London, November 16, 2011—OneVoice youth leaders Shir Lachish and Thuraya Aghbar stressed the potential of women’s activism in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to local faith-based women’s groups on their London speaking tour last week.
Addressing their dual identities as both women and activists, Shir and Thuraya talked with women from all faith backgrounds gathered at Palmers Green Mosque and St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. The discussions, oscillating between animated and tearful, encouraged the women to redefine their traditional roles as mothers, daughters and sisters within a larger social paradigm and to see their potential as women working for peace and a two-state solution.
The roughly 30 young women gathered at St. Ethelburga listened to Shir and Thuraya warn against the pitfalls of repeating nationalist histories while failing to present a vision for the future. Thuraya, an engineering major at An-Najah National University, was seen by many women in attendance as the embodiment of an optimistic, empowered and emerging cadre of educated women who can steer the conflict to a just solution.
“These women have the courage to come here and tell their stories,” one woman in attendance remarked following the event. “We should also have the courage to listen and hear what other voices have to say.”
This sentiment was echoed by the Muslim, Jewish and Christian women gathered at the Palmers Green Mosque event, hosted in conjunction with the UK Friends of the Bereaved Families Forum (UKFBFF), a group that brings grieving Israeli and Palestinian families to advocate for an end to the conflict. Speaking with an audience of roughly 40 women, Shir and Thuraya shared their stories of trauma — both personal and societal — and what Shir called the “feeling of the almost.”
“I think most Israelis or a lot of my friends have been in situations where they feel like they have almost been in a terror attack... or almost had been in a bus when it ended up exploding,” explained Shir. “The feeling is of being afraid and always looking around you.”
It was clear the occupation had taken its toll on Thuraya, as she recounted how close she came to losing her life. "I was on my way to school on a normal day and didn't realize there was an Israeli military operation in my neighborhood," she said. "I came across a patrol on the corner, where kids were throwing stones and bullets were being fired. As I ran away, a bullet missed me and went into a teenage kid. He is now disabled."
Shir and Thuraya’s stories of loss — of innocence stripped in the face of fear and frustration — resonated with the women at the Forum who reciprocated the sentiment, sharing their own personal stories of lost relatives.
Robi Damelin, who serves as head of public relations for the Israeli office of the Bereaved Families Forum, described her peace efforts after losing her son to a sniper attack. “All mothers share the same pain,” she told the tearful audience. “You can either choose the path of revenge or you can choose to protect your other children.”
And it is in that message — recognizing the pain of the past while refusing to let it dictate the future — that OneVoice and the Forum share a message and where women’s roles as mothers, as the guiding force in the education of the future generations, intersects with their capabilities as peacemakers.
“Women have a role to play in understanding other people’s needs,” one participant said following the discussion. “When you see the humanity in others, that’s when the conflict ends.”