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Between 2004 and 2010, Just Vision interviewed more than 80 Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. The interviews in this archive represent a fraction of the civic leaders working in the field at a particular moment in time, and aim to provide audiences access to a range of perspectives and approaches.


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Ibtisam Mahameed

Born in Faradis, a village near Haifa, Ibtisam Mahameed was one of the first women to leave the village to seek an education. A devout Muslim, she works with many groups that promote interfaith dialogue and nonviolence, including the Interfaith Encounter Association and the Golden Road. Ibtisam is deeply committed to strengthening the role of women in society, and was the first woman to run for mayor of her hometown. She recently received the "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" award from the Dalai Lama in San Francisco, CA. The award honors 50 individuals from across the globe for their work, commitment and dedication to the service of others. For an interview with Ibtisam produced by the Global Oneness Project, click here.

 

  • Please start by introducing yourself. Tell us where you come from, a bit about your family, your work.

    My name is Ibtisam Mahameed. I am 44 years old. I am married and have three children. I live in Faradis,1 near Haifa. My family is from a village called Tantura.2 It is one of the villages that was evacuated in 1948.3 My father is from a village near Um el Fahem, that was also evacuated in the war. Both families came to Faradis and this is where my parents met. One of the reasons I became a peace activist is that I came to realize that there is no point to what's going on here. Violence creates more violence. Killing after killing, until when will this circle of violence go on? I got to know about the people that are working on bringing the different sides together. Sometimes when you have a problem, you try to solve it but when you can't any more, you ask for help from a third person and sometimes that third person can't help because he doesn't know what is going on, so the problem gets bigger. It's the same with our Palestinian and Israeli problem. There have been too many parties interfering to solve it so we've gotten lost. We first asked for help from the Arab countries, but each of them was looking after its own interest-- the Egyptians called for peace to get their lands back, the same with the Syrians and the Lebanese.4 So the Palestinians were left to fight all alone. It is the role of the Palestinians that live in Israel to be the bridge between the Palestinians and the Israelis. I call us the bridges of peace. I live in a place that is under Israeli control and at the same time I feel the suffering of my people. What shall I do? I should help my people to be free. I think that among the Palestinians there is a lack of communication with the outside world. We are not terrorists, as they call us. We are the victims. The tanks and soldiers invade my house, then they call me the terrorist. Who do you consider the invader in this case? The picture changes if we become more aware. What do we want from the world and from ourselves? I call the youth of this time "the lost youth" because they have no hopes, no future. I feel sorry for this generation because it paid for all the wars. It is our duty to bring calm and hope for the future, to look beyond the current situation into the next 5 or 10 years. I need to plant something for my children and grandchildren... how will I raise them?

    • 1. A village on the Mediterranean coast in Israel near Haifa with a population of approximately 10,000 people, predominantly Palestinian citizens of Israel.
    • 2. The village of Tantura existed on the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa until May-June 1948, alongside the land where Kibbutz Nahsholim and Dor Moshav exist today.
    • 3. It is widely maintained that the village of Tantura was evacuated and then razed in May-June 1948, but what else may have occurred there has been a matter of controversy. The controversy over a possible massacre at Tantura stems from the 1998 master's thesis of Haifa University student Teddy Katz. In the thesis, Katz maintained that members of the Israeli Alexandroni Brigade massacred some 200-250 Tantura villagers in May of 1948. Veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade sued Katz for libel and, in court, Katz recanted his opinion that a massacre occurred. Katz later recanted his recantation. Israeli historians who study the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have been divided over Katz's research methods and conclusions, leading some to question the whole manner in which events of 1948 are reconstructed. See Suzanne Goldenberg. "Confronting the Past," Guardian Unlimited, 10 Dec 2001, http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,4317005-105806,00.html. Also see the in-depth article by Israeli Historian Benny Morris, "The Tantura 'Massacre' Affair," The Jerusalem Report, 9 Feb 2004, pp. 18. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4160/is_200402/ai_n12833855.
    • 4. Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty in 1979 following negotiations at Camp David, a United States presidential retreat site. The treaty was negotiated by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, with American President Jimmy Carter serving as moderator. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in exchange for peace and Egyptian recognition of the State of Israel, thereby establishing a precedent for "land-for-peace" negotiations. While Israel and Syria have attempted to broker similar "land-for-peace" agreements in the past, no formal treaty between the two countries has been signed. Neither Syria nor Lebanon officially recognizes the existence of the State of Israel. Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994.

  • How do you identify yourself?

    Whenever they ask me that question, I answer that I am Ibtisam, a Palestinian living in Israel holding an Israeli passport. My family is Palestinian. Today [at a conference of the Interfaith Encounter Association] when I identified myself to the group there was an Israeli that stood up and said that I hold an Israeli passport so I should consider myself an Israeli. So I said to him, "In 1967 you told us we should give up our Palestinian identities in order to receive all of our rights as Israeli citizens,1 but I know that I will never be the minister of defense or the minister of communication. You told us that we would be compensated by being Israeli citizens, but we don't see our full rights in this country. The clearest evidence is what happened to us in 2000 when they started shooting at those whom they call Israeli citizens. If I had truly been an Israeli citizen I wouldn't have been shot at. This made us think, "What are we-Arabs or Israelis?" What am I? We lost our identity. I could not identify myself-- am I Israeli or Palestinian or a '48 Arab...what am I? The Palestinians inside Israel were divided. One would say, "I am a Palestinian Israeli," one would say "I am a '48 Arab." There really isn't much agreement. If we go back to the Oslo agreement, only the Palestinians were mentioned. What about us-- the Palestinians inside Israel? I have a small question that I keep asking: until the year 1967 Ramallah was under Jordanian rule and Gaza was with the Egyptians. Is this the Palestinian state we are talking about? Did the war take place in Gaza and Ramallah or in our Palestinian land? When the Palestinians agreed to give up all the lands but hold on to 22 percent of the land2 to get to peace, did that bring peace? The issue is so complicated. There is peace among the politicians, and then there is people-to-people work. This is our role. How can I as a citizen get closer to you as a citizen, how can we break the barriers between us?

