Hannah Safran. Photo by Vera Reider
Dahlia Sachs. Photo by Bud Korotzer
Increased militarization and discriminatory laws have devastated civil rights in Israel and Occupied Palestine, according to Dr. Dalia Sachs and Dr. Hannah Safran, longtime peace activists and members of Isha L’Isha (The Haifa Feminist Center). They spoke recently about the work of the Center—a community-based collective established in 1983—in New York and New Jersey at the beginning of the month (June 1 at the New Paltz Village Hall and June 4 at the home of Sherry Gorelick).
“The First Intifada in 1988 gave impetus and energy to many Israeli Jews to engage in a resistance movement,” said Safran. “Years ago I would have said ‘peace movement, but I don’t use the word ‘peace’ anymore. Even the Israeli Right Wing wants ‘peace.’ I am part if a resistance movement that opposes Israeli machinery of oppression, which for me dates from 1948, not from 1967.”
Safran teaches at Emek Yizrael College and wrote Don’t Wanna Be Nice Girls: The Struggle for Suffrage and the New Feminism in Israel (2006). She spoke about the history of feminism in Israel and the struggle to overcome traditional gender roles, not only in civil society, but in the movement itself. “Now that we have come of age” said Safran, “we stand with men, work with men. Similarly, we feel Israelis and Palestinians should overcome their boundaries—live together, work together.”
Sachs, who teaches Occupational Therapy at Haifa University, co-founded Haifa Women in Black in 1988 (with Safran) and the Coalition of Women for Peace in 2000 and has been active in the Israeli feminist movement for over 20 years. She described the beginnings of the Women in Black silent vigils, first in Jerusalem, then in Haifa. Sachs agreed with Safran that the first public reactions were sexist catcalls: “Go home and feed your children.” “Now,” said Sachs, “we get responses to our political messages. It may be anger or cheers, but the worst reaction is to be ignored.”
Sachs reported on increasing censorship and a crackdown on free speech on Israeli campuses. Students are used to spy on professors and report to the Minister of Education on “anti-Zionist” curricula. This year on May 15 Haifa University banned Nakba Day demonstrations because of a 2011 law (the “Nakba Law”) that allows the state to refuse funding to any organization that denies the existence of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. “In the Center,” said Sachs, “we are careful not to lose financial support.”
Safran and Sachs deplored the situation of thousands of Israeli Jewish women (agunah, literally “anchored” or “chained”) whose husbands have disappeared or who refuse to grant them divorces. “They can’t remarry and if they have children, their children are bastards,” said Safran. “Their lives are governed by religious not secular laws.” Both women have campaigned, through the Haifa Feminist Center, against the “Citizen Law“ that aims to reduce the number of Palestinian citizens and ensure a Jewish majority. Under this law, Palestinians from the Occupied Territories married to Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot live with their families inside Israel. It affects over 25,000 families.
“Sadly, unless there’s a change in US policy, there’ll be no end to this struggle for equal rights,” said Safran, and the situation is worsening. But, she added, “we just keep going—to mend this world and also for our own well being. How could we live otherwise?”