2 Videos on Israel: Woman’s Peace

2 Videos on Israel: Women’s Peace
by Shuli Eshel (30 minutes)

If Shuli Eshel’s latest documentary did not exist, I would want the Jewish community to commission it. And if I had my way, the video would be screened not just by every Jewish women’s organization but by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish organizations, the Congress of the United States, and every Middle East think tank in Washington.

Women’s Peace, which Eshel wrote, produced, and directed, is a rivetting 30- minute cram course on the complex political history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its impact on women’s lives, reported from the perspective of women themselves. There is nothing quite as revelatory as seeing, for a change, the visual images a woman deems important— a Gaza Palestinian woman who has just given birth commenting on what the future holds for her baby, and a Jewish newlywed couple speaking to the same issue; a peace demonstration representing all classes, cultures and nationalisms; children playing war games; women holding life together at home while men conduct their bloody confrontations from the War of Independence to the intifada.

But even more affecting than these images are the interviews with the brave, visionary women who are engaged in the day-to-day struggle to bring about Jewish-Arab co-existence.

Whether in Jerusalem, the Occupied Territories, or the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the activists portrayed in this film are working on four levels: educational (sponsoring parlor meetings, conferences and dialogue groups); symbolic or consciousness-raising (holding vigils such as those initiated by Women in Black in Israel, or the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation in the United States); political (organizing support for the pro-peace position within Israel’s party structures); and human rights (monitoring Israeli government censorship or the military’s treatment of political prisoners).

In the process of documenting these efforts, the filmmaker showcases some of the most powerful and inspiring females on the political scene today. Israeli Jews interviewed on camera include women who work within the system, including Shulamit Aloni, Member of Knesset representing Ratz, (the dovish Civil Rights Movement party); Yael Dayan, writer and Labor Party leader; Masha Lubelsky, head of Na’amat, (Israel’s largest women’s organization); and Anat Hoffman, a “young Turk” member of the Jerusalem City Council who describes herself as a feminist, a political progressive, and a “religiously observant Reform Jew.”

Wisely, Shuli Eshel gives equal time to women who work outside the system at the grassroots—for instance, Leah Shakdiel and Debbie Goldman-Golan, who call themselves religious peace activists; Gila Svirsky, former director of the New Israel Fund and a founder of Women in Black; Naomi Chazan, a political scientist, Peace Now organizer, and co-convener of the Reshet, a coalition of women’s peace groups; Alice Shalvi, the Orthodox Jewish feminist who is chair of the Israel Women’s Network; and Maya Bailen, a mother of two sons now serving in the IDF, and a member of Israeli Parents Against Moral Erosion.

The Palestinian voices are also varied and impressive. They range from Hanan Mikhail Ashrawi, Dean of the Humanities at Beir Zeit University (known for her meetings with American Secretary of State James Baker), to Rana Nashashibi, a leader of the Union of Palestinian Women Workers, to Mary Khass, a child care professional who is a prominent spokeswoman for both feminism and Palestinian nationalism, to Amal Labadi, the wife of a Palestinian deportee.

The American women interviewed in the film, although not as numerous or diverse, nevertheless serve to illustrate the range of activities women have organized in the United States in support of a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian people.

If you have ever wished you could spend time in the Middle East getting to know courageous women and sharing in their struggle for peace and social justice, or if you’ want an instant Baedeker to the women’s peace movement in this country. Women’s Peace can save you a lot of time and trouble. And as a bonus, this informative film is also well-crafted— dramatic, yet emotionally authentic, persuasive but intellectually rigorous. In short, just what one might expect from Shuli Eshel, who gave us the unforgettable To Be a Woman Soldier, the documentary that exposed the myth about equal treatment of the sexes in the Israeli Defense Forces. For more information contact Eshel at 3600 N. Lake Shore Drive, (apt. 1205) Chicago, IL 60613. (312) 868-4140.