Friend or Enemy? -Visit to the Demilitarized Zone

By Angela Lauman a young woman from the YWCA of Australia.

Nearly 60 years since the creation of the Korean Demilitarized Zone – Korea’s heavily guarded demilitarised zone – a YWCA delegation participated in a witness visit in the context of the International Training Institute on Violence against Women and Peace building taking place in Seoul from November 8-13, 2012. Angela shares her experience: 

Yesterday we visited to demilitarised zone which separates South Korea from North Korea.  It was timely that we were on a ‘peace pilgrimage’, considering it was Remembrance Day, the day the First World War ended in 1918.

Angela Lauman

The day began with a bus trip from Seoul and a worship service at the Cheorwon cultural centre. From there, in the rain and cold, but warmed by a tasty lunch and a brief session of gangam style dancing in the lobby, we headed through the civilian controlled zone surrounding the DMZ to the Cheorwon Peace Observatory overlooking the southern limit line which marks 4 km on the south side from the original military demarcation line dividing the two countries.

I don’t know what I had expected, but what we saw wasn’t it. It seemed heavily geared to tourists rather than a tension filled border area.

In the distance you could see the watch towers of both the South Korean and North Korean armies. My overwhelming feeling was one of sadness for the young men whose job it was to maintain the border, keep up the image of war so long since the original division occurred. It would have been the decisions and convictions of previous generations that caused the separation. Nearly 60 years on, did the current soldiers share this too? My guess is they were probably standing around bored, talking about their girlfriends back home, what they did last night, or what they were going to do when they got out of the army. They may also have been looking over to the other watch tower and wondering what life might be like for those on the other side. Soldiers on both sides probably have a lot in common – a group of young men that share a language, a job, and until relatively recently, a culture. They would probably have a lot to share were they ever to find themselves sitting across the table and having a chat. For me this experience highlighted the arbitrary divisions between enemy and friend that are necessary to justify war, and against which it is so necessary to fight.

The information in the Observatory’s exhibition about the war and the history of the DMZ seemed steeped in propaganda which positioned the North Koreans as the enemy, and promote a sense of fear about the North Koreans. This seemed incongruent with the messages of peace and reconcilitation we heard during the worship service, and from our YWCA of Korea sisters in the lead up to the trip. The voices of North Korean women and men were conspicuously missing from the story, which was also sad.

It is heartening however to see that the women of YWCA of Korea recognise both the potential for peace and unity and the commonalities between North and South Koreans which will hopefully one day help them to achieve a united country. This is evident through their programs to support women and children in North Korea, and through their work to support refugees from North Korea. This work is important, and I look forward to going home and telling the story of their work to our YWCA members in Canberra.

The YWCA Participates in the Grand Celebration of the Sthree Mela Conference in Sri Lanka

December the 8th 2011 marked the opening ceremony of the Sthree Mela (meaning Voices of Sri Lankan Women) exhibition and conference held in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Arda Aghazarian from the YWCA of  Palestine reports on the delegation’s experience and participation.

Upon the return of the YWCA young women from their visit in Jaffna to Colombo on December 7 2011, they were hosted to a special viewing of the film “Peace Unveiled” of the Women, War and Peace series (one of the five films in the PBS TV Series by Abigail Disney).  The opening was delivered by H.E. Ambassador Patricia Butenis. It has been a real privilege for the young women from war-torn countries to personally meet with the filmmaker Ms. Abigail Disney who sat with the group in a round table and got to speak and hear from each one of our delegates. The TV series chronicles the rise of the newly-announced Nobel Peace Prize laureates, which streamed LIVE a couple of days later.

In the following three days, the group stayed for the Sthree Mela Conference in Colombo, and was joined by Juli Dugdale from the World YWCA for the partners’ global meeting, Mira Rizek from the YWCA of Palestine who took the lead in the bi-lateral capacity building dialogue between the YWCA of Palestine and Sri Lanka, and World YWCA General Secretary Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda.

The Sthree Mela Conference started on Dec. 7 with drum beats, modern sounds and cultural representations from Sri Lanka, as well as the opening speeches by Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa and the guest of honor, H.E. Senator Mubina Jaffar from British Colombia, Canada, who shared her metaphor of women having the ability to sew the fabric of communities together, and that in order to achieve “harmony” in society, all citizens of the society must be included.

