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Middle East “Voices of Resistance”

August 7, 2006

In the displacement of Lebanese civilians due to the current conflict, women are suffering the most, said Lina Abou-Habib, speaking from Beirut on a marathon broadcast by FIRE (Feminist International Radio Endeavour). Originating in Costa Rica, “Voices of Resistance” began with alternating live segments in Spanish and English on Friday, August 4, and extended into the weekend. The media focuses on the military action, “but you hear less about the terrible experience of being displaced, particularly if you’re poor,” said Abou-Habib, executive director of the Collective for Research and Training on Development-Action in Beirut. She was among women from Lebanon, Israel, Gaza, and other parts of the Middle East interviewed by Maria Saurez and Margie Thompson in a streaming, 24-hour broadcast from the FIRE website. Abou-Habib said donations and significant numbers of women volunteers, not only from the region but also from Europe and elsewhere, helped her work among the displaced population, numbering from 700,000 to a million, with some 180,000 in organized centers. “Those are the women we can reach,” she said, adding that the displacement centers were located in schools and other spaces but sometimes just public gardens. “We are mobilizing so that women can begin to take control of their situation,” she said, by making decisions on distribution of supplies and common spaces, on garbage collection, on special needs such as sanitary pads and underwear. “It’s a matter of human dignity,” said Abou-Habib, “if all you have is the dress you are wearing when forced from your home.” In one respect, she said, the experience is different from the armed conflict in Lebanon in 1982. The huge numbers of televisions available today “means that at least the imagery is available. But information of what women want is very limited.” What Abou-Habib wants is for the UN Security Council to “do their job.” Needed yesterday, she said, is unconditional and immediate ceasefire, and then “a mechanism so that people can get out of this vicious circle of violence.” Also on the broadcast, Vivian Stromberg, executive director of the women’s human rights group MADRE, said the U.S., because “it supplies the arms and planes and bombs,” holds the key responsibility for the violence in Lebanon. “The urgency is for a political solution, but even the Democrats are supporting the Bush Administration. That makes the role of people like me even greater, if we are to have peace. It’s not just sending help to the Middle East. It’s help for our own families.” MADRE is distributing donations generated by the marathon. Media coverage misses “the terrible anger” the crisis is producing throughout the region, said Marieme Helie-Lucas, speaking from Algeria. Inside the main cities of Israel, women peace demonstrators suffer not only from the Hezbollah rockets but also from jeers and assaults by fellow Israelis, reported Helie-Lucas, founder of Women Living Under Muslim Laws. “People have such courage to protest the war from within an aggressor country,” she said of protesters in Haifa, forced to interrupt their demonstration to run to shelters (see Women In Black). “War produces more violence for women,” she said. “Not just linked to military violence, but also domestic violence.” Helie-Lucas worries that the conflicts will concentrate more power in the hands of fundamentalists. “We can see that in Iraq, where women who were once the most liberated in the Middle East are now forced backwards. We must refuse the ideology that talks of a clash of civilizations, and give a voice to all women.” FIRE also broadcast an appeal from Amnesty International’s Larry Cox to join a global vigil calling for a ceasefire on Monday, August 7, as well as a call for a march in Washington, D.C., initiated by ANSWER, National Council of Arab Americans (NCA), and Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.