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22 October 2002

Your Excellencies,


Allow me to begin by telling you about the secret meetings held between Palestinians and Israelis that began 15 years ago.  These meetings were secret because it was illegal for Israelis and forbidden for Palestinians to meet in those years.  A number of groups were then getting together, but only one group persisted over time - resolutely grappling with the most difficult issues - and crafted an agreement that was signed and publicized several years before the Oslo Accords.  Above all this agreement declared establishment of a free, independent and secure state of Palestine side-by-side with a free, independent and secure state of Israel as the core of a political settlement.


As profound as this moment could have been in the history of the Middle East, very few people heard about it.  Why?  Because the agreement was written by women.  You may wonder whether the agreement was rejected for other reasons, perhaps because it was a radical statement dreamed up by utopians or marginal people.  But these women were neither marginal nor radical.  Each delegation included prominent political leaders - members of parliament, government ministers, an ambassador, and a party head.


As for the content of the agreement, most of its principles have now become matters of consensus among both Israelis and Palestinians.  Despite the current magnitude of brutality - or perhaps because of it - surveys consistently show that a decisive two-thirds of Israeli Jews would support a peace agreement that includes Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, evacuation of most Israeli settlements, and creation of a Palestinian state.  Most Palestinians hold the very same views.  Indeed, only extremist political leaders on both sides fail to understand that these principles will ultimately set the terms of peace between our nations.


Clearly, the agreement was both pragmatic and moderate.  In fact, had the women who wrote it been internationally recognized negotiators, the two Intifadas that followed might have been prevented.  This is but one example of the need to implement and enforce Security Council Resolution 1325.


At the grassroots level women have also been at the forefront of peacemaking.  In 1988 women in Israel founded the movement now known as Women in Black.  Dressed in black to mourn the victims on all sides, Women in Black has kept a one-hour vigil every single Friday for the past 15 years.  On street corners throughout Israel, Arab and Jewish women hold signs demanding an end to the Israeli occupation and pursuit of a just peace.


The Women in Black movement quickly and spontaneously spread around the globe as a public forum for women to say “no” to war and injustice.  In Italy Women in Black protest the Israeli occupation and the violence of organized crime.  Women in Black in Bangalore, India call for an end to abuse by religious fundamentalists.  During the war in the Balkans Women in Black, Yugoslavia set an inspirational example of interethnic cooperation.  Today, Women in Black throughout the world are engaged in a struggle to prevent a war from being launched against Iraq.  For their remarkable work, the international movement of Women in Black, represented by the movements in Yugoslavia and Israel, were nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace and won the Millennium Peace Prize awarded by UNIFEM [the UN Development Fund for Women].


In Israel, the women’s peace movement extends well beyond Women in Black.  We are Bat Shalom, the organization formed to promote the principles of the pre-Oslo peace agreement described earlier.  We are New Profile, women seeking to end the militarization of Israeli society.  We are Machsom Watch, women preventing human rights violations at checkpoints.  We are the Movement of Democratic Women, Jewish and Palestinian women citizens of Israel struggling for peace and justice.  These and other organizations, joined together in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, are united in relentless effort to bring the bloodshed to an end.


The women’s peace movement in Israel is absolutely breathtaking:  It is alive with new ideas, indefatigable as women have always been, and at the vanguard of creative thinking about how to get to peace.  Israeli and Palestinian women march together under the banner “We refuse to be enemies”.  Indeed, the Israeli and Palestinian women’s peace movements have already made peace: on paper, in our hearts, in the lessons we teach our children, and in the behavior we model.  We are allies for peace, united in our struggle against extremists and warmongers on all sides.


Is it not preposterous that not a single Israeli woman, and only one Palestinian woman, have held leadership roles at a Middle East peace summit?  Instead, the negotiators have been men with portfolios of brutal crimes against each other - military men who have honed the art of war and who measure their success by the unconditional surrender of the other.  Is it any wonder that we are still locked in combat?


Ultimately this occupation, like every other in history, will come to an end.  The general parameters of that ending are already drawn and in agreement.  What we need now is leadership committed to swiftly concluding this era awash in blood, leadership that understands the price we pay in death and destruction for every hour of delay.  What we need now is leadership with expertise at reconciliation and rapprochement.  What we need now is women.


Thank you.


Background:  In October 2002, I had the good fortune to be invited, representing Women in Black, to address the UN Security Council on the subject of women at peace negotiations.  This session was intended to spur compliance with Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates the participation of women in all decision-making, including negotiations for peace.  Also invited to speak were women peace activists from 3 other countries – Burundi, Uganda, and India – and one representative of the organizing group, a coalition called the “NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security”.  At the very last minute, the Syrian delegation, at the time members of the Security Council, objected to a presentation by Israel, and others objected to a women from Gujarat, India, who (they imagined correctly) would be critical of the Indian government.  Despite two of us being ‘disinvited’, the lot of us filed into the Security Council conference room and seated ourselves opposite the 15 members (and their advisors) at the so-called “experts table”. 


When Indira Kajosevic of the “NGO Working Group” delivered her remarks, she cleverly presented summaries of the talks that the Indian woman and I had prepared, so I didn’t feel altogether left out.  But as the Security Council delegates discussed the issue – oh, in complete agreement about equality for women, wouldn’t you know – I was sitting there wondering what would happen if I simply raised my hand, so I did.  Almost at once the Chair recognized me, which astonished me and nearly left me speechless.  After a fumbling beginning, I found my voice, distanced myself from the policies of the present Israeli government, talked about the accomplishments of women making peace with each other and the wisdom of including women representatives of civil society (peace activists) at the negotiating table, and then said quietly that, actually, the conflict in the Middle East was not between Israelis and Palestinians.  I should have paused longer for effect right here, but I waited as long as I thought I could without closing the window of opportunity.  The conflict, I said, was actually between Israelis and Palestinians who long for peace, on one side, and Israelis and Palestinians who don’t want peace, on the other.  When I finished, the only speaker following me was the Syrian delegate, and – to tell you the truth, my heart started to pound just then so I didn’t hear a word – I was later told that my final words headed off the usual Syrian broadside against Israel.


The text, never uttered in full, appears above.  My thanks to Ruth Linden for her help in polishing and paring it down to 5 short minutes.  I do think they got the message, though.

“There they were, sitting around the dinner table, knocking off a bottle of Côtes-du-Rhone and blathering about the Middle East – you’ve never heard such shallow, simplistic reasoning in your life – and one of them turns to me and says, ‘And what do you think, Barney?  What do you think we should do?’ and all I could come up with was ‘Woof’.  I felt like such an ass.”

     [One dog talking to another]

     Alex Gregory cartoon, The New Yorker, August 11, 2003