The YWCA participated in three panel discussions at Sthree Mela (on the 8th and 9th of December); two of which had panelists from the YWCA of Palestine, namely Arda Aghazarian on the “Using Media for Peace-Building” panel, and Mira Rizek on the “Implementation of UN Resolution 1325” panel. The third panel was specific to the YWCA and was moderated by Marie-Claude Julsaint from the World YWCA and had the three young women panelists: Sichelesile Ndlovu from the YWCA of Zimbabwe, Magda Lopez Cardenas from the YWCA of Colombia and Kue Ku from the YWCA of Myanmar share their experiences as young women in conflict-driven areas.

The YWCA sisters from the National YWCA of Sri Lanka as well as the YWCA of Colombo have hosted the delegation in more than one occasion and have shared plenty of stories, food and Christmas carols that brought a spirit of joy, laughter and good memories to be remembered about the visit to Sri Lanka in spite of the horrid realities witnessed.

The World YWCA Embarks on a Visit to Sri Lanka

 Arda Aghazarian from the YWCA of Palestine reports on the delegation’s involvement and impressions.

As part of the project which specifically targets young women, with the support of FOKUS and in partnership with the World YWCA, Y-Global and the YWCAs of Palestine, Southern Sudan and Sri Lanka, and which is in line with the World YWCA and YWCA of Palestine Power to Change Fund under the title “Enhancing Leadership and Civic Engagement of Young Women to become Advocates for Change,” young women from YWCAs in countries of conflict were given the opportunity to partake in a visit to Sri Lanka from December 3-11, 2011 and attend the Sthree Mela conference.

The program, co-hosted by the World YWCA and the YWCA of Sri Lanka, started with the young women’s dialogue on the 3rd of December, where young women from the YWCAs of South Sudan, Palestine, Colombia, Myanmar and Zimbabwe got the chance to meet with young women members from Sri Lanka and share their experiences as young women in conflict-driven areas and the challenges they face in their communities.

That same evening, the group set off on a long journey by bus heading to Jaffna. The trip up north gave the young women’s group good overview of the conflict in Sri Lanka and the difficult circumstances and remnants of struggle that have remained after the war has ended in 2009.

The group reached Jaffna on the 5th of December with a visit to the Refugees Rehabilitation Organisation. Participants were given a brief about the organisation’s history (established in 1983) and the changes it has gone through during the conflict due to the borders being closed. The organisation’s main focus remains to be on livelihoods in relation to the large number of internally displaced persons, in addition to the humanitarian assistance that was done in 2005 to help those affected by the tsunami.

That same day, the journey commenced and became more difficult with the visit of four different families in the IDP camp in Jaffna. Houses have been isolated, destroyed yet are inhabited up to this day by the victims of war, mostly young widows who are trying to raise their children under extremely difficult if not impossible circumstances; lacking basic house utilities such as beds, bathrooms or even a path to walk through and living in a very unhealthy environment. The next visit was to the Jaffna Hospital and meeting its Director, Dr. Mrs. Pasupathirajah, who spoke of the health problems resulting from displacement, losing houses and care-givers, and living in crowded camps.

After a difficult day, the YWCA of Jaffna and its President Ms. Soundari Watson Ratram hosted the group to a friendly cultural evening, where special dances were performed by the young kids of different ages who were happy to receive the International YWCA delegation. Later that evening, the group got the chance to meet with the first Government Agent in Sri Lanka, Mrs. Emelda Sukumar. The G.A. spoke of the help that was offered by the UNDP and other NGOs and security to help re-build the houses that were damaged by the mines, and noted that 35,000 families have gone back to their original homes since 2009. She stressed that more facilities are needed in Jaffna as there are challenges to renovate or re-cancel houses in the area. Violence against Women has also been prevalent during the war, with 221 reported cases in the hospital, a large number of which was due to domestic violence. One of the additional concerns in Jaffna is the large number of widows (about 29,000), which could potentially introduce more problems in the future.

Heading back from Jaffna, which would be a longer trip by bus than anticipated, participants expressed that the time spent in Jaffna has been quite difficult as it brought to their eyes vulnerable people who have been affected by being placed in war-torn areas. The visit has infused a strong sense to stay committed as a movement and double the efforts in creating safe spaces for women. Real solidarity, it was expressed, is where the people are, and the members of this particular solidarity visit are themselves experiencing similar issues, and have hence valued the visit and found it to be very rewarding in working together towards peace with justice and creating safe spaces for women.

The 16th UN Human Rights Council – A young woman’s perspective

By Alemtsehay Zergaw and Jenta Tau

A joint article by Alemtsehay Zergaw and Jenta Tau (2011 Interns of the World YWCA) on their experience at the 16th UN Human Rights Council, which was held from  February 28 to  March 25th 2011.

