For many years, the members of feminist groups in Israel were
mainly middle-class, professional, Ashkenazi (Jews of European
origin) women. Lower-class, Mizrachi (Jews of Oriental and Arabic
origin) and Palestinian women were a small minority among Israeli
feminists. Lesbians, not nec¬essarily small in number, were
invisible at best, and at worst, shunned alto¬gether. The
creation of women's peace groups and the increasing activities of
other women's groups presented new challenges to Israeli feminism.
Feminist work had to include women from different social, ethnic
and national backgrounds, and from different lifestyles.
It was the Intifada, together with the disillusionment of many
women with the male-dominated peace movement, that gave the impetus
to the creation of so many different women's peace groups (Sharoni,
1993; Young, 1992). The Intifada created a new politics of the
oppressed. Its mes¬sage has been that when people do not have
political power, they can struggle to achieve it using whatever
means available. As the Palestinians were using stones to gain a
voice, women were using their presence in the streets to express
their opposition to oppression. Although women's peace groups were
opposing the oppression of the Palestinians by Israel, they
nevertheless had a greater impact agitating for a voice for women
The assumption that women should not have a voice in public
affairs, especially in war politics, has been prevalent in Israeli
society for many years. With the emergence of a women's peace
movement, Israeli women could challenge their traditional roles as
mothers and keepers of the home-front and take positions on crucial
political matters such as the Israeli-Palestinian con¬flict.
Moreover, they were protesting against their existence as dependent
and marginal members of society and against the restrictions
imposed on women in patriarchal society. For women to demand a
public voice and at the same time to oppose the Occupation was a
form of subversion.
This subversive position helped t.o create the connections between
gen¬der and politics in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict. As pointed out by Hagar Rovlev, a founding member of
Women in Black in Jerusalem,
It is very important to find local interpretations of feminism in
Israel ._. For example, those who see feminism as a political
intervention grounded in the daily lives and struggles of women,
may argue that even for women
who do not identify as feminists, the very choice of going to a
women's demonstration conveys a feminist message, whether women are
willing to admit that or not (Sharoni, 1993, p_ 226).
Thus, feminist activism found its manifestation in the protests of
women's peace groups, such as Women in Black, Women for Women
Political Prisoners, Shani and others. Each woman demonstrating was
taking part in feminist struggles even if she herself might not
have necessarily been aware of it.
Furthermore, the development of the women's peace movement
facili¬tated cooperation between Jewish and Palestinian women
in Israel. The activities of different women's peace groups created
a model for joint work, based on the acceptance of the political,
national or other differences between the participants. The history
of the women's peace movement in Israel, as shown by Sharoni,
"reveals attempts to overlook differences in political ideology and
direction in order to mobilize broad segments of the society"
(1993, p. 23). The loose framework of Women in Black, for
exam¬ple, enabled many women with different political views
and women who were not previously involved in politics to
participate (Espanioli and Sachs, 1991). This alliance between
different women had to ignore differ¬ences and to assume
unanimity when it did not necessarily exist.
The impact of a new agenda, developed by the women's peace groups
in Israel, seemed to have offered a new possibility of building a
national feminist conference. The previous conferences were divided
deeply on articulating the connections between the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict and feminist issues. Thus, each of the
feminist group or projects was left to carry out its struggle on
its own. There was no basis for a united platform or activism of
In 1991, after an interval of five years, there was a "new"
feminist con¬ference. This time the basis for joint work was a
new concept which was introduced by the group of Mizrachi women
from Tel Aviv. This joint work did not ignore the differences
between women and different groups of women; on the contrary, it
was based on identifying differences and introducing equal
representation for each group. Thus, the work done by the women's
peace movement was taken a step further.
Feminist conferences used women's experience in the peace movement
while refusing to overlook differences. They could be used, as
Audre Lourde said, as "powerful connections" to forge personal and
To translate theory into practice, three groups were identified, as
repre¬senting the most salient social groups in Israeli
reality: Mizrachi women, Palestinian women and Ashkenazi women.
Each group was to take respon¬sibility for one-third of the
workshops, one-third of the panel's speakers and hopefully
one-third of the participants. The groups and women in the
orga¬nizing committee agreed to this new concept and the
eighth feminist con¬ference, the first in the "new feminist
era," was on its way.
When the conference started in Giv'at Haviva, in May 1992, it
became clear that this new idea of artificially "dividing" feminist
women in order to give voice and strength to those needing it most,
was highly controversial. It did, however, excite the women, who
could see the potential of this new direction. Yet, lesbian women
did not find themselves represented any¬where. Before the
conference was over, a "feminist arithmetic" was created.
Since 1992, three more conferences have followed (in 1993, 1994,
1995), aimed at creating new visions of feminist struggle in
Israel. The introduc¬tion of equal representation brought
forward women who otherwise never had the chance to speak. It
exposed the participants to the "other" on both the personal and
the political dimensions. It also brought great pain to women who
had to recognize that taking power is also sharing it equally, that
equality with men might mean different things for different women,
and that anger and frustration of long years of oppression should
not be directed at each other.
Each woman participating in these conferences had her own point of
view on the concept of representation. Many women who could not
easily accept this "artificial" representation found themselves
empowered by it, thus recognizing the importance of giving voices
to women from different groups. Other women accepted the notion of
equal representation as a compromise or as a necessary stage for
the present, but not desirable for the future. But for many women,
this new representation was the first time that the two (or more)
standpoints of their lives could find a place. Women could speak
up, connecting their position as part of a wider oppressed social
group, and at the same time address' their oppression as
Personally, I am uneasy about identity categories and am not sure
why anyone should identify or be identified with anyone group at
all. I would like to follow Judith Butler who is "permanently
troubled by identity cate¬gories, consider them to be
invariable stumbling-blocks, and understand them, even promote
them, as sites of necessary trouble" (1991, p. 14).
Nonetheless, the last feminist conferences set the stage for
exploring the possibility of identity, the limitations and the need
to promote identity cat¬egories, together with the necessary
Butler, Judith. "Imitation and Gender Insubordination." Inside/Out,
Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories. Diana Fuss, Ed. New York:
Espanioli, Nabila and Sachs, Dalia. "Peace Process: Israeli and
Bridges, Fall 1991, pp. 99-11l.
Sharoni, Simona. Conflict Resolution Through Feminist Lenses:
Theorizing the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict from the Perspectives
of Women Peace Activists in Israel. Fairfax: George Mason
University, 1993. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis.
Young, Elise. Keepers of the History: Women and the
New York: Teachers College, 1992.