By Sydney McAuliffe, Class of ’18

On Tuesday, August 8th, I sat down and interviewed Miriam Brenner. Miriam Brenner just celebrated her 70th birthday and is an active member of the all- women peace group, Women Wage Peace. Miriam was born in Cape Town, South Africa and moved to Israel with her family when she was very young. She was raised in a Zionist home, loving Israel and feeling proud of her Jewish heritage. After Miriam’s studies, she began her career as a social worker. During her time as a social worker in a school, she soon realized that many girls and boys wanted to speak about sex and sexuality and that resources in this department were severely lacking. She decided that she wanted to become a sex therapist and traveled to the US and began training under the pioneering sex therapist Helen Kaplan at the Cornell Medical School in New York. Back in Israel, Miriam worked in hospital clinics, private clinics and at a local Plan Parenthood. Miriam even developed at the time the first and only counseling service in the world for teenagers and young people who have disabilities to learn about how their disability may affect their sex life in the present or the future.

Given Miriam’s extensive background and work helping others, I was surprised when she said that, previously to joining Women Wage Peace several years ago, she had never participated in the peace movement or a feminist group such as Women Wage Peace. She explained that the impetus for joining a peace group came from her close relationship with her grandchildren. She told me about countless times when she was with her grandchildren, and Iron Dome’s sirens would go off and she would have to bring her grandchildren to the stairways to hide and wait. Or another time when she was driving with a grandchild, and she had to instruct her grandchild to get out of the car and lay face down on the ground until the sirens stopped.  Some of her grandchildren are serving in the IDF, and she explained to me that they are the reason she wants peace for Israel. She worries and cares and loves her family so much that she knows that peace for Israel and Palestine means safety for her family.

My time with Miriam was very special as she taught me several invaluable lessons. The first of which was it is not a contradiction to love Israel, be proud of your Jewish heritage and be against the Israeli occupation. This was very powerful and important for me to hear, especially as I am a proud Jew learning more and more about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and becoming increasingly more uncomfortable with the actions of the Israeli government and military. Second, Miriam shared insight into another side of the Women Wage Peace movement— the women’s empowerment element of a supportive environment and convening network for females of all backgrounds, political beliefs, and even religions. For some members of Women Wage Peace, this is their first experience voicing their political views or even expressing their opinions in a space that is valuing their membership and their vision for the national security of the state of Israel. Hearing Miriam comment on how one of the most rewarding parts of working at Women Wage Peace is meeting other incredible, dedicated women was very telling of the empowering impact this organization has on its members.

On Thursday, August 10th, I interviewed Anat Saragusti. Anat Saragusti is one of the leading journalists and publicists in Israel. Anat has spent much of her career as a journalist covering the Israeli- Palestinian conflict and gained international attention when she conducted the first Israeli interview with Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, in Beirut.  Anat has also been credited with being the first Israeli female war photographer. In addition to extensively covering the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, Anat dedicated much of her life to feminist issues such as advocating for the involvement of more women in the media and raising attention around the issue of sexual harassment in the media.

Anat is an incredibly intelligent woman who offered keen commentary both on women’s roles in the larger conflict and within the organization she actively participates in, Women Wage Peace. Specifically, she spent time talking to me about the importance of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Promoting and advocating for the adoption of Resolution 1325 is a main objective of Women Wage Peace. However long before the creation of Women Wage Peace, Anat spent years creating focus groups bringing together Israeli and Palestinian women to discuss the conflict and the peace process through a gendered lens. Through these focus groups, Anat and other women produced reports that highlighted the experiences of Israeli and Palestinian women and how their needs relate to 1325. Although the reports were presented to the Israeli government, the resolution has not been adopted.

Anat also highlighted that a huge success of Women Wage Peace is the organization’s ability to bring together women from both the political left and right. Because Women Wage Peace does not put forth a political plan or agenda, the organization can recruit women who may have different political beliefs and solutions to the conflict but both agree that peace is much needed and that women are essential to waging that peace.

I am grateful for the time my interviewees give me and for their willingness to openly discuss their participation in the peace movement. I feel that every interviewee offers unique perspectives on my questions and is helping me immensely in my research.

