Women hold keys to peace

March 08, 2002|By Helen Schary Motro

KFAR SHMARIYAHU, Israel -- As women around the globe celebrate International Women's Day today, the date carries a darker meaning for females in the Middle East.

Karine Lifshitz celebrated her fifth birthday Feb. 25 wearing a bulletproof vest. She is the daughter of Israeli settler Tamara Lifshitz, a nurse who commutes to work in Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital from her West Bank home.

Karine's life may have been saved because of that vest. Palestinians fired on her family as they drove in their car. The attack killed Karine's grandfather.

Karine's pregnant mother was hit in her abdomen by a bullet and shrapnel, just missing her 9-month-old fetus. Ms. Liftshitz was taken to the hospital where she works. A Caesarean section delivered a healthy baby, a sister for Karine.

A few miles away, two Palestinian girls were also born last week to mothers shot in their cars in separate incidents, this time by Israeli soldiers who thought the vehicles were transporting terrorists. Both cars had been waved through roadblocks, only to be fired upon by other soldiers farther on.

One mother, Shadiya Shehadah, was in labor when hit in the chest. She named her daughter born later that day Heba, "God's gift."

The other called her newborn Fida -- Arabic for "sacrifice" -- because the child came into the world a half orphan. Her 22-year-old father, who was driving, was killed by the soldiers' bullets. The mother, Maysoun Hayek, was wounded.

This is what it means to be a female in the Middle East. This is the issue that women as yet unharmed by bullets should take with them in demonstrations in the streets on Women's Day. Tomorrow, it might be any Jewish or Palestinian woman -- or their daughters, their mothers, their sisters, their aunts, their grandmothers -- who might be struck by bullets or shrapnel.

Other Palestinian and Israeli women and girls didn't make it alive to International Women's Day.

One is the baby of Palestinian Samar Khamdon, who was born dead after her mother, traveling to the hospital in labor, was turned away from an Israeli checkpoint on Feb. 27. Instead of a 10-minute drive, the trip took four hours on a rocky detour; doctors charged that the baby may have detached from the placenta during the difficult drive.

Another is Rachel Thaler, 16, who was shot in a terror attack Feb. 16 while meeting her friends for pizza. She lingered for 12 days before dying of her head wounds.

There were others: Three Jewish girls were among the 10 fatalities in Jerusalem's suicide bombing Saturday; the oldest was 6, the youngest 18 months. A Palestinian girl, 10, died during Israel's military operation in the Jenin refugee camp.

Fida, Heba and baby Lifshitz entered this world because bullets ripped away the last hours of their peaceful life in the womb. Their mothers began their motherhood of these three recuperating from much more than Caesarean sections.

Will the infants grow up without knowing each other, perhaps even hating the idea of one another? Or will there come a time when women in labor will not have to beg to be let through a checkpoint by soldiers trembling in their boots lest the car hides a knife to slit their throats? When women in advanced pregnancy whose seemingly mundane ride home from a birthday party won't turn into a trap of terror?

Is it too much to ask that women reach across the ideological abyss toward one another?

By virtue of their numbers alone, women hold the keys to creating a world in which there is no longer a market for bulletproof vests to fit 5-year-olds. They never have tried to use them.

Helen Schary Motro, an American lawyer and free-lance writer who divides her time between New York and Israel, is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.

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