Posted by: Lister | October 9, 2007

Nurit Peled-Elhanan

Nurit Peled-Elhanan is the mother of Smadar Elhanan, who was 13 years old when she was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in September 1997.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan made a speech at the International Women’s Day in Strasbourg (2005):

Thank you for inviting me to this day. It is always an honour and a pleasure to be here, among you.

However, I must admit I believe you should have invited a Palestinian woman at my stead, because the women who suffer most from violence in my county are the Palestinian women.

And I would like to dedicate my speech to Miriam R’aban and her husband Kamal, from Bet Lahiya in the Gaza strip, whose five small children were killed by Israeli soldiers while picking strawberries at the family’s strawberry field. No one will ever stand trial for this murder.

When I asked the people who invited me here why wouldn’t they invite a Palestinian woman the answer was that it would make the discussion too localized. I don’t know what is non-localized violence. Racism and discrimination may be theoretical concepts and universal phenomena but their impact is always local, and real. Pain is local, humiliation, sexual abuse, torture and death, are all very local, and so are the scars.

It is true unfortunately, that the local violence inflicted on Palestinian women by the government of Israel and the Israeli army, has expanded around the globe. In fact state violence and army violence, individual and collective violence, are the lot of Muslim women today, not only in Palestine but wherever the enlightened western world is setting its big imperialistic foot.

It is violence which is hardly ever addressed and which is halfheartedly condoned by most people in Europe and in the USA. This is because the so-called free world is afraid of the Muslim womb.

Great France of la liberte l’egalite et la fraternite is scared of little girls with head scarfs, Great Jewish Israel is afraid of the Muslim womb which its ministers call a demographic threat. Almighty America and Great Britain are infecting their respective citizens with blind fear of the Muslims, who are depicted as vile, primitive and blood-thirsty, apart from their being non-democratic, chauvinistic and mass producers of future terrorists. This in spite of the fact that the people who are destroying the world today are not muslim. One of themis a devout Christian, one is Anglican and one is a non devout Jew.

I have never experienced the suffering Palestinian women undergo every day, every hour. I don’t know the kind of violence that turn a woman’s life into constant hell. This daily physical and mental torture of women who are deprived of their basic human rights and needs of privacy and dignity, women whose homes are broken in at any moment of day and night, who are ordered at a gun-point to strip naked in front of strangers and their own children, whose houses are demolished , who are deprived of their livelihood and of any normal family life. This is not part of my personal ordeal. But I am a victim of violence against women insofar as violence against children is actually violence against mothers.

Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan women are my sisters because we are all at the grip of the same unscrupulous criminals who call themselves leaders of the free enlightened world and in the name of this freedom and enlightment rob us of our children. Furthermore, Israeli, American, Italian and British mothers have been for the most part violently blinded and brainwashed to such a degree that they cannot realize their only sisters, their only allies in the world are the muslim

Palestinian, Iraqi or Afghani mothers, whose children are killed by our children or who blow themselves to pieces with our sons and daughters. They are all mind-infected by the same viruses engendered by politicians. And the viruses , though they may have various illustrious names such as Democracy. Patriotism. God. Homeland, are all the same. They are all part of false and fake ideologies that are meant to enrich the rich and to empower the powerful.

We are all the victims of mental, psychological and cultural violence that turn us to one homogenic group of bereaved or potentially bereaved mothers. Western mothers who are taught to believe their uterus is a national asset just like they are taught to believe that the Muslim uterus is an international threat. They are educated not to cry out: “I gave him birth, I breast fed him, he is mine, and I will not let him be the one whose life is cheaper than oil, whose future is less worthy than a piece of land.”

All of us are terrorized by mind-infecting education to believe all we can do is either pray for our sons to come back home or be proud of their dead bodies.

And all of us were brought up to bear all this silently, to contain our fear and frustration, to take prozac for anxiety, but never hail Mama Courage in public. Never be real Jewish or Italian or Irish mothers.

I am a victim of state violence. My natural and civil rights as a mother have been violated and are violated because I have to fear the day my son would reach his 18th birthday and be taken away from me to be the game tool of criminals such as Sharon, Bush, Blair and their clan of blood-thirsty, oil-thirsty, land thirsty generals.

