From 6-7 November, IGE’s Center for Women of Faith & Leadership (CWFL) and The Telos Group convened 30 women from Israel, Palestine, and the U.S. for a 2-day conference entitled, “Women & Human Rights in Israel-Palestine,” at the American Islamic Congress in downtown Washington, D.C. The gathering sought to showcase the diversity and expertise of women engaging in peacebuilding, social justice, and human rights—including religious freedom—in the Holy Land, from both sides of the border.
In this safe space, away from the daily challenges and stresses that these women are confronted with, participants explored the opportunities and challenges faced by Israeli, Palestinian, and American Christian women in their efforts to advocate for the protection of human rights and peace in the region.
As a function of CWFL’s mission to work transparently to build the capacity of women of faith in order to ensure that they, with full agency as equal citizens, are empowered to serve as leaders and agents of change, the event featured a series of panels that provided diverse perspectives both inside and outside of the Israeli-Palestinian context. The event also created an open and honest forum for conversation and “talk back,” between and among panelists and participants on issues considered to be “taboo,” but that often create barriers between women doing this work.
Rather than presenting yet another women’s event, this gathering worked at the nexus of difficult issues, where participants approached the conflict through their own personal narrative and experience. Topics of dialogue from the panelists and participants included:
1. The impact that a gendered perspective has had on human rights and peace from a comparative perspective, highlighting models and approaches from other conflicts.
2. The impact that conflict has had on the lives of Israeli and Palestinian women utilizing the personal narratives of human rights activists from both sides of the conflict, and their perspectives as they move forward within this context.
3. The challenges that Christian women in the U.S. face as they strive to advocate and share an honest narrative of Israel-Palestine in their communities.
In addition, the group actively engaged many of the taboo subjects that often serve as barriers to collaboration and advancement of human rights in the region, including:
• The use of the word “occupation” versus “conflict”;
• Inclusion/exclusion of men;
• Secular vs. religious approaches to human rights;
• Psychological fears of women working in human rights—“from fear we move”;
• Workshops as therapy;
• Examining identity—actively engaging in self-reflection and awareness;
• Addressing privilege, and how it can be used for human rights;
• What is said vs. what is done by organizations-at-large—different agendas;
• Expanding the frame of reference of human rights and the conflict to include other sectors, new perspectives, spheres of influence, regions, etc.;
• Involvement of Americans in the process;
• The labeling of those who advocate for Palestinians “anti-Semitic”; and,
• Looking internally at the human rights issues of our own societies—Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans—and investing our time there while simultaneously working on common goals.
Participants applauded the tone and approach of the gathering, describing it as “completely unique in its approach,” raising the specific point that the discussions were the most dialogue they’d heard about the root causes of the conflict through personal reflections. Participants appreciated the dynamic discourse because of its vulnerability, honesty, and humility in openly addressing difficult issues.
Over the course of the second day, participants split into working groups where they reflected on and shared some of their takeaways from the first day that provided them with new or exciting ideas and concepts important to the work of human rights and peacebuilding in Israel-Palestine. Working groups also highlighted the approaches or models practitioners currently utilize in their work; identified those partners and stakeholders missing from the conversation critical to the sustainability and impact of the work of human rights and women’s justice in Israel-Palestine—both religious and secular; and, considered how the network developed through the gathering could be utilized in other conflicts or in other regions.
At the conclusion of the gathering, CWFL and The Telos Group asked each participant to commit to one action item that they would do to move human rights forward in their sphere of influence. These ideas were both tangible and measurable. CWFL plans to follow up on these commitments, seeking to serve as a support mechanism in their struggle to lead Israel, Palestine, and the U.S.—as a function of their culture and faith—toward greater human rights.
For more information on IGE’s Center for Women of Faith & Leadership (CWFL), please contact Kristen Lundquist at email@example.com.
The full report can be found here.