    • 1. Following Israel's capture of Jordanian controlled Jerusalem in the Six-Day/June War of 1967, Israel offered citizenship to the permanent residents of the captured areas, if they were willing to meet certain conditions. Most all of the residents declined the offer. See B'tselem's "Legal Status of East Jerusalem and its Residents" http://www.btselem.org/English/Jerusalem/Legal_Status.asp. See the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs' "Status of Jerusalem" (March 1999), Section V: Jerusalem's Arabs and Israel-Palestinian Negotiations. http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/1990_1999/1999/3/The%20Status%20of%20Jerusalem.
    • 2. The West Bank and Gaza Strip comprise 22% of historic Palestine, which according to past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is the main block of land where the future Palestinian state will be located.

  • When did you start to be a peace activist?

    In 1988. There is a town near Faradis called Zikhron Ya'akov.1 The two villages are separated by one street-- a Jewish and Arab village that are totally separated. Geographically we are close but the people know nothing about each other. If I look outside my window I will see her house, but it is fear that stops her from coming to me because she's afraid she might be stoned. I am also afraid to go to her area because I wear the women's traditional Muslim clothing. How will we overcome the fear? We invited them and now we hold monthly meetings. At first the meetings were all about telling about the suffering of each side. Now it feels like there was this screen that is now empty, so we want to fill that screen with discussions about our future. We have intensified the programs, programs for the youth, for example. We have conferences, even international conferences. There was a conference with American participation. They said we should focus on one word: enough. Enough violence. But as they were speaking they used the words that Palestinians are terrorists. So I stood up and said, "Enough calling the Palestinian terrorists." They were surprised. They make rules but it is all words. If I consider myself a peace activist, then all my words and actions must be devoted to peace. For me this is Jihad, and if I die doing this I will be considered a martyr. How do I identify a martyr? He is one that takes a role in improving his community and its situation, according to his own understanding. People can call him what they like, but I consider this a sacred mission that I could use to help the next generations. My generation and my parents' generation saw no tranquility; I have to plant a seed so my child will see its fruit. We are not enjoying this beauty of nature that God has given to us, the singing of the birds... we do not have the heart to enjoy it in this situation. Everybody is tense and pressured; there is no such thing as five minutes for oneself.

    • 1. Located south of Haifa and north of Hadera on the Mediterranean coast. The town of Zikhron Ya'akov was founded in the early 1880's.

  • Which groups do you work with?

    There are three groups: one that I started myself called "Anwar," from the word light. I believe that every woman that carries babies and gives birth is the source of inspiration. Every mother likes to see her children come back home safely and not get killed on the streets, but if the mother doesn't care about how the children are being raised or about their future, in my eyes she is not doing a good job. There are certain circumstances that prevent the mother from giving her children what they need, such as poverty and unemployment. No matter how hard a mother tries to be a perfect mother, there will still be some deficiencies. The mother should overcome those circumstances and do the best she can to make her own home. This counts as personal effort. Another group is called "Peace Comes From Within." Before I make peace with the Jew I should make peace with my neighbor, with my mother in-law, my mother, husband and children. It becomes something spiritual. If I can't communicate with my husband how am I supposed to communicate with you? It begins with the family, then with the neighborhood. One must first be devoted to one's city or country and care about its cleanliness. The next group is called the Interfaith Encounter Association.1 This is why we are here today. There are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Bahais. There are a lot of religions that are not heavenly that also came here to talk about peace from a religious perspective.

    • 1. An organization "dedicated to promoting peace in the Middle East through interfaith dialogue and cross-cultural study." See Interfaith Encounter Association

  • What do you mean by religions that are "not heavenly?"

    As a Muslim I recognize the three heavenly books (of Judaism, Christianity and Islam), but Islam calls for the respect of our fellow humans. I don't approach them and say either you adopt my religion or you are heretics. Islam includes a call for peace and adopting Islam. Islam calls for attempting to convince these people to become Muslims, but we can't force these people to adopt our religion. During the Islamic expansions there were people that had certain beliefs, who were not forced by the Muslims to accept Islam. They adopted Islam by their own personal choice, not by force. I don't force these people to adopt my religion, and they don't force me to adopt theirs. I listen to them and try to understand who this person is and what is his message, but an attempt to change him is a different matter. After he meets with us he may have an internal debate, but I can't determine who is right or wrong. I was raised according to Islam, but I can't force him to become a Muslim. I can tell him what my religion says.

  • Which religions have you encountered during these meetings?

    We participate in international conferences. It is known how many religions are in Israel. In Israel there are Ahmadiyya, Sharkas,1 Baha'i, Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews. The religions are known. The Ahmadiyya are a part of Islam. The Druze are close to Islam. The types of religions here are close to our understandings. But when I travel, for example, or am in any other foreign country I meet Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and other religions that believe in concepts I have never heard of. Some worship the moon or the sun and others worship the cow or fire. I meet idol worshipers and listen to what they say but that doesn't mean I believe in what they say.

    • 1. The Sharkas are a Muslim community in Kufar Kama in the Galilee. They are originally from the northwestern region of the Caucasus.

  • How do you deal with these religions in the Interfaith Encounter Association?

    When a person says that he is a Hindu for example, it makes me want to know and understand who the Hindus or Sikhs are. I don't know anything about them, I only know their name. Through these meetings I have the opportunity to learn about these religions.

  • What is this particular Interfaith Encounter Association conference about?

    It is about violence and whether our religions allow it. How do we deal with violence, for example, if I see two people fighting in my neighborhood, do I pass by like I don't care or do I do something? Do I stand and watch or do I call the police to come? This is on a smaller scale. We see violence all around the world but as long as it does not affect us we don't care, as if it is not our responsibility. As you can see we have two paths, one is religious, one is social. I believe society is about individuals. If you stand in my way then I can't move forward. If I fail to improve, I can blame someone else for it; I can say, "Well my boss doesn't want me to move forward." We always run from reality, we need to make an effort to get to where we want. There are people that are born leaders, but there are also dependent and materialistic people. Everybody chooses the path they want to walk in. Eventually they will get there, but it depends on what their goal in life is.

