Simona Sharoni 1995 Gender and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
The Politics of Women's Resistance
,
Syracuse Univ. Pr., Syracuse, NY.
ISBN 0-8156-0299-5

NOTE: This extract is included as an essential reading for transforming the world. You are requested to purchase the book yourself as it is, without question, essential reading material.

8 The Politics of Alliances Between Palestinian and Israeli Women

In addition to invigorating the Palestinian women's movement and triggering the emergence of a distinct women's peace movement in Israel, the intifada also created numerous opportunities for encounters and joint ventures between Israeli and Palestinian women. Prior to the uprising, planned meetings and political alliances between these groups were almost nonexistent; the few alliances that did exist were not based on gender but rather on shared positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and on personal relationships that evolved in the context of ongoing exchanges between Israeli peace activists who were mostly affiliated with non-Zionist and anti-Zionist groups and Palestinians affiliated with the factions of the PLO that had a progressive socialist ptatform-namely the DFLP, PFLP, and the communist party. The relationship between Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israeli-Jewish women in Israel changed significantly during the first two years following the outbreak of the intifada. This chapter explores the origins and history of the relationship between the Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Jewish women in Israel, focusing primarily on different types of alliances between these groups, especially since the beginning of the intifada in December 1987. The encounters of and fragile alliances between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women will be examined in relation to the historical trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on particular political developments.


The politics of male alliances. Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams Washington 1993.
How can such major political watersheds seriously be crossed in the absence of women?

The History of Women's Alliances

The alliances between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women triggered by the intifada had historical precedents. Feminist historians and anthropologists examining the historic evolution of inter-communal relations in the region point out that various associations between women of different cultural, ethnic and religious communities existed long before the current stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.' According to Elise Young "women's associations-formal and informal networks, acting autonomously or connected to wider political systems-have historically supported intercommunal relations among Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Arab world."i

The often overlooked history of associations and alliances between Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women in the Middle East chaltenges both hegemonic narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and misogyn'tst claims that women are natural enemies. At the same time, there has been a tendency to idealize alliances between women, especially if they represent opposing national collectivities, and to emphasize in particular their ability to transcend national boundaries.' According to this view, alliances between women have the potential to shape and redefine the boundaries of communities and intercommunal relations. National movements, however, have placed, according to this view, major obstacles in the path of women's associations. Many feminist thinkers have drawn attention to the fact that nationalisms tend to reinforce the power and privilege of patriarchal institutions by forcing women to demonstrate their loyalty to these institutions and by tuming them into symbols of their national collectivities.' At the same time, it is often national movements that trigger and inspire women's associations. Thus, we must recognize that Zionism and Palestinian nationalism have not always had such uniformly negative effects on women; multifaceted struggles of Arab and Jewish women in Palestine since the turn of the century gave rise to a complex relationship, between these two groups, involving both contingent alliances and serious conflicts and confrontations. The first attempts at alliance in the context of rising Jewish and Arab nationalisms can be found in the establishment of the League for Arab-jewish Friendship in 1921 and in a number of alliances between Arab and Jewish women employed as factory workers.'

