Switch off MSNBC. Toss the New York Times in the recycling bin and suppress the temptation to sample the blogs. If you crave more meaningful insights than tidy sound bites provide, search out the voices of people whose lives are bound by the conflicts they live with every day.
A great place to start is Peace X Peace, an online organization with subscribers and participants from more than one hundred and twenty countries that strives to connect a global community of women. The organization was founded after the 9/11 attacks when its founder, playwright, poet, and film maker Patricia Smith Melton, acted on her belief that women raising their voices and understanding the lives of other women across the religious, political, and economic divide would prove to be an effective strategy for working toward peaceful co-existence.
If you dismiss such thinking as naive, take a closer look at the recent history of one of the twentieth-centuries most intractable conflicts. Northern Ireland is a place where women talking to women and organizing around shared hopes for the safety and future of their children proved to be a powerful catalyst. Without the courage and commitment of Protestant activist Betty Williams and Catholic Mairead Corrigan working to shape a dialogue and helping women find common ground across the religious divide, a peaceful Northern Ireland would not be where it is today.
Like Betty and Mairead, there are thousands of individual women and organized women’s groups in countries around the world that share similar goals. The importance of women in any peace process is finally gaining the recognition it deserves. Last month the U.N. Security Council convened discussions on the prominent role women’s civil-society organizations play in advancing security, conflict resolution, and peace making. Haiti, South Sudan, Nepal, and Mali are only some of the countries where women’s organizations are spearheading an array of important, post-conflict development projects.
Arab, Muslim, and Western women and debunking their stereotypes of one another is the primary focus of Peace x Peace. One of the organization’s online projects, called “Catalyst: Voices of Israeli and Palestinian Women,” showcases seven videos of ordinary women inviting you to hear their observations on the affects of the conflict on their daily lives. Each woman movingly reflects on her unique experience. You’ll hear the story of an Israeli/Palestinian friendship separated by the wall. You’ll learn about the long-term commitment to nonviolent activism of Israeli women and men protesting the injustice of the absentee-properties law. You’ll understand more fully the obstacles and frustrations of daily life for Palestinians living in Ramallah in the West Bank through the words of Bushra Mukbil, an American-educated Palestinian woman. And you’ll learn about the guarded hopes of two Jewish settlers in the occupied territories.
The video collection succeeds in doing just what Peace x Peace and its contributors hope it will. It illuminates through personal testimony the ethical and political complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the optimism of the women living it. If you’re like me, you’ll be moved by these testimonies. And, like me, I hope you will imagine sitting down with each of these remarkable women for a cup of tea and a few minutes of talk. Accept their invitation, and take the time to listen to their stories.
Renee Shur lives and works in New York’s Hudson Valley.