  • Do you consider this work to be peace work?

    If we are talking about individuals, then yes, it is. I will tell you a story that happened to me. I know a boy from Zikhron Ya'akov who is in the tenth grade. He came to me and told me that he wanted to start an Arab/Israeli youth group in Faradis. I never turn down any ideas for meetings, so I set up a date for him to come visit me. A day before he was supposed to come, he called me and said that his father had forbidden him from going into an Arab village. I tried to talk to his father but it was impossible to get him to listen to me. We eventually agreed that he and his wife would come with their son to protect the boy. So I invited him. As we say in Arabic, "You bring the cookies and I bring the coffee." On the day that they were supposed to come, the father called me up and told me that they were not coming, but that after a long debate they had come up with the idea that I should go to their place. It wasn't about me having to move around. I don't have a problem with that. I can get out and go to Zikhron Ya'akov, which is only a minute away. I told him that if he didn't feel like sending his son, he didn't have to and I hung up. That man reconsidered and called me back two days later and he told me that he would send his son, alone. I took his son for a walk in Faradis so that he would get a sense of the people himself. I noticed that he was watching the people, expecting to be killed any minute. I felt his fear. I saw it in his eyes when he looked at people. I wanted to give him a chance to see that these are normal people who don’t care to ask who you are and what you are doing here. I wanted to break the stereotype about being stoned when you go to an Arab village. Then he came to my home. What does a tenth grader talk about-- football, games drawing... life. He doesn't know anything about politics or violence or why my father and his are fighting, or why they forbid kids from playing with each other because one is a Jew and one is an Arab. If you talk to someone that was an extremist in his own beliefs, you can feel that he starts to change his understanding. They call this “ants' work.” I can't change the whole universe at once, but I can change a small group. If one person comes to work with me, he will be like my messenger. When he talks with his family he can tell them, for example, that not all Arabs are the same, they are not all terrorists. He will believe in our cause and he will defend it, he will support me. At the same time I will be planting hope. What is hope for me? It is changing this situation to a better one, for a Palestinian state to be established, to have rights and to live in peace so that our Palestinian brothers will not suffer any more.

  • What are the difficulties or challenges you faced during the interfaith meetings and the joint activities?

    The first difficulties are financial. In the religious meetings we have an office. The office needs funding. The funding we receive is aimed at other projects. For example, if the EU gives us 100,000 NIS1 we have to do a project according to their guidelines. The one that gives you the money also determines what to do. On the international level we still haven't found a donor that is willing to donate 100,000 NIS for the religious development of women. This is a sad fact about the donors. We are only given an office to use; they allow us to use the fax and computer, but they don't support us financially. Our work is all voluntary. We have 25 women volunteers from across the country. There is a woman from Iksal2 and a woman from Daliat el Carmel3 who work voluntarily. In order to work voluntarily we need the essentials, which are a telephone and fuel at least. There are women who don't work and don't have the ability to travel and don't have a phone at home. These are the difficulties we face. As women we were warmly welcomed in every village, town or kibbutz, and found women who were willing to meet with women from other religions regardless of their color, nationality or religion. We found this, but the main difficulties we faced were financial.

    • 1. Refers to New Israel Shekels, the official currency of the State of Israel.
    • 2. A town in Israel close to Nazareth. It's population is approximately 12,000, the majority of whom are Palestinian citizens of Israel.
    • 3. A village in Israel located in the Carmel mountain range southeast of Haifa, population approximately 13,000 the majority of whom are Druze citizens of Israel.

  • What do your family, friends and the people around you think about your work?

    I've been married for 25 years and thank God it's been going well so far. At the beginning it was difficult to be totally devoted to finding time to being a peace activist. I have a 24-year-old daughter, another that is 21 and a son who's 19. They grew up with an activist mother, but I didn't impose that on them. I used to talk to them for hours about what I do. If you meet my son you will find that he is "Little Ibtisam!" People used to ask my son, "How does your father let your mother spend days out of the house like that and travel so much?" But my children defend me better than I can defend myself. We live in a small village. They ask my husband, "How do you allow your wife to travel abroad alone?" But he answers, "As along as this makes her happy and as long as this is up to her and us as a family, I will not stop her. This is called self-satisfaction. Of course I could complain about it, but I let her go out both for her good and ours." I thank God that I have such a supportive husband that is giving me the chance to prove myself in society. Of course it all comes back to an aware husband who appreciates my responsibilities.

  • You talked about the reaction of people in your community. How do you respond to these reactions?

    At first I was shocked but when I thought about it I said to myself: this is life. It is like the sea, the big fish will eat the smaller fish, there are sharks and there are small fish. When people can't achieve what you have achieved they start to talk about you behind your back. If you are self-confident this will not affect you. I feel like I am numb and those things do not affect me. They say in Hebrew "adisha" which means someone who is indifferent. I started to feel sorry for them, my anger towards them turned into pity, and I keep offering my help for them to improve.

  • Do you have to give up anything to do this work?

    I feel like I am giving too much and not taking anything, or in other words that I am used by the people that work with me. I spend so much of my time and I get exhausted so I isolate myself for a week or so to take a break to rest. When I get back I find 50 emails or calls, people looking for me. There are also people that love me that come to me for who I am, Ibtisam. They call me to go out, or call me to talk. Some say, "Do not always take the initiative to listen, you have to talk as well." Those friends are what push me forward, they tell me not to give up. If you plant, you harvest.

  • Did this work endanger you in anyway?

