Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

When the unexpected happens and strangers connect

I am lucky in that I have many people staying with me and each experience brings some joy into my life. This week I felt “twice blessed”

My dear friend Ina Darmstadter who is a peace activist in Berlin and anywhere else that anyone will listen to her, came to Israel for meetings and to address a conference at TAU: The first International Conference on Innovations in Conflict Resolution and Mediation.

Ina represents the Canaan Project and is pushing for the implementation of UNSCR Resolution 1325 which deals with women in conflict zones and calls for their representation in decision making bodies. She has just held an immensely successful conference in Berlin.

Also staying with me was Birgitte another Berliner who has been working with Iryiat Tel Aviv in the field of interchange of groups between countries.

Ina suggested that we go up to  Lower Galilee to meet with Diva and Advocate Miriam Toucan and then to meet Birgitte at Givat Haviva to attend a session with young people from 17 countries who were attending courses there.

We persuaded Miriam to come along with us and when we arrived at her family’s comfortable home in an idyllic village the Lower Galilee to collect her, she made it a condition that we first partake of the delicious repast her mother had prepared.  We then continued on our way, but not before we received dishes of pumpkin confiture and lemons which I had asked her father to allow me to pluck off their heavily laden trees.

Givat Haviva is a nonprofit educational institution in Israel. Founded by the Hashomer Hatzair movement  it is dedicated to creating a shared future and shared society in Israel, based on the principles of equality, cooperation, empowerment, and understanding. Givat Haviva encourages students of all ages from Israel and around the world to learn about Israel and explore the narratives of its people.

On arrival, we were warmly greeted by the charming Yuval the Director of this program and an impressive lady, who told us that she was in charge of fundraising.  She was genuinely dedicated to her work because of the impact that understanding, meeting and interacting with the other makes, to relations in our region and across the globe.

After Birgitte had made her presentation about the different communities within the multicultural society in Berlin, she introduced Miriam, who spoke to the young eager audience about her history.

She was raised as a Christian in a  traditional society, in with roots deep in this land.

At a young age, she discovered her voice, which changed her life. She told of her new musical project that developed from the link formed between four musicians from diverse musical cultures.  Their performances in many places here in Israel and around the world bring together songs and melodies from East and West, inviting a rare encounter between the poems of Haim Nachman Bialik and the songs of the great Lebanese vocalist Fairuz, between Lea Goldberg and flamenco, klezmer and Arab folk music. She is not only charismatic but also extremely caring and sensitive. The young people felt it. After she had spoken, the audience asked if she would sing. She looked askance and said she would need some musicians to accompany her. “Are any of you musicians”? With that two girls and two boys dashed out of the hall and returned with a keyboard, two guitars and a ukelele. What followed was pure magic. She sang a traditional song in Arabic another in Hebrew and then “Imagine” the famous John Lennon song in three languages. I had tears in my eyes at the words in Hebrew, all the more meaningful at this point in time.

She closed to a standing ovation. An improvised performance in a meeting hall and yet an inspiring and unforgettable experience.

We returned to Tel Aviv elated.

Yesterday, Ina made an impressive contribution. to the Conference at TAU. She was the concluding speaker on the panel entitled”Gender and Civil Society” the other speakers which included  members of Women Wage Peace and other erudite activists from Jewish and Moslem organisations presented differing facets of activities in many sectors, showing how women are working for change. She focussed on the year 2000  UNSC resolution 1325 which formally acknowledged the changing nature of warfare, in which civilians are increasingly targeted, and yet women continue to be excluded from participation in peace processes. She explained that this is the tool which could and should determine a switch in decision making and in which sane and humane decisions and actions would come to the fore. She herself is making connections within the EU and the audience were stunned when The Canadian Ambassador stood up and expressed her interest in becoming involved.

So,  creating the ground internationally and using examples from Lysistrata to the women of Liberia to stimulate and solidify activities is an achievable objective for the 51% of the population.

She added “men are welcome, too”

A fitting end to an exciting session.



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.