This photo series from 2008 by Spanish photographer Dani Lagartofernández gathers portraits of 13 women working actively to attain peace in Palestine and Israel. They are Palestinians, Israelis, and women from other parts of the world who devote their lives and efforts to achieving an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to the violence caused by this occupation.
Many of them are convinced that if women had taken part of the peace talks between the two nations, it would have been possible to achieve reconciliation. As activists and women, they devote their energy and resources to creating an alternative model of negotiation which centers on building relationships through dialogue.
When photographed in 2008, each woman was asked to choose one word to sum up what the conflict means to her. They were all photographed with bare feet, as a metaphor for them staying honest and straightforward in a difficult reality. The women were also photographed in places selected by themselves, representing the interrelationship between the external environment and the inner universe of each of them.
Amal Khreisheh (left)
Amal is the director of the Palestinian Working Women Society for Development and works to encourage Palestinian women to take part in democratizing civil society. She also is a member of the International Women’s Commission, a movement with Palestinian, Israeli and international women dedicated to end the occupation and achieve peace.
She believes that there is a clear connection between Israeli colonialism and gender violence. The arrogant occupation policies reinforce traditional customs and patriarchal structures in Palestinian society. In these circumstances, women are the most vulnerable part of the population.
“Freedom is what defines the most characteristic essence of the human being. All values that we have acquired and adopted across history — justice, equanimity, respect for human rights — are echoed in the concept of freedom. And, without freedom there will not be safety. There will not be peace.”
Place: “Spring Street” in Ramallah
“I like this street near the center of Ramallah, which is my favorite city and the most tolerant place in my country. This street preserves my most intimate memories: it was here I walked up and down with my husband when we were boyfriend and girlfriend, my children went to school here. In 2002, when Israel assaulted, trampled and raped Ramallah, we fled from soldiers through taking this street, and we got lost in the backyards of the houses that we know so well. I don’t remember the name of the street. I call it Spring Street because here you can find lawn under your feet in the middle of the city, and trees celebrating the arrival of good weather. Spring: renewal, change, development, freedom.”
Itaf Awad (center)
Itaf comes from Daburiah, a Palestinian village near Nazareth. She is the granddaughter of Nasra Awad, who was a midwife, healer and peacemaker in her community. Itaf says that she continues to be inspired by the work of her grandmother. At the age of 12, Itaf took on responsibility of her family. She is now retired, but before that she was in charge of matters related to women at the village mayor’s office. She has always devoted herself to work for peace. Following the footsteps of her grandmother, she is now a facilitator in meetings between Arab and Jewish women.
“My work is about spiritual healing of the wounds caused by the occupation and the conflict. I face the fear of those who don’t want peace, and offer the dialogue in exchange. Many Jewish women are ready to meet with Arab women to take part in this curative process, but often on the condition that politics are not discussed. But I cannot forget the legitimate claims of my people. We, Arabs in Israel and Palestine, are humiliated, denied, and forgotten.”
“We’re immersed in a peace process that isn’t equal. The Jewish side wants more territory, continues to build more and more illegal settlements. Gaza is closed. The wall is a political wall, not one built for security. And, it’s constructed on Palestinian territory. Arab neighborhoods have fewer public services although Arabs pay the same taxes as the Jews. We are forbidden to build new houses. Is that what they call peace?”
Place: The room in the Daburiah family house where Itaf carries out her work of dialogue, healing and mediation.
Angela Godfrey Goldstein (right)
Angela is from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions which works with non-violent resistance to bring the reality of the occupation to Israeli society and to mobilize the international community for a just peace. She opposes the demolition of Palestinian houses, which she considers an act of Israeli cruelty carried out to tell the Palestinians that their land is not their home.
For Angela, it’s trust in human rationality that inspires her work. She believes that ultimately, the message about peace will be understood. But she wonders how many people must die before it happens. She also feels alienated in her society when protesting against the government’s settlement policies. In the past, she lived through apartheid in South Africa. From these experiences, she understands that resistance to the Israeli occupation often provokes a violent response. But, she doesn’t hesitate to affirm that Israel acts more violently than the racist South African government did.
“We, Arabs in Israel and Palestine, are humiliated, denied, and forgotten”
“In the last four years, we’ve killed five times more children and three times more civilian Palestinians than the Palestinians have killed Israeli civilians and children. We’ve taken their homes, lands and villages, their dignity and their work. And don’t tell me that it’s the Israelis that are the real victims. After having suffered the Warsaw ghetto wall, we’ve now created the Abu Dis ghetto wall.”
