Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Women to women and the sauna

It didn’t matter, that the basin outside the steam room at our hotel, only 10 minutes drive from Jerusalem, was shaky and needed a good scrub. It didn’t matter, to 24 Israeli and Palestinian women who had come together from all over the land on a cold and windy Friday morning, for a three day workshop.

The view of the West Bank, from the hotel, perched on a hill was serene. One would have thought that we were in paradise.

On this Friday morning, when concern was rising over the continuation of the peace talks, Israeli and Palestinian women, had come together.

Once we got to our bedrooms, I was keen to become acquainted with   my roommates. Y, who was about 40 had shoulder length bleached hair,was very attractive and lively.

”I am a head nurse in the ICU of …..a hospital”

Oh” I replied ”Isn’t that where, they take all the victims of hostility”?

“Yes” she responded “both injured by your bullets and ours! You have no idea what, horror we see there”.

My other room mate was M, aged about 30, was also unmarried and worked for a government agency She wore traditional head covering.

She seemed shy.

”Is it difficult for you to speak to me in English”? I said, after telling them a bit about myself. “No, I do understand, but it takes me longer, than my friend, she has more opportunity to speak it.”

In no time, we were sharing our perfume, hair spray and even towels. After, three whole days of close proximity, in bedrooms, the dining room, talking, laughing, meditating and even dancing together, we  bonded, like sisters.

On Friday evening, we even welcomed, the Sabbath together.

We soon found, that we had far more in common than separated us. We could peek into each others, lives and compare. There was no recrimination, no blaming, no animosity. We had all come to get the most possible out of this initiative.

“It is known that women comprise 52 percent of the world population. Women have a different approach, to decision making and should be involved at every level, on issues which primarily affect them. We agree that the need to end violence is a given, but until the cessation of conflict, which demands political and diplomatic intervention, the empowerment of women is essential and long overdue.”

Together, our task was to produce a recommendation which would be put before the UN Security Council when they discuss Resolution #1325, which addresses “needs of women in conflict zones”, in the near future.

The women were of mixed ages. Two older, highly professional Israeli women, who had been amongst the initiators of the event, kept everything and everyone in order, as we waded through the business at hand. We were split into small working groups.

Language was not easy,the risk of misinterpretation, was palpable. The workshops were entirely in English, although only four of us, were native English speakers.

The third facilitator was Palestinian, and highly erudite. She managed to be professional and pleasant at all times even, when tensions rose. There was no “off the cuff” chatting, arriving late for sessions or interrupting others.

Respect, was a word which came up many times. As did identity.

A, the fourth facilitator was an immigrant from the USA. She had brought us all, together. From time to time, when not being fussed about trivial, domestic matters, she taught us to meditate.

A dynamic was created, which was exemplary.

Since our return, a few days ago, we have exchanged emails. They all contain the words, love, praise, admiration, understanding, gratitude and the desire to work together. We all hope that women’s empowerment, will ensure a better and secure future for both peoples.

I invited, all of the Palestinian women, to stay with me in Tel Aviv.

They long, to go the beach.

Most of them, are unable to move freely, anywhere.

Now a week later, it’s almost impossible to believe, that together we swam, sweated, half naked in the steam room or sauna and scrubbed and soaped each others bodies, with a loofa.

The differences between us were dwarfed, by what we had in common.

At the close of the activities we held hands, singing and calling, for a joint Women’s Parliament, which we hope to initiate… one day…. some day?

About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.