Simona Sharoni

It was not uncommon for Jewish women, who emigrated to Palestine in the early 1900s, to connect their struggles for equal rights and equal pay to those of Arab workers. Women argued that "the discrepancy between the wages of women and men in the Jewish labor movement [was] comparable to the discrepancy between the wages of Arab workers and Jewish workers."' In February 1927, for example, sixty Jewish women and forty Arab women factory workers in Acre organized a joint strike in protest of low wages and intolerable working conditions. But according to Elise Young, the Zionist leadership at the time "thwarted all attempts at solidarity between Arab and Jewish workers, fostering horizontal hostility among women."I As pressure mounted with the escalation of the Arab-jewish conflict during the British Mandate, and particularly with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948-which cemented the divisions between the two communitiesalliances between Jewish and Palestinian women became very scarce. As for the broader attempts to build bridges of understanding between Palestinians and Jews, it is not clear if any of them involved women. There is no reference to the participation of women in the bi-nationalist party, established in 1936 by Martin Buber, judah Magnes, and Dr. Nissim Malul in an effort to reach a modus vivendi with the Palestinians, or in Brith Shalom (Covenant of Peace) and the IHUD (unity) Association, established in the twenties and forties respectively to foster cooperation between the Zionist and Arab nationalist movements. In addition to these efforts, there were several attempts by Jewish and Palestinian businessmen and civil leaders to ease tensions between the communities. Again, it is not clear, from the few accounts concerning these initiatives, how many women were part of these projects and what were their roles.' Encounters and alliances between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women became particularly infrequent following the 1948 war and the establishment of the state of Israel. An exception was the Democratic Women's Movement (TANDI) founded in 1948 by Arab and Jewish women members of the Communist Party in Israel. TANDI's declared objectives were to work for women's rights, children's rights, and peace. The joint movement of Arab and Jewish women saw the struggle for women's equality as inseparable from the process of transforming Israel into a truly democratic society that would include full equality for the Arab population as well as for other groups, and a separation between religion and state. TANDI was the first women's group in Israel to celebrate International Women's Day with marches, demonstrations, and public events to stress the importance of both women's equality and Arab-jewish solidarity." Apart from the work of TANDI, face-to face, organized encounters between Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories and IsraeliJewish women in Israel were almost nonexistent prior to the outbreak of the intifada. The few sporadic attempts by Israeli-Jewish women to express in solidarity with Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip remained unnoticed in Israel, but received some publicity in the Palestinian press. One such attempt involved a relatively small group of Israeli-Jewish women, Women Against the Occupation (WAO), formally known as Women Against the Invasion of Lebanon, that initiated different activities and projects designed to publicize the plight of Palestinian women prisoners. In March [email protected], the group demonstrated outside the Neve Tirtza women's prison in solidarity with Palestinian women prisoners who went on a hunger strike to protest their ill treatment. When word was received that women prisoners were tear-gassed inside their cells, WAO demanded and received a Knesset investigation of the incident. Other activities included a women's march in Tel Aviv on International Women's Day, in 1984, to protest Palestinian women's prison conditions, as well as successful campaigns to release Leila Mer'i, a Birzeit University Student Council member, and to cancel the town arrest of Amal Wahdan, an activist in the PFWAC." Based on early examples of Israeli women's solidarity with Palestinian women prisoners, Palestinian scholar and activist Ghada Talhami concluded that "the record of Women Against the Occupation disproves the thesis that a Western-oriented feminist movement is incapable of empathizing with a Third World feminist movement." At the same time, Talhami stressed that this was not the case with "other mainstream Israeli feminist organizations."' Indeed, it was not until the outbreak of the intifada that mainstream Israeli feminist organizations became interested in the lives and struggles of Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In addition to invigorating the Palestinian women's movement, and triggering the emergence of a distinct women's peace movement in Israel, the intifada created better conditions for cooperation between women on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. These conditions enabled an unprecedented number of different types of interactions in the shape of dialogue groups, local and international conferences, solidarity visits, joint demonstrations, and collaborative work on specific projects.1' Echoing the sentiments of many women peace activists in Israel, Israeli feminist Rachel Ostrowitz points to the in6fada as the primary catalyst for the emergence of networks and connections involving both Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women. Before the intifada, women in Israel "hardly had any contacts with Palestinian women inside Israel, let alone in the West Bank and Gaza Strip." Israeli-Jewish women had been too busy with their own problems "to realize that even though Palestinian women face a reality that is different than ours and deal with different problems, there are things that we have in common and topics that we can and should discuss with one another."' Many women peace activists in Israel have admitted that their own activism was prompted by the high visibility of Palestinian women's political involvement during the early stages of the intifada. Images of strong and defiant Palestinian women at the forefront of their struggle had an empowering effect on many Israeli-Jewish women. The massive mobilization of Palestinian women prompted a sense of commitment and solidarity grounded in the feminist vision of global sisterhood and in the realization that Palestinian women were ready and willing to talk peace and that this opportunity should not be missed. The political agency, independence, and active participation of Palestinian women in the indfada called into question their stereotypical depictions as passive, subservient, dependent and confined to the home. The majority of Israeli women peace activists celebrated the "new" Palestinian woman with whom they felt an affinity, since she seemed more like them. They, however, did not engage in a critical examining of the processes and practices that have constructed the images of preintifada Palestinian women not only as essentially different but also as inferior to Israeli-Jewish women. The change in the images and roles of Palestinian women has been interpreted by many Israeli-Jewish women as well as by some North American and European feminists as a shift from "tradition" to "modernity." According to this interpretation, by enabling Palestinian women to transcend the confines of the private sphere and to enter the public-political arena, the intifada created better conditions for the emergence of alliances with their more "developed" sisters. In other words, the underlying assumption has been that successful alliances should be based on similarities and therefore that Palestinian women had to change and become more like IsraeliJewish women. Palestinian women, on the other hand, saw the intifada as an important catalyst that might disturb and thus transform the political positions of Jewish women in Israel and abroad. According to sociologist Nahla Abdo, "the intifada has registered a historic turn in the IsraeliPalestinian relationship as far as political alliances-no matter how symbolic-are concerned." 18 Focusing particularly on the impact of the in6fada in general and of Palestinian women in particular on Jewish feminists, Abdo asserts that "the Palestinian women's movement has shaken up the Jewish feminist movement in Israel and abroad. Jewish feminists' silence, complicity and indifference to the struggle of Palestinians against the, racist Israeli state is being broken down."'9 In conclusion, Abdo argues that "the politicization of some Jewish feminists circles in Israel (e.g., Women in Black and Women for Palestinian Women Political Prisoners) is the product of the Palestinian women's uprising."20