    It's not about danger, but if I go to Tel Aviv in this outfit [the traditional Muslim woman's attire], I will feel unwanted. They will fear me and wonder what is in my bag. I also get checked more because of my dress, especially before getting on a bus or in a train station or just walking on the street. Once I was waiting at the lights and there was a woman who walked away from me, she thought I might do something. I felt her fear and felt sorry for her so I tried to comfort her with a smile. I was just waiting for a minute for the light to cross the street. Those are things you face on the streets, it is not written on my forehead that I am a peace activist, so everyone looks at me the way they want. I still become afraid when I pass a Jewish street or neighborhood. You never know how the other will respond. I was once with my friend Elana at the Western Wall, and one 19-year-old boy threw a rock at me. I turned around and I asked him, "Why did you throw the stone? Are you joking with me?" I could have shouted at him and said you did it on purpose, but I didn't. So he felt ashamed and walked away because I dealt with it as if he was trying to joke with me. Then we went in and I could see that everybody was pointing at me saying, "What is that Muslim doing here?" There are always Jews and tourists coming into the Ibrahimic mosque and no one ever harassed them. So why is it that I welcome you in my place and when I am in your place I feel that all your looks and comments are about "what am I doing there." Or when we have to go in to the Western Wall, they can pass easily but I have to let them check my bag and they make me take off all my jewelry just to make sure that I have nothing with me. This is part of the price we pay for going on with this.

  • Did this help you understand the fears of the others as well?

    Yes, at first I was living my own misery, the misery of my people. I know people that fled to Syria, some in the Palestinian Territories and some we haven't seen since 1948 and we don't know what happened to them.1 The rest of us stayed here in Israel and tried to cope and live with it. I only saw it from one perspective--the suffering of my family and people. As I got to be in touch with the others I found that they also have their stories. For example, Elana had a 16-year-old son that was injured in a bus explosion and stayed in the hospital for 6 months. She suffered a lot with him. He couldn't go to school. She was in a lot of pain because he was mentally exhausted and his whole body was a mess. She slept on a mattress next to him for six months until he came back home. When I heard her story, it touched me as a human and I cried. You can also hear the same story from a Palestinian woman. The suffering and pain are the same. A mother raises her son whether she is a Jew or Christian or Muslim or whatever. Our children pay the price.

    • 1. The bulk of Palestinian refugees were displaced from their homes during the events of 1948, particularly during the 1948 War following the establishment of the State of Israel. The number of Palestinians displaced in 1948 range from 400,000 to 800,000. Most displaced Palestinians went to the Egyptian Gaza Strip, Jordanian West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. According to UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees), the number of registered Palestinian refugees in 1950 was 914,000. For introductory information on Palestinian refugees see UNRWA http://www.un.org/unrwa/.

  • Did you ever have doubts that you are on the right track?

    No, on the contrary, now I strongly believe that the only solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is by going back to the negotiating table, listening to each other, and reaching a solution. Otherwise the conflict will go on until judgment day.

  • Through this work, did anything in you change or come as a surprise to you?

    I learned a lot about patience. It changed me personally. The people that knew me before know that I am not the same person. I used to be more lively and carefree; if anything happened at my neighbor's house I wouldn't care. After I entered this field I became more sensitive. If anything touches me, my tears fall quickly. I became too sensitive! Yesterday, for example I was talking to a Christian father about a personal matter, and I started crying. I felt as if I was an actress in a film that took a role where she had to cry. I was surprised at myself. What made me cry? I was laughing a minute ago! I started to listen more to my feelings. I feel true to myself and when I am true to myself then I don't care how the other looks at me. I feel that the words that come out of my mouth are what I believe in and I feel happy with myself that I am not imposing anything on myself. This is Ibtisam as she is. You can see her when she's laughing or when she's crying. I started to wonder, how long will this go on? So I started to think of ways to help. There's a small story: once a bird heard God saying that he is sick of this earth. "I made you into peoples and nations to get closer to each other, not to fight." He would bring the skies to the ground and destroy the earth. The bird told two of his fellow birds because he couldn't warn the people since they didn't understand their language. He started flying around hysterically and all the other birds laughed at him until he said, "I finally found the solution!" He lay on the ground and put both his legs and wings up and said, "I will carry the sky when it falls. I have a nest and if God is mad at the people and wants to destroy the earth, what have I got to do with it?" So I said if this tiny bird decided to save the world, I am a bit bigger in size and I can do it too. I can learn from this little bird's strength and save the world in my own way.

  • Is it rare in your community to be involved in this way?

    On the contrary, there are a lot of students and activists. When I plan meetings, I get positive responses. The ones I contact welcome the idea and want to contribute. The situation changed a lot. I ran for elections as the first woman in my town to do so. There was a lot of propaganda about it, to the tune of "What is a woman doing in a man's world?" It was a very hard 6 months. Today I hear women saying that their daughters will be mayor, not their sons. When a woman says her daughter has a stronger personality for this position than Ibtisam, it makes me happy. I want them to get to a point to talk about their daughters and how good they are and about their leadership. When she tells me, "I will prove to you that my daughter is a better leader than you," that is when I know I achieved my goal. It is not about competition or power, it is time to talk about everything clearly and find out why women are not playing a greater role in politics. I also encouraged the young men to run for elections because they used to think to themselves, "If Ibtisam with her limited abilities is running for mayor, why can't I?" So this provoked them to prove to Ibtisam that they are also members of the community and care about Faradis too. They also used to come to me for advice or to ask me to be in their group or to counsel them because I had been through the experience. So I felt that there started to be respect for women. I didn't get to be mayor but I got the people on the streets of Faradis to appreciate the role of women. I convinced them that women are capable and are not in it to compete, but to work with you to improve the town. Why do you want me to move ten steps backwards? Let's move one step forward together!

  • Did your sense of belonging change after becoming involved in this work?

    It has become stronger. Today, some Palestinians think less of me when they see me talk to an Israeli, but when they hear how I talk about my cause, I see surprise in their eyes when they learn how much I know about it. When I was in London, one man came to me and asked me how I get along with Elana when she is from the people that took my land and pushed my people out. I felt that he was mocking me, as if I had forgotten about my land and people, so I asked him, "Do you blame me now, if I am to judge you according to history, if you were living in the time before the Israelis came in, would you have treated me better in the 50 years you were there? Didn't you [British] leave the country after having settled an agreement with Herzl? Did you have mercy on me? Are you the one that cares about me now?" Historically, the British created the agreement that divided Palestine into two states.1 When I started to talk with him about politics, I told him that the Turks occupied us for 400 years, when the British left they brought in another occupation. So you can't come and tell me now that I am not loyal to my cause. I didn't ask the British to go into a reconciliation process or ask for compensation. How can you now tell me that I forgot my cause? He left the room blushing, and he thought about it, then came back and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean it." But I knew that he was mocking me and trying to hurt me with his question. He came to Israel, and the first thing he did was visit me at home. He said to me, "The thing I respect about you is that you didn't attack me, you talked to me in a very calm way, which really provoked me because the question I asked you was supposed to make you angry and start to curse. You made me feel so naive and ignorant." I demonstrated to the whole room that he has no right to come and judge me; he [his state] brought this upon me.

