University of Rochester

Peace Activists Persevere for Coexistence between Israelis, Palestinians

October 13, 2003

Despite the killings and desecration of the land that's holy to the world's religions, Israeli and Palestinian women are working for peace. Failed negotiations and stalled Mideast plans by government leaders do not deter them, says University of Rochester anthropologist Ayala Emmett.

In a new preface to Our Sisters' Promised Land: Women, Politics, and Israeli-Palestinian Coexistence, Emmett cries out for attention to those who stay vigilant and represent the majority of Israelis who support Israeli recognition of Palestinian self-government and coexistence. "Do we want to hear this message?" she asks. "If we don't, it's to our detriment."

Emmett researched the public and private peace activities of women in 1990 and 1993 in Israel, the place of her birth. "They agreed to talk to me because they understood that the media's focus on the official story ignored, overlooked, or dismissed peace efforts." The same is true today.

Our Sisters' Promised Land (University of Michigan Press, $22.95 paperback) is now out in a second edition. Emmett, associate professor of anthropology at Rochester, says that in the current tense political situation in the Middle East, this new edition is an opportunity to re-introduce her ethnographic study of women's peace activism. Emmett says she carries a "sacred obligation" to share the cultural information she has received from the women. "That kind of reciprocity is very much part of our discipline of anthropology," she says.

When her book was published in 1996, it was the first to examine Israeli politics by focusing on women's claims that they represent the silent majority supporting peace. Emmett chose women for her study because she believes that "attention to the margins--where women peace activists are--reveals aspects of political life that, despite their significance, have been ignored." Rather than their numbers being depleted, new peace groups have emerged since then, Emmett says.

She agrees that the Mideast image of "endless violence has its own dire political consequences because it lends support to those who for years have been promoting the view that conflict is 'in' and peace is 'out.' " With the media focused primarily on the political elite, people who dispute the government's contention that there are no partners for peace have difficulty connecting to those outside Israel and the occupied territories. "There's been a lack of attention to grassroots peace efforts for decades, and this is more true now," she says.