We talk endlessly about equality and feminism while putting up with a bunch of greedy pyromaniacs controlling the Middle East and running a war over our heads, a war in which we are but extras. And yet the role they assign us is instrumental: we are factories for their cannon fodder.
By Naamit Mor Haim (translated from Hebrew by Dr. Assaf Oron)
During this recent Gaza war and its various ceasefires, I found myself astonished at the catch-phrase popular among the Israeli left – on banners at demonstrations and plastered social-media profile pictures, bold white letters against a black background, in three languages: “Not in my name!”
OK, I thought, I never passed my high school matriculation exams. My academic career ended around the fourth grade. I can vaguely remember a single lesson in government I attended during my school years, and in that lesson I kept asking Rakefet, who sat next to me, what the hell they’re talking about. No wonder it has taken me decades to figure out what democracy is and how it relates to me. To understand that it’s not just the job of a smug bunch with suits, cigars and a mandate to run each and every single thing; that it is also my responsibility. But I wonder what excuse are all the nerds who did go to all those lessons and crammed for their matriculation exams claiming? Where is everyone with a college degree, or those who have worked in civil service? Haven’t you learned about the government by consent of the people? Everyone is a lamb led to the ballot?
I am most troubled by the situation among women, who have been collapsing emotionally for the past few months, to an extent not remembered since the jolly days of Lebanon. At first I thought it was the manner of fighting and its oversight, with needless casualties on a daily basis, disrupting the existence of at least half the nation on multiple levels, with neither a clear resolution nor a horizon for the future.
But during those two months of war I realized that the horror has risen among my female friends of all walks of life, at the fact that all this was being carried out without our involvement, that our way of thinking is absent from the decision-making circles, that our values and priorities are declared illegitimate whenever they contain a hint of the womb and the compassion associated with it. We have to contend with dismembered babies, with destruction on a mythical scale, with the knowledge that our sons will enlist in two years – and all this, without being represented. This war was run by men on both sides, while on their backs ride those who gain the most from the financial-political arrangement known as a State, an Authority, or a Terror Organization – all of whom are men as well.
For many years we have been scattered and disarmed. My female friends and I, preschool teachers and artists, psychologists and housemaids, waitresses and women of academia, have thus far not envisioned a serious, deliberate and substantial venture into the world of policy shapers. Most of us are not brought up to think on such a scale; instead, we are content with achieving the pinnacle of our professional ivory towers, or else barely surviving in the dark for fear of the debt collectors.
Now this is changing. I’m not talking about individual women sneaking into positions of power, protected by political parties’ “guaranteed women quotas.” We need a far greater force, commensurate with our position as a majority of the population – a decisive force that can change the map and the priorities. I look back at the huge electoral potential of the “Four Mothers” movement, and my heart breaks. We talk endlessly about equality and feminism while putting up with a bunch of greedy pyromaniacs controlling the Middle East and running a war over our heads, a war in which we are but extras, a stage setting for missiles. The role they assign us is instrumental: as factories for cannon fodder.
The few women who do walk the corridors of power, function at times of war as cheerleading squads with minimal impact, even less impact than in ordinary times. I couldn’t care less whether they are on the “Right” or the “Left,” because these definitions are not relevant for me anymore. I dismissed “Right” and “Left” at the same moment I noticed that in the center of the political arena, just like on the basketball court, there are heaps of masculine power and money, with the women prancing on the fringes, exposed at any moment to sexist sniping about their dress, their voice, or the way they blink, just like the last of the cheerleaders.
All this is flung in my face even more strongly at times of war, and it indicts me for not having taken responsibility. I have not created an alternative during my adult life. Neither I, nor you women or you men have done so. I once thought that this was a job passed hereditarily to the princes of Likud and Labor, that I better focus on what I’m good at, and have meanwhile deserted the field. This was definitely not a war I desired, this was a war in which it pains my every limb to assume responsibility for as if I was the Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades. But I really don’t have a choice, because one thing’s for sure: without a doubt, contrary to the popular slogan, this war was carried out in my name.