    • 1. Mahameed is referring to the 1937 British Peel Commission which concluded that the only tenable solution in Palestine would be an end to the British Mandate and a partition of the land into two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian.

  • What do you think are the roots of the conflict?

    Everybody says, "This is my land." The Israelis say that it was once the land of the sons of Israel, that this is the Promised Land and this is where the First and Second Temples are.1 The Palestinians say, "This is our land, no one is giving up on it." So what is the solution? I know that if a man had a fight with his wife, the worst that could happen is divorce, or one could kill the other. I say this will go on indefinitely as long as we keep saying "I will not give up”...Like, for example, when Israel gave back the lands to Egypt, it still held on to Taba.2 Why did they do that? Looking for trouble? You are giving back the land anyway so why leave out something? Same with Lebanon, they gave back everything and held on to Shebaa Farms. I keep joking with the Israelis about it; do they like to make trouble? Why are they adding more to the conflict? You are giving back the land already, so why the trouble? Give back the rest of the 10 meters. They gave back the Golan Heights but they are still fighting over 200 meters of land around the lake as if this is the whole problem.3 They get stuck on small issues and turn them into bigger ones. Like Barak when he said, "I agreed to 99% of the agreement." I mean you've gone this far why make a problem over the one percent? They [the Palestinians] have given up more than 78% and are only asking for 22% of the land, they [the Palestinians] are only asking you [the Israelis] for the lands of '67 which you occupied in '67 not '48.4 But Israel did not return the Golan Heights.5 The Jews were willing to return the Golan Heights, but the Israelis and Syrians weren't willing to give up 200 meters. Israel was willing to withdraw until the lake of Tiberius, but the Syrians weren't willing to give up the remaining 200 meters. Israel didn't sign the agreement because of those 200 meters. This aggravates Israel. There was an agreement to return all the Golan. Sadat was smarter than Assad.6 Mubarak7 agreed to accept the whole of Sinai without Taba, and then negotiated only for Taba, and later he managed to reclaim Taba. There was a debate over 200 meters. I think Assad should have accepted all his land, and later negotiated over the remaining 200 meters. He should have learned from Sadat and Abd al-Nasser.8

    • 1. Mahameed is referring to the logic used by some supporters of Israel who legitimize the state's existence based on the text of the Torah and events from the Biblical Period.
    • 2. Following the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979 a dispute arose over the precise demarcation of the Egyptian-Israeli border at Taba, an area along the Red Sea Coast. In 1988, Egypt and Israel agreed to arbitration, leading to a decision in Egypt's favor and Israel's withdrawal from Taba.
    • 3. According to most observers, the precise border between Israel and Syria surrounding Lake Kinneret/Sea of Galilee (and the use of its water) was the major point of contention that derailed a possible peace treaty between the two countries in 2000. Prior to the Six-Day/June War of 1967, Syria controlled the northeastern shore of Lake Kinneret/Sea of Galilee and advocated returning the Israeli-Syrian border to that exact location during talks between SyrianPresident Assad and US President Clinton at Geneva in 2000. Israel, however, claims the Syrian and Israeli border around Lake Kinneret/Sea of Galilee wasestablished by a British and French agreement in 1923 that marked the border of British-controlled Palestine 10 meters beyond the eastern shore of LakeKinneret/Sea of Galilee. While the border around Lake Kinneret/Sea of Galilee may have great implications for the two countries' future water rights, the difference over the proposed borders is believed to amount to "a few hundred meters." See "A Framework for Peace Between Israel and Syria: The Draft Peace Treaty Presented by the Clinton Administration to Damascus and Jerusalem," published in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz in January of 2000, http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process/Guide%20to%20the%20Peace%20Process/Ha-aretz%20Daily%20publishes%20US%20Document-%20A%20Framework. See also: "Galilee Issue Stalled Talks With Syrian; Assad Wants Border at Shoreline," TheWashington Post, 29 Mar 2000, pg. A16.
    • 4. The West Bank and Gaza Strip comprise 22% of historic Palestine. Both the West Bank and Gaza Strip were captured by Israel in the Six-Day/June War of 1967. According to past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the West Bank and Gaza Strip (i.e., the lands captured in 1967) is the main block of land where the future Palestinian state will be located, not any portion of the land captured by Israel in the 1948 War. 67% refers to the portion of the land of historic Palestine that the State of Israel controlled between the period of the 1949 Armistice Agreement (following the 1948 War) and before the Six-Day/June War of 1967.
    • 5. From follow up interview in March 2005.
    • 6. President of Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000.
    • 7. President of Egypt from 1981 until the present. See http://www.presidency.gov.eg/html/the_president.html.
    • 8. President of Egypt from 1954 until his death in 1970.

  • I want to go back to talking about your work with this group. Tell me about the work you do with Palestinians from the West Bank.

    Yes. After the second intifada, it became very difficult to meet with our brothers from the West Bank so the only way to do it is by going to foreign countries. Sometimes we go to Portugal, Germany, Jordan or any other foreign country. We are going to Spain in March, and will meet with 15 Palestinians. It is with the Peace in the Middle East Union. They focus not only on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but also on peace in the whole region of the Middle East. As for our Palestinian brothers, we have some from Gaza, some from Ramallah and from Bethlehem. We have also worked with the People-to-People1 with Akram Atallah.2 The organization is originally from Norway. He works with Dr. Noah Salameh3 who also has a center for conflict resolution. He has a PhD and he was imprisoned for fifteen years. Now he is among the ones that call for peace. He came back and opened the center and became an activist. He was imprisoned from the age of 19 until 32. He "toured" all the Israeli prisons. After he was released he was determined that they would not defeat him by imprisoning him, on the contrary, he would continue his studies. He is well known now, he gives lectures all around the world about resolving the Palestinian Israeli conflict. Does People-to-People have Palestinian-Israeli meetings? People-to-People works for Palestinian citizens of Israel only. It is a Bethlehem based association, operating independently. We are one organization and they are a different organization. We do cooperate with each other. The first time was two years ago, when People-to-People invited Palestinians citizens of Israel to attend the meeting in Istanbul. That was the first time there was an in-depth discussion about the Palestinian cause between Palestinians citizens of Israel and Palestinians who live in the Territories, and Israelis.