Although Palestinian and Jewish women share the view that the intifada transformed their relationship to one another, their interpretations of the nature of the relationship reflect different sets of expectations. Palestinian women had hoped the uprising would trigger a radical transformation in the political views of Israeli-Jewish women and would enable them to engage in solidarity work with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and to mobilize support against the Occupation within the Israeli society. They envisioned alliances based on the recognition that their relationship with Israeli-Jewish women is, first and foremost, that between occupiers and occupied. Thus, the transformation of the relationship depends on the willingness of IsraeliJewish women to account for the ways in which they themselves are implicated in the structures and policies of the Israeli government and for the power and privilege they enjoy as Israeli citizens. But many Israeli-Jewish women activists were not yet ready to meet these expectations. Although they were not only interested, but actually excited, about meeting Palestinian women, they perceived these encounters as primarily'social rather than political. For women who were not politically active on the Israeli left prior to the intifada, these meetings were their first opportunity to talk face to face with Palestinian women from the Occupied Territories. Many Israeli-Jewish women believed that in order to build bridges of trust and understanding between the two communities they must first focus on their shared experiences as women and establish personal connections. That is to say, Israeli-Jewish women were not as eager as Palestinian women to discuss the politics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the Occupation. Instead, they were interested in encounters based on similarities and grounded in the principle of dialogue between equals. Despite their differing expectations, which, for the most part, were not made explicit, both Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women understood the potential contribution of these encounters to their struggles and thus were careful not to antagonize their partners. In order to avoid conflict, issues that could cause controversy were kept off the agenda, at least during the first two years of the intifada. To come to terms with both the potential and the pitfalls of various encounters and alliances between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women, however, the differences in these expectations must be examined in relation to the broader political context that shaped and informed them. Nearly six and one,half years after the start of the intifada, encounters and political alliances between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women are almost nonexistent. This fact is indicative of the crisis in both the Palestinian and Israeli women's peace movements, which is directly related to the politics of Middle East peace. As the locus of political activity and attention shifted from the grassroots level to the high-visibility diplomacy of the official peace process, women's contribution to and participation in peacemaking has been marginalized. But the fragile alliances between Israeli-Jewish women and Palestinian women had already faced serious obstacles even prior to the Madrid conference and the Declaration of Principles. The Gulf crisis posed the first major challenge to joint ventures between women on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. When Iraqi missiles were fired at Israel, Israeli women's voices of dissent against war as a solution to problems were drowned out by the patriotic calls for military action. In addition, the Gulf crisis interrupted the efforts of Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women to jointly organize an international women's peace in Jerusalem. Palestinian women activists involved in the planning of the joint conference still find it hard to forgive their Israeli counterparts for not contacting them during the six week long curfew and for failing to take a more explicit and unequivocal stand against the Gulf War and against the pro-war positions echoed by large segments of the Israeli peace camp. In the aftermath of the war there were several attempts on both sides of the IsraeliPalestinian divide to reevaluate and strengthen the ties between the Palestinian and Israeli women's movements, these efforts, however, faltered and were often ignored as the Madrid peace process got under way.

