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12. May 2004

Sumaya Farhat Naser © Women without Borders

Sumaya Farhat Naser in the Kreisky Forum © Women without Borders

Palestine/Vienna - Sumaya Farhat Naser in the Kreisky Forum

May 12th 2004

„Finding peace with ourselves within ourselves, for our society, that is the first step”

Dr. Sumaya Farhat Naser, the Palestinian peace activist and author, has been tirelessly working for a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. In an impressive and gripping manner, she reported on her activities, her goals, her set-backs and happiest moments of her work on May 12th upon being invited by the Bruno Kreisky Forum.
It is unbelievable how much power and energy Sumaya Farhat Naser spreads, as she talks about the moments of success that she has in her work with adolescents.

„I believe in non-violence“

The following points are emphasized in her seminars and workshops for young women and adolescents in Palestine:
Non-violent communication and the ability to participate in dialogue
Conflict management: dealing with anger, humiliation, torture, grief.
Questions of civil society, human rights and democracy
Social competence and political education
Handling of information and the media
Dealing with German-Jewish history as Palestinians and the own history:
Differentiation, approach, understanding and reconciliation.
Dancing and singing are also part of her educational work. “These adolescents have much to rediscover – nature, the country, everything.”

From a midwife’s bag to an emergency center

In cooperation with Women without Borders and the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue, the human rights activist and peace prize laureate Sumaya Farhat Naser started the initiative „Save Motherhood – Safe Childhood,“ a major medical project, in June 2002:
A birthing center, an emergency center and mobile midwife equipment – in order to provide care from home – reach more than 35.000 people in Birzeit and surrounding areas. Such establishments are a matter of survival in the current situation – especially for (pregnant) women, newborns and medical emergencies.

„The entire area is proud that we accomplished this. We are helping ourselves.“

Four mobile midwife equipments are now available. The project was even expanded: There is now a sick ward that is open 24 hours and offers a place to stay overnight. The urgently needed laboratory was able to be reopened thanks to donated money. Care can be provided on location and it is not necessary to drive to Ramallah anymore – a route that was often blocked for residents of occupied areas and caused many babies and mothers to die during birth.
A committee was recently created within the women’s organization of Sumaya Farhat Naser; this group consists of eight people, five of them women, four of them men, for “the men must do something, too.”

„Our main concern is protecting life. Life does not belong to us, it is a gift and one always needs to plan, whether we have a chance or not.”

„Save Motherhood - Safe Childhood” was able to be expanded, there is now a birthing center with eight beds, two examination chairs and 30 employees. Daily, around 60 to 70 patients come. There are about 15 births each month. However, difficult births cannot be treated in the birthing center; they need to go to the hospital because operations are not possible. One birth costs around 60 Euros. If a midwife comes to the woman’s home with her midwife’s bag, it makes 30 Euros.
In addition, awareness courses are offered – hygiene, motherhood and care are the main focal points. These courses are not only offered in Birzeit, but in 12 of the surrounding villages. These activities are partly financed by funds that Sumaya Farhat Naser earns through her lectures and presentations.
80.000 USD are necessary each year to cover the fixed costs.
The project is supposed to be expanded further:
„We are currently working on an emergency center where intensive care for at least 48 hours after for example a stroke can be offered. There are many so-called „flying check-points“ that change their location very quickly and there is often no possibility of reaching a hospital. That is why such an emergency center is extremely important. But it will still take three years until it is finished.”

Learning to survive, learning to live with one another

Sumaya Farhat Naser is a symbolic figure for Women without Borders. Her new project with adolescents aims to reduce prejudice, perform peace work and help young girls and boys come to terms with the difficult situation in their country.
„When it became impossible for me to work with Israeli women because of the situation – my radius of movement was reduced to five to eight kilometres – I began a new project. I now work with adolescents in and around Birzeit. It is very important to work with these young people, they are quiet, but they want to become active.
I conducted a lot of house visits, all in all more than 400, before starting this project. One can reach people only through discussions.“

„Fathers have a long way to go“

The Bruno Kreisky Human Rights Award laureate began with three groups: with schools, especially with the girls, in youth centres, where one can reach boys especially well and at the university.
By now she is working with seven groups, among them also the students’ mothers.
In order to have a safe room for the course, an apartment was rented, just for women and girls. Boys do not have access because they have their own room at the youth centre. Besides, many parents would not allow their daughters to go anywhere where boys are as well.
„It is not just about my dialogue work, there are also consultation talks. Violence in the family and incest are on the rise. A family psychotherapist comes once a week, many secretly register for a session with her.”

„Politics did not want us to come together, it destroyed everything“

Sumaya Farhat Naser puts up with unbelievably much in order to carry out and continue her work. The road to her goal is unbelievably rocky and full of obstacles:“ Every Friday, I go to a school near Jerusalem. It usually takes four hours for me to get there from Birzeit, even though it is only 40 kilometers away. I have to pass seven check-points. In addition, the Iron Gate at the entrance to Bethlehem has been locked since March 20th.
One kilometre before my destination I walk on foot; this is a very steep path, like in the desert. One has to arrange who goes when with the other people travelling there, so the soldiers to not see that there are several people en-route here. The soldiers beat and shoot – all people.
There is a general ban on movement.
But once I reach the school, then I am so happy, I feel so much power, and I know that I made it. The students always come, even though it is Friday, their free day.”

„The people feel deceived by the word peace“

How do we learn not to fall apart? – that is a very central question in Sumaya Farhat Nasers work with adolescents. There are enough people who have lost meaning in their life, who do not want to or cannot go on. Selfempowerment talks in which girls and boys learn to discover good within themselves are immensely important. If one asks these adolescents what they wish for, then many reply that they want to die; just fall asleep and never wake up.

„The current situation is catastrophic: no police, no protection, no legal system“

„We address tabus in our courses: for example suicide attacks. Just mentioning this causes problems, nobody really speaks about these attacks in reality. If you say suicide bombing here, then it is an insult, one usually speaks of martyrs. For example, there is a course for the 10th and/or 11th grade. We talk about suicide attacks, about what one should call them, who is for and against them. After three sessions the boys realize that one cannot simply attack civilians and they say: „We want to learn how to argue.“ Another tabu is honor murders. Also, there are many mentally ill men in Birzeit. Women are less affected by this because they are able to deal with the situation better. The men are so humiliated, they lose their feeling of self-worth, are depressed, aggressive and brutal.


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