Jenta Tau and Alemtsehay Zergaw Copyright:Geneva Summit/Oliver o’Hanlon

The UN Human Rights Council holds its annual meeting every year in Geneva, Switzerland. This year, we had the opportunity to attend the meeting and participate in various side events. With both of us coming from places very different from Geneva (Jenta from the Solomon Islands and Alemtsehay from Ethiopia), we were both enthusiastic to visit the UN building in Geneva. We had both heard stories about this building. Jenta has a close personal story as her brother used to attend conferences at the UN office in Geneva. Alemtsehay had learnt in her history classes about Emperor Haileselassie’s most historic speech to the League of Nations against the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936, in this historic building. We were both so excited that we purposefully lost our way in the compound until a security personnel found us and guided us to the main gate.

The first conference we attended was on March 3, and it was about how to help new comers like us understand how NGOs contribute to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Different speakers from civil society groups shared their experiences on how to advocate for ones cause. The discussions helped us to understand the communication mechanisms between governments and non-governmental organizations.   The next programme was a side event to discuss the challenges children face because of harmful traditional practices.  Alem gave a speech on this event regarding the challenges the girl child faces in Ethiopia, particularly because of harmful traditional practices, and other repressive societal norms and poverty. Speakers from Pakistan, Italy, Albania, and Benin also participated in the event.  The third side event we participated in was focused on women’s rights and food security. Jenta learnt a lot from this session as she has always wanted to understand the challenges women and children in agrarian societies in Sub-Saharan Africa face from prolonged and recurrent drought and food insecurity.

The last meeting that we attended was the 3rd Annual Geneva Summit on Human Rights and Democracy on March 15, 2011. This was different from any of the sessions we attended earlier that week. There was a huge audience and the summit covered more wide-ranging issues from around the world. Around nineteen speakers, including world-renowned human rights and pro-democracy activists, former political prisoners, experts and diplomats, presented their views on a variety of topics on the objective of advancing human rights.  The summit also included an exhibition on the North Korean political prisoner camp.  After the summit, we had a long, good, conversation about the definition, meaning and extent of human rights, the paradox of double standards, the amazing similarity of dictators from different countries and times, and much, much more! We looked at the geopolitical map of the world, and discussed about what role women leaders and politicians can play in shaping this map for the better. Conversations centred on ways in which peace can be defended across the world, and what unique contribution influential women leaders can bring in the defence of peace. The summit was, in a way, an eye opener for us to understand the difficulty and complexity of international politics and human rights around the world and the forces that shape them.  Afterwards, we raised many questions for ourselves which we will still have to search for the answers. But for now, we are grateful for the World YWCA for giving us this great opportunity of a lifetime.

The CSW: A Whirlwind Exchange of Ideas and Meeting of the Minds

by Muna Killingback

Muna Killingback joined the World YWCA in 1990 as one of the first ever young woman interns. Muna shares with us her experience at CSW

At each annual meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women, hundreds of women representing tens of organisations and networks converge at the United Nations in New York, bringing with them their issues, their reports, their ideas, and their passions.  They have their differences for sure, but what we all agree on, the goal we all share, is creating a world where women and men can live freely and equally and in peace.

Representing the World YWCA, I attended two meetings this week that reflected this passion.  The first – called Bridging the Israel-Palestine Divide – brought together a young Palestinian woman and a young Israeli woman who belong to an organisation called One Voice (http://www.onevoicemovement.org/), that unites mostly young Palestinians and Israelis in promoting their common vision of, and wish for, the two-state peace solution.  Rosa Helou of Palestine and Dana Sender of Israel both agreed that their organisation “amplifies the voice of the moderate majority.”  Their role in One Voice, Rosa said, was to tell their governments to work for an end to the conflict.  She added that, “We are inspired by what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt.”

Both focus on their own populations using vehicles such as town hall meetings, extensive social media, and sometimes publicity stunts to raise awareness on the need for a just and sustainable peace solution.

What I found particularly interesting was the fact that women comprised 60 percent of members in the Palestinian section of One Voice and 70 percent of members in the Israeli section.  This is not a coincidence, I believe.   Feminist psychologists such as Jean Baker Miller, particularly in her groundbreaking book Toward a New Psychology of Women, have noted that women value and invest in relationships more than men do and perhaps this extends beyond the personal into the public and global sphere as well.