From Dialogue to Solidarity and Beyond

The different types of encounters and alliances between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women and the dynamics of their relationship are, in many ways, unique to the Israeli-Palestinian context. At the same time, they involve issues and processes that have characterized relationships between women who belong to different cultural, ethnic or national collectivities in other parts of the world. Most accounts of women's alliances in the particular context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have focused primarily on various efforts to bring together groups of Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women, often overlooking differences and conflicts both within and between the groups. To come to terms with the complex relationship between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women, we should not limit our analysis to their commonalities or their occasional cotlaborative projects. We should also pay close attention to differences and conflicts within and between the groups and in particular to the extent to which they are allowed to surface during the encounters and to the strategies devised to confront them. A careful examination of the relationship between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women should begin with a comparison of the different objectives, dynamics, and politics that characterize various types of encounters and alliances. More particularly, this entails asking questions about aspects such as the demographic composition of groups that have initiated and participated in alliances, about their explicit and implicit objectives and shortand long-term expectations as well as about social and political developments that may strengthen or weaken them. To answer this questions, I suggest we distinguish between three types of encounters: (1) dialogue groups; (2) women's peace conferences; and (3) collaborative projects and solidarity initiatives.

Dialogue Groups

Like the other types of allainces discussed here, dialogue groups are not unique to the relationship between Patestinian and IsraeliJewish women. The practice of dialogue between adversaries as a means of resolving various conflicts, has existed in different societies throughout history. In recent times, however, dialogue has gained an almost unquestioned status as the preferred means to overcome any conflict. The liberal discourse of dialogue with its emphasis on face-to-face meetings in a neutral environment has shaped many accounts of Middle East politics and, to some extent, became part of everyday common sense." The dialogue for(nat has become particutarly common among women's groups in the context of the Israeli,Patestinian conflict since the indfada began. Examination of some of the underlying assumptions of the dialogue format uncovers a number of consistent themes, beginning with a focus on similarities and shared experiences. In the context of the relationship between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women the experience of motherhood has been one of the primary commonalities used as a basis for dialogue. A not untypical illustration took place during a dialogue encounter between Israeli and Patestinian women activists in June 1990, in the West Bank town of Jenin. An Israeli-Jewish woman shared both her vision and strategy for the resolution of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict: Palestinian mothers should keep their sons from throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, and Jewish mothers ought to put pressure on their sons not to serve in the Israeli,occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip." Another example of the centrality of motherhood in women's attempts to address the Israeli,Palestinian conflict is reflected in the fact that Women for Co-Existence proudly took the Hebrew acronym Neled, which translates into "we will give birth." The group was established by a few Israeli,jewish women in the Tel Aviv area following the outbreak of the intifada in order to promote dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian women, including Palestinian women who hold Israeli citizenship. The group visited Palestinian villages and towns both in Israel and in the Occupied Territories, met with Palestinian women activists, and invited them to speak in Israeli-Jewish homes about their experiences and struggles." It is important to recognize that the recurring emphasis on motherhood in dialogue groups is related to the fact that the focus of dialogue groups tends to be on similarities and shared experiences. Motherhood and the notion of universal sisterhood have been assumed to constitute a common ground for encounters between women on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. An emphasis on motherhood in the context of dialogue groups, however, is not unique to the Israeli-Palestinian case. Symbols and images associated with motherhood, such as those of life giving and care taking have informed the struggles of women peace activists around the world at least since the turn of the century." But the relationship