RAMALLAH - It is not easy for a Palestinian woman to say that she wants to work against violent extremism in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. To begin with, as a woman, it is harder to voice criticism while still remaining a legitimate political voice. Moreover, being in a place of national and political conflict where life is continuously stressful, one can find different definitions of the term “extremism”. For example, the Palestinians called the first and second “intifadas” (“uprisings”) patriotic acts against injustice. The same intifadas were labelled acts of violence by the Israeli side. Meanwhile, the recent war in Gaza was seen as a necessary security measure by Israel, while the Palestinians see it as an attack against civilians.
Notions of extremism and violence are shaped by the context in which they occur. As a Palestinian woman who has witnessed the two intifadas, I have been deeply affected—psychologically and politically—by the killing, the shelling, the curfews, roadblocks and the separation barrier. The violence that I have lived through has to a great degree shaped who I am. Moreover, I have been raised to love my homeland, strongly believing in my nation’s right to live in dignity on its land. I find it too difficult to say let us stop demanding our rights just for the sake of peace. That would be something a patriot would never do.
Yet despite being surrounded by violence, I believe in the essential goodness of humanity and do not think that members of modern nations should pay with their lives for myths and historical conflicts. The path of violence does not serve our legitimate struggle for independence.
The fact that violence has been ongoing for more than six generations makes me seriously concerned not only about the possibility of a peaceful resolution, but also about the effects of violence on the daily life of people living in the region. Violence equally affects the perpetrator and the person who suffers from violence. The child who witnessed killing in Gaza cannot be expected to treat others in as calm and gentle a way as a child who grew up far away from killing and shelling.
Living in an environment that adopts violence as a strategy to deal with the Other exacerbates further the negative attitudes and beliefs regarding the Other. Moreover, as we know, violence only begets violence. Eventually, acts of violence directed at an outsider turn inward towards the self. This can lead to internal chaos and divert the nation from its goal of independence. Leaders and non-leaders alike need to study the reasons why the conflict has become so violent and its impact on our societies so that they can work to reduce it.
Palestinian women as Palestinian citizens have much to say in this context. They are the ones who raise men. Partly because they are mothers, women are the real partners in building the future state. In addition, women—who are arguably naturally more predisposed to non-violence—could exercise significant pressure to stop internal violence first and then to form a common vision towards the future state.
As a Palestinian woman and patriot, I cannot cease struggling to attain the rights of my people in a Palestinian state. However, my values dictate that I conduct my quest for rights in a non-violent fashion. Practically speaking, pragmatism itself also dictates a non-violent approach.
I am calling for peace with dignity. This means adopting a new comprehensive strategy that identifies a way to obtain our rights as Palestinians, even if it takes a long time. A non-violent struggle could be the answer that would also lead other nations to support our cause.
Many of my international friends ask me why there is still no resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. At this point I realise that people do not know much about the cause and its complexities. The achievement of peace needs brave leaders who believe in humanity and the rights of nations to live in dignity and peace.
Living in peace does not mean Palestinians and Israelis have to be friends with one another; it does not mean selling out the Palestinians’ rights. Peace, as I view it, is finding the best realistic way to live in dignity without war.
- Asma Asfour is a member of the Sinjel Municipality and is an activist for women’s issues. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).