A ‘Radical’ Idea for Future Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks: Involve Women

A new report stresses that if and when the two sides return to the negotiating table to discuss the status of Jerusalem, Israeli and Palestinian women must have a seat at the table

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Female protesters attending a demonstration in Jerusalem earlier this month.
Female protesters attending a demonstration in Jerusalem earlier this month.Credit: Emil Salman

Jerusalem has long been the Gordian knot of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and every Middle East peace plan – from the Oslo Accords to Trump’s “deal of the century” – has struggled to find a way to untie it.

According to a new report published this week, the prospective solutions have all had one thing in common: women have almost never been directly involved in their development. As a result, the daily lives of women living in the city have received little attention in the proposed plans.

The Zulat think tank’s “Jerusalem From a Gender Perspective and a Human Rights Point of View” report was developed as one of the events worldwide marking 20 years since the adoption of UN Resolution 1325 – the landmark Security Council resolution that addressed the impact of armed conflicts on women, and the importance of equal participation for women in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction. It emphasizes measures needed to protect women from conflict-related violence, including sexual violence.

Placing Palestinian and Israeli women and their experiences at the center of a conversation about Jerusalem’s present and future may not sound revolutionary, says Adi Granot, who prepared the report as coordinator of the research department in Zulat (a progressive think tank founded last year by former Meretz leader Zehava Galon in cooperation with the activist organization Ir Amim).

But as Granot embarked on her research, she realized that focusing on human rights and the roadblocks toward a livable reality in the city for women had never really been examined before in the context of the conflict.

Looking back at every plan, from Oslo in the early 1990s to last year’s “deal of the century,” there has been “nearly complete” exclusion of women both from the discussions of the impact of the conflict as well as at the negotiating table regarding proposed solutions, she says.

These plans tended to be heavy on security arrangements and the status of religious sites, and light on how families living in Jerusalem were able to live their lives in safety and prosperity.

Jerusalem is traditionally treated as an issue, not as a populated city,” Granot says. “It felt as if Jerusalem was being observed like an aerial photograph taken from far above. We believed that what was needed in our research was to zoom in close – to go into the neighborhoods and homes of Jerusalem, and the women who live in them. The UN resolution notes that women are the first ones to get hurt or put in danger in conflict situations. We wanted to hear their voices; to know the problems that were keeping Jerusalem women up at night.”

Predominantly female protesters at a demonstration in Eat Jerusalem last month.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS

Disruption and separation

One of those problems proved to be particularly timely, with the report being released just as the Israeli political arena was roiled by debate over the citizenship law. The law, which blocks the ability of West Bank residents to legally reside in Israel or become citizens of the country when they marry, affects Palestinian women’s lives in the most intimate of ways.

The report is built around extensive interviews with Jewish and Palestinian women in Jerusalem. Granot says she had expected to hear stories of Palestinian lives harmed by inferior infrastructure in East Jerusalem: the overcrowded schools, insufficient housing and transportation, and the daily ordeals of traversing the West Bank separation barrier. She was also not surprised by the discomfort of continually suspicious eyes when moving around the city – past police and soldiers, and on the streets of west Jerusalem – when dressed in hijab and visibly Arab.

But Granot says she was often shocked by the severe “extent to which the issues around geographically dependent status like the citizenship law influenced and affected them every day of their lives,” recalling stories of families forced to live lives of disruption and separation.

During an online panel held by Zulat to discuss the report, Zulat Chairwoman Galon hammered home that point.

Adi Granot

“Violence is not just punches and police beatings – it penetrates the most private places,” she said. “Violence is also when you can not marry and live with your spouse where you were born,” she added, calling the citizenship law, “transparent violence, bureaucratic violence, an abominable law that denies the right to family life.”

One young woman included in the report, Lujain Subhi of Beit Safafa (a village on the border between East Jerusalem and the West Bank), acknowledged that because of such laws, she would not consider dating West Bank men “even in my thoughts. I have to, or else I will suffer later. What will happen to my children? What will happen to my family? What if one day there is a decision to close the crossings?”

Subhi said she had “many girlfriends who did not pursue romantic relationships for that reason.”

Other hard-hitting testimonies in the report discussed the way in which parent-child relationships were disrupted by the conflict, with fear gripping mothers in East Jerusalem every time their child left the home.

When children were in trouble with Israeli authorities, the situation became even more fraught. When minors are arrested after spending up to 48 hours in prison, explained interviewee Terry Boullatta from Beit Hanina, minors “are released under house arrest, awaiting court proceedings. So the mother basically becomes the jailer of her own child, and you can understand the tension that raises.”

A Palestinian woman looking on during a protest against far-right extremist MK Itamar Ben-Gvir in Jerusalem this month.Credit: EMMANUEL DUNAND - AFP

Delicate tightrope

The report walks a delicate tightrope throughout its 65 pages, Granot admits. On the one hand, it respects the Palestinian national struggle by repeating that, ultimately, in order to truly transform and improve women’s lives and promote human rights in the city, the occupation must end. At the same time, the report strives to address the “immediate need to protect women and ensure the realization of their rights, without it being entirely dependent on ending the occupation and Israel’s rule.”

Discussing ways women’s lives can be better and safer in the short term without “normalizing or legitimizing” the Israeli government’s de facto annexation of East Jerusalem is, indeed, a “difficult balance,” she says. Many of the practical suggestions in the report regarding health, education, and infrastructure “can improve thousands of lives. But at the same time, they feel like a drop in the bucket.”

“We refused to choose between a discussion of gender equality and one about national equality – there needs to be both,” Granot says. “Women need to be free and equal both when it comes to their nationality and when it comes to gender. And we shouldn’t prioritize which one is more pressing: one affects the other.”

Zehava GalonCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

While Granot harbors no illusions that, in Israel’s current political climate, the report has much chance of immediately influencing policymakers, she views it as an important part of forcing the Israeli-Palestinian issue into “normative discourse” in the country.

Moreover, during the decades that have passed since there was a true Israeli-Palestinian peace process underway, there has been a gender revolution around the world – most visibly, the #MeToo movement. So when working on a resolution to the conflict, it is important that women be in the picture.

“Readdressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when it happens, has to include a gender perspective. That is crucial,” she says. “When we go back to the negotiating, there must be women on both sides bringing their perspectives and experiences to the table. They must be part of it.”

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