    • 1. The People-to-People Program was established according to Article VIII of Annex VI of the Oslo II Agreement of 1995 (also known as the Interim Agreement.) One of the main objectives of the program is that the "two sides will cooperate in enhancing dialogue and relations between their peoples, as well as in gaining a wider exposure of the two publics to the peace process, its current situation and predicted results." See the People-to-People Program website http://www.people-to-people.org/.
    • 2. Akram Atallah is a coordinator for People-to-People.
    • 3. Gabriel Meyer and Elias Jabbour are the two founders of the Sulha Peace Project, aimed at building trust between Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews. See http://www.sulha.com/. Jabbour is the author of√Ç the book "Sulha, Palestinian Traditional Peacemaking Process" which was the inspiration for the Sulha project.√Ç He is also the founder of the House of Hope, an international center for peace in Shefa-Amr, Israel.

  • What do you think is the solution to this conflict?

    I can blame both sides but I mainly blame the more powerful side, the Israelis. The Israelis have the power and if they really wanted peace then they would have to give up the power they use against the Palestinians. I think that the powers of the world that give way to Israel to do what it's doing should intervene, especially America. There is support for Israel. Let me rephrase it: if America was interested in peace they would have ended the conflict among the Palestinians and the Israelis, but they are benefiting from this conflict, from war. They want to sell the weapons they manufacture. There are people that do not care about anything. According to them, there are millions of people around the world, so what if fifty thousand of them die! This is life. If America wanted to end the war they would have come up with a solution a long time ago that satisfies both sides.

  • What does the word peace mean to you?

    I want to live in peace, I want my rights. I was deprived of them, I am a woman that suffered, so how will I feel peace? When I am humiliated, how will I live in peace? What does peace mean? For me peace is calmness, how will I live in calmness when I am surrounded by massacres, killing and destruction? When my family is ripped apart, I don't have a job and I am under siege, how will I live in peace? I want to feel peace.

  • Do you think there will be peace in our lifetime?

    In our lifetime, no. That is what I personally think, I don't know what anyone else would say about this. Maybe in the next fifty years we might feel something called peace. I think that it will not even be in my children's time. Perhaps my grandchildren's.

  • Is there hope?

    As we said earlier, it is up to the people. The people must realize that they can affect the higher policies positively. As long as the people are asleep and relying on the politicians to come up with a solution there will be no solution because the only solution the politicians know is violence.

  • What are your recent activities?

    My recent activities are in the Sulha. The Sulha is Gabriel and Elias's idea.1 According to our Arab customs the word sulha means that after a Sulha is achieved there will never be dispute. For example, if there is a dispute between two families that has been going on for 300 or 400 years and they decide upon a Sulha, then they will never fight again. Politicians and people work in their own ways. The role of the politicians is to reach agreements and the role of the people is to implement and realize these agreements. In order to implement these agreements people should understand that every people has its own culture and customs. So long as we don't know anything about the other side it will be very difficult to understand and accept it. The idea of Sulha is to hold joint debates, activities or learning days to become familiar with the other side and be able to understand why they were angry, how it affected them, and to look for the reasons why there has been mutual violence between the two. We should understand that rights are obtained not given, and understand that life is bigger than throwing stones and shooting. The essence of life that was given to us by God is to live in peace. What does peace mean for the Arabs, Jews, Christians, Druze, Buddhists or any person in the world? Every person has his own peace and global concepts of peace. The second part is called the Golden Road. The idea for the Golden Road was taken from Gandhi.Gandhi freed India not through killing and violence but through spirituality. The idea for the Golden Road is that we both walk this road together and recognize that there is room in this land for both the Palestinians and Israelis, to widen our hearts and live together without killing each other. According to Gandhi's principles, which many people believe, it is possible to live together if we want. Does my religion prevent me from approaching my Jewish sister?

    • 1. Gabriel Meyer and Elias Jabbour are the two founders of the Sulha Peace Project, aimed at building trust between Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Jews. See http://www.sulha.com/. Jabbour is the author of√Ç the book "Sulha, Palestinian Traditional Peacemaking Process" which was the inspiration for the Sulha project.√Ç He is also the founder of the House of Hope, an international center for peace in Shefa-Amr, Israel.

  • Does the women's group also focus on religion?

    There is a youth group in the Interfaith Encounter, and there is a religious group that consists of an Islamic and a Druze sheikh, a Father and a Rabbi. These four people meet in order to widen the range of understanding of religion and prove that religion doesn't create violence and call for killing. There is an overall policy and there is religion. Is religion related to politics or separate from politics? We discuss these issues once a month during our debates. I work in the women's group with Elana, and during the four years we met we organized debates in which a Muslim sheikhah, a Druze female sheikhah,1 a Christian sister and a Jewish rabbanit discussed religious issues and discussed if religion calls for killing. The first commandment is "Do Not Kill".2 Islam says "Do not kill a soul that God forbade its killing other than if justice calls for it." The Koran repeatedly bans killing. Christ, in the bible, says that if someone hits you on the right cheek, you should turn your left cheek towards him and forgive. The Druze and all the other religions that aren't sent by God include these principles. All the religions are based upon the same basic principles but differ in their rules. The Islamic Shari'a3 is different from the rules of our Christian and Jewish brothers. The religions aren't different, but those who interpreted the religions put in place rules that are different in each religion. This doesn't mean that if I believe in an idea or an opinion that is opposed to the other side then I have to kill them. If I don't agree with you about a certain issue this doesn't mean that you are wrong, and if I know your rules then I should respect them and you should respect mine. We don't live in a jungle; we live lives that require us to think before considering hurting others. But I think we are living in a jungle! There are killings and violent conflicts all around the world. From the beginning of history man has sought power. If we achieve power it can be misused in order to control. Global control is beyond my influence. I can't stop Bush from invading Iraq4 or Sharon from killing the Palestinians or the Palestinians from carrying out bombings. I can control myself as Ibtisam and say that I want to live in peace with myself. How can I live in peace with myself while there is a conflict going on outside? You might think I am crazy. I think that through dialogue and understanding of my own situation and of what I want I can build peace within myself. If everyone builds peace within himself, then we will build a society with new principles that are far from power and control. But I can't control the Mafia that sells arms and creates tension in the Middle East because it has to succeed in bringing millions of dollars at the expense killing the innocent in the streets. Do I have control over them? Of course not, but do I have control over myself? That's the question.