between women, motherhood, and peace is not as natural [email protected] conflict-free as it is made to seem. Feminist peace activist, Hannah Safran, for example, has voiced uneasiness about the overwhelming use of motherhood as a primary discourse of dialogue between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women: "Is our primary role as a women's peace movement to stress that we are mothers and based on the idealization of motherhood argue that we refuse to keep sending our sons to fight? Maybe it is time for us to also stress other identities. To point out that we are not i . ust mothers, that some of us are not mothers (either by choice or not), that we are lesbians and heterosexuals, Ashkenazi and Sepharadic, young and old, wealthy and poor, and that all these diverse identities constitute legitimate locations from which we can voice opposition to war and conquest."" Dialogue groups with their universal presumptions and focus on similarities have not offered a conducive framework for the exploration of questions of identity and difference between or within the groups. Similarly presumed to be universal, but with a slightly different emphasis, the notion of universal sisterhood places a high value on similarities, interpersonal communication, and friendship among individual women. This emphasis has been a widely used framework for women's encounters since early examples of women's support groups and consciousness-raising groups. The greatest weakness of an emphasis on the commonalities between opposing groups in the dialogue format is that experiences of oppression, structured inequalities, and other differences between the groups are often ignored or downplayed during the encounter because they are seen as impediments to peace and conflict resolution. Nevertheless, since the rationale of dialogue groups appears both reasonable and constructive, those who raise questions about differences in power and privilege among the participants or criticize the liberal assumptions that underlie this mode of encounter, are often portrayed as rejecting the very idea of conflict resolution. As a result, argues Patestinian scholar Mohammed Abu-Nimer, "attempts to establish dialogue and communication between conflicting parties are always welcomed regardless of their content, structure, motivation and outcome. Those who oppose these attempts are usually labeled as 'radicals' or 'fanatiCS'.1126 Therefore, few women on either side of the Israeli-Palestinian divide have publicly criticized dialogue groups. The participation of many Israeli-Jewish women in such encounters has been encouraged primarily by liberal positions on both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and feminism. They believed that through dialogue they could find ways to transcend cultural, historical, and political differences and to unite under the banner of global sisterhood and peace, which could then have a spillover effect onto the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. Palestinian women, on the other hand, carried with them a rather different understanding grounded in their activism as women in the context of a national liberation struggle; their participation in such meetings was motivated first and foremost by pragmatic political reasons. Because their long-term goal was to bring about the end of the occupation, they saw their encounters with Israeli women as an important vehicle for influencing public opinion in Israel in that direction. For them, dialogue was not perceived as a means for overcoming differences and establishing personal relationships with Israeli-Jewish women, but rather a tool of social transformation and political change. These basic differences in objectives and expectations put considerable strains on the liberal dialogue format. Despite clear attempts by Israeli-Jewish women to unite around commonalities rather than address differences, disparities in power and privilege, as well as other political, Cultural, and historical differences separating Israeli-Jewish from Palestinian women surfaced in the dynamics of most encounters. When Palestinian women called attention to the asymmetric nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to the fact that women's encounters too mirror the relationship between occupiers and occupied, they were often met with resistance and de, fensiveness on the part of many Israeli-Jewish women who insisted that a focus on differences and divisions between them might inhibit the goals of dialogue. Another issue that Israeli-Jewish women tended to overtook was how the format of the meetings further emphasized the disparities in power and privilege hetween occupiers and occupied because in most cases, Palestinian women from the Occupied Territories were invited to participate in dialogue groups held in the homes of Israeli-Jewish women within Israel. Encounters did not exactly take place in neutral spaces for Palestinian women, who took considerable risks by crossing through the road blocks and checkpoints of the Green Line, not knowing whether their own communities would be under curfew or attack when they returned.

