Keeping the international peace fires burning

INDIANOLA — Two women who have been local activists for peace in the Israel and Palestine region for the past 15 years finally got a chance to see what they have been working for.

INDIANOLA — Two women who have been local activists for peace in the Israel and Palestine region for the past 15 years finally got a chance to see what they have been working for.

For several weeks between Dec. 19, 2003 and Jan. 11, 2004, Indianola residents Tina Gianoulis and Janice Gutman were able to do more than just strive for peace from home. The duo participated in a three-week long event in Israel and Palestine called the International Human Rights March of Women.

It was organized by three groups — a group of Norwegian women, an Israeli women’s group called the Coalition of Women For Peace and the General Union of Palestine.

More than 100 women, ages 18 to 81, from 16 different countries showed up in the Middle East to participate, Gianoulis said. In addition, Israeli and Palestinian women joined the group as it trekked between both countries.

“It was really exciting in that way — how many types of women that came,” Gianoulis said.

She and Gutman have been working on international peace issues since 1988. They are also local activists with the Women In Black, the Kitsap Citizens Action Network and the Suquamish Olalla Neighbors group.

However, seeing their international work in action was rewarding, if not also heartbreaking.

Gutman said she felt the trip overseas was a chance to take 15 years of work and see what was actually happening.

While the media portrays the radical side of the conflict, such as suicide bombings, Gutman said, the women were able to see the movement that doesn’t get much attention — the women’s peace movement.

“(We were) really seeing how there is non-violent peace movement in Israel and Palestine that hardly gets any press coverage,” Gutman said.

“Overwhelming” is how the women described their trip, as they were constantly on the go, meeting new people in every town, sometimes visiting several towns in one day. Other times, it would take an entire day just to get from one town to another due to lengthy stops at military checkpoints. These were not easy for visitors or residents to get through, Gutman said.

Women in labor have died at the checkpoints because the army won’t let the ambulances travel to hospitals, Gutman added.

While they visited refugee camps, held demonstrations and met with peace groups and dignitaries, including Yasser Arafat, the duo also met with many residents, one-on-one.

“I think people are just desperate to get support and have their story told,” Gutman said about reactions from residents when they found out “internationals” were visiting their town.

“Each place was more intense than the last place,” Gianoulis added.

Gianoulis and Gutman talked to Israeli and Palestinian women and heard how they live in fear, which sometimes prevents them from doing everyday things like going to the store or to doctors’ appointments.

One of the more upsetting experiences was visiting the town of Qalqilya, where a wall, much like a prison wall, Gianoulis said, was built, enclosing the town. Residents can only leave during a single 15-minute window when the entrance to the town is open.

“It’s this feeling you don’t know what is going to happen,” Gutman said. “The rules are so arbitrary. I’ve known a lot of this information for a long time but to see this in day-to-day life … is horrendous.”

Regardless of both positive and negative experiences, Gianoulis and Gutman said they felt the trip had some impact on the peace movement.

“I think it was a positive thing for them to feel that people listened to them and will tell their story around the world,” Gutman said.

“I learned a lot. That’s kind of what I went there to do,” Gianoulis said. “I feel a part of what I need to accomplish is now — trying to spread the word. I want to talk about this. I want to tell people stories.”

“Let them know that we are supporting peace but also get politicians and government leaders (into the occupied territories),” Gutman added. “Our government could play a big role in peace-making.”