During the discussion, a very interesting question came from a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, one of the organisers, along with UN Women and the Permanent Mission of Ireland, which hosted the event.  She asked Dana about how she felt about the obligatory military service Israelis have to undertake and said that her own niece in Israel had been a conscientious objector and had faced a trial for her beliefs.  Dana, who had earlier said that she had already done her Israeli military service, responded that she was a patriot and would serve in the army again.  I think in this case, a more feminist approach would serve to accelerate the goal of peace because all militarism is an extreme manifestation of patriarchy, the seeking of power through force.

A UN Women representative also asked if their work was affected by the fact that the peace process had not had any traction, noting that it had not succeeded in getting Israel to stop building settlements in the Palestinian territories it occupied [a violation of the Geneva Convention]. Dana noted that the Israeli section felt it had strongly contributed to the recent creation of a two-state solution caucus in the Knesset and she said that they were working for the implementation of international law.   Rosa commented that the shape of the two state solution was already basically known and that both sections of One Voice were working for an end to the occupation of Palestinian lands.

At another meeting later that afternoon, a very stimulating panel entitled “Created in God’s Image:  Promoting Positive Masculinity from Hegemony to Partnership,” discussed the specific idea of challenging patriarchy and its restricting gender roles. The panelists represented the World Student Christian Federation, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), and the International Council for Reconciliation.

LWF feminist theologian, Elaine Neuenfeldt, observed that religion reproduces and maintains patriarchy and its structures, and worse, “gives the impression that it is sacred.”  She said that since both women and men are created in God’s image they are equal.  Because this “equality is shaped by divine wisdom, breaking down this relationship is sin.”  She talked about seeking the Biblical and theological notion of justice and noted a paradox in the men aspiring for gender equity:  “How can our partners live out this idea of justice while benefitting from this hierarchical [patriarchal] structure?”   Partnership can only be achieved in a context of justice, she affirmed.  Noting that gay activists had pointed out that negative masculinities cannot be ascribed to the entire male population and asked, “How do we deal with non-positive masculinity?  Men who are violent, perpetrators of violence?”

Patricia Ackerman of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Women Peacemakers Program (http://www.ifor.org/WPP/) talked about the success of gender trainings for men that promoted and enabled men to think about new ways of defining and thinking of themselves as men.

The second part of the programme was devoted to small group brainstorming to define which concepts of masculinity need to be challenged and what approaches in the gender discussion initiated by women need to change. Finally, they asked how we can motivate women and men to engage in change?

In the spirit of the CSW, I, like every other participant, came away with new ideas, inspiration, and programme designs and I am looking forward to my next whirlwind day at the CSW.

Who is going to be next?

By Samia Khoury

“Yesterday evening Sabeel organised a special Ecumenical memorial service at St. Stephen’s Dominican church in Jerusalem for the victims of the Coptic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Alexandria, Egypt.  It was a very meaningful service with the readings carefully chosen and the intercessions especially written for the occasion. The young woman who led us in the singing had a beautiful voice which added a special aura to the solemn event that we were gathered for.  And as we lit the candles, I could not help but wonder who is going to be next.  It was only last November  that we also  had another service organised by Sabeel  in memory of the victims of the Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq.

Samia Khoury

The Christians of the Middle East are in fact the first Christians.  They are the followers of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem.  That is why we are often surprised when people inquire about when and how we were converted to Christianity.  I remember writing a reflection in February 2006 on behalf of Sabeel for the Presbyterian Church in the USA Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study.  I started it with the following paragraph:  “The message of Jesus was launched from this Holy Land, to spread east and west, and has come back to us dressed in various new garbs.  It has taken root in foreign soil, and has sprouted in different shapes, colours, and flavours.  Sometimes, its original garment is hardly recognizable to us indigenous Christians of the land who are rapidly decreasing in number due to Israeli restrictions and political instability.”

Not only did this message come back in a different garment, but it came back to us with the wave of colonialism and split the indigenous Christian Church. Even new born babies started to carry foreign names, making it easy to identify the faith of a person from his or her name.  Despite that, we continued to remain Arabs, whether Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Egyptians, etc.  And we remain Christians, faithful to both our country and our faith. In fact some of the outstanding leaders of Arab Nationalism were Christians. I am not writing a historical document to list all those who were involved, but I am trying to reflect on who benefits from this kind of extremism that is tearing the region apart by driving a wedge between the indigenous Christians of the Middle East region and their Muslim compatriots?

