Aida Touma-Suliman – Israel

Linked with Women agains Violence WAV.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “The majority of women feminists in our society are aware of the repression against them and reject it silently. But very few of them take the initiative to change the situation.”

She says also: “There is an increased awareness by Israel Arab women that they are no longer passive victims”.

Aida Touma-Suliman - Israel two.jpg

Aida Touma-Suliman – Israel

She works for Women Against Violence WAV.

13 years ago in Nazareth, Aida Touma Suliman – a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship – and six other women founded Women Against Violence (WAV), an organization that advocates Palestinian women’s rights. In 1993, WAV founded the first shelters and crisis centers for battered women in the Arab world. The group also established a halfway house for women trying to rebuild their lives after leaving abusive husbands.

Touma has been active in the international arena defending the rights of Palestinian society and Palestinian women, as well as promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Aida Touma-Suliman, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship, is the sixth of seven girls, born in 1964 to a Palestinian Christian Family from Nazareth; but now she considers herself an atheist. Her father was handy worker and her mother is a housewife. In 1987 Touma married Jerious Suliman and moved to live in Acre. She has two wonderful daughters, Maram and Miar, 16 and 13 years old. Along with six other women Touma has founded in Nazareth the Women Against Violence (WAV), an organization that advocates Palestinian women’s rights.
In 1982 Touma joined the University of Haifa as a psychology and Arabic Language student. During her second year of studies she was nominated as a leading member of the Arab Student Committee in the Haifa University as well as Secretary of The Union of Arab Student Committees for universities in Israel. In 1983/4 Touma was Committee Coordinator for the Defense of Arab Citizen Lands in Israel. During 1984 Touma was appointed as news reporter in the only Arab daily newspaper in Israel “Al-Ittihad”. In 1989 she became an active member in Women in Black movement. From 1990 to 1994 she was Coordinator of the Jewish-Arab Movement of Democratic Women in Acre, overseeing 16 different branches in the villages.
1991-1993 Touma was Vice General Secretary of the Union of Mediterranean Women. In 1992 she co-founded and acted as a board member of Women Against Violence, a Palestinian women’s organization in Israel that aimed to break the taboo concerning gender-based violence, advocating Palestinian women’s rights and establishing a set of social services, such as the first battered women shelter and crisis Centers for Arab women all over the world. In 1993 she co-founded Al-Badeel, Coalition to combat “honor killings” crimes. In 1994 Touma acted as General Director of Women Against Violence. In 1995 she co-founded and acted as Board member of the Working Group for Equality in Personal Status Issues. Between 1995 and 1996 Touma was coordinator of the project “Engendering the Peace Process”, an Israeli-Palestinian women’s project aiming to involve women from both sides in the peace process. In 1997 she co-founded the Working Group on Status of Palestinian Women in Israel, who are responsible for the CEDAW shadow report.
During the invasion of the Israeli Army to the West Bank and Gaza in April 2001, Aida Touma led many convoys of food and medical relief to towns in the West bank under curfew and siege, managing to deliver the supplies. Touma has dedicated her life to work with women from both sides, Palestinian and Israeli, promoting the peace efforts. She has been especially active in defending Palestinian women’s rights in Israel.
Breaking a huge taboo in the Arab society, Touma’s WAV, that she co-founded in 1994, was one of the first to bring the issue of domestic violence into the public debate. In 1993, WAV founded the first shelters for battered women in the Arab world. The group also founded a halfway house for women trying to rebuild their lives after leaving abusive husbands. To seek out Arab women who are victims of physical and emotional abuse, WAV operates a telephone hotline; Touma says it receives an average of 300 calls a year from women all over Israel – a large number for a society that has traditionally been loath to admit that these problems even exist.
Touma’s group has also targeted one of the most infamous practices in Arab society: “honor killings”, in which the male relatives of a woman suspect her sexual impropriety and kill her to defend the family’s fame. Women Against Violence is part of a worldwide coalition of groups working to end these killings in Middle Eastern and African nations; an average of eight take place in Israel annually.
The WAV is on the forefront of women movements, leading many campaigns to improve women’s rights and involvement in public life. It implements community grassroots methods of organizing and reaching out for the community, as well as empowering leadership advocacy. Touma has also developed services tailored to meet the needs of the Palestinian women, which were accepted by the communities they were part of. The unique features of her work include establishing the first services for Arab women suffering from violence, shelters, crisis centers and halfway houses.
She has orchestrated developmental coalitions concerning crucial issues such as personal status issues and “honor killings” crimes, breaking the social taboos and struggling for human rights and women rights. It is important to mention that in 1992, when WAV was established, the issue of gender-based violence was a total taboo within the Palestinian Community. The society did not want to probe the problem and bring it into the public arena.
Raising the Personal Status laws and the intention to change the law towards allowing women an access to the civil courts beside the religious courts led obviously to a huge opposition by the religious and nationalistic forces. Nevertheless Women Against Violence continued the struggle and created much needed changes. The major change that resulted from Touma’s activities lies in the fact that gender based violence became an issue very well revealed and condemned in Palestinian society. Palestinian women now have the right to refuse to live under violent situations, breaking the sole sovereignty of the religious laws concerning personal status issues and breaking the taboo engulfing honor crimes and killings.
The major beneficiaries from Touma’s achievements are Palestinian Women in Israel, the Palestinian community and the Israeli Feminists Movements. In her work Touma faces an opposition of the most conservative and religious forces in the community. She has become well known in dealing with the most difficult cases of gender-based violence and is targeted sometimes by the anger of violent men whose wives and daughters are using the assistance of the WAV. Leading the lobbying and advocacy activities for the injustice and discrimination of the Israeli government against Palestinian women made Touma unwelcome by the decision makers in the different governmental agencies.
Inspired by Touma’s work a German organization WADI, together with Kurdish Women Organizations developed women centers in Sulimaniya, North Iraq and Kurdistan. Four years ago she was the consultant for a Palestinian Women Organization named Family Defense, helping it to establish the first women shelter in the West Bank. Her work of fighting against the “honor crimes” phenomenon became an international paradigm to all societies addressing this problem.
Touma expresses her discontent with the Palestinian voices that ignore probing the issue of gender-based violence on the plea that it comes secondary to other more demanding issues in the society. She says: “The fact that we are part of the Palestinian people also makes it difficult for us, because whenever we as women want to talk about our problems, the public discourse is, ‘It’s not time to deal with these issues. We have more important things.’ The nationalist wing says: ‘National issues should come first.’ We are told that the West is trying to drag our attention to another issue that is not important. We are accused of airing our dirty laundry, and our critics say ‘this can be used by the West or by the Israelis against us.’ But this is not an excuse at all for ignoring women’s rights”.
Aida Touma-Suliman s sending a clear message of support to the marginalized and discriminated women all over the world, who are struggling in very difficult circumstances for their rights and for the attainment of peace. (Read all on 1000peacewomen).

