By Sydney McAuliffe, Class of ’19

My summer research explores women’s roles in Israeli, Palestinian and international peace organizations and will take a comparative approach to examining their individual perspectives, interests, goals, and activities in the Israeli- Palestinian peace-building process. Because men have dominated much of the public sector discourse and political exchanges relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, women have gravitated to non-governmental activism, and involvement in peace focused non-profit organizations. However, having the full benefit of women, serving as equal participants in all facets of peace building and conflict prevention between the parties, is critical to any positive outcome and deserves critical consideration.  Women can offer innovative approaches, promote constructive dialogue and advocate for human rights such as security, healthcare, and economic empowerment in ways that might not occur in a male-dominated process.  For example, according to the International Peace Institute, when women are included in negotiations, agreements are 35 percent more likely to endure for at least 15 years.

This past summer, I have both interned at the Feminist Majority Foundation, a non-profit located in DC and conducted research for my senior thesis on the role of women in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. I have found that working for a feminist organization and specifically focusing my work on the organization on global women’s issues complimented my senior thesis research immensely.

I am currently getting ready to leave for Israel and Palestine. I will conduct interviews with over a dozen women working on conflict resolution initiatives. While I am very much looking forward to my time in Israel and Palestine, I have valued the last two months I have spent in DC.

At the beginning of the summer, I attended the Wilson Center’s 50 Years Since 1967 event. The event featured a panel of experts speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Panelists included Natan Sachs, Hussein Ibish, Aaron David Miller, Ziad Asali and the only female panelist, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen. I found the event very informative as I got to hear different perspectives from leading voices in the field. After the panel discussion, I raised my hand and asked: “How has the role of women in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process changed in the past 50 years and what are ways in the which women can play a more critical role in waging peace.” The panelists were impressed with my question because while everyone realized the importance of including the topic of women’s empowerment into the larger discussion, no one had done so previously. The panelists touched on different points when answering my question, emphasizing the large role that security and the military have had in encouraging a masculine dominated Israeli society. The panelists also encouraged me to not fall into the trap of assuming that all women lean politically left and therefore will advocate for peace.

After the event, I introduced myself to the only female panelist, Lucy Kurtzer- Ellenbogen. Ms. Kurtzer- Ellenbogen is the director of the Arab-Israeli Conflict Program at the United States Institute of Peace. Meeting Ms. Kurtzer-Ellenbogen at the beginning of the summer was extremely helpful as we remained in contact and she has connected me with women I plan on interviewing when in Israel and Palestine.

I have since formally sat down with Ms. Kurtzer-Ellenbogen and interviewed her for my summer research. Also, I have met with Lara Friedman, the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace and have interviewed Brooke Davies, the national president of J Street U.

With awareness that the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is one of the most politicized and controversial conflicts in the world, I promised myself at the beginning of the summer that I would keep an open mind when interviewing all individuals. I have found that speaking with people directly involved in the peace process has shown me a more personal and nuanced side to the conflict.

I am looking forward to speaking with more women involved in the Israeli Palestinian peace process during my upcoming trip to Israel and Palestine.