Breaking Stereotypes
By Beena Sarwar

Speaking in what she terms as her ‘bad accent’ (Americanised), the gravel-voiced middle-aged woman with short cropped hair and glasses offers some tips for activists, or anyone who wants to make a difference. She terms them as the ‘six Ps’.
Firstly, passion: “You can’t make a difference without it. You have to realize that if something needs to be corrected, you yourself have to contribute towards it, whether the goal is peace, democracy, social justice or equality.”
Next, a program: “You have to have clear objectives. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to get there. For me, that goal is peace in the region, an independent Palestine existing alongside Israel.”
Pragmatism: “Women are good at that. Develop tools that are going to work, use every tool. Network, publish, get out there -- in the last ten years, I’ve participated in 450 demonstrations. Don’t be afraid of politics, sometimes you need power to make a difference.”
Proficiency and professionalism: “Be the best you can be, and better. Women often have to be better to be as good as men.”
Patience: “Sometimes, you will need a tremendous amount. Wait for a year or two, take advantage of the opportunity when it arrives. Patience pays.”
Be pioneering, path-breaking: “You have to have a new vision, a different perspective about what is going on. When Palestinian and Israeli women first talked about breaking out, about a two-state solution twenty years ago, we were thinking out of the box.”
And finally, if you want a seventh ‘P’, persistence: “I’ll say it again and again. Don’t give up till the task is done. And in our case, that is the task to make our world better, our societies better.”
This is Naomi Chazan, an Israeli political science professor and activist, speaking at a ‘roundtable’ on women role models organized by UNESCO at its headquarters in Paris on International Women’s Day earlier this month. The other panelists include a Cuban bio-chemist, a French Product Manager at Peugot, and a Colombian Mayor who’s working on a ‘women’s political school’. I’m with a small group of journalists invited to another seminar there.
Originally a teacher (she heads Israel’s first Institute of Peace Studies at the University of Jerusalem), Dr Chazan is among the first Israelis to support a two-state solution, with Palestine existing beside Israel in the quest for ‘a just peace’. Her entry into politics was the result of a friend’s threat to tell everyone that Naomi Chazan was a liar, since she didn’t practice what she preached; she went around telling other women to get involved and do something about what they believed in.
So into politics went Naomi Chazan, self-confessed peace and women’s rights and human rights activist. She found herself elected to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) where she was Deputy Speaker until a couple of years ago. Her dream is to retire when there is peace with Palestine.
Hearing people like Dr Chazan reinforces the need to stop stereotyping, to see people as individuals first, and not as ‘representatives’ of their country or religion. Such stereotypes are best broken with direct contact. But for Israelis and Pakistanis, there is little such opportunity. A Pakistani passport “is valid for all countries of the world except Israel” (until recently, a rubber stamp next to it stated: ‘AND INDIA’). Incidentally, Israeli passports are valid for ‘ALL COUNTRIES’. When Pakistanis and citizens of other countries who don’t have diplomatic relations with Israel go there, as they occasionally do, Israeli authorities issue visas on a separate paper so that their entry and exit is not stamped.
And yet, there are cautious signs of change. An occasional debate about ‘recognizing’ Israel has begun, a once taboo subject brought up by no less than the Army Chief/President of Pakistan. It surfaces every now and then along with the more compelling economic argument for trade between our countries. Israeli leaders have even been interviewed on a private television channel, as well as through the Internet.
In fact, the Internet has made nonsense out of state efforts to keep people of ‘enemy countries’ from connecting. Just as it has facilitated contact between peace-loving Indians and Pakistanis, it has also started making Israeli peace activists more accessible to us. There are several email postings lists and websites which provide information about Israeli peace activists, many of whom work together with Palestinians -- there is far more happening on that front than the mainstream media will let on.
You can glean information from one of several email lists, that lead you to websites like the liberal newspaper Haaretz (www.haaretz.com), or the Israeli Peace Bloc (www.gush-shalom.org). These groups include the elderly women who monitor Israeli military checkpoints in an attempt to make things easier for the Palestinians who are held up there every day -- they call themselves Machshom Watch, Machshom being Hebrew for ‘checkpoint’.
Ordinary Israelis risk being labeled anti-national and anti-religion for their support of a two-state solution, risk police brutality to shield Palestinian villagers trying to pick olives or resisting the demolition of their homes. Then there are the ‘refuseniks’ from the reserve forces who risk court martial and imprisonment but refuse to serve on the occupied territories. There is fierce resistance in Israel itself to Sharon’s dividing wall, and to the settlers’ tyranny over Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
In the end, every country has its resistance workers, its activists working towards a better world and a just social order. Recognizing them is part of the process towards that order.


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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