I remember after 1967 when the Palestinian Territories fell under the Israeli occupation, how easily the doors of the USA were opened for Palestinian emigration – mostly  Christians – from the Palestinian Territories.  Now all efforts with a variety of tools and strange hands are playing to split the people in each of the Middle East countries under the guise of political freedom and democracy.  The basic policy of the colonial powers has always been “divide and rule”.  So it is not strange that the powers that have succeeded in tearing up the whole Middle East into small states, and their allies or collaborators, are still at work fragmenting each state into political, ethnic and religious conflicts.  When the masses lose hope in the absence of freedom, independence and stability, the ground becomes very fertile for extremism that could be used in different ways.

Hopefully both Christians and Muslims of the region are aware of who is at the root of all this, and that all learned people, lay, clergy along with Muslim clerics, will engage in a campaign of building awareness to quench the fire that has been ignited as a result of those bloody massacres, so that we do not need to worry who will be next.  It only takes a spark and then, God help us, if it turns into a conflagration.”

Samia Khoury is an outstanding woman leader within the Palestinian community. Her voluntary work in community organisations is marked by genuine effort and huge commitment. Samia Nasir Khoury retired in 2003 after serving for 17 years as president of Rawdat El-Zuhur, a coeducational elementary school for the lower income community in East Jerusalem. She continues to serve as treasurer of the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem and on the board of trustees of Birzeit University in  Palestine.

Samia was deeply involved with the YWCA, including serving as the national president of the YWCA of Jordan for two terms (as the Palestinian West Bank had been annexed to Jordan in 1950). When Jordan severed its ties with the West Bank in 1988, the YWCA of Palestine was reestablished, and she was its first president from 1991-96. Her breadth of international experience has also included addressing two UN NGO Forums: in New York in 1996, and in Athens in 2000.

Samia writes about justice, truth, and peace for the Palestinian people, the relationships between people and the land, the context of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relationships in the Holy Land, concerns for children in conflict, and gender issues.

Picking olives to save the land of the Palestinian people

By Anita Andersson

 

Anita Andersson was the World YWCA President from 1995 to 1999. She visited Palestine to participate in the Olive Tree Campaign, which is a joint advocacy initiative of the YMCA of East Jerusalem and the YMCA of Palestine. It seeks to replant trees in areas where they have been uprooted and destroyed, or in areas where the fields are threatened to be confiscated by the Israeli Occupation Army, or Israeli settlers.

 

In November I was in Palestine where I spent two weeks picking olives and visiting friends. In Palestine it was like summer in August – hot and sunny. This olive picking programme is now a tradition each October by the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) of the YWCA and YMCA of Palestine and East Jerusalem and the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG). I participated in the programme in 2007, and at that time I was the only person from Sweden. This time I had company from my old friend and colleague Barbro. Both of us have been in Palestine many times before, mainly for work, and now we both are retired. In total there were 70 people participating in the campaign, from over 15 countries, and in addition several who joined just for the olive picking for a day or two.

The olive tree can live very long and it is a symbol of identity to the land and the generations who have lived, and will continue to live, on that land. During the occupation not only people, but also trees have been uprooted to give space for Israelis and for security fences, the wall, by-pass roads, etc. Some farmers have problems with settlers living too close, or that their land is considered to be a security area, or that the land happened to be on the wrong side of the checkpoint. To work their own lands, farmers sometimes need permits, and very often it is a problem to get the permits for enough people during harvest time. Land that is not used during some years will be confiscated due to a very old law in the area. Being in possession of other passports, we are considered “internationals” and can move more freely, and by picking the olives we 1) help the farmer with his harvest, 2) prove that this piece of land is active, and 3) learn more about the Palestinian situation.

In my group the youngest was 12 years old. He came with his mother who had been on a kibbutz in her youth and wanted to come back and see how things have changed. The oldest person was 83 – a strong peace activists, he had participated in the programme several times. Another interesting person that I met is an 80 year old named Rei. I asked Rei how he got involved and he sad “because of my bad conscience”. Earlier on in his life Rei worked with Isreali trade unions, assisting them to develop. We stayed in Beit Sahour in the Bethlehem area and we also visited Hebron.