Living in the world I live in, in the state I live in, in the regime I live in, I don’t dare to offer Muslim women any ideas how to change their lives. I don’t want them to take off their scarves, or educate their children differently, and I will not urge them to constitute Democracies in the image of Western democracies that despise them and their kind. I just want to ask them humbly to be my sisters, to express my admiration for their perseverance and for their courage to carry on, to have children and to maintain a dignified family life in spite of the impossible conditions my world is putting them in. I want to tell them we are all bonded by the same pain, we all the victims of the same sort of violence even though they suffer much more, for they are the ones who are mistreated by my government and its army, sponsored by my taxes.

Islam in itself, like Judaism in itself and Christianity in itself, is not a threat to me or to anyone. American imperialism is, European indifference and co-operation is and Israeli racist and cruel regime of occupation is. It is racism, educational propaganda and inculcated xenophobia that convince Israeli soldiers to order Palestinian women at gun-point to strip in front of their children for security reasons, it is the deepest disrespect for the other that allow American soldiers to rape Iraqi women, that give license to Israeli jailers to keep young women in inhuman conditions, without necessary hygienic aids, without electricity in the winter, without clean water or clean mattresses and to separate them from their breast-fed babies and toddlers. To bar their way to hospitals, to block their way to education, to confiscate their lands, to uproot their trees and prevent them from cultivating their fields.

I cannot completely understand Palestinian women or their suffering. I don’t know how I would have survived such humiliation, such disrespect from the whole world. All I know is that the voice of mothers has been suffocated for too long in this war-stricken planet.

Mothers’ cry is not heard because mothers are not invited to international forums such as this one. This I know and it is very little. But it is enough for me to remember these women are my sisters, and that they deserve that I should cry for them, and fight for them. And when they lose their children in strawberry fields or in on filthy roads by the checkpoints , when their children are shot on their way to school by Israeli children who were educated to believe that love and compassion are race and religion dependent, the only thing I can do is stand by them and their betrayed babies, and ask what Anna Akhmatova, another mother who lived in a regime of violence against women and children, had asked: “Why does that streak of blood, rip the petal of you cheek?”



  1. 18th Dec 2008:

    These words are dedicated to the heroes of Gaza, the mothers and fathers and children, the teachers and doctors and nurses who are proving every day and every hour that no fortified wall can imprison the free spirit of humanity and no form of violence can subdue life.

    The pogrom being carried out by the thugs of the Occupation army against the residents of the Gaza Strip is known to everyone and yet the world is impotent as always. I call upon all of us, who have won a privilege as well as duty by receiving the Sakharov prize, to arise and go to Gaza and any other city of oppression and slaughter; to defy all blockades and high walls and not to give up until all barriers are broken.

    When Jewish poet Bialik wrote after the Pogrom against the Jews in Kishiniev,

    “Satan has not yet created Vengeance for the blood of a small child,”

    It did not occur to him that the child would be a Palestinian child from Gaza and his slaughterers would be Jewish soldiers. And when he wrote:

    Let the blood pierce through the abyss! Let the blood seep down into the depths of darkness, and eat away there, in the dark, and breach all the rotting foundations of the earth.

    He did not imagine that those foundations would be the foundations of the state of Israel. That the Jewish and Democratic State of Israel would demagogically use the expression “blood on his hands” to justify its refusal to release freedom fighters, children and peace leaders from the worst of prisons, while immersing all of us in the blood of innocent babes up to our necks, up to our nostrils, so that every breath we take sends red bubbles of blood into the air of the Holy Land.

    But the siege of Gaza is only one of many sieges imposed today in the world by democratic powers as well as by non-democratic ones. All those sieges are meant for one purpose: to silence the voice of freedom and justice.

    My co-laureate of the Sakharov Prize, Prof. Izzat Gazzawi, who died of humiliation less than two years after receiving this prestigious award, wrote to me just before his heart surrendered, that he believed the Israeli soldiers who came to his house every night to break furniture and frighten the children wanted to silence his voice. I have vowed then as I believe we should all vow every day, to do everything within our power so that his and other such brave voices will not be silenced.

    Today, when the most enlightened civilizations commit the most heinous crimes against innocent defenseless people out of greed, megalomania and pure racism we should listen once more to Bialik’s cry from a hundred years ago:

    “And I, my heart is dead, no longer is there prayer on my lips; All strength is gone, and hope is no more.