Over time, a number of Palestinian women began to raise critical questions about the dialogue format with its liberal assumptions and presumed symmetry and neutrality, which are often hidden behind the appealing rhetoric of cross-cultural understanding and bridge-building. From their perspective, the dialogue format has been a practice serving primarily the needs of women that belong to the more powerful and privileged group, namely Israeli-Jewish women. Activist Maha Nassar, a leading figure in the Palestinian women's movement, insists that, instead of exposing Palestinian women, particularly those who are very poor and come from refugee camps, to the gap between their living conditions and those of Israeli-Jewish women, "Israeli women ought to come to our communities and see our suffering."'i This critique does not rule out encounters with Israeli-Jewish women but rather offers a different format that takes into account the unequal nature of the relations between the two groups. It calls into question the notion of a universal shared experience of women, emphasizing that women are divided not only by nationality but also by class. Rather than accepting that dialogue and liberal bridge-building were inherently helpful, Nassar believes that critical questions must precede adopting these practices. Foremost among such questions is that conceming "what kind of bridges you want to build, between whom and leading to what. 1128 In sum, although women like Nassar tend to agree that the processes of searching for common ground and of learning to respect each other as individuals are important and often result in comforting personal feelings, they insist that in order to build and sustain alliances with Israeli-Jewish women, inequalities in power and privilege rooted in the broader sociopolitical context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be addressed. In other words, experiences of oppression cannot be reconciled simply through interpersonal processes that focus primarily on how women treat each other as individuals in the artificially controlled environment of a women's dialogue group. Some of these concerns, although not all of them, have been addressed in a series of local and international peace conferences designed to explore women's perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Women's Peace Conferences

Women's peace conferences have extended the basis of encounters between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women beyond the shared experiences of women to political positions and joint commitment to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As a result, encounters involved a focus on both similarities and differences between Palestinian and,lsraeli-Jewish women. According to Simone Susskind, President of the Secular Jewish Community of Brussels who organized and sponsored the 1989 international women's peace conference "Israeli women in the peace movement and... Palestinian women, who play such an important role in the intifada... have dabbled less in politics and are less imprisoned by ideological concepts and less divided by psychological barriers, [and thus] might be more prepared to listen and talk to one another without prejudice."'9 Despite the structure of the conference which treated Jewish and Palestinian women as if they were equal and the fact that it was sponsored by a Jewish woman, Palestinian women saw in the conference an opportunity to share their experiences and political perspectives in order to transform the positions of their Jewish counterparts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, the conference in Brussels was a transformative experience for many of its Jewish participants. Rachel Ostrowitz, a member of the Israeli-Jewish delegation, described the conference as "a very important tuming point" in her relationship with Palestinian women.'o The encounter with Palestinian women from the West Bank and Gaza Strip and from the diaspora, including women who came from Tunis as official representatives of the PLO, triggered new questions and experiences that had a dramatic impact on Ostrowitz's attitudes toward Palestinian women: "the Palestinian women shared difficult experiences of oppression, displacement and violation of basic human rights and needs. Their protest and anger were directed at the state of Israel. Listening to them, I had to ask myself. how shall 1, an Israeli citizen, respond and work to change this situation?"" The crucial questions that the Brussels conference triggered for Ostrowitz have been also raised in other local and international conferences and events on the conflict. For example, following the December 1989 women's day for peace, that culminated in a massive march of six thousand women from West to East Jerusalem, the Women and Peace Coalition in Israel which sponsored the day concluded that itthe event was successful beyond expectations in terms of level of participation and cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian women. It emphasized the distinguished role that women can play in bringing peace. This success motivated us to seek further and deeper mutual cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli women.""

After the conference, the Palestinian women's organizations and Israeli women peace groups were contacted by the Swedish branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) with an initiative to convene an international peace conference in Jerusalem. Consequently, representatives of Palestinian and Israeli women's groups began to meet to jointly plan the December 1990 conference. For a while it seemed that Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women have built the foundations for a strong alliance. But the Gulf War challenged this perception.

The war and its implications for women's lives and alliances was perceived differently by Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish activists. Israeli women attributed the difficulties they faced in accomplishing their objectives to the Gulf crisis and later to the war. For Palestinian women, on the other, the Gulf War marked a serious disillusionment with their relationship with their Israeli-Jewish counterparts, causing them to rethink the very basis of women's resistance and women's alliances. As a result, Palestinian women began to criticize the very nature and underlying assumptions of women's peace conferences. According to Palestinian scholar and activist Rita Giacaman, many such conferences have been "imposed on Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women by outsiders who had money from their govemments and wanted to have a conference."" She argues that there is no need for more conferences, tea parties or dialogue groups and instead calls for "street action that does not necessarily have to be joint."'I Street action, according to Giacaman, may include demonstrations, collaborative projects, and solidarity initiatives designed to improve the daily lives of people under occupation. In sum, although peace conferences have moved beyond some of the constraints of dialogue groups and have often taken into account the political context of women's encounters and alliances, they did not challenge the presumed symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians.