Barbro and I came a few days before the programme started, and we were thus able to meet some of our old friends – especially in the YMCA and to be in the old city in Jerusalem. In the old city we encountered more tourists and pilgrims and Israeli flags than we have ever seen before! It was good to see the tourists and the businesses, but very sad and alarming to realise that it is now a priority from the Israelis to make Jerusalem less Palestinian and more Israeli. By tradition East Jerusalem is considered Palestine and West Jerusalem Israel, but now the borders of Jerusalem have been changed to include former parts of the Palestinian West Bank. Settlers are getting permits to build on Palestinian land and Palestinian houses are being demolished. Palestinians living on the West Bank (or in Gaza) need permits to get into Jerusalem, however it is hard to get a permit and you don’t get one for wanting to see family members of going to a holy place. It is hard to get a permit even to go to the hospital! If you are a resident in Jerusalem but have not stayed at your address during some time (maybe because your home has been demolished) you loose your residency rights.

During our free day, Barbro and I went to the YMCA and the old city. Some of the other participants attended the Friday demonstrations and experienced tear gas in Bili’in, close to Ramallah. Other particpants went to the Shejk Jarrah area, close to the YWCA and not far from the legendary American Colony Hotel. That area has been in the media a lot due to the long conflict between some families with correct ownership documents for their homes and the Israelis who want to evict them. The houses have now been demolished, and demonstrations continue each Friday. Jimmy Carter, ex President of the United States also participated in these demonstrations! I think it was the first time that an ex-president was in Jerusalem participating in a pro-Palestinian demonstration!!

My experience in Palestine has been, yet again, very inspiring. If you get involved in the olive tree campaign – by buying a tree or participating in the planting in February or picking in October, you will feel rewarded. It is nice to be part of this network!

An insight into the lives of the Palestinian People – YWCA YMCA Journey for Justice 24-31 July, 2010

By: Felicity Russell

Journey for Justice is an annual programme that brings together youth from YMCAs and YWCAs from all over the world to experience and share the occupation with Palestinian youth. For ten days they join Palestinian youth and travel around Israel and Palestine to witness the effects of Israeli occupation. Felicity Russell participated in the Journey for Justice programme in July 2010, and shares the experience of her trip with us.

 

This year’s Journey for Justice was an insightful witness visit into Palestinian life and culture. 15 international participants from YMCA-YWCA branches in Denmark, Sweden, Sri Lanka, Argentina and Switzerland, aged between 19 – 29, spent 10 days discovering different aspects of life under occupation. We were lead by the local youth from the YMCA-YWCA of Palestine and stayed in the Women’s Arab Union hostel in Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem. This is one of the towns in the West Bank whose population is mostly Christian.

We visited some of the main cities in Palestine – Ramallah, Hebron, East-Jerusalem, Jericho, and Bethlehem.

The main objective of the visit was to show us the injustices and the persecutions the Palestinians have to live through daily – check-points, discrimination, harassment by Israeli soldiers, movement restrictions… We also had the opportunity to visit a few of the more “tourist” attractions in Palestine. We swam in the Dead Sea, visited the church of Nativity, and walked around the old town of Jerusalem.

I will expose here three of the main issues that I felt the most during my stay in the occupied territories: the wall, the checkpoints and the refugees.

The wall, the apartheid wall, the wall of security –

Depending on whose point of view one adopts, this wall is named the “apartheid wall”, the “separation wall”, or the “wall of security”. It is the symbol and image that sums up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the separation of two nations. It covers a distance of more than 700km, surrounding a large part of the West bank. The construction began in 2002 by the Israelis, who claimed it was necessary for security reasons. But does it really help? Does it reduce terrorism? Does it discourage Palestinians who had planned to send suicide bombs to the Israeli side?

One of the main issues is that the wall does not follow the official green line borders, but cuts into Palestinian land. The Israelis keep their colonies on their side of the border, even if that means destroying Palestinian houses, or isolating Palestinian villages from the rest of the West Bank.

During the witness trip, we visited farmers whose land had either been confiscated by the Israeli authorities, or is going to be confiscated. One of them has had 88 olive trees uprooted, in preparation for the building of the wall and now has to struggle to earn a living and support his family. The other is under threat of having his land confiscated by the Israeli authorities. Having refused an offer of 15000 NIS a month, this farmer has to live with no certainty of keeping his land, and with reduced means. He receives many visits from internationals, who come to show their support. He has no way of getting running water to irrigate his crops, so has to bring tanks filled with water every few days. He rarely sees his family, as he often stays in the little hut he has at the top of his field. His hut only contains a bed, a mini kitchen, and the walls are covered with photos, articles, printouts of supportive people, and writings.

