Text size

The night we met, Khulud Badawi was escaping the horrors of the war in East Jerusalem's Al-Hakawati Theater. But it seems escapism is not what it used to be. She watched the Lebanese movie "The Kite," directed by her friend's sister. The movie tells the story of a young Lebanese woman who falls in love with an Israeli Druze soldier during the first Lebanon war. As the plot reached a climax, cellular phones started buzzing, and word spread throughout the theater of Katyusha strikes on Haifa on Sunday night. Badawi, who had spent several years in Haifa, rushed out of the theater to watch the news. In televised broadcasts, she recognized the old offices of the Al-Ittihad newspaper, the Hadash party journal. Among the ruins of the strike, Badawi, a Hadash party member, spotted some of her friends' offices and then began making calls.

At the same time, Jana Kanapova, who immigrated from the Ukraine 11 years ago as a young Zionist activist, was also immersed in endless phone calls to her acquaintances and colleagues in Haifa. The rockets did not fall far from the apartment she shares in the Hadar neighborhood with Abir Kupti - spokesperson for the Arab civil rights Mossawa center - and in the heart of residential neighborhoods where many of her Arab and Jewish partners in her unusual political path live.

The next day, we met in what is fondly referred to as the "Tel Aviv bubble." In this bubble, for the last two weeks the two have been leading the main axis of the anti-war protest on behalf of the Women's Peace Coalition and the Ta'ayush organization. An Arab and a Russian. In the Israeli experience, this is just another one of the war's peculiarities.

Badawi, 30, has a long history of struggle: She used to be the militant head of the National Israeli Arab Students Association; today she works as a researcher in the Human Rights Society of Israel. The story of Kanapova's life, a 25-year-old psychology student at Haifa University, is far from the fulfillment of the Jewish Agency's Zionist dream - despite her immigration to Israel as part of the Na'ale project, and five years of work in the agency.

During those years, she believed "the left ends with Meretz," as she put it. It was then that she discovered what she describes as the lie and arrogance the country, which she had dreamed of moving to, was founded on. The lie and arrogance, which not only breeds primitive men, but also warps the judgment of an entire country. Thus she found her way to the radical left, which offered her a political and social home.

Conducting protests in three languages

No doubt, the feeling of marginality in a society which sees Arabs as an enemy and Russian immigrants as a transparent entity has helped reinforce the solidarity between the two groups. "The police sees Khulud as a natural threat," says Kanapova with a bitter smile; "in the same exact circumstances, the police refuses to see me as a threat. After all, they also share the stereotype that there are no leftists within the Russians. Khulud will always represent a danger, I'm never a danger; Khulud is the demographic ticking bomb, I am the demographic hope. This is the exact same attitude that views both of our wombs as state instruments, and we will not give them that pleasure."

In the past month of war, they have led the left's demonstrations, which are conducted in three languages - Hebrew, Arab and Russian. Judging by the number of calls made to Badawi's three cellular phones, you would think that the resistance to the war was the new consensus. By the number of conversations Kanapova conducted in Russian with her political colleagues, you would also think that the million Russian-speakers in the country had changed their political orientation.

This is obviously untrue, but there is no doubt that something new and different is going on. Plenty has been said about the unique aspects of this war. The fact that two women - an Arab and a Soviet immigrant - stand at the protest's spearhead is definitely part of this uniqueness. Everything is different here: Most of the protest activity in Israel, also that of the more radical left, has in the past been based on Jewish Ashkenazi men. Not this time. The protest in this war is led, to a large extent, by women. And that is not the only difference.

In the past, Israeli Arab citizens avoided coming to demonstrations in Tel Aviv in the midst of war. At most they resigned themselves to a symbolic representation in the later stages of the protest. Their demonstrations against the occupation also usually took place in Arab towns. No more. This time, the Arabs were equal partners in the left's demonstrations in Tel Aviv from the outset of the war. The thousands of Katyushas, falling on them as well, have toppled the old inhibitions. They do not see it as another Jewish war, but as a civilian war in which they have an equal right to speak out. Badawi says that they purposefully bring their voices to Tel Aviv, which they consider to be the Israeli capital.

