“ People sometimes say that if women ruled the world, we would have no wars,” Sarah Linder tells me from her Tel Aviv home on the morning of Purim as we chat over Zoom. As the co-founder of Political is Personal (PiP), an initiative that conducts in-depth interviews with Israeli and Palestinian women on their experiences of conflict, she has more insights than most.
It’s easy to idealize a matriarchal utopia, but we don’t actually know what the reality would look like as “women are so often excluded from any conversations surrounding the conflict” she suggests. “The struggle for equality between men and women is, sadly, still a relevant topic nowadays and especially so in the context of conflicts. This is no more evident than in Israel and the Palestinian territories. While there are a significant number of peacemaking initiatives, including a significant number organised by Palestinian and Israeli women, their voices are still silenced or dominated by those of their male counterparts. That’s what Political is Personal (PiP) seeks to challenge “
Linder’s insights, she suggests, are part of a broader question of the number of women in charge of political decisions and policymaking, as well as the number of women holding managerial positions in NGOs. Both are crucial aspects that affect women’s participation in matters pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At the same time, the voices of Palestinian and Israeli/Jewish women are only occasionally listened to through media filters. “It can be difficult to know whether someone is attempting to use these for political purposes that strip all honesty away from what was initially said. It’s a difficult balance. You have to be careful” she says to me. She pauses before continuing: “Careful that the words are interpreted correctly and that putting them out into the world doesn’t cause any harm. That’s something women definitely have to think about, on both sides.”
An independent scholar, Sarah spent time in New York working at a public school in Harlem and studying at the New School, taking classes in Sociology, History and Writing. After graduation, she moved to Israel, where she has lived for the last fourteen years. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC) with majors in Conflict Resolution and International Affairs in 2010 and her Master’s degree in Middle Eastern history from Tel Aviv University in 2014.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, she quickly developed an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict observing the complex dynamics of the conflict unfold on her own doorstep. Her physical proximity to the realities of the conflict left her with a need to understand and re-centre women’s experiences and voices. This, in turn, lead her to set up a Feminist Forum at the IDC in 2009 and eventually to establish the Political is Personal in 2015. The group set about carrying out a series of personal interviews of diverse women – Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian citizens of Israel, and Jewish Israelis- building a rich bank of testimony and documentation of diverse experiences, allowing them to sit side by side.
Interviewing these women, Sarah told me, revealed elements of their everyday life experiences that she was able to relate to on a personal level. Analyzing the women’s responses to challenges and achievements in the context of severe political conflict revealed how longstanding gender hierarchies and the pressures of traditional societies fed into the dynamics of armed conflicts. Looking at these questions in tandem was, she said, the key to understanding stories on both sides.
When examined through these lenses, the testimonies revealed a sense of an acute longing for a safe space and home, but simultaneously demonstrated emotional capacity to look beyond a partisan readings of the conflict, and to reach out to the other side. These insights, she argues, need to play a much more important part in the ongoing debate on women’s narratives of security and insecurity in conflict zones, and (most importantly) the way in which these narratives translate into a wider understanding of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Bringing these particular dynamics to the forefront of current academic and scholarly debate, she argues, will be at the centre of what she wants to do moving forward. With the Covid-19 pandemic throwing our interconnectedness and need for shared stories into even sharper relief, GenPol is excited to read whatever timely interventions come next. PiP’s material is already available with open access (including “The voices of Israeli and Palestinian women” by Beatrica Blanda and “The Political is Personal” ). We encourage our readers to take time to read their work, and to take time to consult their homepage.