Friday, May 28, 2010

What do you do when settlers are living on your land, soldiers keep arresting your husband, the Israeli government wont let your village connect to the electrical grid and you want to help more young women in your village go to university?

Apparently, you laugh a lot.

I want to introduce you to a friend of mine. For the purposes of the internet, let's call her Mona. Mona is the head of the At-Tuwani Women's Co-operative and she has knack for laughing in the midst of the most difficult situations. Mona is one of the most talented community organizers I have ever met. She is a woman with compassion to spare and a knack for showing people cares about them. That quality is one of the reasons that Mona has been able organize the woman of her area to participate in what she calls two nonviolent resistances: one to the occupation and one patriarchy. Here's is a transcript from a presentation she recently gave to a group visiting At-Tuwani (and thanks for my friend and colleague F. for her translation!) :

First of all, I would like to welcome you all.

I want to speak to you about the position of the women in At-Tuwani village. First of all, women in this village suffer from very conservative cultural traditions. In regards to education, which is a right of women to have, unfortunately most of the women in At-Tuwani are illiterate. They have only managed to study through third grade. The role of the women is to work on the fields with the men and to have children and care for them. Five years ago, we gathered the women and decided we needed to make a slight change to our lives.

You should that know that women have rights and even though women's rights have not been meet, we have decided to form a women's cooperative. Even though, when we meet and decide what we wanted to do, we still had to consult with the men of the village. At first, they objected very strongly and they said, “Your role is just to care for your homes and your children, and to work in the fields.” We did not accept their rejection and therefore we had to think of activities to do, things that do not get in the way of the traditions and the culture that we live in. So we agreed, as most of the women are quite skilled in embroidery, even though they were not taught it but are skilled because many generations of tradition, we could use that as a starting point.

We came up with the idea of doing embroidery work to improve the economy of the village because of the settlers and the settlements around us and the way they confiscate our land and attack our homes and flocks. All of these was effecting the women of the village and our children. So we had to again bring it to the men of the village because of we had some support, but not a majority. The most important support for me was from my husband, Hafez, and Saber, the mayor of the village. When we started the women's cooperative, CPT and OD were not present here, only Ta'ayush. So we explained to Ta'ayush our idea and what we would like to do. So Ta'ayush decided to support the women by providing the materials, the thread and the equipment we would need to do the work. So we started with seven women in this museum. For a long period of time, even though we were working, we were unable to sell any of our products. The women at that point started to lose the momentum to carry on. But some of us said no, we have to move forward and be hopeful that things can change and carry on.

Then CPT and Operation Dove joined At- Tuwani. I want to thank CPT and Operation Dove for not just making promises but carrying out those promises. For example, they brought delegations here and spoke outside of the village so that more people would come and learn about the situation of At-Tuwani. And through that we were able to sell some of our products and use the profits for girls to continue their education. Now many girls are able to finish high school and there are three girls in university.

To begin with there were 7 women in the cooperative. Now there are 32. And the men have changed their minds and they are very happy and fully in support of the cooperative. They want the women to keep working because they see that we are putting our profits towards the improvement of the village. For example, at times when we need to run the electricity generator for longer hours, the women put in money to make that possible. And whenever men are arrested in the village, the women put forward money to get them out of jail.

The women here feel that they have two types of nonviolent resistance: one is against the occupation and one about men. For example, at first the men objected to our work, but slowly they came to see it differently. I see this as our victory. We did it without posing difficulties or causing problems in family or separations in marriages. Gradually, the idea grew.

In terms of the rest of the village, another example of our nonviolent resistance is the building of the school. Initially, the Israeli government forbid it and the Israeli army was arresting the teachers as they were coming to build the school. Despite that, we continued with it. The teachers and the architect would work on the building in the evening and the women would work in the day to make the cement for the school. Whenever the military used to come to see if there were men working on the site, they would see only women. So, they would just pass by. First we built three classrooms. Then we built another nine and now our children have access to further education.

When the Israeli army said that the school was under demolition order, we said ,“Fine. You can do that. We will rebuild it.” The same happened with the mosque up the hill. They demolished it and we rebuilt it. The same thing happened when we built the clinic. The men would work at night when the army was not watching carefully and during the day the women would work.

Now we also have nonviolent resistance about electricity. When Tony Blaire visited Tuwani he said “We have to bring electricity to Tuwani.” The Israeli authorities informed Tony Blaire that it was not forbidden for them to get electricity. The electric company started to work to put up the pylons and the power lines, but then they were forced to stop and haven't started again. On a winter day in December, we noticed that that was a lot of activity at the bottom of the road, while they were putting up the electric pylons. The whole village went down to the main road and saw that the army had brought bulldozers and police and everything necessary to take down the pylons. They said that they wanted to enter the rest of the village to take all of the pylons. The mayor of the village told us to block the road with stones. The military whenever they saw a man from the village wanting to speak with them, they were ready to arrest them. So the women said to the men, “You stay at home where you are so you are not arrested and we will go in front of the military and deal with them.” It was a very cold, rainy winter day. All of the women went down in front of the army jeeps, arm in arm, with our children in front of us, and forbid the army from entering the village. The commander order the soldiers to throw tear gas to frighten the women away. They were also revving the engines of the jeeps to scare us, but we said “We're really cold! The warmth from the jeep is good!” Then they opened the door of the jeeps and we were surprised to see many female Israeli soldiers with their army gear. They were ordered to face the women of the village. The military women came towards us. They were ordered to start beating us. We said, “Come on! We're ready! We're not wearing the gear that you're wearing. All we are asking for is our rights and all we are asking for is electricity.” One of the women soldiers guested to the commander, saying “No.” Then she returned for the jeep. The women of the started saying to woman soldiers, “Come, are you afraid? Are you afraid to talk with us? Come and talk with us!” But I said that I believe that they returned to the jeep because they knew what they were doing was wrong and that we weren't asking for much. The soldiers took down two pylons but they weren't able to enter the village to remove the rest of them. God willing, we will be continue our struggle to get electricity. Whether by solar power or by something else, we will continue.


K E said...

I love this story about the women of Tuwani! I also like hearing how they interacted with women Israeli soldiers and were able to connect with them. I say, along with the woman who began the first Mothers Day in 1870, Julia Ward Howe, "Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or of tears! Say firmly, "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender to those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure others......"
When we can look at each other as people, and not political pawns, the world will be much better.

joy_in_palestine said...

I particularly like that last line!

Kathy said...

thank you for this story. I have been in Tuwani with aCPT delegation in 2006 and saw the co-operative. I also follow blogs etc of several CPT friends there. I tell everyone who will listen about the villagers in the South Hebron hills. This will be added to my stories. They are amazing.

joy_in_palestine said...

You are so very welcome.