    • 1. A sheikhah is a religiously educated Muslim woman. A rabbanit can refer to a woman rabbi, or in this case, most likely refers to a Jewish religiously educated woman.
    • 2. The first of the Ten Commandments in Jewish Law deals with worshipping no other god but God. The commandment "Thou shall not kill" is the sixth commandment.
    • 3. Islamic Law.
    • 4. Refers to the US led invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003.

  • Which international community do you think has the most influence in the region?

    Definitely America. The US and the Soviet Union used to be the two superpowers. It is known that America is interested in the existence of the State of Israel in order to defend its own interests at the expense of the Palestinian people and the tension in the Middle East. Do you think America is concerned about us? Would America start a war in Iraq and forget that the Palestinians are suffering for 50 years if they were concerned about us? If America, the mother of the world, was concerned about her children not fighting, would she start wars in Afghanistan1 and Iraq and forget that there are other people that are suffering for more than 50 years?

    • 1. Refers to the US invasion of Afghanistan in the Fall of 2001.

  • You said that religion and politics are unrelated. Do you think religion has a role in politics?

    I want religion to be separate from politics. I didn't say they are separate. What is the role of religion in the conflict? Some people say I am aware, as a Muslim woman, that there are Palestinian Islamic groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad that support killing. I answer that it is true that the Islamic Jihad and Hamas exist, but who created them? When Fatah decided to speak one sentence and say that it is the Palestinian's right to return to their land and that Palestinians have the right to use the same violent means that were used against them to claim this right, Israel declared Yasser Arafat a terrorist and created the idea of Hamas.1 The Israelis created Hamas in order to harm Fatah. Hamas expanded and grew and Israel hoped for an internal Palestinian conflict for its own benefit. When that hope was not realized, Hamas was turned from a political organization into a religious organization. Bin Laden and America are the same story. When America used Bin Laden in her war against the Soviets, he was her beloved son.2 When the Soviets lost their position as a superpower and the only remaining superpower was America, Bin Laden suddenly became a terrorist who needs to be found and killed. Israel created Hamas and now suffers from its creation and from the evil that it planted in the region. This is my understanding of religion but in order to understand the religion itself it is not enough to listen to the Friday sermon3 and how the sheikh speaks about religion. Religion itself is guided by the Bible and the Koran, but when a rabbi-- for example Ovadia Yosef--4 calls the Arabs snakes and cockroaches, this is not written in the Bible, these are his own expressions. I don't blame the Bible. He is a representative of his religion but he also represents himself. If he is responsible for his personal expressions then I blame him as Ovadia Yosef, and not his Bible. The same is true about a sheikh who curses someone. The Koran didn't tell him to curse. This sheikh represents himself, not my Koran. We should distinguish between the laws of the Koran and the Bible and the expressions of people who play with religion. If I believe that the Prophet Mohammad was visited by the angel Gabriel then I am a believer.5> There are Muslims and there are believers. The believers act according to the legacy of the Prophet Mohammad and the Koran. There are billions of Muslims who do whatever they like.

    • 1. While Israel did not create Hamas in any technical sense, Mahameed is referring to the notion that Israel at one point supported the Islamist group as a counter-weight to Yasser Arafat and the PLO. According to this view, Israel supported Hamas in the hope that Yasser Arafat's power would decrease, resulting from being confronted with an alternative center of power in the Palestinian polity. According to Avi Shlaim in The Iron Wall, "the Israeli authorities at first encouraged Hamas in the hope of weakening the secular nationalism of the PLO." See Avi Shlaim. The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001) pp. 459.
    • 2. Refers to Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. The notion of a past relationship between the United States, particularly the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), and Osama Bin Laden revolves around the involvement of the United States in aiding Afghan and non-Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet Union's invasion of and war in Afghanistan (1979-1989). The United States has admitted to aiding the resistance fighters in Afghanistan, who eventually crystalized as the Taliban, however, the U.S. Government denies that it maintained any direct relationship whatsoever with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. For a more in-depth analysis see http://www.msnbc.com/news/190144.asp
    • 3. The juma'a (Friday afternoon prayer) is the most important prayer during the week for a Muslim to attend. Following the prayer,the juma'a also includes a khutba (sermon) by a designated speaker. In many case, but not always, the khutba is delivered by the Imam (prayer leader).
    • 4. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef is the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Israeli political party Shas. For an example of his comments towards Arabs see, "Rabbi Calls for Annihilation of Arabs," BBC News Online, 10 Apr 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1270038.stm.
    • 5. According to Islam, Mohammad is believed to have received the words of the Koran through the angel Gabriel.

  • What does the word peace mean for you personally?

