s, Israel created checkpoints.

Over time, these checkpoints grew.

It is now nearly impossible for Palestinians in the West Bank to travel within, or outside, the city's borders. Salman says many in the West Bank feel like they are living in an open-air prison.

But still, Salman comes from a family, she says, who has always promoted peace with Israelis. In 2020, she became the first female executive director for the nonprofit Combatants For Peace, an organization made up of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian freedom fighters working for equality and co-existence for Israelis and Palestinians through protests, demonstrations, campaigns, seminars, and educational programs.

"I want people to see that this actually exists people are working together," Salman said. "This is not something that they hear about in the news or media. The international media always covers, you know, the violence and the bad side of the conflict. They don't cover these kinds of initiatives that we have.

"I think when you live here and experience several Intifadas and several wars like Gaza and all of that, you really know that violence is not going to lead us anywhere. We just continue to do the circle of violence over and over again.

"This is not an option, so this is what we work for."

Ruth Klein, 27, Israeli living in Jerusalem, Israel

Ruth Klein never met a Palestinian person until after she left Israel, and came to America for a ... [+] program at NYU. Now, she works for an organization working to eradicate violence and racism between Israelis and Palestinians.

Ruth Klein grew up in what she calls a very Zionist and nationalist home in Israel a home far from Palestinians both physically and ideologically.

But growing up in Israel, where she faced the pain of war and terror because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she became interested in learning more about how and why it was happening.

So, in 2016, she attended a program called Paths To Peace at New York University and went from never engaging with a Palestinian person in her life to sitting and speaking with them for months. She and fellow Israeli and Palestinian students all lived together, too.

When she returned to Israel, Klein says, her world opened. She began seeing everything around her in a completely different light.

Klein began working in the civil society sector and eventually landed a job at Tag Meir, a coalition of many Israeli nonprofits and organizations working to connect different groups within Israeli society to battle and eradicate racism and violence. Specifically, they focus on a form of terror she calls "price tag," where extremist Jewish settlers target Palestinians and Arab Israelis, often in reprisal for Israeli government action against illegal settlement activity. The attacks target mosques, churches, Arab homes and property, Israeli military bases and vehicles, and even Israeli Jews. According to Klein, the attacks often involve desecration of property with anti-Arab commentary and hateful and racist slogans. Sometimes these attacks turn deadly.

Klein said this happens often, but isn't widely known in Israel or internationally.

Her work consists of showing solidarity and support for Palestinians hurt by the "price tag." Through Tag Meir, she and others also host demonstrations, marches, work with people in the Knesset (Israeli government), and conduct training with the hope of creating a more equal and just society. They also work with Palestinian activists and people to provide for Jewish Israelis hurt by Palestinian violence and terror attacks.

"The good people need soldiers, and it's a sad reality that many, many times, the people that dictate what goes on are the extreme people that are promoting violence and bad things for society and the world," Klein said. "But at Tag Meir, we operate from the place that says there will be a solution one day and when it happens or until it happens and after and actually at any given moment, we need to live next to each other and learn to respect each other."

Vivian Silver, 72, Israeli living in Israel on the border of the Gaza strip


Israeli And Palestinian Women: The Only Way Forward Is Together - Forbes

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