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Arabic: النساء يرعين الأمن

Hebrew: נשים מקדמות את הביטחון


Women can aid  security

Sadie Goldman with Jason Proetorius and IPF Staff

WASHINGTON— The unexpected breach of Gaza's wall in January created a new flurry of security concerns and proved to be yet another example of how both Israelis and Palestinians are forced to focus on their most pressing security concerns, often at the expense of other long-term goals.

It was in this "security obsessed" context that a delegation of security experts consisting of three Palestinian women (Amal Jadou, Enas Nazzal, and Haitham Arar) and three Israeli women (Israela Oron, Eynat Gepner-Goldstein, and Etty Yevnin) came to Washington to showcase the growing participation of women in security services and, more than that, to deliver the message that genuine security is not only about secure borders but also includes economic well-being, human rights, and peace.

An all-female joint delegation consisting of an Israe li general and two colonels alongside officials of the Palestinian interior ministry is unusual enough. But what made this group stand out was not gender, but the message—from a group of established security professionals—that military means alone will not bring security to Israelis or Palestinians.

They maintained that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not one where victory is decided on the battlefield between uniformed soldiers, but rather it is a dispute fought within civilian communities.

"It is not military against military," Colonel Eynat Gepner Goldstein noted in a meeting with Israel Policy Forum. Instead it is civilians who deal with the effects of the conflict. And if the consequences of violence have a deleterious impact on their economic and social well-being, then the conflict will inevitably deteriorate.

Israeli and Palestinian history are both filled with examples of civilians suffering because of violence. The most recent are the tens of thousands of Gazans who battered down walls and poured into Egypt for supplies following Israel's closure of its borders, and the residents of Sderot—the town most affected by rocket fire from Gaza—64% of whom said that they would leave if they could afford it, according to a December 21st Yediot Ahronot poll.

Alleviating these problems means getting citizens positively involved in their communities' security rather than abandoning their cities or fueling the conflict. Women, the entire delegation stressed, are critical components of every community's and of its security. They are, furthermore, often on the first line of defence for families, and the first victims of security failures. As Amal Jadou pointed out, since women are involved in all aspects of life, it is only natural that they participate in all aspects of security.

Israeli women have always been required to serve in the military or an auxiliary service, while the first group of Palestinian polic ewomen only recently completed their training. The process of building the institutions of a Palestinian state only began after the Oslo accords of 1993, and stalled following the outbreak of the second Intifada. The Palestinian security forces are now in the particularly difficult situation of simultaneously striving to restructure and unify the security apparatus while engaging in an interfactional struggle and dealing with an occupying force.

To illustrate these difficulties, Haitham Arar, head of the Ministry of Interior's Democracy and Human Rights Unit, offered the example of Palestinian prisons. She explained that to bring law and order and enable the withdrawal of Israeli forces from its cities, the Palestinian Authority (PA) must arrest and disarm wanted men. According to Arar, however, the PA doesn't have sufficient prisons, let alone separate institutions for minors and women. This infastructural lack hurts the PA's ability to detain criminals affecting Pal estinian cities and terrorists planning attacks against Israel.

Arar stressed the centrality of empowering women under these circumstances. Women have the ability to enter rooms that are off-limits to men, can play a crucial role in searching, interrogating, investigating women, and in training other personnel. Along with men, educated and trained women are needed not only to work in women's prisons and social centres, but in the numerous fields that go along with it, such as clinics, counselling, and rehabilitation centres.

Ettie Yevnin, a retired police colonel, cited the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a useful example of the importance of female security personnel in military or police operations. During that withdrawal, Yevnin noted, a larger number of female police officers dealt with female resistors and physically removed recalcitrant women from the scene.

Involving women in the public aspects of police work, Haitham Arar said, also serves a cruc ial social component. "The security service has the same culture as Palestinian society in general. So women can work in the security sector but only in administrative jobs, as secretaries for example." In order to continue to change the culture to accept greater participation of women in diverse positions, visibility is crucial. "When the first female police officers directed traffic in Ramallah last month," Arar said, "some people teased them, but the general opinion was positive. Some Palestinians said they found it easier to deal with women." As women security officers get more exposure, Arar said, they will gain more acceptance.

Greater participation of women is one fundamental aspect of making sure that security concerns are not only handled by military forces, but involve civil society as well. Just as women are more likely to admit when they need to ask for directions, Israeli Brigadier General (ret.) Israela Oron said in a talk she gave in Cambridge, they are also more likely to say when a new approach is necessary. That approach is negotiating toward peace. And "Peace," Oron said "is the only way to achieve security."


* This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Israel Policy Forum, 13 February 2008, www.ipforum.org.
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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