This is my first post to Women Making a Difference Blogg. I was prevented to write before due to the fieldwork I had to carry out with restricted access to computer!!!
Let me first greet you all and share with you my experience from the last International Conference of Women in Black that was held in Jerusalem this August. Also I would like to draw your attention to some of the discussions I had there in regards to how different solidarity networks and/or groups as well as solidarity work of individual feminists helped activists working in conflict and post-conflict areas to “survive” and continue with their activism.
Women in Black International Conference, Jerusalem August 2005
Women peace activists from over 30 countries (Cambodia, Austria, Finland, Island, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, Spain including Bask, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Russia, Chechnya, Philippines, Japan, Australia, India, Canada, Mexico, North America, Colombia, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Africa, Nigeria, Israel and Palestine) including many war-torn and conflict areas, met in Jerusalem in mid-August for the 13th Women in Black (WIB) International Conference under the title Women Resist War and Occupation. Every two years the International Conference of Women in Black is organized around the world. At the last meeting organized by Donne in Nero (Women in Black) in Marina di Massa in Italy, it was decided that the 2005 International WIB Conference would be organized jointly by Israeli and Palestinian women in Jerusalem. This 2005 Conference consisted of five extensive days of panels, workshops, political exhibitions in Jerusalem and solidarity vigils/demonstrations in the Palestinian Occupied territories. More then 700 activists gathered to discuss strategies and models of resisting war(s) and occupation(s), as well as peace building processes.
Courageous Palestinian and Israeli activists, despite physical inability to meet and to plan the conference together (Palestinian women are not allowed to travel freely from Occupied territories into Israel and Israeli women are not allowed to go to Occupied territories) succeeded in organizing a magnificent gathering of women activists from around the world. For all those activists who were not allowed to enter Israel due to their previous human rights work in Palestine and for those who were prevented from joining the conference due to other reasons, significant efforts were made in making the conference available through Internet.
To remind you, Women in Black is an international movement that began 17 years ago in Jerusalem, during the first Palestinian intifada. Inspired by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) in Argentina, and the Black Sash in South Africa, in 1988 Israeli and Palestinian women began to stand silently together once a week at the same hour and location, dressed in black and holding signs demanding an end to the conflict.
Most of the sessions on 13th Women in Black (WIB) International Conference were held in Jerusalem, however part of the conference program included solidarity visits to Palestinian women in Ramallah and village Bil’in where the wall that is about to be build will cut 60 percent of Bil’in’s farmland from its people so that nearby settlers can take over the land. This place is known for many non-violent actions organized by Palestinians, Israelis, international peace activists, human rights activists and women’s rights activists. Beside visit to Bil’in, demonstration against the apartheid wall and occupation of Palestine was organized at the checkpoint Qalandia .
Qelandia check point is military crossing established by Israel to control the movement between West Bank and Jerusalem (divided city - East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem). This checkpoint is known for brutality of the solders and also as place where people are kept for hours and/or are denied to pass through it. This checkpoint is one of the most important ones between West Bank (Ramallah) and Jerusalem (East Jerusalem) as economic centre vital for the livelihood of people. For the whole clip of the demonstration on the checkpoint as well as on the arrest of one of Palestinian activists you can go to: http://web11.mediazone.co.il/media/wib/130805/
On the second day of the conference together with Women in Black from Belgrade, during the workshop titled Women’s activism in conflict and post-conflict areas and politics of international assistance we launched the book by Jane Barry and Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights under the title Rising up in Response - Women’s Rights Activism in Conflict http://www.urgentactionfund.org/documents/Rising-Up-In-Response.pdf.
Participants of the workshop were activists who are working on the frontlines of the conflict and situations of escalating violence or who were/are in the course of their solidarity work visiting “difficult places” and supporting the activists on the ground.
Some of the issues discussed on the workshop were:
Ø What did activism brought into the lives of all of us (activism as a way of transgressing the fear, activism as a way of escaping the position of the marginalized “other”)
Ø What gave us the strength to continue our work (global feminist solidarity, networking, “sending message across”)?
Ø How to support and strengthen the global solidarity networks that we created?
Ø Why are we going only to some “difficult places” and not into the others/In some moments we are pushed to make priorities in the sense which region needs more attention. How to enhance this global feminist solidarity without making choices on where to go first?
Ø What kind of support (feminist support and non-institutional, alternative support) is available for activists during and after the conflict?
For me, one strong element from the workshop was the idea of global feminist solidarity as a mechanism for sustaining our own activism especially in times of conflict and after it. This was the solidarity that had been nurtured during the war in EX-Yugoslavia (and in other war/conflict affected areas) when individual feminist activists and groups were coming from all over the world to support us, to bring small gifts, to express solidarity, to spread the message to the world, to take us away for a trip where we could re-build our energy. Support was also coming from various feminist donors who were giving grants to strengthen our efforts on the ground (understanding our needs). This form of global feminist solidarity meant, for many of us, our own physical and psychological survival in the most difficult moments of conflict. Though this global solidarity was not enough to respond to many other challenges that activists face in conflict, this support was crucial in giving us strength and encouragement to continue our work. However, it is important to know that after the conflict is over new challenges arrive. The question that came up at the workshop was how to make this feminist global solidarity network stronger, more strategic, for the purpose of sustaining our activism and for the purpose of maximizing its responses to the challenges during the conflict as well as during the time when “the peace starts”?