JERUSALEM - I am a Palestinian from Jerusalem. I was born in a refugee camp, and grew up there as a refugee, cognizant of one sordid fact of life: I am a refugee in my own country. I grew up hearing these words, but never understood their true meaning. My father was a gatekeeper at the Holy Aqsa Mosque: the closest spot on earth to God, as they say. My father taught me love for the Aqsa and the alleys and streets of the city. We used to compete in reciting the names of the gates of its Holy Mosque, and I used to run away from there to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, without any change in that feeling of holiness or belonging. A Palestinian deeply rooted at al-Aqsa and at the Holy Sepulchre, with all her being, in and for the nation. Day after day, I grew up and started seeing matters as they were: I am a refugee, I am from Jerusalem, and I am under occupation.
I learned here as a child and as a female that my love for my country is the source of my pride and dignity. I flew with my imagination to delve into the churnings of life. I grew up to see the arrival of a national popular uprising, an intifada, that shook me from the inside, and I felt a sense of responsibility for my country, my people and myself.
I started to participate in national and political action against the occupation. Despite the injustices I witnessed as a child and young woman, I was able to articulate my thoughts into respect for all heavenly religions, through my love for my Christian friends who shared our sorrows. My blood boiled every time I saw an Israeli roam freely throughout my land, at a time when I was unable to enjoy everything that is beautiful in it.
But because I am from the land and part of the nation, I realized that I should know much more. My identity was clear to me. I did not realize that I was going to evolve for my homeland. I eagerly sought everything about Jerusalem. I documented human rights violations in Jerusalem every day, through my work at the Palestinian Information Center of the Arab Studies Association. I cried every day, watching mothers shed tears, sisters moan and children cry, especially as they watched their homes demolished for no particular reason, except occupation.
Long before the Oslo accords, I started meeting Israeli women who were defending my right as a human being living under occupation. These women left their homes to do so, and to provide food supplies to refugee camps and villages during curfews. It was a positive shock, a wake-up call. I started meeting these women and participating with them in demonstrations calling for freedom, respect and independence. I also realized that all women suffer from the effects of wars. They are the first to suffer.
I felt that we were all human beings, and we had never realized that we were turned into enemies as a result of occupation. I established a public centre for women who were marginalized and persecuted, psychologically, politically and socially. My association with this institution became an important part of my being, and the centre grew by the day, caring for women and developing their capabilities, because they were living through difficult circumstances as refugees displaced from their land.
In the years that followed the forming of the Palestinian Authority in 1993, I started working with women and engaging them on issues of peace and freedom. I realized the shape and form of social justice -- a concept I had been deprived of for so long. We used to be too proud to meet with the "other": the Israeli. But now, we felt the importance of pursuing our women's issues that had been lost between resisting occupation and our social and societal issues that are connected to our whole nation, especially our struggle to build a democratic Palestinian state. We started to hold women's meetings through Jerusalem-based centres working for peace. For the first time in my life, I felt, as a female living under occupation, the great importance of dialogue and the need to sit at one table as Palestinian and Israeli mothers who were deprived of their children because of the occupation. Women afflicted by the occupation sat together to discuss their daily grief and concerns with the others. It was a surprise that our concerns were similar, and that we both live with problems of unemployment and other social issues, though slightly differently. It was a surprise how many women mourned their children's deaths. Palestinian and Israeli mothers shared concerns and information, and the dialogue started taking a secondary turn.
I discovered that we, as women, have realized, before leaders and decision-makers, how profound it is to hold a dialogue and to share and understand. We also realized how bitter it is to be enemies, and how abhorring it is that occupation is replacing peace.
We have to provide the opportunity for all people to dialogue and contribute to making peace. The experiences of yesterday are important for tomorrow. A just peace recognizes the rights of occupied people. You have to recognize that Hamas is like other factions comprising the Palestinian people. We cannot deny any of them, and you have to give a chance to all peace-lovers. But we also have to eliminate anyone who attempts to destroy our dream of independence and just peace for all. We should shun the concept of destroying the other.
The time has come for the women of Palestine and Israel to demand from our leaders: Enough occupation, enough violence. We want to build a future based on a just peace for all the people, not a peace of the elite: a peace between nations. We shall not stand and watch, because we are the ones to make peace.
* Jihad Abu Zneid serves as a representative from Jerusalem on the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), and is founder and head of the Administrative Committee of the Women's Centre of the Shu'fat Refugee Camp (WCSRC) in metropolitan Jerusalem. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 17 May 2007
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