Three women, three faiths, one shared voice

Jerusalem women share personal experiences living history | October 21, 2003

Three women from Jerusalem who have experienced the Palestine/Israeli conflicts firsthand came together at Xavier to speak in a forum titled “Jerusalem Women Speak” on Thursday, Oct. 23, at 7:00 p.m. in Alter Hall.

The women, each of a different faith and background, conveyed their hopes and visions for a better future. A question-and-answer session followed their talks. The event was part of a national speaking tour called Partners for Peace, and was sponsored by Xavier's Peace and Justice Programs, The Brueggeman Center for Dialogue and Open House Cincinnati.

“Jerusalem Women Speak” was free and open to the public. An informal introductory session was held prior to the evening’s discussions from 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in Alter Hall, Room 219.

Palestinians and Israelis have fought for decades. Palestinians have seen their land seized, their homes demolished, and family members killed and imprisoned. Israelis have fled Nazi persecution, established a state, and endured indiscriminate suicide bombings. This forum allowed voices from both sides of the conflict to be heard in a unified discussion promoting peace.

Two preparatory open forums were held on campus in the week preceding the event, giving students and faculty a chance to pose questions to be asked of the women during “Jerusalem Women Speak,” as well as allowing an opportunity for members of the Xavier community to air both their hopes and their concerns about the delicate situation. Questions resulting from these forums that the women addressed Thursday evening include: What in each of your faiths motivates you to work for a peace with justice? Why should American youth care about a peace with justice in Israel and Palestine? And, How do you maintain hope among the despair?

Each of the three women has a unique perspective. Yehudit Keshet, 60, is a writer, artist, activist and community leader. An observant Jew, she is the daughter of Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany in 1939. She was born in South Wales in 1943 and in 1958 left home to be a "pioneer" in Israel. She also has lived in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. West Jerusalem became her permanent residence in 1974. In her "retirement," Keshet co-founded Checkpoint Watch, a women's human rights group committed to opposing Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The group's members conduct twice-daily observations at Israeli military and police checkpoints and document and report their observations.

Rawan Damen, 24, is a resident of Ramallah, children's rights activist, documentary filmmaker and author of three books. Her film, "Waiting for Light," (2001) about Easter in Jerusalem was entered in the Milano, Chicago and IAMHIST XX Film Festivals in 2003. Her books are Palestinian Children Before 1948 (1994), Expulsion in the Memory of Children (1997) and Our Schools in the Court of Justice: The Students Ring the Bell (2000). Damen obtained her Bachelor of Arts in media/sociology, honors with distinction, from Birzeit University (West Bank) in 2001, and her Master of Arts in communication studies with distinction from Leeds University (United Kingdom) in 2003. Damen and her sister acted on their hopes for peace in 1995 by studying Hebrew with Jewish adults in Israel. They were the only adolescents, the only Muslims, and the only Palestinians enrolled.

Mai J. Nassar, 43, was born and raised a Christian in the West Bank town of Beit Jala, where her family lived for centuries. In the 1948 war, Nassar’s family fled Beit Jala for Jordan. They returned to their land several years later, but, following the 1967 war, parts of it were confiscated for building Jewish settlements. Nassar believes that innovative education is the key to broadening the horizons of the next generation. She writes, "We need different types of education for both groups [Israeli and Palestinian] in order to make both accept and adjust to having their two states live peacefully on one land."

For more information about Partners for Peace, visit www.partnersforpeace.org. For more information about Open House, visit www.friendsofopenhouse.org. For more information about Xavier's Brueggeman Center for Dialogue or Peace and Justice programs, visit www.xavier.edu/brueggeman_center or www.xavier.edu/peace_justice.