Three women

Editorial Notebook

July 09, 2005|By Ann LoLordo

ON THE SAME DAY that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lectured Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas about how to deal with terrorists, Michal Sagi, Jumana Odeh and Rana Khoury were on an East Coast road trip to promote peace. The women - a Jew, a Muslim and a Christian - may seem as unlikely a trio as the gruff, retired general and the circumspect chief operating officer. But think again: They come together for different reasons, with a common goal - a just and lasting settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are neither politicians nor diplomats, militants nor settlers; those are the voices that have dominated the decades-old standoff over land, security and sovereignty.

Theirs are the voices often unheard in this conflict - three women of three faiths from Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. They are trying to make themselves heard above the conflict's distracting din and polarizing rhetoric.

Although the violence of the past four years has subsided since a cease-fire was forged with Palestinian militants this year, the women argue that the recent calm is a temporary respite because the military occupation remains entrenched. Checkpoints, settlements and the security wall dominate their conversations from Baltimore to New York, Philadelphia to Fort Worth, Texas.

"We feel occupation should be ended for both nations," says Dr. Odeh, a pediatrician. "It's not healthy for both nations. ... If we share the same pain, why can't we share joy too?"

Perhaps they are saying nothing more than what has been said by groups such as Peace Now, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. But Dr. Odeh, Ms. Sagi and Ms. Khoury offer a perspective uniquely their own, from personal narratives that reflect the lives of others.

Dr. Odeh, 49, chronicles the time it takes her to travel from her West Bank home to the medical school outside Jerusalem where she teaches. A 20-minute car ride has become two hours because of the checkpoints through which she must pass. A question often asked in her medical school ethics class is, "If you found a wounded Israeli solider, what would you do?" She has treated a wounded soldier and has never regretted it. She also had a former patient who, once grown, joined the ranks of suicide bombers. Her view, echoed by Ms. Khoury, is that militancy is not the way to achieve Palestinian aspirations.

Ms. Sagi, a director of a family planning center in Jerusalem, has studied the system of Israeli checkpoints, from their locations to their impact on security to the dimensions of their turnstiles (smaller than those in the New York subway). She focuses on "internal checkpoints" - those located between Palestinians villages, far from the border with Israel: Why are they there? Who do they protect? She joined an Israeli group that monitors checkpoints for instances of abuse and intimidation. "I'm trying to do something to change this situation. I want to live in peace with myself," says the 36-year-old Israeli.

Ms. Khoury, 35, who runs an educational-cultural organization in Bethlehem, wants people to understand that the conflict is not about religion: "People of different faiths and of both nations can agree on the fact that ending occupation is the first, last and only solution to getting peace."

Their road trip may seem naive considering the failures of the peace process and the thorny issues that must be resolved before peace is realized for 6 million Israelis and 3.4 million Palestinians. They are, after all, only three women, and they never spent any length of time together until this trip, which is part of a U.S.-based peace program. But their conversation, their interaction and their relationship is a reminder that there are Israelis and Palestinians who are willing to consider the other and come together - without malice, and with respect.

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