Editor’s Note: A Christian Arab, a religious Jew, a Muslim who does stand-up comedy, an Israeli army officer, a gypsy with Palestinian roots hundreds of years old, and a psychologist with Uzbek ancestry: These are just a few of the women Patricia Smith Melton and our Peace X Peace liaisons interviewed for the upcoming book Sixty Years, Sixty Women. As residents of Israel and the Palestinian Territories, they share—uneasily—a common space in geography and history. Yet what Shakespeare said of Cleopatra can be said of the women of the Holy Land as, indeed, of brave women everywhere: “Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite variety.”
Interviews by Patricia Smith Melton.
Amira Dotan served in the Israeli Defense Forces for twenty-two years and became Israel’s first woman brigadier general. As a member of the Kadima party in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, she serves on several powerful committees, including Foreign Affairs and Defense, and on the subcommittee on Trafficking of Women. She is a mother of three and a grandmother.
Feminism is the ability to do what you want to do. It must be on the table immediately that there are two different genders. Women need to say men are who they are and we are who we are, and to be proud of who we are instead of spending so much energy imitating men. Then we will have more energy to do what we want to do, and questions of harassment and violence lessen because men see you as equal.
Q: As a brigadier general, did you see yourself as a peacekeeper or a fighter?
A: That was not one of the questions we in the Israeli Defense Forces asked ourselves. The unique part of it is there in the name. We want to be strong to defend ourselves. Peace is part of it, in making sure no one harms our family and our country. We don’t send our children, our soldiers to fight somebody else’s wars and we don’t want somebody else to fight our wars, we are doing it with our own ten fingers. The notion of defense is part of peace.
Q: Do you have hope there will be a time when Israel will not need a defense force?
A: Always. I am very optimistic. I will do my best to make sure that we work people-to-people on the ground to deal with the human sides of living in the Middle East. It’s not about big issues like peace and war, it’s about how to find your counterparts in order to live peacefully.
Q: Do you have Palestinian counterparts?
A: Absolutely. When my husband passed away, I felt I had to give birth to something. I asked Shimon Perez to bring together a network of women in the Middle East. We put together an NGO of businesswomen of Jordon, Palestine, Morocco, and ourselves. The first meeting was June of 1995. I told my friends, the Israeli participants, I believe that it will be easier for me to deal with the other Middle Eastern participants than the Palestinians. From your experiences in the Defense Forces, you feel that they are your enemy. Yet, they came to Tel Aviv and my immediate feeling of sisterhood was with the Palestinian women. When I saw those Palestinian women, it was as if we had grown up together, we had the same jokes, the same understanding, the same mentality.
Q: If you could speak with all Palestinian women, what would you say?
A: I would say that in our hearts, each of us knows the truth. We should play our game and not someone else’s game. Our game is to make sure our children and children’s children will live in peace and understanding.
Amoun Sleem is the director of the Domari Society, which serves the gypsies of Israel and Palestine. Amoun also runs the Middle East’s first Gypsy Center. She is unmarried and has a close-knit, supportive family, with five brothers and three sisters.
You don’t see gypsies fighting around the world. They look for the simple life and they look with beautiful eyes. Our flag means green for the land, blue for the sky, and wheels for traveling. People should learn from the gypsies: be open, make your hearts green for everybody.
Q: People have images of gypsies—painted wagons, horses, always moving.
A: People make up stories: gypsies make magic, gypsies read palms, gypsies are dirty. I think the people who make jokes about gypsies are the stupid ones. We like to be happy in the moment God has given us. Because we are simple, we never feel like envying others. We love our families and our neighbors.
Gypsies are a people of freedom who love the land and animals, but these things are missing now. Gypsies’ concerns are forbidden in this holy land. So much that existed 100 years ago with our tribes and traditions doesn’t exist because of the pressure. Freedom will be when gypsies are an accepted community with rights. Even though gypsies don’t like too much contact with outsiders, now they want to mix with any society that will give them a chance and treat them as citizens in this land.
Q: Who are the gypsies?
