A moving celebration of International Women's Day for Israeli and Palestinian women was held on March 7 in Jerusalem. We screened the documentary film "Women of Cyprus" about Turkish and Greek Cypriot women crossing to opposite sides of the green line dividing Cyprus since the war of 1974 to visit the family homes they had not seen for thirty years. http://www.womenofcyprusfilm.com/ The film focused on the personal journey of women from opposite sides of a tragic conflict, who have been haunted by violent upheavals and forced dispersions and now work together to promote reconciliation. The film had English, Hebrew and Arabic subtitles. We were so grateful to have with us the film's Director, Vasiliki Katrivanou, who broke away from her busy schedule in Greece where she serves as a Member of the Greek Parliament. She explained how the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot women were meeting for four years before the film was made, and how they have continued meeting until now. We had a panel of Israeli and Palestinian women to discuss the film and it's relevance to our situation. Siham Halabi, of the MADA CC arrived with a group of women from the Druze village on Mt. Carmel with Druze pita to add to the refreshments. Some Palestinian women obtained permits to attend.
We opened by connecting with URI women and women all over the world who were celebrating International Women's Day and focusing on the achievements of women and the need to be vigilant to see further advances. The film was a deep and moving expression of women's suffering in the midst of the violent upheavals and dispersions in Cyprus and afterwards. Vassiliki then spoke about the current situation in Cyprus where negotiations have resumed several months ago in an effort to again hold a referendum to reunite the Greek and Turkish parts of the island. She is optimistic that the on-going dialogues women have been holding for past several years are breaking down the walls between the two populations. The panelists shared their perspectives on how women are the primary victims of conflict situations and how they can be instrumental in promoting a sustainable peace. An Arab Christian woman spoke about fleeing their home in Katamon, Jerusalem as a child in '48 because of bombings on their street. Dalia Landau of Open House in Ramle spoke about having the original Palestinian owners return after '67 to visit their home, and their subsequent joint decision to turn the house into a place of encounter and cooperation between Jewish and Arab youth.
A lawyer from Itach Maaki - Women Lawyers for Social Justice, a group of Israeli and Palestinian lawyers, spoke about the recent and needed advances in getting women represented in negotiations. (http://www.1325israel.co.il/) A leader of the Parents Circle - Families Forum spoke about their on-going reconciliation work. A Druze woman spoke about the film bringing up painful memories of the plight of the Druze in the '48 war. Women said they were inspired, moved, and encouraged to see and understand the situation of the Cypriot women and see the similarities and differences with our situation. One woman asked Vasiliki what was the relationship - since in Cyprus they're trying to reunite the two different populations on the two sides of the island, and here we're trying to divide the land. She answered that in each case the people were looking for freedom and independence - just in a different form.
In the evening we had Palestinians and Israelis - Muslim, Christian, and Jewish - gather with Vasiliki for a Shabbat dinner which welcomes and honors the female spirit. Jewish rituals were shared and blessings were said. We shared many stories of suffering, displacement, and reconciliation. The Muslims and Christians had never attended a Shabbat meal before and appreciated the inclusive spiritual energy of the meal and deep discussion.
Co-sponsors and speakers were TRUST WIN (Women's Interfaith Network), Parents Circle - Families Forum, Itach Maaki - Women Lawyers for Social Justice, HeartPath Women: Jerusalem Peacemakers. We are grateful to Barbara Meislin for her generous support.
In a related development for International Women's Day, my Peace Corps colleague US Congressman Sam Farr, obtained 50 signatures of US Members of Congress for a letter to Secy John Kerry calling for more women to be involved in all levels of the peace negotiations "to ensure that peace in the region endures".
We are confident that the moving out-pouring of women's suffering and love had an inspiring and healing benefit for everyone.
Blessings and love,