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Muntaha Saad with members of the family– Muntaha Saad (bottom right) with her husband and three of her children, taken during the November 2015 study tour.

For International Women’s Day 2016, we invited previous ICAHD study tour participants to reflect on Palestinian (and in one case Israeli) women who have left an impression on them.

 

These women are forced to start again somehow…

I was fortunate to be born in England, a free, democratic and safe country, a haven for its residents – but with foreign policies that detrimentally affect the lives of Palestinians.

Since visiting Palestine several times and helping to facilitate small politically based study groups to the region, I have met and come into contact with women whose lives are mostly about struggle and survival.

These women are inspirational and all without exception welcomed me warmly and generously into their homes offering tea and an insight into their daily lives.

Most of their rights have been taken away, their right to travel from place to place, having to negotiate numerous military check points where often they are harassed and insulted or worse.

Palestine has no airport or seaport and travel abroad is difficult for the majority if not impossible. Few job opportunities exist even though many will hold university degrees. Access to comprehensive health care is poor as is fresh water and other services.

On a daily basis Palestinian women lose their homes due to harsh Israeli government policies, which often result in complete demolition, and the loss of their precious belongings, save the few items they may have chance to extract. These women are forced to start again somehow……. somewhere……..

‘Man’s inhumanity towards man makes countless thousands mourn’ (Robert Burns), let us not forget these words on International Women’s Day 2016 and salute Palestinian women everywhere.

– Fay V.

Fay and others– Fay (right) with 3 generations of a family of women who live in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, forced to live under a makeshift awning outside their house on the pavement (as were other neighbours) because their house had been taken over by extreme religious settlers who had evicted them. 

 

Her courage is unequalled

I met Nisreen Azzeh and her husband Hashem on a visit to the West Bank two years ago, and was particularly struck by their amazing resilience. When I returned, I wrote a song in which I tried to describe something of the situation for Palestinians, and I dedicated this song to Nisreen.

Nisreen and her family lived in Hebron, in the H2 area which is under Israeli military control. The Azzeh’s house is surrounded by Israeli settlers who have taken over the surrounding buildings. The settlers harass the Azzeh family daily, with abuses ranging from sabotaging their water supply, to harassing their children on their way to school, to out-and-out violence. Nevertheless, the family never succumbed to the settlers’ aggression, but continued their activist work, via peaceful demonstrations and networking internationally. But on a recent demonstration Hashem, was overcome by CS gas, targeted at him at close range by the IDF, and was rushed into an ambulance. The ambulance was deliberately held up at the checkpoint on the way to the hospital, and in the lengthy delay, tragically, Hashem died. One cannot imagine how Nisreen is coping, now widowed with four children; but her courage is unequalled.

– Judy G.

Nisreen and Hashem Azzeh with their family– Nisreen and Hashem Azzeh with three of their children. Picture taken at their home during an ICAHD study tour in November 2013.

 

An inspiring mother

On the final day of our ICAHD study tour last November, we visited the home of the Saad family. Their four children are brilliant string players, performing together as the Galilee String Quartet.

Among the many, many impressive women I met, I connected perhaps most readily with Muntaha Saad, simply because we share common interests. Muntaha had cooked us a splendid meal, showcasing local dishes, and when I asked about these, she showed me her spice cupboard, which I was fascinated to discover was the top of the fridge.

Maybe she keeps her spices better than I do, though it was interesting that she didn’t have anything I hadn’t heard of! Like me, Muntaha has been a teacher, and is now diversifying. The garden in front of the Saad’s house was full of bags of newly-picked olives, testimony to another connection, for although I cannot grow olives, I love to grow food crops. The olive harvest was just drawing to a close at the time of our visit and the whole family had spent several days picking. Gardening and agriculture offer wonderful opportunities for a whole-family activity.

Although I only have two children, as opposed to Muntah’s quartet, it was music that gave our family focus as the children grew up and they both still perform today.

The big difference between us, of course, is that my life is unconstrained by threats to the safety of my children and I can practice my faith without the intrusion of the security services.

– Gill A.

Mothers preparing a meal in Palestine

– A mother and daughter preparing food in Anata, West Bank.

 

End the Occupation!

Almost every Friday since 1988 Ruti El Raz and friends have demonstrated in Paris Square, West Jerusalem, for peace and an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

They hold up huge black cardboard hands with ‘End the Occupation’ written in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Ruti is a founder member of Women in Black. An organisation that started in Jerusalem and is now world wide. With Linda and the others on the study tour, we were invited for coffee at Ruti’s apartment.

We listened spellbound as she described with great modesty the adventures and achievements she has had since leaving England sometime after the Second world war. The huge paintings that hung on the walls and sculptures placed around were described as resistance art and inspired by the opposition to the Occupation.

Ruti, for me, is someone who inspires so many people of all ages, nationalities and creeds. Her sense of humour and laughter are infectious but behind that is a very strong woman who will fight tirelessly for peace and justice.

I feel very privileged to have met Ruti and I am sure she has encouraged countless men and women to stand up for the causes of peace and justice in which she believes so passionately.

– Clare P.

Ruti el Raz (left) with another Woman in Black member– Ruti El Raz (left) with another Women in Black member.

 

Witnessing what these Palestinian women go through changed my life

This #‎internationalwomansday‬ I couldn’t go to bed without telling you about the most inspirational women I have met this year.

I spend every day working with women around the world giving them the opportunity for something new, helping them to believe in themselves and coaching them to be formidable leaders, in their own right. All these qualities that I coach daily – ‘formidable’, ‘tough’, ‘resilient’, ‘unstoppable’ – I thought I’d seen in so many amazing people in the business and I thought I had them nailed too – until I arrived in Palestine.

Witnessing what these Palestinian women go through on a daily basis changed my life. The things that we deem as ‘tough’ here in the UK, bear no comparison to what these women face every day. From the emotional forced and unjust demolitions of their home (in this families case – five times over!), to their fathers and husbands being beaten and the daily terrorising by the settlers and the IDF.

Whilst I was there the settlers boarded up a house and set it on fire with an entire family inside and since I’ve returned my host families son was shot and left for dead by the IDF. Living under occupation has challenges that absolutely no one can even imagine until witnessing it from the ground. Even getting from A-B is controlled with further humiliation and terror.

These women I met are terrorised every single day through the occupation. But, they get back up, dust themselves off, put on a smile and never lose hope – that powerful state of mind many of us lose through the slightest of knock-backs.

No matter what they’re going through, have been through or are terrified is to follow, they are still the most humble and welcoming people I have ever met. Even though they live through this terror every single day there is still a ‘no excuses for not living’ policy. Most of these women have children in double figures, keep an insanely tight ship at home, they would challenge any top chefs with their culinary skills and are still unbelievably generous with the little things they do have.

Everything I have become this year is owed to my time with these incredible women who live in the face of fear everyday but yet still have strength and hope. Every time I feel low, challenged or in fear I think of the women I met in Palestine who find a way to get through every day, with a smile.

Food for thought.

For anyone looking for an opportunity to visit this amazing country, there’s still a few spaces left on the November study tour that will facilitate powerful encounters with the local people. Write to tours@icahduk.org for more information.

– Heidi S.

womens' shisha night in Anata

– Heidi during womens shisha night (second on the left) with Ruby, Linda and others.

For another article about the impact of the Occupation on women and children please see here.

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