Collaborative Projects and Solidarity Initiatives

The transition from women's encounters that focus primarily on dialogue and take place around a conference table to a relationship characterized by collaborative projects and solidarity initiatives requires a strong political commitment. This type of relationship does not focus primarily on similarities and on the shared experiences of women but rather recognizes from the outset the differences, injustices, and inequalities separating Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women. The ongoing work of the WOFPP is perhaps the best example of this different mode of activism. The creation of alliances between women on both sides of the conflict was never a stated objective for the WOFPP, nevertheless, their work in support of Palestinian women prisoners, which has been coordinated throughout with Palestinian women's organizations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has led to the development of strong ties between Israeli-Jewish women and Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories. The key insight underlying the emphasis on solidarity work is that collaborative and consistent work on a joint project over a significant period of time results in trust and in strong relationships precisely because personal relationships are viewed as a possible, but not necessary, outcome of a political alliance. There is no doubt that persistence is an important measure of credibility for those involved in solidarity work, but it is not enough. Another important measure seems to be the readiness and willingness of Israeli-Jewish women to relinquish the premise of symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians. Unlike dialogue groups and peace conferences, collaborative projects and solidarity initiatives require that Israeli-Jewish women not only acknowledge but also act upon the power and privilege they enjoy both in their interactions with Palestinian women and in the broader sociopolitical context of the Israeli occupation. By confronting these differences, these women have avoided the common trap of coalescing around the most common dimension of their struggle-their gender and shared experience as women-and overlooking crucial differences that are rooted in the political structures and in unequal power relations. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, differences in power relations cannot be overlooked. Recognition of these disparities involve acknowledging that encounters take place not only between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women but also between a women's movement informed for the most part by Western feminism and one whose struggle for women's liberation is part of a broader anticolonial liberation struggle, inspired by similar struggles of women in other parts of the world. These differences, however, are not reducible to cultural differences such as those between Western and Middle Eastern women. Rather, they are differences that are political and contextual, stemming from different historical trajectories that dialogue groups and women's peace conferences tend to overlook. Above all the other dimensions that characterize the encounter between Israeli-Jewish and Patestinian women, the basic one is that an encounter between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women is first and foremost an encounter between occupiers and occupied. The disparities in power and privilege between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women have their roots in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general and in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in particular. They are reflected in the ways cultural differences and multiple interpretations of feminism are articulated and dealt with during the encounters. Solidarity work is always collaborative, but it must begin with the needs of the disenfranchised group rather than those of the more privileged. In other words, solidarity initiatives carried out by IsraeliJewish women must be evaluated not onty based on the extent of collaboration with Palestinian women but also on the extent to which they focus on the suffering of the occupied rather than on the humanity of the occupier. Even when these two conditions are met, for collaborative projects to succeed, the terms of solidarity need to be constantly negotiated. It should be clear from the outset, however, that the term negotiation is not used here to imply that Palestinian and Israeli,jewish women should have an equal say in determining the nature and scope of a collaborative project. Rather, negotiating the terms of solidarity implies that before a solidarity initiative is carried out, Israeli-Jewish women must consult with Palestinian women to determine their needs and priorities and their willingness to collaborate on a particular project. For many Israeli women peace activists solidarity is not an easy task. According to Israeli-Jewish feminist and peace activist Yvonne Deutsch itmany Jewish women, even among those who protest the occupation, have difficulty feeling solidarity with Palestinian women or with the Palestinian people."i' The problem, she argues, manifests itself not only in the relatively low number of solidarity projects that have been initiated by Israeli-jewishwomen since the intifada but also in the confusion expressed by some women when Palestin'tans express solidarity with their efforts to end the occupation. Deutsch describes a particular incident involving some Women in Black in Jerusalem who felt uncomfortable and confused upon "receiving words of support from Palestinian male laborers, who, retuming home from a day's work in Israel, would pass them on the road."" She concluded that this confusion originates from the apparent contradiction between the encouragement Women in Black receive from Palestinians and the isolation they feel in their own society." Because solidarity work, more than other forms of encounters and alliances, calls into question the distinctions between "us" and "them," the confusion expressed by some Israeli-Jewish women reflects a fear of being perceived as disloyal to their own community. It would be a mistake, however, to assign all the blame and responsibility to Israeli-Jewish women without the taking into consideration the broader political context, particularly the rigid boundaries of Israeli-Jewish collective identity and the sanctions imposed on those who dare to (or are perceived as trying to) challenge them in any way shape or form. In this context, the engagement of Israeli-Jewish women peace activists with collaborative projects and solidarity work with Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is likely to be perceived as an act of national betrayal by the majority of Israeli society.

