University of Rochester

New Book Documents How Women's Activism Helped Mideast Peace

October 21, 1996

A new book about how women peace activists in Israel have anticipated the government's official peace process will appear in November, 1996. The book brings timely analysis to the ongoing struggle for peace in the Middle East, which unfolds even as Israeli and Palestinian leaders continue meeting after the most recent outbreak of violence this fall.

Our Sisters' Promised Land, by Ayala Emmett, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Rochester, focuses upon the long campaign waged by women activists to have the Israeli government recognize Palestinian aspirations for self- government, and to change its official policy from one of conflict to one of peaceful co-existence.

The book, published by the University of Michigan Press [pub. date Nov. 4, $32.50], is the first to examine Israeli politics by focusing on the women's claim that they represent the silent majority which supports peace in Israel. Their claim materialized in the change that led up to the 1993 and 1994 historic signings of peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and between Israel and Jordan. It illuminates the power of politically marginal groups like the women activists to affect the agendas of ruling parties and government.

While the book acknowledges the role played by global events such as the collapse of the Soviet Union and emergence of the United States in creating a climate for peace, it argues that these were "grassroots" peace accords, which developed out of local movements in Israel and in the Occupied Territories. There were both Israeli and Palestinian women activists in the peace movement, the book points out. When they began their public demonstrations, neither nation sanctioned peace as its official policy. Yet the women engaged in a remarkably tenacious struggle, bridging their own cultural and historical differences to accomplish their purpose.

Our Sisters' Promised Land explores issues beyond that of the peace process. It invites readers to see striking parallels between the U.S. and Israel. Both nations are multicultural, immigrant societies with social tensions that occasionally erupt in homegrown violence, as seen in the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, or in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The book provides a comprehensive context for understanding such tensions and for alternatives to violence, which the women activists offered.

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