ISRAEL: Israeli NGOs Demand Greater Role For Women in National Security

Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Western Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

In February 1997, four residents of the north who were mothers of soldiers then serving in Lebanon established a protest movement called “Four Mothers.” The movement was created following a helicopter collision that killed 73 soldiers on their way to the security corridor north of the border. The shock from the accident sparked a vast wave of anger over the fact that the Israeli government hadn't fulfilled its promise to withdraw from Lebanon. It brought about the creation of one of the most significant protest movements in the history of the country.

The women who established the movement were not high-ranking officers in the military. They were not combatants; they had no expertise in military or security issues. Their significant connection to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was their being mothers of soldiers in compulsory service. They understood that their concern for the safety of their sons was powerful and legitimate enough a force to motivate a large protest movement.

The beginning was not simple. The discourse of mothers isn't accepted in Israeli society, which prefers to deal with military and security considerations more than with the safety of the soldiers. The common response was, “What do they know?” They were accused of hurting the military and national resilience. Despite all this, they succeeded in gradually eroding the fixed worldview of Israelis and of the military and political establishments as it related to Lebanon, when they cried, “We've had enough of sacrificing our children to this foolish war.”

The protests they organized grew larger and larger, while their messages permeated the public consciousness. From four mothers they grew to tens of thousands. The Israeli media embraced the movement, and gave its representatives a regular stage on talk shows. The women organized protest marches, met with senior officials and became a legitimate voice in the discourse on the “Lebanese quagmire,” that until then was the arena only of men from the security establishment. The generals scorned them, but the public listened to them.

In 2000 the IDF withdrew from Lebanon. It deployed across the international border in the north, and the sky did not fall. Suddenly it became clear that the residents of the north could be protected without the IDF fighting inside a 40-kilometer (25-mile) corridor in Lebanese territory. The Four Mothers movement had a significant role in shaping public opinion that pushed for the decision on withdrawal. They were the heroes behind the change that finally arrived after an almost 20-year public debate.

That same year the UN passed Resolution 1325, which includes a declaration of the commitment of the Security Council to protect women in conflict and war zones, and to work for the representation of women in security and diplomatic proceedings. In Israel this resolution passed into law five years later, but the law is one thing and reality another: Even now, women's voices are hardly heard in these important areas.

Seven ministers are members of the diplomatic-security cabinet, and only one of them is a woman. Every time a military operation or a security crisis breaks out, like the latest threats of war from Syria, the TV and radio studios fill with experts on terror, military and security, almost all of them men. Women are almost automatically excluded from the screens.

Resolution 1325 has not been implemented in Israel. Women are not included in the public discourse on security issues and are not seen as those who are supposed to make decisions. Despite the great influence of the Four Mothers on our lives here, and even though Resolution 1325 is established in law, women are still expected to keep quiet.

Not everyone accepts this message. More than a year ago, 35 women's organizations, along with feminists and social activists, gathered and formulated an action plan to implement Resolution 1325. The plan will be launched next month [October] in a festive ceremony. It is based on many initiatives that have been implemented around the world to address this issue. In the US, for example, it was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who presented a similar plan. It's been implemented in 40 countries around the world, and the impact of women can already be felt in the resolution of conflicts in Northern Ireland, Liberia and elsewhere.

One can't claim, of course, that men don't know how to make peace. But women bring something else to the negotiating table, something that in most cases is missing: compassion. In many cases women see the person behind the conflict, the personal and private pain. Furthermore, women and girls are more exposed to assaults such as rape, violence, prostitution or trafficking. That is why Resolution 1325 is so important.

Four Mothers succeeded in breaking through the glass ceiling in Israel, achieving the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon. Perhaps the appointment of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to head the team negotiating with the Palestinians, after she was the sole minister in the government to insist on advancing peace talks, could bring about the next historic achievement.