I spent the day walking up flights of stairs in Haifa.
After glancing at the map and seeing that it was only a 30-minute walk to my destination, I told myself that I was up for the adventure. But as the hill kept getting steeper, I felt more like someone climbing the mountain in order to learn the meaning of life from a monk; I was not disappointed.
I met today with an amazing woman at the Haifa Women's Coalition Center, the building that several feminist organizations call home. Sarai Aharoni had become my “academic crush” while I researching women’s peace and feminist movements in Israel. Aharoni has written a lot on feminism, women, peace and security, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She put into words perfectly my discomfort with the academic boycott of Israel (read it here). To my pleasure, she responded to an email I had sent and invited me to Haifa to visit her and peruse the Women and Peace archives. It was a treat. She's part of the group that is establishing the Haifa Feminist Institute--giving an "official name," she explained to me, to something that already exists.
The center is home to organizations Kayan and Isha L'Isha, two of the most interesting feminist groups in Israel and Palestine. Isha L’Isha is one of the first feminist grassroots organizations and was founded in 1983. Kayan emerged from conversations amongst women in Isha L'Isha and is the Arab Feminist Center in the North working for equality of Palestinian women in Israel. The two organizations pursue many different activities, educational projects, and initiatives to promote women’s rights, women status, and women’s equality in Israel and Palestine. The Coalition is special because it is a space where Jewish and Arab women work together under one roof supporting women and victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
So here I was, sitting in this space that has been created for women by women and sharing methodological challenges of feminist theories with this brilliant woman sitting across from me surrounded by books and archives, an academic-dream-come-true.
Haifa is a fascinating city in the North and one that I have not explored enough. It extends all the way to the seacoast and then the city rises up to the hills and the Carmel Mountain. I left the meeting and wandered around the rest of the day, heading to destinations that my friends had recommended to me. I stumbled upon a café where the waiter was originally from Lebanon and settled myself into a corner: cozy and happy with my laptop and my work. It is what is called a “mixed” city, one that has a vibrant Jewish and Arab population. As I sat in the café, I felt like I could breathe deeply. People were just living and being people here. It didn’t matter what your ethnicity was, where your allegiances lie, or where you were from originally. This may be too idealistic and just all assumptions and superficial judgments. It is definitely a city that I want to know better. My mom lived in Haifa for a stint when she lived in Israel and as I was trekking up and down the stairs and venturing out to find the funicular (called the Carmelite!), I felt strangely at peace with my life. That feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.
Update from Israel and Palestine: attacks inside Israeli borders have slowed down with the arrival of the rainstorm and winter .Yet things sound far from calm within the West Bank, a young soldier, who was stabbed at a famously tense junction (Tzomat Tapuah) in the territories, died today. Six other Israelis were injured in other attacks in the West Bank in the last several days including a particularly nasty drive-by. Settlers supposedly opened fire on farmers near Nablus. Soldiers killed a 72-year-old Palestinian woman after an alleged car attack. Clashes have erupted near Ramallah, protests in Gaza continue, shots are fired, people are dying, and from the perspective of Tel Aviv it feels like it’s being swept under a rug.
As Aharoni and I were talking today, a question left unanswered is haunting me. War and violence can be used as a catalyst to transform a society (with negotiations and compromise on the other side of the spectrum). The question facing us now: how much more violence is necessary to transform this one?