Mariam Ikermawi (left)
Mariam is from the Jerusalem Center of Women which was created at the same time as the Israeli women’s center Bat Shalom. The centers are situated on each side of the wall and connected through the joint initiative Jerusalem Link. This is the first time a Palestinian and an Israeli organization work in this way to improve the situation of human rights, and women’s rights in particular.
Mariam is a survivor of a reality in which desperation reigns. Especially after September 11, this is a reality where Palestinians are stigmatized and seen as terrorists only due to the fact that they are Arabs and (sometimes) Muslims. Mariam is fed up with explaining the fact that she is both a Palestinian and an individual, and she is tired of justifying why Palestine is a nation in resistance. She knows that her human rights work is important, because the Palestinian woman is the one who has to bear the brunt of the Israeli occupation. After fighting daily to educate children and trying to preserve order in the house in an unstructured society, she is also a victim of gender violence.
“Why I chose this word? Because every day, to get to or from the office, I have to avoid the wall by passing underneath, walking with my head bowed through a sewer that links both sides. One day, the soldiers blocked the sewer. I said to myself: My God, they treat us worse than rats. They don’t even let us pass where the dirty water sips through. So do I really have to explain the reasons for my choice?”
Place: The street in Beit Hanina where Jerusalem Center of Women has its offices, blocked by the wall separating Jerusalem in two. Nurit Peled (center)
Nurit is a university teacher with a degree in comparative literature. On September 4, 1997, her teenage daughter Smadar was one of four victims of a suicide attack perpetrated by a Palestinian kamikaze in West Jerusalem. Although plunged into mourning, Nurit didn’t hold the Palestinian people responsible for the death of her daughter, but the policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. In 2001, Nurit received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, a prize awarded by the European Parliament to persons or organizations fighting for freedom and human rights in their countries.
During a speech before the European Parliament on March 8, 2005, she said: “I don’t dare to offer any ideas to Muslim women on how to change their lives. I don’t want them to take off their hijabs, or to educate their children differently, nor will I press them to construct democracies in the image of the Western democracies that despise them as much as those who share their fortune. I want to humbly ask the women of Palestine to be my sisters. I want to express my admiration for their courage and perseverance, for the fact that they continue to have children and bring them up the way they do, and for being able to live their lives with dignity in spite of the impossible impositions that my world makes them live through.”
Place: Nurit’s house, where she says she works best, in West Jerusalem.
Tal Haran (right)
Tal belongs to MachsomWatch, an organization that monitors the behavior of soldiers at Israeli checkpoints. They observe and write testimonies of what they see, in order to protect the rights of Palestinians. “This way, nobody will be able to say in the future that they didn’t know,” says Tal.
“After having suffered the Warsaw ghetto wall, we’ve now created the Abu Dis ghetto wall”
She grew up in a nationalistic environment. Her father, a third generation Jewish immigrant to Palestine, was part of building the most radical side of the Israeli state: he belonged to the Irgun. Tal’s mother came to Palestine fleeing the Nazism that was threatening Europe. Tal wasn’t happy in the militarized environment that surrounded her, and she took refuge in art and dance. She says that it took her 50 years to wake up to the reality that surrounded her, and that she was ignoring until the Intifada exploded. “Then, I began to fight against the occupation. The question is not why I woke up, but why I had been sleeping. Because there can also be a militarization of the soul, through indoctrination.”
“I didn’t know that this word existed until I was invited to speak at a conference in Barcelona, where one of the topics was ‘contrainformación’. After asking the meaning of the word, I realized that it’s a very special term that doesn’t exist in other Western languages. It doesn’t have the same meaning as the English expression ‘alternative information’ for example. It can have different meanings: to go against official information, to place yourself in opposition, or to describe information which is not produced by the established media. When I was writing my conference paper, I had to explain MachsomWatch’s mission. I felt that this is the correct word for describing the type of information we gather. To know what doesn’t want to be known. This is my way of doing grass root activism.”
Place: An agricultural area near Tal’s house in Neveh Sharet, a suburb of Tel Aviv. Tala had been traveling every week during one and a half years to the Hawara checkpoint near Nablus, when she discovered one day that some inhabitants of the Balata refugee camp, close to Hawara, came from Al Sawalima, a small Arab village destroyed in 1948. That village was in this field, only three minutes away from her house.
The interviews were made in 2008, at which time the women worked with the said organizations.