Third Annual Women’s Conference

10 March 2013

Yesterday around 150 Palestinian, Israeli and international women gathered for the third annual women’s conference which was held in the village of Beit Ommar in the Hebron district. The conference was organized by the Centre for Freedom and Justice and an Israeli and Palestinian organization entitled, Civil Disobedience. Civil Disobedience is a group of Israeli and Palestinian women working together to resist the brutal restrictions of movement and displacement of Palestinian women living in the West Bank/Occupied Territory. The Centre for Freedom and Justice is a grass roots organization that works with farmers, youth, women and the popular committee of Beit Ommar in a non-violent struggle against the occupation. The conference was a platform of intensive discussion about the responsibility of Israeli, International and Palestinian women in fighting the immoral system of governance in Israeli, in an effort to create a future of freedom and justice for Palestinian women. There were a total of seven speakers who spoke about an array of issue that effect the lively hood of women in Palestine. The women speakers included: Amira Hasse, author journalist, laureate of Reporters without Borders and the winner of the Prize for Press Freedom in 2009. Muna Ammar the director general of the Center for Freedom and Justice, in Beit Ommar. Sahar Alkawasmeh, general director of ADWAR centre in Hebron. Zena Adi, from Syria who is now living in Paris active member of the Arab reistance. Sahar Francis, general director of the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association. Ketzia Alon, art historian and member of the “Ahoti” My Sister Association. Hanna Rubinstein, women for Civil Disobedience against the Occupation.

Sahar Alkawasmeh, general director of ADWAR centre spoke about the social and economic situation that Palestinian women are facing due to occupation. Alkawasmeh centre, helps women to become a part of the economic side of life, by developing programs for skilled women who make handmade products, creating systems of financial sources of sustenance through their creativity. She explained that due to the occupation and the restriction of movement imposed by Israel, women have found it difficult and in many cases impossible to find places to sell their fruit, vegetables and handicrafts. The unemployment rate in the Hebron district of 2011, is close to thirty percent and has been significantly increasing since 1999 when the rate was only 12.1% (State of Palestine: Central Bureau of Statics).

Amira Hasse, spoke about the problems of normalization, Israeli’s working with Palestinians in peaceful actions that don’t take into consideration the ending of the occupation. This avenue of social organizing has negative connotation to many Palestinians. Normalization is the lack of recognition in the ending the occupation, which means the withdrawal from the 1967 borders by the Israeli army and settlers, a political and not ideological argument. Hanna Rubinstein, an Israeli activist gave a brief history of Practicing Civil Disobedience, describing the strategies they employee in disobeying the immoral restriction of movement. The conference itself is an act of disobedience to the Israeli occupation rules, Beit Ommar is in area “A” which makes it illegal for Israeli citizen’s to enter the town. She described the current weakness of Civil Disobedience is the lack of cooperation for the movement in Israeli society. “We as Israeli women need to work from the inside out” meaning their goal should be to educate and disseminate information about the tragic reality that the women of Palestine are facing as a result of the occupation.

The message was one of hope, an enchanting afternoon of song and dance by Palestinian children, music by an Israeli composer and a traditional Palestinian lunch, brought an uplifting spirit to the event. After the conference I spoke with the general director of Center for Freedom and Justice, Muna Ammar. Ammar, summarized the key points and the message that Palestinian women want to share with Israeli’s and the international community. She suggested that the way to empower Palestinian women in the non-violent struggle against the occupation is through developing programs were women can become a part of the social economy. Alkawasmeh described that only 16% of Palestinian women are employed in the West Bank, with an overall high unemployment rate, poverty is becoming an increasing distress on the average family. Ammar believes that economics and the resistance movement are intrinsically linked. “When people loose hope they retreat into there homes” said Ammar. Ammar states that ending the occupation rests in the responsibility of the international community. Her recommendation is that internationals work to cooperate with organizations in developing the economic situation for women in Palestine and most important to strive to end the occupation.