By Jennifer Prystupa*
It is often said that behind every great man, there is a great woman. Perhaps behind every great movement, there are many determined women seeking to change the situation for the betterment of all.
Senior youth leaders Roza Helou, Abeer Natsheh, and Malaka Samara are three such women from OneVoice Palestine (OVP), a branch of the OneVoice Movement. OneVoice is an international grassroots movement founded in 2002 with parallel branches in Israel and Palestine advocating two states for two peoples. Over 4,000 Israeli and Palestinian youth, ages 18-34, have been engaged by OneVoice, and about 60% of OVP’s volunteers are women.
Helou, Natsheh, and Samara were gracious enough to sit down and talk about the role of women in the movement’s quest to seek a peaceful political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
OneVoice: What can Palestinian women provide to help solve the conflict?
Abeer: The history of the Palestinian people was in agriculture, and the role of women used to be in the field. Now it is in the city. We see a link between an improved economic situation and increased women’s involvement in several segments of society, including ministry, security, and education.
Women also have the ability to say less but give more of an impression. If you look to any kind of society, a man has to be very powerful to get people to listen. But when a woman starts to talk, her existence on a platform gives people the impression that she has something important to say.
Malaka: Women have two advantages working with the movement. First, we have the ability to go to conservative communities and speak to the women there, as opposed to men. Some religious men do not accept strange men in their wives’ presence. The movement understands that it is important for all women to be part of political life, and so it is easier for us to spread the message to them. Secondly, there can be problems for our men to attend movement events or tours because of checkpoints or visa issues. That is where the women have to step up and represent OVP.
Roza: A woman is a mother in the beginning and is the first educator of the next generation. As Abeer said, the role of women changed dramatically, and women can now stand side-by-side, equal with men, to end the conflict.
OneVoice: Let’s talk about your experiences as a women involved in OVP in the search for a two-state solution. What kind of challenges have you faced?
Abeer: When I put the idea on the table to my family, it was very hard for a very political family to understand that their daughter is coming from a different track. I also told them, I won’t get married until I get a state with 1967 borders. They expected me to get married and have children right after my sister did eight years ago. I’m sticking to what I believe and I cannot bring a child into such a conflict.
OneVoice: Does anyone else have family conflicts when it comes to your views?
Roza: Abeer and I come from the same background. I have the same problem, but my parents never try to steer me toward their ideas. They give me the freedom to choose my path. I have friends that are politically conservative, but I believe, realistically, that the only solution that is valid is the two-state solution.
It’s difficult to convince people that you want a state on the 1967 borders next to Israel while settlements and the wall continue to be built. There are many Palestinians giving up because of those actions. If we keep going on without a solution, there will not be a state to call Palestine. For me, I don’t want to wait another 20 years for it to happen.
Malaka: All our work with OVP is a challenge since we are working on a two-state solution. At times, it makes other Palestinians think that we are taking away their dreams and they get upset and confront us. This is especially prevalent in refugee camps when we mention our vision.
I come from Tulkarem, and I think I am the only woman in the town involved with the organization. My mother and other people ask me why I do such things, why I get so engrossed in OVP. I understand my mother’s concerns for me, her concern for how other people in my hometown think about me. But I constantly think about how I can convince the people in my small town that the two-state solution is the only solution. I feel that it is my message and my role as a strong woman to tell them.
*Jennifer Prystupa is the communications intern at OneVoice. Her article was originally published on PolicyMic: http://www.policymic.com/articles/women-s-vital-role-in-the-palestine-israel-conflict