Interview with Aida Touma-Suliman, director of Women Against Violence – Nazareth (WAV): When she set up the organization in 1992 with the support of NIF, she was usually told that the problem of violence in Israel’s Arab community did not exist.

Q. The number of cases of violence you handle rises each year. Do you not despair of the situation?

A. In WAV’s first year of operations, we handled 30 instances of violence against Arab women, while in 2004 the number grew to 400. This does not reflect a huge rise in violence by Arab Israeli men, but rather an increased awareness by women that they are no longer passive victims. Research shows that 25 percent of Arab Israeli women are the victims of violence. In 64 percent of cases it is somebody the woman knows who attacked her — usually a family member.

Q. What have been your greatest achievements?

A. The establishment of the first full-service Arabic crisis hotline in Israel and the country’s first shelters and halfway houses for Arab women and girls.

Q. These achievements have obviously transformed the lives of dozens of women. Give us a typical example.

A. Among the young women at the halfway house in Nazareth is an 18-year-old named Raula, who studied at residential schools since first grade after being sexually molested by her older brothers. Her father has since died and her mother lives in a hostel for the mentally ill. Her brothers still live in a house adjoining the family home, so she chose to move to WAV’s halfway house. Staying there has given her time to think about what she wants to do with her life. She wants to study. She has been in the halfway house four months, and the counselors are really helping her to make the difficult decisions of her life. She insists that she couldn’t cope yet by herself.
(Read the rest of this interview on New Israel Fund).

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