    Until when,
    How much longer,
    Until when?”

    And then follow the example of people like Hu Jia, today’s laureate of the Sakharov prize who is held in prison for dedicating every moment of his life to end the miseries of the family of man.

  2. From the aniversary of the war in Gaza:

    A Year After the Gaza War –
    Speech at Protest Rally, Tel Aviv, January 2, 2010
    Nurit Peled Elhanan (translated by Adam Keller)

    Good evening to all who came to mark the first anniversary of the Gaza carnage, and to protest on the comfortable complacence which inhabitants of this city and this country exhibit in face of the slow annihilation which goes on and on in Gaza and throughout Palestine.

    Had Israeli preschoolers been asked “What did you learn at school this year, dear little boy of mine?” there are all kinds of answers which we might have gotten. An enlightened and critical child might have answered: I learned that the sun is still shining, and the almond tree is blooming, and the butcher butchers, and there is nobody to judge him.{1}

    And the child who is less used to theorizing might rejoice and say: I learned how to cheat Americans, deceive Palestinians, to kill Arabs, to expel families from their homes, and to curse whoever tells me that I am a nasty brat when I have been a nasty brat. And I learned that the Jewish People lives and that Gilad Shalit also lives. Still. {2}

    And the new immigrant boy, who terribly longs to integrate and belong, might say: I learned whom to hate, I learned who needs to be killed and who should be spat upon, and I am ever ready for the task, whenever you call upon me.

    The Religious-Zionist child, who attends the fenced and well-guarded kindergarten in the settlement, might say: I learned to be a good Zionist, to love the Land, to die and kill for its sake, to expel from it the invaders, to kill their children, to destroy their homes, and never to forget that in each and every generation the persecutors arise to annihilate us and that all gentiles are the same and that they are all antisemites who must be annihilated. And the most important is that the sun is still shining, and the almond tree is still blooming, and soon we will go planting all over the mountains Samaria and Judea and guard well the saplings against the herd of sheep which invaded our country in the two thousand years that we have not been here to guard it.

    In the past year our children have learned that to kill a non-Jew, of whatever age, is a great commandment. This they learned not only from the rabbis, but also from the soldiers who ceaselessly boast of what they have done. This was expressed well by Damian Kirilik, when the police arrested him and charged him with murdering the entire Oshrenko Family.{3} Quite coolly he asked the police investigators: why are you making such a fuss over the killing of children? Damian Kirilik is a new immigrant who does not understand the nuances and sophistry of the rabbis’ command to kill gentile children. But this assassin from the outside quickly got the general idea – that he had arrived at a place where the murder of children is taken very lightly.

    Our children have learned this year that all the disgusting qualities which antisemites attribute to Jews are actually manifested among our leaders: deceit and deception, greed and the murder of children. While accused of trading in transplanted organs, the unperturbed Government of Israel is engaged in trading in whole humans – for the time being. It can be conjectured that for many years to come, when many cars would bear the bumper sticker “Gil’ad – Born To Be Free” {4}, the captains of the pirate ship known as Israel will continue their scheming and still haggle over how many kilograms of Jewish flesh, which is probably shrinking, could be traded for how much Palestinian flesh which is also not all that it used to be, as we learned from the news item about theft of skin and corneas at the Abu Kabir Forensic Center {5}. And they will continue to kill in Gil’ad’s name and starve and suffocate in Gil’ad’s name and to annihilate the Palestinian people slowly but surely, and on the way encourage the flourishing of the Palestinian bad “weeds”{6} that always legitimize the ongoing killing .

    As in every rotten and corrupt society, the word “values” recurs again and again in every speech of every politician, especially the wanted ones. The values of Zionism and the values of Judaism and the values of the IDF. The values of Zionism we have seen this year in their full glory at the expulsion of families out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. The values of Democracy and the Rule of Law are expressed in Palestinians who are suspected of a violent act being extrajudicially assassinated in their homes, in front of their children, while Jewish terrorists enjoy to the full the amenities of the judicial system.

