When asked to write about the situation in Palestine, the words of Naja Said, writer, playwright and daughter of the late professor and renowned intellectual Edward Said, come to mind: “Words can be very powerful, and the word PALESTINE makes one want to cry.” After one year of her play ‘Palestine,’ this revelation still rings true as “Palestine” has ceased from being a concrete geographical place or a historical location, and Palestine has turned instead, to so many people, to an idea; ‘a struggle for equality and human rights.’
The YWCA of Palestine started as early as 1893 by women’s groups in Jaffa, but was officially established in Jerusalem in 1918. Currently, it is formed by three local associations situated in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Jericho, and the two community centers in Jalazoune and Aqbet Jaber Refugee Camps.
“The YWCA envisions an independent and free Palestinian democratic state in which civil society enjoys justice and peace, tolerance, equality, respect for the rights and dignity of human beings, gender equity, and freedom of expression, social justice, pluralism and cultural diversity” (Strategic Plan 2010-2015).
Its mission is to create women leadership in all fields of life. Throughout the years, the YWCA has developed a wide range of programs and projects with the aim of empowering women and girls and improving their status through creating and developing economic opportunities, as well as raising their awareness and supporting and joining them to advocate for their individual and national rights. Moreover, the YWCA works on youth leadership and civic engagement, and on enhancing the accessibility of educational and cultural activities, including children education and cognitive learning.
“The reality on the ground [in Palestine] is one of the Israeli occupation, and all that results from this situation: the dehumanizing effect of the Separation Wall; the effect of the Israeli settlements that ravage our land in the name of God and of force; humiliation at checkpoints; restrictions on religious liberty; and the suffering of Jerusalem where homes are being demolished or expropriated. There is also the reality of the refugees, waiting for their rights to be realized, as well as the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel waiting to enjoy equality.” (Kairos: A Moment of Truth.)
Due to the fact that the YWCA in Palestine works in a context of military occupation; the risk of unpredictable closures, movement restrictions and other obstacles frequently interferes with the carrying out of its activities. The deterioration of the political and socio-economic situation obviously affects the work of the YWCA as it does all other organizations, and hinders its ability to construct long-term plans in a conflict-driven area where the main hardships are always there, but seldom getting better.
The values of the YWCA have given it a special identity as a community development organization that is widely respected. Its advocacy stems from the belief that development can only be achieved if there is peace with justice and respect for basic human rights. The YWCA of Palestine, together with the East Jerusalem YMCA through their Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI) have a long history of commitment, concern for people' rights and involvement in working for Peace with Justice based on Humanitarian and Christian Values, by mobilizing the world movements of YMCA and YWCA, churches, church-based organizations, UN agencies, and other relevant organizations to influence decision-makers and prompt actions that contribute to end Israeli occupation and all its violations of International Law.
The JAI offers opportunities for YWCA and YMCA members who are interested to come and visit and support programs of these institutions. The JAI also organizes exchanges for young people, including the Journey for Justice which brings together youth from all over the world to experience, travel and witness the effects of the Israeli occupation with Palestinian youth. The JAI is also known for its Keep Hope Alive – Olive Tree Campaign, which seeks to replant olive trees in areas where trees have been uprooted and destroyed, or in areas where the fields are threatened to be confiscated by the Israeli military Occupation and settlers. Through replanting olive trees, Palestinians will be encouraged to keep hope alive and to reaffirm their commitment to work constructively toward peace-building.
To find out more about the YWCA of Palestine: www.ywca-palestine.org
The find out more about the JAI campaigns: http://www.jai-pal.org
To read the KAIROS document “A Moment of Truth” (also available in Japanese: http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/default/Documents/Japanese.pdf )