Originally published as part of the Peace Heroes series on Ms Magazine

Decades of conflict in Palestine have left the country suffering violence, wars, ideological battles and economic hardships. Amid this tragedy, Lucy Talgieh strives to work for women’s rights, eradicate extremism and promote a more peaceful homeland through her leading role in Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution and Transformation Centre.

On May 13, Talgieh was elected and assumed the role of municipal representative. We had a chance to talk with her about her achievements, how politics have been affecting the country and what she hopes the future will bring.

 

What are your plans for Bethlehem now that you are a municipal representative?

One of my concerns is in regards to Bethlehem’s ability to sustain its current and future citizens. Bethlehem is an underdeveloped touristic city, with litter and unemployment running rampant. Bethlehem has the 2nd highest unemployment rate in Palestine and the city is lacking sophisticated and adequate infrastructure. In response to these difficulties, we have developed a strategic plan that goes hand in hand with the existing development plans of Bethlehem. Part of this strategic master plan is the launching of new development projects aimed at mitigating the waste challenge and helping to strengthen the city’s overall infrastructure, above and below ground. Part of our plan is to begin the implementation of the Twinning agreements Bethlehem has with 130 cities around the world.

One of my many passions in the pursuit of justice and equality involves advancing the status and rights of women in all aspects of our society, from culture to political participation and involvement. I was elected as one of three women in a 15-member council and this satisfies the gender quota in place, but this is not an adequate representation of the people, especially as over 50% of the Palestinian community is female. But, as an elected official and as a Palestinian woman, I will make sure that our representation is of loud and sound quality. Although we are few in number, our voice will be felt and we will make sure that we clearly and effectively convey the problems and help in identifying the solutions.

As part of my focus, I will also help in leading campaigns and helping organize the women’s movement so that our voices may be heard and received in the most efficient way. As part of such action, the Bethlehem municipality has already adopted Resolution 1325 of the United Nations Security Council (2000) on the vital role that women play and have the right to play in any peace process negotiations, peace building, conflict mediation, post-conflict reconstruction and furthermore reaffirms the important role women have in society and helping it move forward into a prosperous future.

What does extremism look like to you?

Extremism is when a person’s stance on a specific thought, idea, belief or way of life outweighs their respect for others and allows them to infringe upon others’ rights, dignity and life. Extremism looks like the building of walls between people and their land and neighbors, implanting of checkpoints between cities, the segregation of roads and indiscriminate killing of men, women and children. It is captured by the condemning finger of the powerful and hidden behind their willfully deaf ears and blind eyes.

Extremism is found in every corner of this earth and may often rest in our churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, homes, businesses, institutions and political offices. Extremism does not have a color, gender or look—it is simply a blinding force that allows people to rationalize their own close mindedness, intolerance and hate and put those energies into action. Extremism may be seen every time our doors remain shut in the face of a homeless person who speaks another language, or when our kitchen remains exclusive and we restrict entry to those without the legal documents we seek and when we decide to have our God banish all those who disagree with our philosophy and spirituality.

But, in the end, extremism looks like a call to action, in which we each have the choice to either walk forward into a future in which we follow our humanity, or into a time of pain and despair, where fear, greed and intolerance lead. At Wi’am we choose to follow our humanity and have hope in the path which it paves.

How have you been working to lessen the effects of extremism, both in Palestine and internationally?

Our organization, Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution and Transformation Centre, works towards building and strengthening relations through the mindset and ideology of peace. Our efforts are both horizontal and vertical.

We organize interfaith discussions based on humanitarian ideals within each religion, in an effort to fight back against radicalism and religion-based violence. We also put together curriculum to renew religious discourse and update religious texts misinterpreted as inciting violence. Our talks explain the false ideology that ISIS functions within, in an effort to avoid its expansion or recurrence.

We seek a cure for extremism, through combating violence, renouncing arms and weapons and asking states to implement their laws and follow their constitutions. This is achieved through demonstrations, along with awareness campaigns against terrorism and extremism, regardless of whether it be on the individual, local, national, or international levels and regardless of whether it be state, religiously, or politically sponsored.

We also work with women who have been subjected to violence. Mehwar Center is a sanctuary that embraces women and treats both their psychological and physical wounds. The women afterwards are reintegrated into society. Furthermore, we train women in the fields of political participation, decision making and leadership and to be powerful negotiators, capable of reaching resolutions. This is tied to economic empowerment as well, as both drive each other.

I’ve been leading this type of work and advocating for it as the Women’s Project Coordinator at Wi’am and working towards the implementation of a national action plan, in cooperation with other organizations. We also aim to change laws for our causes. For example, we were successfully able to raise the quota of women in public office to a minimum of 20 percent.