This wall creates an enormous restraint on the movement for the Palestinians living in the West Bank (and Gaza). They cannot move freely, they are prevented from going to many places, visiting their family and friends, or attending classes in university. A journey that would have taken only an hour before the occupation takes over three hours today. The wall, checkpoints triple the length of the journey. The wall also blocks off roads, some of them once major roads uniting big towns. A good example for this is the Wall and the Bethlehem Check-point separating East-Jerusalem and the West Bank. We took a bus from the hostel to this checkpoint. We drove along the road towards east-Jerusalem, but had to stop. One drives straight into the wall. It has been built right across the road. Dozens of taxis are parked in front of the wall, waiting for people to come from the other side of the checkpoint back to the West Bank. What was once a busy, full of life, main traffic route has now become a car park, a bunch of taxis sitting in front of a wall covered in paintings. It is difficult to describe the feeling of sadness, anger, not being able to understand why, or how. How could someone create this place, this feeling of utter abandon?

In two places I felt the presence of this wall more acutely. The first was at a ceremony we attended: a celebration of the opening of a house that had been destroyed three times by Israelis, their reason being “security”, due to the proximity to the wall. The wall was indeed very close: from the roof of the house one was just 20 metres away from it. The family who lives in this house has suffered three times from house demolition. But each time the Israelis bulldozers came to visit them, they decided to rebuild their home. Why? Why persevere while knowing that the risk that it will be destroyed a fourth time is so great? Maybe to keep their hope alive, continue believing that the situation could get better. Why not decide to move away, further from the wall? They would then need to find a new plot of land and obtain planning permission. The brother of the owner of this house has had the same problem. His home has been destroyed twice and each time he chose to rebuild it. It is a symbol, he told me, a gesture to show the Israelis that they are ready to fight for their land, that they have not yet given up, that their hope is still alive.

The other place the wall’s presence weighed upon me was at the Aida refugee camp. The wall here is like a snake; it slithers through the Aida refugee camp, encircling some houses, isolating others. We met a family whose house was completely shut in by the wall, surrounding it on three sides. On the other side was a small road then another house. One of the owners we met described the building of the wall as though “lego” been put up. She left for work one morning and came back in the evening to find a wall around her house. The wall here measures up to 11 metres high and is made out of lots of tall concrete pillars put up next to each other. The wall is covered in paintings, drawings, done mostly by internationals come to show their support. The local cafĂ© uses the wall to expose their menu, as the terrace is just a few metres from the wall. A screen has also been put up during the football world cup; the matches were projected on to the wall. Is making the wall “pretty” and colourful acceptable? Is using a symbol of apartheid as a work of art okay? Is using this wall for their entertainment showing the Israelis that it’s okay, that they live well with this wall? Or is it provocative? It is difficult to judge what is right or wrong. The strong emotions I felt while touring this camp did not help my ability to think straight either.

The issue of the wall is closely related to the problems of the checkpoints. Checkpoints are usually by the wall, or where the wall will stand when it will be built. We went through all checkpoints without encountering any problems. As internationals we drove straight through. We occasionally had a couple of soldiers come on to our bus to check our passports, but they often barely looked. While walking through the xxx Checkpoint towards east-Jerusalem I was, frankly, shocked. The journey through a checkpoint is a bit like going through security in an airport. First one has to go up a path. It was empty when we were there, but one could easily imagine it being packed with people queuing up, waiting for hours to get through. Then a passport control is necessary. Once that is done, we had to go into another building, wait in another queue and have our bags put through a metal detector. Once we have passed the security controls, there is another queue before yet another passport control. Our group walked easily through all of these steps; the soldiers barely looked at my passport but just smiled at me and let me through. But for the Palestinians it is a different story. The Palestinian man in the queue in front of me had to have his fingerprints checked and a detailed look at his passport and authorisation letter was apparently necessary. And, unfortunately, none of the Palestinian youth from the YMCA could accompany us that day, as they had no permission to go into East-Jerusalem – although it is, technically, Palestinian land.

The wall and the checkpoints deal mainly with the land and control over the territory. The population brings in another issue, that of the refugees.

The question of refugees and their right of return is one of the main unresolved issues between the Israelis and Palestinians.

After visiting the Dheisheh refugee camp I could not help comparing it to the Jewish settlements – Efrat and others – we saw. The injustice in the distribution of wealth was very apparent when one just looked at the difference between these two places. The Israelis have the money, the pavements, the good roads, the nice big houses and the green parks, while the Palestinians have to live in houses built almost on top of each other. The houses are so close some roads are not large enough for a car to pass through. Electricity and water cuts are frequent; children have no place but the streets to play in. The inhabitants of the two places also have completely different lives. The settler in Efrat was talking about his family, while the young men who took us around the Dheisheh camp showed us the paintings of all the friends he has lost.