The constructed borders between "traitors" and "patriots" and between "us" and "them" have been used as rigid signifiers of collective national identity; those who cross these borders or challenge their rigidity are considered traitors and are forced to pay the price and live "in exile" on the periphery of Israeli-Jewish collectivity. The act of labelling Israeli-Jewish women who engage in solidarity work as traitors has not only legitimized campaigns of fear and intimidation against these women, but has probably kept more women from joining women's peace groups and speaking out against the occupation. At the same time, the more Israeli-Jewish women (and men) are willing to pay the price that often accompanies acts of solidarity, the more difficult it will be for the Israeli authorities to marginalize, discredit and present these human gestures as acts of treason.

Consider, for example, again the work of the WOFPP. These women have utilized the power and privileges that accompany their Israeli citizenship to act as strong advocates on behalf of Palestinian women prisoners. To do this, they had to create for themselves a kind of transformative experience that their original identity-bound by the dominant narrative of Israeli national identity-has forbidden. Creating such a transformative experience is not an easy task. Yet feminist scholar Sandra Harding urges those committed to solidarity projects not to fear the label "traitor" but rather to adopt and use it subversively. For Harding, the affirmation and celebration of "traitorous" identities, is an important act of solidarity with those considered to be "others" or "them."" In the context of the present examination of Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women's alliances, it implies that to engage in solidarity work, one has to be ready to leave her safe home or step outside the boundaries of the Israeli-Jewish community as it is presently defined, and pay the price that traitors are forced to pay. At the same time, solidarity work is not simply about challenging and retinquishing loyalties; it is grounded in a different set of loyalties and inspired by alternative visions of identity and community.

 

In conclusion, the Palestinian and the Israeli-Jewish women's movements are in the midst of grappling with and redefining their own identity and direction at this time. Women in both movements have begun to confront crucial questions of identity and difference as well as the complex relationship between dominant interpretations of national identity and other modalities of identity such as gender, ethnicity, religion, class and sexuality, among others. This exploration is likely to provide a common ground for the emergence of contingent, yet stronger, alliances between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women. The durability of such alliances will depend to a great extent on the political climate in the Middle East. A drastic improvement in the relationship between Palestinian and Israeli-Jewish women-still primarily a relationship between occupiers and occupied-requires the end of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Alliances between Israeli-Jewish women and Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are fragile and face constant challenges, originating both from the dynamic and unpredictable political context and from the grave disparities in power and privilege between Israelis and Palestinians-occupiers and occupied. At the same time, it should be [email protected] that various types of encounters that have taken place between Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women rest on particular assumptions about gender, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the relationship between them. The emergence of such alliances depends to a great extent on an unequivocal acknowledgment of power disparities between the two communities and a willingness on the part of Israeli-Jewish women to account for their power and privilege. Future alliances should be built on the basis of recognizing a common yet differing impact of the IsraeliPalestinian conflict on the lives and struggles of Palestinian and Israeli women. Their transformative potential depends on the ability, willingness, and courage of both Israeli-Jewish and Patestinian women to recognize both their shared and different experiences and negotiate the terms of solidarity from this standpoint.