Women, War, and Peace: In Palestine, Afghanistan, and Liberia

October 6 marks the 10-year anniversary of the United States’ war in Afghanistan. In response to this event and the stories of woman in war zones around the world, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) in the United States plans to rally “women and thoughtful men” around the U.S. to proclaim that this war has gone on 10 years too long and demand “not one more death allowed” and “not one more dollar spent” on this war. They join the thousands who continue the “Occupy Wall Street” protests and direct-democracy actions in New York and many other cities and towns across the U.S.

The anniversary of this war marks the years of my journey doing feminist anti-war organizing (with WAND, Mennonites, and others). It is a formation that began in the early days of this war in 2001 when, as a senior at a Mennonite high school, I became pen pals with a young woman who lived in Nazareth. She spoke Arabic and English. I spoke English and Spanish. We didn’t know anything else about each others’ realities. Through English-language letters over the next year, we began to paint a picture of daily life across the world for one another.

I never imagined that 10 years later there would still be a U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
I never imagined that 10 years later I would live in Jerusalem, not far from Nazareth.

These two events are connected. My life and worldview are forever changed by them. I haven’t met my pen pal yet, but I’ve met many young women who live bravely in similarly difficult situations of second-class citizenship. It is women like them and prophetic women such as Malalai Joya in Afghanistan that inspire me to implement daily and faith-inspired ways to resist my contribution to the war and live alternatively.

This requires a significant amount of my time and creative energy. However, I can’t think of anything I enjoy doing more! It is a big part of why I am in the Holy Land now, working with MCC SALT, learning more about Jesus and the place that formed him. I want to learn from people here about the way they seek to resist injustice, and the patience, faith, and strategy required to do so throughout a lifetime.

Because it is both culturally more appropriate, and because I was a Comparative Women’s Studies major in university, I seek out women of all generations to hear their stories on this subject. I listen closely when a young girl describes her day to me; I sit close to the elders at the lunch table. In all their stories I look for clues as to what the bigger picture of life is like, and what forms resistance takes. In many ways, for most of the Palestinians I’ve met, just surviving another day under occupation is a method of resistance. Some women I met feel pushed to their “physical, psychological, and spiritual limits.” This constant push to the limits exhausts them. It can drive women apart from one another; I’ve seen that here already. Yet it can also bring them together, as others have testified. This was certainly the case in Liberia, after many years of civil war. Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian community organizer and one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners this week wrote in her book:

The women of Liberia had been taken to our physical, psychological and spiritual limits. But…we had discovered a new source of power and strength: each other. We’d been pushed to the wall and had only two options: give up or join up to fight back. Giving up wasn’t an option. Peace was the only way we could survive. We would fight to bring it…

And they did. Their efforts helped to end the war. Women from Christian, Muslim, and various traditional West African religions came together to pray, organize, and act for change. Gbowee writes that Psalms, prayers and songs were a big part of her sustenance during the most difficult times of the struggle. Gbowee received some of her training in preparation for anti-war work from Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.

Each week, Christian individuals and groups affiliated with the World Council of Churches pray for specific churches and regions. Within a year, the collective prayer will circle the globe. These prayers are included in the weekly Wave of Prayer written by Sabeel, an Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center located in East Jerusalem. Last week (week 41), coincidentally, the prayer was for Afghanistan and the surrounding nation-states. I’m sure countless pleas for peace wafted up to God. Will God be moved to bring peace?

I’m not sure. I can only trust. But I do know that there are many women on the move for peace, in Palestine, Afghanistan, Liberia and in other places. In addition to Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace Prize acknowledged the important life-work of current president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. And for the first time in the history of the prize, an Arab woman received it also. Her name is Tawakkul Karman, from Yemen. She got news about the Prize during a nonviolent rally! These women represent the efforts of many women, who understand intimately the impact of war and injustice, and ultimately the relentless persistence needed to organize and bring forth another reality.

Building a pen-pal friendship was a good first step to learning the joys and struggles of my sisters around the world. I look forward to learning much more as the year continues, especially about many women’s efforts to end the occupation here.

Comment (1)

  1. Ben_jammin

    Thanks for this article, weaving a tapestry of resistance to war by women in different places and how it formed you and continues to form you. I hope you’ll write on the encounter with your pen-pal..

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