Another kind of change is happening in the Russian-speaking arena. The community of Russian-speakers has long been considered the hard core of the Israeli right wing. The recruitment of a even handful for leftist Zionist demonstrations was always considered a great achievement. On this occasion, there exists a small but prominent and consistent presence of Russian-speakers in the radical left's protests. The Arabs learn to shout out the slogan "Vayni nyet" (no war), and the Russian and Hebrew-speakers rhythmically call "Salam na'am, hareb la" (peace yes, war no.) It is safe to assume that these ties will remain long after the sounds of war fade away.

'A man's war'

To Badawi and Kanapova, all of this seems perfectly natural. First and foremost, the role of women in this protest is obvious to them. "All the aspects of this war tie the feminist, social, ecological and class struggle closely to the ongoing struggle against the occupation," they say. "Women make this connection naturally. The old left, even that of 'Gush Shalom,' did not manage to connect these struggles. We did. The women's social and political networks are also stronger. This war is taking place in our social arena, in our homes. As women and citizens, we produce an alternative feminine voice to oppose the militant male voice."

"This is a war of men fighting for their honor, both the IDF's honor and Hezbollah's honor," says Kanapova. "Women are less into the honor thing. Russian women are instinctively aware that wars are men's games. That is the society we grew up in, and we find it obvious." This might be the reason that the group of Russian women in the radical left has spurted in a short time from three activists to 200 who are now involved with the protest.

Kanapova says that even her father, who is visiting Israel now, is essentially not a political person, but "has seen through the lie" when watching the Israeli Russian channel. She says that even he raised the question of how was it possible for one Israeli soldier to be worth the lives of 10 Israeli civilians and 100 Lebanese. "He instinctively feels that something is wrong", she says. "But the Russians here are brainwashed."

"A human life here is only important if he wears a uniform," protests Badawi. "For us this is now a struggle for the value of human dignity in Israel. Every human. The Arab women have a common socio-economic base with the Russian and the Middle-Eastern Israeli women. All of our parents will have no food on their tables after the war. When Jana speaks Russian and I speak Arabic on the demonstration stage it is a political message in itself. In it we say to the Arab world that the axiom that Israel and the United States are promoting, according to which Arabs and Jews cannot live together, is a lie."

They lend their endless criticism of Israel easily, but it is much harder to coax out any statement against Hezbollah. "It is obvious that we, as feminists, cannot support a religious fundamentalist organization," they consent. "On the other hand, we don't want this statement to be exploited in a manipulative political manner. After all, Israel supplied Hezbollah with enough good reasons to attack. Furthermore, our struggle is for our own society in an effort to prevent the approaching regional war that will hurt us all."

Badawi says that this is also the beginning of healing the great fracture created by the 2000 events, after which it became almost impossible to find Arab partners for political protest. "The era in which we would have accepted any Jewish partnership, at any price, is over," she says. "Now the partnership is a real one, with Jewish activists who pay a price for their participation in the demonstrations against the wall in Bil'in, for refusing to serve in the army, for their activities in the road blocks. Our partnership is one of fate, but it is different than what it was. These demonstrations are the emergence from the October 2000 fracture. An Arab-Jewish equal partnership."

Only one area remains outside their mutual territory: association. When Badawi talks of the evils of the wall, her personal burden takes her back to 1948. Kanapova agrees with every word, but from her own Jewish cultural collective another association arises. "I don't want Germans watching over us in the ghetto we created for ourselves with separation walls and security buffer zones," she says defiantly. "In a tragic process of Zionism, Israel is becoming its own final solution." Perhaps not exactly words to accompany the lighting of torches on Independence Day, but the only instance in which the two good friends part in their opinions.