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The Bridge: Jewish and Arab Women
for Peace in the Middle East

Introduction: The Founding of THE BRIDGE

In 1975, two years after the Yom Kippur War, together with the late Ruth Lys, Violet Khouri, Ruth Dayan, Yardena Cohen, Eugenie Khlef, and other Israeli and Arab/Palestinian women, we founded in Haifa, Israel, a Voluntary Association: THE BRIDGE: Jewish and Arab Women for the Promotion of Women and Peace. This was the first association of its kind in Israel, that dared to gather Jewish and Arab women in the same organization, to promote the status of women, and peace in the Middle East. We met with much criticism and resistance, sometimes violent,in both sectors. However, we knew we were promoting a just cause which required courage and perseverance, and it gave us strength to act and struggle to promote our goals. To this day, twenty three years later, we are still working hard but quietly, to promote women and peace in the Middle East, and in our entire global village.

Description

THE BRIDGE is a women's organization whose members originate from Israel's various ethnic and religious communities, and who work together for the promotion of the status of women, and the attainment of peace in the Middle East. Its legal status is: a non-profit organization.

Number of Members: 240 fully paid members. 1860 Affiliated members.

Yearly Membership: $25. Financial Sources: membership, donations.

Structure: The organization is run by an executive Board of four women, two Jewish and two Arab/ Palestinian. It is elected by the General Board which comprises twenty members. The yearly General Meeting elects the two Boards, as well as the President, the Director, and the Treasurer.

Goals: To awaken the consciousness of every woman as to her power in promoting women's rights, and in taking an active part in the peace process. In our region, both goals are inextricably linked, for when there is war, conflict and unrest, the problem of women's rights gets shoved aside as "not the most important just now." As mothers, and educators of the new generation, we have to ensure peace in our region and in the world, so that life on earth may continue.

Main Activities

  1. Monthly lectures, presentations and discussions.
  2. Meetings in Jewish, Arab and Druze towns and villages, for the building of "Bridges" of culture and understanding with the local women.
  3. Exchange visits of Israeli and Arab pupils in schools.
  4. Group dynamics: the Jews act the roles of Arab/ Palestinians, and the Arabs the roles of Jews.
  5. Radio and television programs on THE BRIDGE in Arabic, Hebrew, English and French.
  6. Arabic (for the Jews), and Hebrew language courses for the Arab women.
  7. Picnics, outings, weekends with the families.
  8. Seminars, Common Feasts and Happenings, and International Conferences.

Promotion of the Status of Women

The very fact that the women of THE BRIDGE were initiating, planning,and carrying out important projects and campaigns, promoted not only the status of women who were members and leaders of the organization, but also women in the community at large. Furthermore,the joint activism of Israeli and Arab women, helped to advance the status of Arab/ Palestinian women, who based their claims for greater freedom and rights in the home and in society,on the example of their Israeli counterparts and women colleagues. Indeed, the first Arab women who obtained the right to vote in the whole of the Middle East,were the Arab/ Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Mayor Violet Khouri

One of our successful projects was our help in organizing the campaign to run (late) Violet Khouri as Mayor of the Galilean town, Kafr Yassif. To some people's surprise and dismay, she was elected, and she became the first Arab Mayor in the whole of the Middle East, and the whole world. At the beginnning, her male colleagues in the Municipal Board refused to cooperate with her, arguing: "It is the worst insult for an Arab to be governed by a 'mara' - a mere woman!" But with the help of the women and men of the town, who believed in her and in her message, and with the help of THE BRIDGE, Violet Khouri became a successful and efficient Mayor. She raised the standard of living not only in her town, but in the whole of the Galilee, from all the points of view: economic, health and education, especially of girls and women.

She established college and university stipends and grants for both male and female students, and the result is that today, Kfar Yassif has the highest percentage in the whole of the Middle East of academic educated women, who are motivated and know how to struggle for equal rights in all fields and disciplines. Violet Khouri was Mayor of Kfar Yassif for eight harmonious years, and her positive influence and spirit stemming from her dedication to peace and to the promotion of women, bears fruit to this day.

PAVE PEACE: IFLAC

The husbands and male friends of the members of THE BRIDGE, requested to join our struggle for peace and the promotion of women. In 1985 we founded a parallel organization entitled: PAVE PEACE: IFLAC: The International Friends of Literature, which includes both women and men.THE BRIDGE served as a model for Pave Peace, and it is, organized in much the same way. It includes: weekly programs, monthly symposia, conferences and congresses. We also organize exchanges of visits by Israeli and Palestinian pupils and students in schools and colleges, picnics and common festivities.

In January 1998 for instance, as in previous years, we organized a common festive conference of Jews, Christians and Moslems, under the banner of: HANOUKAH, CHRISTMAS and RAMADAN in "Beit Hagefen," The House of the Vine, in Haifa. Our families and the general public were invited, and we enjoyed together the excellent presentations and the cultural entertainment. The "Bridges" of respect and understanding between the various people, creeds and cultures, were indeed powerfully strengthened again on this special occasion, thanks to the leadership and efforts of the Israeli and Arab/ Palestinian women who work together to bring hope of peace and harmony to the region.