On the international front, we partner with organizations to enhance our work, such as the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN). ICAN gave me an open, healthy space to talk about issues that otherwise cannot be discussed freely, notably feminism and extremism. It is also where I met Afghani and Iranian women for the first time. ICAN is the way I communicate with the world and network with other organizations. It is a motivator that pushes us to keep going.

Why is it pivotal to reduce the amount of extremism in Palestine?

Extremism must be eradicated in all its forms—because just like plants need clean soil to produce the greatest of fruits, so do we need clear and sound minds to help us in our march towards a future of justice and equality for all. The eradication of extremism involves ending gender based discrimination, poverty, other forms of violence and religious intolerance. True peace and security come from ridding ourselves of extremism and instead channeling that raw energy of distaste into compassion and empathy and bringing about a positive change. It is vital that we reverse the upward trek of extremism and turn it into an opportunity for empathetic listening, so that the Palestinian community may begin to rebuild itself and strengthen its economic, political, social and cultural affairs, which are all interconnected and affected by the occupation’s unjust policies.

In your opinion, how can women help with peacemaking?

Women have a great role in peacemaking. They say women are more emotional than they are rational, but I find them more rational than emotional. It is not about mere gender inclusion, but about wisdom. The absence of women from decision-making seats restricts their participation. Some men still hold that women cannot be good or adequate decision-makers and this is something we are striving to eliminate through our work with several organizations. There are numerous symbols of peace and decision makers who happen to be part of the world’s women leaders.

Women indeed can and will make change if they are given the opportunity, and it is important to understand that no sustainable and positive change will ever come without the inclusion of women.

How has Trump affected the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? 

Trump’s visit may not have accomplished anything politically, so much as did his refusal to visit certain areas. Trump refused to visit the Nativity Church in Bethlehem and refused to give a press conference to explain why he refused to visit the Church. His refusals prompted people to ask questions, which in turn sparked curiosity into the Palestinian political prisoners’ situation. Reports speculated that the refusal was because of the presence of an exhibit placed outside the church, expressing solidarity with Palestinian prisoners serving sentences in Israeli jails. The controversy in Jerusalem regarding the Palestinian flags on the Orthodox Scouts clothing also sheds light on Israel’s intolerance towards any Palestinian symbol, regardless of religious or political affiliation. So Trump visited, passed through the walls and checkpoints which still stand, met with the head of the unrecognized Palestinian country, which still remains discontinuous and is shrinking and in light of the Manchester Attack, emphasized Palestinians’ need to denounce any sort of violence, while ensuring Israel of its right to defend its Jewish nation and people. In short, Trump visited the land and hung off the waves of status quo. He took rest in his inaction towards justice and any peace building that may come thereof. However, our hope lies in the curiosity that arose in the media and people, who questioned why POTUS did not visit the Nativity Church.

What would solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

Israel has to accept Palestinians as partners for peace, stick to the 1967 lines before it occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip and end settlements expansion. It ought to give Palestine its freedom and control over water and water borders in a manner that would allow for the establishment of a sovereign state. Recognizing Palestine as a state, whether by Israel or the international community, is a must.

The “right of return” claimed by millions of Palestinians, or their descendants, who were evicted from their land when the Jewish state was created, must be adequately discussed and solved. It is a basic right to reclaim their property, while Israel says the issue should be decided by political negotiations and dealt with as an unnecessary luxury or privilege. The two-state solution calls for the creation of an independent Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel.

But this should not be achieved through violence. Nonviolence is the only mechanism to reach peace; eye for an eye, the world will go blind. Nonviolent resistance would save our rights as Palestinians. Some may disagree, but I beg to differ. Mahatma Gandhi achieved independence through peace. Peace is less harmful and more fruitful.

Non-violence is not an innovation in the struggle of the Palestinian people. Palestinians have used non-violent methods since the beginning of the 1930’s side by side with the armed struggle in their attempts to achieve their goals against extremism and Zionism.

In short, what is needed is foremost the recognition of a history of power imbalance and creation of suffering. Palestinians and Israelis must then work towards finding restorative justice, in a manner in which past mistakes and transgressions do not negatively affect the future security or prosperity of either country. The refugee population in Palestine and the world must be brought forth to the table, with emphasis placed on the right to return and with an active discussion on appropriate measures that must be taken in order to begin to right the wrongs and place painful experiences in the past.

Finally, Israelis and Palestinians must tear down the walls that separate them and instead be able to connect on a human level, in which the right for all citizens regardless of race, color and religion is reaffirmed and in which the path towards restorative justice is paved one brick at a time, regardless of how long it might take.

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