WITH COURAGE AND TENACITY: A Yesidi woman, a Syrian woman and a Palestinian woman

“Countless women make their contribution towards peace, safety, human rights and justice in times of crisis,” said Viola Raheb. Copyright: Raheb

Written by: Viola Raheb

Women are particularly vulnerable in times of war and conflict. Many grow in the face of such challenging situations but also excel themselves. We should listen to their voices, says Viola Raheb and names three examples of exceptionally courageous and visionary women from the Middle East.

No matter where you look in the Middle East today – whether it is in Palestine, in Iraq, in Syria, Egypt or in Tunisia – the lives of people are marked everywhere by crises, wars, destruction and death. Apart from the peculiarities of each conflict, the underlying desire in all these countries is nothing else than peace, safety and human rights. It is precisely these issues that are inseparably connected with women. On 31 October 2000, the United Nations adopted Resolution 1325 on the protection of women’s rights in conflict regions. It demonstrates the particular impacts of conflicts on women, their special vulnerability, and it emphasises the indispensable contributions made by women in peace efforts and peace negotiations, through to reconstruction. In the midst of all the madness which people in the Middle East must suffer today, thousands of courageous women do their utmost every day to achieve an end to the violence and more solidarity in the world, despite everything and to spite everything. This ordeal takes completely different forms. It demands a very high personal price and frequently finds very little appreciation, if at all. So please allow

me to introduce three women who are making such a contribution. In December 2015, Nadia Murad Basee Taha, a young Yesidi woman from Iraq, went before the UN Security Council and reported on the fate of abducted Yesidi women. 21 year old Nadia was herself kidnapped from her village in Sindschar by the Islamic State in August 2014 and was held hostage for about three months, during which she was kept as a sex slave. This young woman found the courage to share her cruel fate with the international public so that other women can be helped. In an interview, she said disenchanted, “At this present moment, girls and women are being sold and raped. But people’s consciences are not awakened and there is nobody to set these women free.” The Iraqi government nominated Nadia Murad Basee Taha for the Nobel Peace Prize in January 2016. Another example: In those days it was my privilege to meet a young Syrian woman who had been imprisoned for her non-violent political action and raped in prison. Now she is fighting for peace, human rights and freedom in Syria. With tears in her eyes and marks of her maltreatment still on her body, she said in a trembling voice, “I forgive the person who did this to me so that my people and my country may have a future!” Finally, I would like to name Hanan al-Hroub. The Palestinian primary school teacher from the Dheisha refugee camp was the winner of the Global Teacher Prize 2016. In the midst of the occupation and misery, she opens up children to a different perspective of the future, one of non-violence and peace education. The 43 year old mother of five children constantly reminds her pupils that knowledge and education are creative resistance. The Varkey Jury selected her from 8,000 co-nominees for the Global Teacher Prize, which was awarded for the second time in 2016. “Countless women make their contribution towards peace, safety, human rights and justice in times of crisis,” said Viola Raheb. All of us have the task to give them a choice, to make their work visible, to honour and support them. Their work should not be stifled.

Viola Raheb is a Palestinian peace activist and theologian. She grew up in Bethlehem as daughter of an old established Palestinian Christian family and today lives in Vienna. Many know of Viola Raheb as the author of books such as “Geboren zu Bethlehem” (Born in Bethlehem) (2003), “Nächstes Jahr in Bethlehem” (Next Year in Bethlehem) (2008), “Zeit der Feigen” (Time of the Figs) (2009) or her audio book “Zugvögel” (Migratory Bird) (2010).

This article has first been published in Schneller Magazine – on Christian Life in the Middle East (https://ems-online.org/fileadmin/user_upload/Medien/Zeitschriften/Schneller_Magazine_en/2016/sm_en_2016_2.pdf)

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