Tomorrow begins National Women's History Month in America, a time to honor American women who have made a difference. This is about three astonishing women I encountered in the Holy Land. None of them will be listed in the American honors.
The first was Ruth Cale, a Jewish woman who had emigrated to Palestine in the 1930s, escaping the impending Nazi occupation of her native Austria.
Ms. Cale, who died in 1982, had been a reporter for The Palestine Post during the days of the British Mandate in Palestine. When I arrived in Jerusalem in 1973, she was The Sun's stringer, arranger, translator and invaluable tutor in the ways of Israeli culture and politics. Ms. Cale was a woman of strong constitution and intense opinions. She despised the Israeli right wing, especially its orthodox religious component; she also did not like Arabs. But she knew both well.
She also knew practically all of the founders of the state of Israel, including David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister, whom she took me to meet, and Golda Meir, who was prime minister when I arrived in Israel. Ms. Cale and Prime Minister Meir were both chain smokers, which eventually did them both in.
The second was a woman named Valentine Vester, who is alive and well into her 90s today in Jerusalem, where she is the owner and cultural mainstay of the American Colony Hotel in the predominantly Arab part of the city.
Ms. Vester acknowledges she was brought up disliking Zionism. Last year, she told an interviewer from The New York Times, "I was imbued with the notion that the Arabs were done down, but I try very hard to take a balanced view."
She always spoke her mind.
In the 1980s, when The Jerusalem Post published an article complaining that recent immigrants from Ethiopia seemed uncivilized because they slept nude, Ms. Vester fired off a letter to the newspaper declaring that she had been sleeping in the nude for years and that it was the only healthy way to sleep.
The third woman, and the longest-standing citizen of the Holy Land I ever knew, was a delightful lady named Olga Assaf Wahbe, who was born in Jerusalem in 1904, while it was still a part of the Ottoman Empire.
By the time I met Ms. Wahbe 33 years ago, she was living with two sisters in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. She had grown up in a large home in Jerusalem, but the family fled the property during the fighting in 1948 and never was able to reclaim it.
Ms. Wahbe was an educator, a calm, dignified, always cheerful and gracious lady who had a great influence on generations of young Palestinians, especially Palestinian women.
For all of the grief the turmoil of the Holy Land had brought Ms. Wahbe, I never once heard a complaint from her about any of the culprits. One of her sisters had been killed when a Jewish terror group blew up the King David Hotel in 1947. She had lost her home, now inhabited by Israelis. She lived under Turkish rule, British rule, Jordanian authority and finally Israeli authority. Each transfer of power was the product of war.
I last saw Ms. Wahbe in 2002. She was living with her much more defiant and outspoken sister, Louba, in the small house they had occupied for years in Beit Jala, a place graced by a garden full of fragrant plants. (The Wahbes were Russian Orthodox and all had Russian names.) Beit Jala had become a miserable place to live, with the Palestinians and the Israelis exchanging gunfire nightly from both sides of the community. Bethlehem was under curfew.
By then, Olga Wahbe was 98 years old. Louba was howling about the inconveniences of the Israeli occupation. Olga, the older sister, calmed her. "Shhhh, Louba," she said. "Let's sit in the garden and have some tea."
Inside the house, the relics of Olga Wahbe's life served as reminders of how much she had done for her people, photos and other memorabilia of a long-forgotten past, medals and awards from such as King Hussein of Jordan and King Gustav of Sweden. But mostly she would talk of the many, many young people she had taught, the schools she had run. Education was her life.
Olga Wahbe died in her home Friday. She lived for nearly 102 years in a turbulent land as a woman of peace and grace and enlightenment.
G. Jefferson Price III is a former foreign correspondent and an editor at The Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.