One of the things that caught my attention while visiting the camps was the amount of children playing or just hanging around in the street. A lot of children have been born and have grown up in refugee camps with a limited access to health, education and other basic services. They deserve to have access to these basic rights. Today’s young adults witnessed the intifada and lived through curfews or other troubled times while they were just children. What they have seen during their childhood will push them to fear and hate the Israelis – especially the soldiers. Working with these children can be, in my opinion, a good way to try to improve the situation. This young generation are tomorrow’s adults: the ones who could change the way things are now. Helping them to consider “the others” as humans, not as violent enemies they need to fight, could help the future of this country.

The right of return is another big issue concerning the refugees. 7 million Palestinians have been displaced over the last 50 years, and all should have the right to return to their homeland. But how could this be – in practice – possible? During their absence other people have occupied their land, their homes have been destroyed, and new houses have been built. How could it work if they all came back? Where would they go? They have a definite right to go back, but I cannot see how it could be possible.

Is there another solution for the refugees? Can they live integrated in the society of their host country? Some possibly, yes. But it seemed to me that the general feeling was that they could not do so easily. They have a desire – almost a need – to come back to their land, the land of their ancestors.

Even though these issues may cause anger, frustration, misunderstanding, and frankly in some occasions shock, what touched me the most during this visit were the Palestinian people. Their kindness, hospitality, generosity and openness seemed unreal, considering the situation they are obliged to struggle through. The Palestinian question should not be about land – but about people, a population so willing to give that it is almost impossible not to give back to them. Give back in support, help or even just hope.

A full report on the YWCA YMCA Journey for Justice program can be found on the website of the JAI, Joint Advocacy Initiative, East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine website : www.jai-pal.org

YWCA of Fiji: a long-time fighter for women, justice and peace, says Pacific activist Anne Walker

Ann Walker, member of YWCA of Fiji and co-founders of the International Womens Tribune Centre ( IWTC)

Ann Walker, member of YWCA of Fiji and co-founders of the International Women's Tribune Centre ( IWTC)

Anne Walker spent 11 years with the YWCA of Fiji that marked the beginning of her long career with grassroots women. Walker is one of the founders of the International Women’s Tribune Centre ( IWTC) and has participated as an activist and organiser in all four UN world conferences on women and NGO Forums in Mexico City (1975), Copenhagen (1980), Nairobi (1985) and Beijing (1995).

In this interview with World YWCA, Walker provides a history of the YWCA of Fiji and calls on the UN to take responsibility in bringing peace to the women of Fiji.

The Pacific YWCAs, especially Fiji, have always made peace a priority in their work. How do you think this current situation will affect the work of the YWCA of Fiji and other women’s movements?

The early history of the YWCA of Fiji, certainly in terms of the work around current and public affairs in the 1960s, was very focused on the Fiji independence struggle and the fight against nuclear testing in Mururoa, French Polynesia. The YWCA took a leading role in both of these major events, joining forces with other community groups and, in the late 60s, with students from the newly established University of the South Pacific.

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UN must show commitment to UNSCR1325 and Pacific women, says leading Fijian activist

Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, founding member of femLINKPACIFIC

Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, founding member of femLINKPACIFIC

Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls gained national prominence in Fiji by organising, through the National Council of Women, a daily prayer vigil when government leaders were held hostage for 56 days during the 2000 coup. Sharon is the founding member of femLINKPACIFIC: Media Initiatives for Women, and has been a member of the YWCA of Fiji since 1986.

In this interview, Bhagwan-Rolls shares her ideas on how the international women’s movement can support the women of Fiji and reflects on the importance of faith in addressing the current crisis.

There are many mixed reports in the international press about the freedom of Fijian media. What is the real story?

All media, including community media that includes femLINKPACIFIC is subject to the Public Emergency Regulation (2009) currently in place. The Ministry of Information, Communications and Archives have advised us that femLINKPACIFIC is also, as we expected, subject to the directives of issued to the mainstream media organisations under the Public Emergency Regulations 2009, which include:

  • that all media organisations should comply with the requirements under the regulations and refrains from broadcasting or publishing any news item that is negative in nature which undermines the Government
  • that for practical reasons the Permanent Secretary (Information) will be assigned to media outlets to work closely with the respective editors/publishers to ensure that all items for broadcast and publishing comply with the regulations.

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