    That is what our children learn in the Jewish democratic state. Therefore, one can wonder at the supposed shock expressed in face of violence in schools and nightclubs, in streets and on the roads. After all, this violence is nothing but practicing the values of the IDF, a course of basic training towards the activities and operations waiting for these youths on their horizon. This is these youths’ way of showing that they have learned something from their parents and elder brothers, from their teachers and guides. The only problem which apparently disturbs the educational and law enforcement authorities is that there are no Palestinians in the Jewish schools and the Jewish night clubs and the Jewish streets. For lack of them, the young Jews direct their violence at each other – and that should not happen, a Jew should not harm another Jew. Violence should be disciplined and regulated, guided by blind obedience to the racial laws, directed only and solely at those who are not Jewish.

    And we who demonstrate every week, every month, at every carnage, at every anniversary of a carnage – what is our power? Nothing. Bereavement and failure is our lot in this country. Last Thursday we all stood at the gates of Gaza, disciplined and obedient to the conditions of the police permit, happy to see each other and find out that we are still alive and chanted slogans loudly at an audience of robot-like police and soldiers, totally incapable of comprehending what we had to say. But we did not pull down the wall. We did not succeed in saving even one child from the plague of meningitis which infests Gaza for several months already.

    What shall we do with our impotence and failure? What is left to be done about an educational system which demands of its graduates a total identification with Jewish guerilla fighters who were before 1948 executed by the British on charges of terrorism – and at the very same time a total identification with their executioners? To identify with the victims of Auschwitz, and at the same to behave with cruel indifference to the suffering of anyone who is not a member of our race? What can peace seekers do in a country which is run by the army, whose schools are infested with war criminals coming to instill their teachings, where pupils are obliged to experience a week in the pre-military Gadna (Youth Squads) and listen to heroic tales by the criminals of the Gaza carnage, on whom all possible psychological and social and educational means are applied to make them part of the killing machine?

    These are our sons and daughters – and we have no access to the system which guides their lives. Where is there space left for us to instill in them one or two of our own values? What values of beauty and goodness can we squeeze into such a sophisticated apparatus of brainwashing and reality distortion?

    It seems that the only value which we still have the power and means to instill is the value of refusal. To learn to say no. To teach our children who have not been poisoned yet to resist the brainwashing, to reject the viruses with which their brains are being injected. It is a hard and Sisaphysian task, but it is the only way of reasserting our humanity. To say no to evil, no to deceit and deception, no to trade in human beings, no the racism which is spreading over here like wildfire, a racism which does not stop at the Kalandia Checkpoint nor at the Erez Checkpoint but spreads like cancer to the shameful immigrant absorption centers, to the schools which proclaim integration and practice segregation, to all cultures and all beliefs in this country.

    If we don’t learn to refuse and reject evil, to refuse the evil laws and regulations, we will find ourselves refusing and rejecting ourselves, our inmost truth. We must refuse to feel ourselves an extinct minority, refuse the fear and apprehension – and the alienation – which are imposed on us, refuse to be accomplices. Only refusal can save us from surrender, from bankruptcy, from despair. We stand here today as an alien and alienated minority, hated and persecuted. But together with our peace-seeking friends beyond the Wall, beyond the barbed wires, we might become a majority. Only the refusal to surrender to walls and checkpoints can open the gates of our ghetto so that we could pull down the walls of their ghetto. To see at last that there is an outside world, that there are regions around which the Jewish National Fund had not destroyed. That there is a culture and there are people whom it is worth living to meet, to know and make friends with, to learn from them about this place where we live as resident aliens and remember that this place can be a place of surpassing beauty. {7}

    Via Rabbi Brant, whose blog gives the translators notes.

    Notes of the translator

    {1} A reference to Bialik’s famous poem on the 1903 Kishinev Pogrom.

    {2} “Am Yisrael Hai” (“the Jewish People lives”) – a traditional saying, often invoked in a nationalist context.


    {4} The slogan “Ron Arad – born to be free” refers to captured Israeli pilot Ron Arad, for whose release the government in the 1990’s refused to release Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners, and who is widely considered to be irretrievably lost.

    {5} See

    {6}Settler leaders dissociate themselves from extreme acts of violence against Palestinians, defining the perpetrators as “the weeds in our garden”.

    {7} The Hebrew term used, “Yefe Nof”, is taken from the poem of longing for Jerusalem written by the Medieval Spanish Jewish poet Yehuda HaLevi: “O Abode of Surpassing Beauty/Joy of the Entire Earth…”

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