The Tent of Peace

One of our outstanding successes in the last three years, is the founding and establishing of the TENT OF PEACE, in the Druze and Bedouin village, Ussfiya, where we hold regular meetings of "Creative Women," to promote the status of women in both the Jewish and Arab/ Palestinian sectors. We also organize meetings of women (and men) writers, poets, lecturers, intellectuals, teachers, journalists, media, of all creeds and denominations, toward the building of bridges of understanding through culture and literature of "the other." The promotion of peace and the status of women are the main themes in those meetings, and they have had a strong impact in the families of the participants, and in society in general.

Thanks to the activities of the women of THE BRIDGE and PAVE PEACE, as well as other organizations and institutions, like the House of the Vine, the mixed city of Jews and Arabs, Haifa, has always been peaceful. There has never been an "Intefada" in Haifa, and there have always been harmonious relationships and respect between Jews and Arabs in this beautiful city on the slopes of green Mount Carmel, and by the shores of the blue Mediterranean. Haifa can indeed serve as an example of creative and harmonious relations between Jews and Arabs/Palestinians, in the whole of the Middle East. The spirit of THE BRIDGE and PAVE PEACE has in many ways spread to the whole of the country, and there are today, branches in ten major cities and towns, half of them in the Jewish sector, and half of them in the Arab/Palestinian sector. Many people among both the Jewish and Arab population say today, that if the women of THE BRIDGE and Pave Peace were in charge of the peace process in the Middle East, there would have been peace a long time ago.

In addition to the above mentioned activities, we encourage research and literature on women, and we organize literary presentations of new books, mostly on women and their struggle toward achieving equal rights and freedom. We believe that the written word has a crucial role and impact in the promotion of women and peace. Two latest published books that will soon be celebrated are: "Not in Vain:An Extraordinary Life," and "The Peace Flower: A Nuclear Space Adventure." The first book is a biography of Thea Wolf, a vivid and universal role model for women; and the second book is a futuristic fantasy,and an educational peace adventure for young and old. The heroine, Lee, together with her friend Ron, succeeds, despite Nuki, the Nuclear Dragon, to bring the Peace Flower from the Future in space, to the Present on Earth. Both these books were translated from Hebrew into several languages, including English, Arabic and French, and they have had a strong impact in the education and promotion of women and young girls.

In addition to IFLAC: PAVE PEACE, THE BRIDGE has through the years, collaborated with various women's organizations, including NAAMAT, HADASSAH, WIZO, and the ISRAEL'S WOMEN's NETWORK, for the advancement of women's rights. It includes: lobbying and writing articles for the promotion of equal rights and representation in the Rabbinate and other institutions, the passing of laws against violence in the family and against women, sexual harassment, equal pay and opportunities, education, health, and political representation of women.

I strongly believe that change is possible, and that through courageous and innovative action, hard work, perseverance, and the raising of the consciousness of both women and men to the crucial necessity of equal rights and freedom for women - we shall succeed.I feel that the two organizations I have founded and I direct: THE BRIDGE and PAVE PEACE, as well as the International Ban-War Campaign I initiated and coordinate, give voice to all women, and hope to all humanity.

What Challenges are the Most Difficult to Overcome in the Struggle Toward Achieving Equal Rights and Freedom for Women?

One of the most difficult challenges to overcome, is the ignoring by the media of women's struggles and achievements in both fields: the promotion of women, and the struggle for peace.

One of the blatant examples of the latter was the ignoring by the media of the recent MARCH OF WOMEN, in which hundreds of Israeli and Arab/Palestinian women marched together for peace, through three Jewish and Arab villages. We invited the different TV stations: CNN, NBC, BBC, etc. but none came to cover this unique and important event. It was so sad to realize that when one Palestinian kills an Israeli, or the other way round, all the media is there, but when hundreds of Israeli and Arab/Palestinian women walk together for the first time, for Peace in the Middle East, the media is not interested.

Another major challenge and drawback is the lack of funds, governmental and otherwise. We all work voluntarily, and have had great difficulties in raising funds for the smooth running, organizing and publicizing of our activities, and most of the funding of THE BRIDGE and PAVE PEACE, comes from the efforts and donations of our own members. If we had a paid secretary to do the paper work, and to publicize what we are doing, we would have been able to do still more.

Finally,THE BRIDGE and PAVE PEACE are the initiators and coordinators of the Ban-War Campaign and Petition, for building a world beyond war and violence. The women of those two organizations fully understand that if war and violence are overcome, it would give women a greater chance of attaining fully equal rights. War dwarfs all other issues, including the issue of the promotion of women.


Copyright (c) Ada Aharoni