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The WCUSP Process: what we learned.

The first priority of the Women Challenge U.S. Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East (WCUSP) campaign was to challenge U.S. policy. We hoped this would lead to peace anchored in justice.

We wrote statements and position papers, started preparing letters, and planned workshops for our members at the San Francisco Congress. We developed a Feminist Guide on the Middle East and encouraged branches to study the issues.

For most of us, the Middle East was our primary issue. We were already set in our beliefs. It took awhile to harmonize our convictions, explain them and come up with a cohesive program. We focused on Israel/Palestine, but the war in Iraq was intensifying, and we couldn't ignore it. So, like the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, we developed the concept of "dual occupations."

Focusing on U.S. policy was difficult. Some tended to be more critical of what Israel was doing, rather than focus on U.S. policies. This divided us for a while and paralyzed us. Particularly, some members insisted on Israel's responsibility, while others focused on the effects of the occupation on Israel itself (the poverty, increased militarization of society and resulting violence).

We established a Speakers' Bureau, and several members of our Leadership Team went to speak at branches, attempting to help them organize. We also let branches know about other speakers who would be in their area, and some branches hosted special events. We had some success with this effort, but we lost some of our momentum because organizing speakers was time-consuming.

At the same time, WCUSP was working in tandem with a number of like-minded groups. All of us were putting on programs, panels, etc., about the Middle East, and we encouraged branches to do the same. The level of activity was high where we had members of the leadership team, but we were never able to set up subcommittees within WILPF's general membership, which would have increased the number of committed members and the level of activity. We don't know if people were afraid of the amount of work involved or whether we didn't approach them correctly.

Human Rights First

Recently, we demanded restoration of aid to Palestine by the U.S. and European governments, after it was cut off due to the election of Hamas. We began looking more closely at U.S. aid and determined that most of it is based on weapons sales.

One of our campaign's aims has been to reframe WILPF's position on the Middle East first as a human rights issue, and then as an issue of disarmament. We had hoped to raise the idea of a peace culture, a feminist analysis of the situation, and to carry out national and international actions. Our workload was large for a team of volunteers, but we were well-supported by our staff member, Kate Zaidan. We had successes and failures. For instance, we each agreed to contact certain branches, but found it difficult to do so, as contacts were often not available, and this task was more time-consuming than anticipated. We never managed to establish the branch networking we had hoped for.

Middle East issues are notoriously complex, with changing events making it difficult to focus on a single theme that would unite us and improve our visibility. We often were controlled by news events, which had a distracting tendency due to their urgency.

By the third year, we were more focused and successful in reaching branches, first through our letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, then with our Gaza postcard campaign, which is ongoing. We still hope to make our vision of an unbiased U.S foreign policy in the region more visible. We also believe that weapons sales to the region negate any efforts at diplomacy and that everyone benefits from true efforts to achieve peace and justice.

Our leadership team underwent many personal problems and tragedies during these three years, but we persevered. The loss of Kate and other staff support during this year is a further blow. But we've learned from our mistakes and now know a lot about functioning as a team. There is room for a diversity of opinion on such a complex subject, as long as we remain focused on our primary goal. We advise others who undertake a campaign or committee work to respect diversity of opinion and work on things you agree on. Agreement may be reached on the other parts later.

We urge you to include a U.S. foreign policy challenge regarding the region during the upcoming presidential and congressional campaigns. We also hope many branches will invite Hanan Awwad, president of WILPF Palestine, to speak during her upcoming visit to the U.S. (The Israeli section president toured early in our campaign.) An articulate speaker and poet, she talks from her heart about the conditions of Palestinian life under occupation.
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Title Annotation:Women Challenge U.S. Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East
Author:Habe, Hugonot; Taft, Barbara
Publication:Peace and Freedom
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Previous Article:Confronting U.S. Policy in the Middle East.
Next Article:Empowerment and peace: WILPF's International Program.

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