Last week I led a group of women from the UK on a trip to meet women in the West Bank, organised by Amos Trust. Whenever I have been to Palestine I have always heard from inspiring men about the situation they are in; this trip was intentional about hearing women’s voices. The itinerary was put together by Lucy, our friend from Wi’am, and what a fantastic week it was. Lucy arranged for us to meet such a wide range of incredible women, all of whom spoke eloquently and passionately about what life is like for women in Palestine – academics, local politicians, theatre director, yoga teacher, community activists, business women, theologians, and Ambassador Amal Jadou from the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our group ranged in age from 17 to 79 and we had a roller-coaster week of rich conversations and experiences, where we laughed and cried together, forged deep friendships, probably all wound each other up a tiny bit but came out smiling. We stayed in Bethlehem and visited Nablus, Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron. We went to a Turkish Bath, drank mint lemonade overlooking Nablus at night, floated in the Dead Sea, and played joyous late-night bingo in a Palestinian bar. We met so many amazing women – here are a few of my highlights:
- Visiting the Business Women’s Forum in Ramallah and meeting Haya, who has set up a business selling sesame energy bars and the most amazing Palestinian Turkish Delight. She was so delighted that we enjoyed her products – her smile was incredible.
- Listening to Jean Zaru in Ramallah, a Quaker leader and theologian who had so much to share on systemic violence and how to stay hopeful, forged from a lifetime of living under occupation and refusing to allow that to rob her of her dignity and humanity.
- Meeting Eilda Zaghmout at the Beit Ashams yoga centre she has set up in Beit Jala, with the intention of bringing people back to themselves. She talked about trauma-informed yoga, working with girls who had been imprisoned as teenagers and helping them to relax so they could sleep, and creating a safe space of hope.
- Going to Al-Harah Theatre in Beit Jala and meeting Jehan Rizqallah, the first female stage manager in Palestine. She has a place to study for a Masters in Stage and Event Management in Cardiff this year, and will then return to Palestine to pass on her knowledge and be a role model for other women.
- Meeting the articulate and passionate team at the Women’s Studies Centre in Nablus and hearing about their work. They described the road to women’s liberation as being one of study, work and sharing with other women, and gave us copies of their research into supporting bereaved women.
- Spending the week with Lucy Talgieh, our wonderful guide, who let us share her world for a few days in a way that has left a deep impression on all of us.
- And of course my early morning runs through Bethlehem that gave me space to think.
The women we met are the embodiment of the word ‘sumud’ which means steadfastness, allowing their experiences of occupation and oppression to foster resilience and hope, and refusing to perpetuate the cycle of violence. It’s left me with so much to think about, and I’m really grateful to everyone who took part in the week.