What did I do to prevent it? And the one before it? Did I hobble to the ballot box with distaste? Did I deign to show up at a demonstration or two? All of my actions were disconnected and removed from the powers that be, who over the past 20 years have built up so many ties to the financial world, which in turn disconnect them from their constituents – just like a spaceship that has left the mother planet and is now cruising with goals and interests that are independent and often opposite of those for which it was originally launched.
But who am I, an uppity woman lacking training, knowledge or connections? After all, there’s a terror organization here, tunnels, a clear and present danger, “no partner” – what would you have done? That’s what everyone asks me whenever I open my mouth. Suppose you are Bibi, give us a 10-step plan now!
Here’s the thing: I am not Bibi. And that’s the point really, that I am not him. I would have not held 1.5 million people, going on 2 million, under siege since 2007. It would have never happened, because I’m a nag. Not a month would have passed without me offering an agreement and insisting on discussing it. Don’t want to discuss? I’ll nag! You can ask all my exes.
I hate seeing unresolved issues and irrational situations. If I knew about tunnels being dug into the kibbutzim in the South, with Channel 1 reporters mapping them out before the IDF does it, shame would have devoured me: I would have had Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and the UN on their feet, seeking a solution. I am not shy like Bibi. I would have driven everyone crazy, together with my female foreign minister and female defense minister.
Sounds far-fetched? Such female nags – a social worker and an economist from Liberia – ended a bloody war that had been devouring their country for many years, precisely in this manner, replete with a Nobel Prize and a headdress-wearing female prime minister. People dismiss nagging, and wrongly so.
For example, what would I have done on the eve of this war, when Hamas had its economic back to the wall, and threatened that if its money transfer from Qatar is blocked that it will explode?
I admit, it would have been tempting to put my feet up on the office desk, with flip-flops on, light a hand-rolled, low-grade tobacco cigarette, cough, and ask my loyal male secretary to let in those representatives of Israeli weapons manufacturers, who have forever been stuck waiting for me outside. “Darlings,” I would tell them, “I understand that you are the State and the State is you. I understand it looks great to you, to rain a display of your weapons upon Gaza, followed by a nice worldwide sales surge; and it is tempting to escalate when the Hamas monster is crippled in the corner, crawling into a unity government with Fatah like a pussycat.”
“But please listen for a moment,” I would whisper quietly. “My friends’ sons are enlisting right now, and there’s no way I’m sending them in there for a ground assault, or placing them like sitting ducks on the border, and I also have friends living around Gaza who feel like living normal lives, even if their entire lives are not worth a single year’s worth of sales of an optical component you manufacture.”
“I understand it might be considered treason, what I’m telling you now.” I would lower my voice and look straight into their eyes, “but it will also really pain my womb to see Gazan babies blown to smithereens, even if saying so betrays your big money, you bunch of death-dealing ticks. So do me a favor and get the fuck out of my office. Or, better yet, go and raise some money for our collective rehabilitation from the destruction you have already sown, and only after that, leave.”
Once I catch my breath, I would call President a-Sisi. “We’ve got a bunch of crazies over here. How are your crazies doing, my man?”
“You want to tell us everything we have gone through just now is about the arms industry making a windfall?” serious, experienced people ask me. I roll the question straight back to them, and to you: who else aside from these scoundrels has gained anything, my friends? Please read details of the ceasefire and enlighten me.
At face value, it sounds complicated to bark at all of them, and then to embark on years of a gradual constructive process until everyone emerges feeling reasonable – from the female settlers to the last of Palestinian women. Right around now, as I and many other women are in the process of setting up a political movement that doesn’t see Right or Left, but only quiet for everyone between the River and the Sea, we really wonder what stopped Bibi from doing that 70 deaths ago – two thousand deaths ago.
My working assumption is that it’s only because he has a grand lifestyle to sustain. He needs tons of finance around him, and therefore, has no time for the cultivation of broad public interests. By contrast, my lifestyle is rather frugal. I don’t need empty houses with swimming pools, I like going to the beach, which is still (mostly) free. Do you still give Bibi 107 percent support, 89 percent support, 38 percent support, or have you woken up a bit?
Please let me know later. Right now Qatar is on the phone.
The author is a director and playwright, social activist and co-founder of the Courage women’s movement for political change. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on the NRG website. It is republished here with the author’s permission.