On Sunday, August 13th, I interviewed Hamutal Gouri, the executive director of the Dafna Fund, Israel’s first feminist fund. The Dafna fund is dedicated to advancing women’s empowerment causes and promoting inclusivity and tolerance within Israeli society.  Hamutal is also an active member of Women Wage Peace and volunteers with Women Wage Peace’s ethics team, internal conflict resolution team and the Israel-Palestine connection team. She has been involved in the peace movement for over 40 years, recalling first bringing home a Peace Now t-shirt when she was a teenager.

Hamutal was born in Jerusalem in 1963 and was just four years old during the Six- Day War. She described the experience as incredibly formative to her early years. At the time, her father was serving in the army. So she spent six days in a bomb shelter with her mother and sisters—not knowing the whereabouts or safety of her father. She strongly feels that no child should have to undergo that type of experience. It is because of her own experiences during her childhood and her children’s experiences during subsequent wars that she is fully committed to the peace movement.  

Hamutal was fascinating to speak with because of her extensive work not only within the Israeli peace movement through her volunteer work at Women Wage Peace but also through her extensive experience within the Israeli feminist movement. Hamutal credits both her facilitation skills and optimism in helping her succeed within the peace movement. When speaking about the importance of including more women in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, she very simply yet effectively pointed out that even if women were not different than men, (she believes women are) women still constitute 51% of the population.  By virtue of being half the worlds population, women need to be represented at peace talks and peace processes. Further, when Hamutal spoke about whether or not she felt she approached the conflict differently than her male counterparts she perceptively pointed out that rather than finding differences within men and women she found differences within masculine and feminine views to approaching the conflict. She linked the male, dominant perspective in Israeli society to the significant military presence that largely excludes women’s perspectives on issues of national security.  

On Sunday, August 13th, I interviewed Huda M. Albuarquob. Huda was born in Jerusalem but grew up in Hebron. In the 1970s her family could not afford all the documentation necessary to stay in Jerusalem at the time, so her family moved to Saudi Arabia and then returned to Palestine in Bethlehem and Hebron. Huda is the oldest of 11 siblings and credits her parents tremendously for their success in parenting so many children. She grew up in a home of educators and wishes to debunk stereotypes and narratives that claim Palestinians did not exist before the creation of Israel and that Palestinians are all Bedouins. Huda explained that her desire from a young age to learn more about her identity and the identity of the Palestinian people has helped shape her sense of activism.

The first and second intifada were significant and formative years for Huda. She saw firsthand the treatment her brothers received from Israeli soldiers and recalled memories of having to wait for hours outside of Israeli detention centers to ensure the safety of her brothers who had been detained after returning from college in Hebron. After the second intifada, Huda received a Fulbright fellowship and studied conflict resolution studies in the United States for two years. She explained that she considers both her life experiences and her formal studies at school part of her education.

Huda was a fascinating woman to speak with, and I am so grateful for her time and willingness to share with me her experiences and her role within the peace movement. One story in particular that stands out to me from my meeting with Huda was her response to my question, “What did your path to the peace movement look like and your path within the peace movement look like?” Huda told me that the answer to this question lies in a story.

Huda’s grandfather went to Oxford back in the 30’s and lived in Hebron before the Israeli 1948 creation of the State of Israel or the Nakba. Huda’s grandfather told her that during weekends he would often take road trips with his friends. Huda’s grandfather was an English teacher and together with his friend who was a Christian math teacher and another friend who was a Jewish doctor, would pile into a car and drive to Haifa. One weekend they attended a concert in Haifa by a Lebanese singer who had come from Egypt to perform. The next morning, Huda’s grandfather and friends drove up to Beirut, a few hours away from Haifa, and enjoyed clubs, poetry and meeting colleagues at the American University. The group then traveled to Damascus in the afternoon and had a late lunch and bought clinic and school materials needed for their respective jobs. The group then returned to Hebron together.

Huda emphasized that the importance of this story has less to do with identity and more to do with access and mobility. To Huda, this story is the essence of the Middle East and what she wants for the Middle East in the future.