HCEF 12th International Conference

November 6, 2010

The Pope John Paul II Cultural Center

Washington, D.C

Chiara Cardone

Graduate of Georgetown University

Three Women from Jerusalem – Promoting Peace and Human Security


The “Three Women from Jerusalem” Workshop, was part of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation’s 12th International Conference on Saturday, November 6, 2010, held at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center in Washington, DC.


The three women panelists Marianna Khoury, a Christian-Palestinian, Ruth Hiller, a Jewish-Israeli and Samira Hussein, a Muslim-Palestinian came together to tell their very different, unscripted, non-orchestrated personal experience of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and its continuing human toll on their lives.   Dr. Judith Mendelsohn Rood, Professor of History and Middle Eastern Studies at Biola University served as the panel moderator.


Marianna Khoury, who was only 14 years old at the time of the second intifada and is 24 today, Ruth Hiller and Samira Hussein both mothers of grown children on opposite sides of an ethnic and national divide. Samira’s presence alone is a story: Reema Mustafa from Palestine was originally invited to participate in the tour, but Israeli travel restrictions prevented her from leaving the country. These three women’s stories span a vast array of human experience, from ethnic minority in a modern state, to a child-refugee’s tale, to a mother’s fear for her teenage son’s conscience, freedom and life.


Marianna is at the rare crossroads of two minority groups; first, she is a Christian Palestinian in the Holy Land. Second, she is an Arab citizen of Israel. This meant growing up in Israeli public schools, where history was considered to have stopped in 1948, and where her identity was confiscated, her story silenced. It was only at outbreak of the second intifada that she realized something had been hidden which might explain the chaos bearing the same identity she did — “Arab-Israeli.” It was then that she realized the extent of the discrimination that handicapped Arab schools and communities and silenced Arab voices in Israel. Like many, she had to choose between her compatriots, where, she told me privately afterwards, women in the demographic war call their wombs “our most powerful weapons,” and seeking opportunity and her own true heritage in a freer society abroad. With difficulty, she chose the latter, and is currently a student at UC Berkeley.


Samira, lived a happy girlhood in the village of ‘Anwas’ until the war of 1967, when her family was forced from their home in the middle of the night by the Israeli Army, never to return. What followed was a painful, tearful story which is shared by thousands of Palestinian Refugees. She walked for 3 days without food or water, and her aunts were stripped of the UN rations they went miles to fetch. Samira’s family spent two months under strict curfew, during which her cousin was shot while trying to bring food home to his heavily pregnant wife.


Ruth bore witness to the implications of this kind of occupation for Jewish Israeli women. As an American Jewish and socialist immigrant–a builder of the Jewish State–Ruth at first had no idea what to do when her first son declared himself a pacifist and vowed never to serve in the Israeli army. However, his objection soon led her to fight not only for his life and safety, but to reexamine the militarism of her society. She soon became a soldier for the rights of all conscientious objectors, and a voice for a humane, democratic and civil Israeli society. She joined in protests with Four Mothers and Women & Mothers for Peace, eventually founding her own alternative media group, New Profile.


During the question and answer period, these narratives converged on the theme of women’s changing roles in conflict and occupation. Marianna explained, “We see an emasculation of the Palestinian man under the occupation. Women’s voices are being heard more and more.” Samira’s observation cut even deeper; with over 6,000 Palestinian men in Israeli prisons, women have no choice but to display strength and courage. Ruth, on the other hand, was far from proud of the transformation forced on Israeli women by military service. Her research indicates that, far from gentling and humanizing the military, Israeli women instead are falling victim to its masculinization and brutalization.


Throughout listening to these disjointed experiences, the motif that struck me most was that of the olive trees. Though Samira pointedly recounted the bulldozing of olive trees along with Palestinian homes, and though Ruth later came to love working the soil and cultivating the olives in the Holy Land, it is the opening words of our Christian speaker, Marianna that will stay with me forever, and that I will repeat in the bleak times. “It is olive season in Palestine.” Even Palestinians far across the world are rooted as are their ancient trees, and they know when the fruit is ripe. Can we dare to hope, then, that the time is also ripe for a just peace?


To hear the sessions of the 12th International Conference and the Investment Forum held in the Context of the Conference, or to learn more about HCEF and its programs please visit us at www.hcef.org.


HCEF’s 13th International Conference

October 28-29, 2011


The National Presbyterian Church

4101 Nebraska Avenue

Washington, DC  20016