Saturday, April 2, 2011

Middle East’s Paradigm Shift: Rape is No More Accepted Here

By Yvette Nahmia-Messinas, co-founder of ECOWEEK and author of They All Sound Like Love Songs: Women Healing Israeli-Palestinian Relations

I had the pleasure of meeting Yvette Nahmia-Messinas at the Association for Women in Psychology convention in 2010, where she presented poems from her published collection “They all sound like love songs: Women healing Israeli-Palestinian relations”. I wrote about our meeting in an earlier blog post (“Midwives of Peace," 2/21/10), and after that we became “Facebook friends,” keeping up on each other’s work. With all of the recent events unfolding in the Middle East, I asked Yvette to share her thoughts with us about the potential for peace there - as a woman, a feminist, and a Jewish Israeli resident. Here is what she wrote.

Former President of Israel, Moshe Katsav was sentenced to 7 years by the Tel Aviv District Court yesterday for two counts of rape and other sexual offenses against women employees. Once at the top of Israeli society, enjoying public acclaim and attention Katsav is to enter prison in May. A similar downfall is awaiting many Middle East rulers who reign by might and the force of arms “raping” their societies of the freedom to choose their governing body. What Katsav did on an individual level, forcing his body on his victims, is perpetrated by fellow male monarchs, despots, kings and rulers of the region who force themselves and their rule over their people by might and arms.

Middle East is boiling. Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia are facing inner turmoil, and upheaval. The old resists its collapse while the new balance of power is slowly emerging. The old paradigm of the “strongest wins” is dying out, while the new paradigm of “let us cooperate to bring forth a massive change” is on its way in. In Egypt, young men and women came together, united in their will for a dignified society where their voice and choice would matter. Their determination, perseverance, and unity in combination with their peaceful way of overturning their ruler resonated with other young, liberal Middle Easterners. The spirit of brotherhood, and social cohesion based on shared values witnessed at Tahrir square is emerging once again sweeping the region with a refreshing, liberating sensation: “change is possible,” “let us bring it about.”

Through the rape verdict allotted to its former President, Israel is saying “enough is enough” to the old system of abusing power. The same abhorrence, abomination and repugnance caused by the abuse of power are felt by women and men throughout the Middle East. The common aspiration of young Middle Easterners, from Jerusalem, Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, Kuwait, Tehran and Abu Dhabi is to create societies governed not by might but by merit; Societies where women will count and have a voice, where women will be heard and respected. Societies where women will be free to marry the person they choose, get an education, pursue a career, own property, and get divorced upon their will. Women are united in their will to belong only to themselves, to have the freedom to move, dress, work, divorce, study, marry and choose the life they want for themselves.

Women collectively say we are no-one’s property. And men and women assert we are no ruler’s, king’s, dictator’s property. We have basic human rights to freedom, to choice, to democracy. Young men and women in the Middle East are coming together united by shared values. One’s religion and ethnic affiliation are now secondary. Our shared values, honoring human rights and human dignity unite us.

Women and men of the Middle East condemn the rape of our bodies, the rape of our dignity and freedoms. We join hands in taking the violent perpetrators down and work towards co-creating the paradigm shift in the Middle East we love.

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