    For me peace means calm. I have many conflicts within myself. I should first be at peace with my daughter and son. I ask myself, "Have I honored my daughter’s rights in the same way I honored my son’s?" I am the only Arab woman in the village who sent her daughter to live alone in Beer Sheva without being concerned about issues of customs and honor because I raised her well. If I hadn't allowed my daughter to study she would ask me why I allowed her brother to study and marry at the age of 25 while she was forced to marry in the ninth grade. We should start correcting ourselves at home. If I set myself and my home straight and you correct your concepts and are willing to listen to the opinions of other people if they are properly presented, then the universe will spontaneously change. I was the first woman in Faradis who participated in the elections. I was the first woman in Faradis that declared my candidacy in the elections since it was founded 120 years ago. It is known that elections in Arab villages and cities are tribal. Is it my religious, social and political right to ask this as a woman? I spent two years researching the reactions and opinions of the townsmen about the participation of a woman in the elections. The first question raised was, "Who is crazy enough to do this?" Who is prepared to face the mainstream and the sheikh who calls for women to stay at home? Who is prepared to face the male society? The person who is prepared to face these questions should be formidable and confident that she will make positive change. I didn't want to use force or force people to vote for me. I held house meetings during which I gathered the father, sons and daughters and asked them, "Why don't women have a political role?" There is a misconception in our community that women should stay in the kitchen. God gave women the same brain he gave men. We have educated women and women headmistresses, factory directors, doctors, lawyers and astronomers. In some countries there are women presidents. Why should there be congresswomen, women members of the Knesset and women members of the Jordanian congress but not in my village?1 Is the Jordanian religion different from mine? Is Islam in Egypt and the other Arab countries different from our Islam? We are ignorant and need to be awakened. Some of the townsmen don't want to be awakened for two reasons. The first reason is that these people want women to remain a herd. I am sorry to say this about the women in my village. On Election day the husband gives the woman an election card and tells her to vote for a certain candidate and the women obey. The Arab women will not receive more than this from the men. Is it right that women are forced to swear upon the Koran that they voted for their husbands ’ favorite candidate? Is this an improvement in the women’s status? Does religion decree this? If religion doesn't order this I call upon the Sheikh to speak about raising the status of women in Islam. The Sheikh says women fought alongside the Prophet, were nurses, and the Prophet consulted them. This goes back to women's lack of awareness. Muslim women should know they have rights specified by religion and must acquire those rights. This will happen when they becomes knowledgeable. Therefore, we must enlighten women. I worked on this issue of awareness for two years for example. And later I turned to challenges such as nominating myself for elections. This increased people's curiosity in the village and they started asking each other what I want to achieve as a woman by nominating myself for the elections. I didn't participate in the elections in order to get a seat; I participated in the elections in order to say that I have a right and that I want to use it. If I don't use this right, it will be due to fear. If I am a fearless 45-year-old who dares and has the power and is supported by my family and neighbors, then we have started to understand the meaning of the position of women. If my granddaughter or any other woman becomes the president of the local council I will have the honor of saying that I prepared the way for her. The president of the local council said that he won't be mentioned in the history of Faradis, but I, Ibtisam, will be remembered as the first woman who participated in the elections in Faradis. Have I entered the history of Faradis because I wanted to enter history?

    • 1. A record number of 82 women served in the 109th Congress, 14 in the Senate and 68 in the House of Representatives (see: http://www.sc.doe.gov/bes/109th_Congress_1st_Session_CRS_20DEC04.pdf) 18 women served in the 16th Israeli Knesset (see: http://www.knesset.gov.il/mk/eng/MKIndex_Current_eng.asp?view=3). In Jordan, 13 women serve in the 165 member parliament-7 out of the 55 king appointed upper house of parliament and 6 out of 110 in the elected lower house parliament. For more information on women officials in Jordan see Dale Gavlak. "Bringing Jordan's Women into the Fold," BBC News Online, 9 Feb 2004. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3462385.stm.

  • You told me about a group you founded that includes Palestinian and Israeli women who work together. Please tell me about this.

    This group is called Anwar. Dr. Esther Hertzog1 is a member of this group. Dr. Esther Hertzog is the first Israeli woman who tried to found a women's party in the Knesset. The seven members of the party were meant to be women. She faced the same difficulties in Israeli society that I faced in my village. The Israelis didn't accept a party that is led by a woman, and didn't accept two or three members of the Knesset from the same party. Dr. Hertzog wanted to create a women's party that would enter the Knesset. There wasn't sufficient awareness among Israeli society about this idea. She tried to lay down a cornerstone in the same way I did in Faradis. I founded a women's party under my leadership. If I had chosen to join another party and run in second place after a man, I could have entered the local council. The men accept me as a member of their party, but find it difficult for me to lead them. That's where the idea for Anwar came from. What do you mean by party? I mean a political group that is represented by a woman, not Yossi Sarid, Peres or Sharon. This is where she faced difficulties and didn't succeed in the elections. The first reason is that there wasn't sufficient funding for the idea, and the second reason was that the Israeli society was primitive and didn't accept a party led by a woman. We both endured the same suffering. There are women MKs and ministers from Shinui and the Labor Party, but out of about ten ministries that these parties receive only one woman is appointed as a minister. Even the Israeli society that claims to be more developed than the Arab society appoints only one woman minister out of ten. There is no equality. On the international level there was a woman Prime Minister, who was called the Iron Lady. There are women leaders on the international level, but on the neighborhood level there is still no women's committees. On the local level the committees at schools are called Fathers' Committees, not Parents committees. I said that I wanted to get myself elected and change the name of the Fathers' Committee to Parents' Committee. The mother is the one who raises the child, accompanies him to school in the first grade when the father is at work and helps him with his homework. I entered the Parents' Committee and became its head. When my son finished school I couldn't continue to hold my post. After I left the committee there wasn't another woman who said, "I want to join the committee like Ibtisam." This saddens me. I hope the committee remains the Parents' and not the Fathers' Committee. Here is where we return to Anwar. The idea of Anwar is to enlighten the Arab and Israeli societies to the concept that women have the right to lead themselves, to choose, think and live.

    • 1. Dr. Esther Hertzog is a social anthropologist and a lecturer at Beit Berl College in Kfar Saba. In 1999, she helped found the political party Yitzug Shaveh (Equal Representation), the Women's Party. (See Heidi J. Gleit. “ A Party of Women Formed," The Jerusalem Post, 25 Feb 1999, pp. 3.) She is also the coordinator of the Women's Parliament, which serves as "a platform for critical and feminist debates on the prevailing policies and discourse in Israel." For information on Israel's Women's Parliament see http://www.fes.org.il/project.asp?id=60.