A: The Domari society, the gypsy people, came out of India 3,000 years ago. We’ve lived here for 500 years. I can say I am an international woman. I have Palestinian roots because we have lived in this holy land for hundreds of years, and we support the Jewish society as neighbors and friends. We open our hearts and homes to any people on earth who can be welcomed as a friend of gypsies.
Six to seven thousand gypsies live in the country—Palestine and Jerusalem—though it is hard to contact people in the West Bank, and I’ve not had contact with my tribe in Gaza for ten years.
Q: Why do people fight?
A: I would say they are stupid. If people are fighting for something, what good is that? If you are fighting for money, well, money is something you can use, but it is not everything. The same with land. When you die, you do not take land with you. God created this earth for all people to live on without fighting.
Q: What were you like as a little girl?
A: I sold post cards, I ran after tourists. Those were my golden years. I learned a lot from the street, from tourists, I learned to be a businesswoman. I knew very few words of English: “Just one dollar, one dollar.” Now I have a diploma in business administration and hospitality management.
But I am doing things for my people, I know what it means to be discriminated against. God has given me a kind of brains that cause me to think differently. Good work takes time. No one can reach her dream in a short time. But peace is not a dream, it can happen. Each person can start to make peace inside his heart, to love his neighbor. If we want to make it happen, it can happen. Nobody is weak.
Trained as a clinical psychologist, Jerusalem resident Tirza Moussaieff “found herself” earning a doctorate in Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition. She uses Kabbalistic imagery in her therapy to help people get out of their analytical minds and experience love. Her ancestry is Bukharan from Uzbekistan.
The Torah says redemption will come from women this time. Women give birth to children and are more open and sensitive. They see reality. Men are little boys. But there is hope because women have a lot of power over men. If they guide men with respect and knowledge, I think men will be happy to receive it because they are more lost than women. They are little boys with toys. When they are impotent, they love to use a gun. If you look at the profile of major generals, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find a background of impotency.
Men and women need to learn to use our energies properly, to enhance our power and not dominate each other. If we can respect each other, violence in the family and the community can be headed off. We each have our special talent for what we came to do in the world.
Q: What did you come to do in the world?
A: I like to think I came to help create paradise.
Q: How can anyone help create paradise?
A: Grab the person you imagine you hate the most and tell them how much you love them, how great they are, how much you want to express your love but were too embarrassed. Hate doesn’t exist except in our imagination. Do you have the courage to do that? If everyone did that, can you imagine how the energy in the world would shift?
There are only two ways of being: love and fear. All negative emotions come under fear, and we have to remove the fear to see that we love each other. When we remove the veils, everything is available to us.
People have a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety. I teach people to clean their negative emotions so they can open their souls to God, to light, and to recognize it inside other people. When we come to a place of feeling that we are God and that everybody is God, then all we can do is celebrate. We would never think of doing anything as ridiculous and crazy as hurting someone else.
When we hurt someone, we hurt ourselves. I would love to have Paradise on earth, and I don’t see why not. It’s not the Arabs against the Israelis or the Israelis against Arabs. When someone is in pain, it affects us all. Our happiness cannot be complete until everyone is content. With the war and disease in the world, we are all responsible.
Q: Each person has this power?
A: Every person has power. We are suppressed Gods walking around hiding the fact that we are God. It’s time to take the mask off. We are all co-creators with God, we can create anything. When a few minds get together, that’s powerful.
Q: Can the problems of this region be solved through minds?
A: I don’t think intellectualism can solve any problem. We need a power that is clearer and stronger than logic. In everyday language, we need a miracle, but miracles are here all the time if we open to them.
(Part 1) | Part 2
By Patricia Smith Melton
About the Author: Patricia Smith Melton is the founder, board chair, and former executive director of Peace X Peace. Her vision of connecting women through the Internet as Sister Circles for direct private communication has guided the development of Peace X Peace and the Global Network in three years to more than 1000 women’s Circles in 65 nations. Smith Melton has a special interest in the Peace X Peace presence in Israel and Palestine.