For Israeli and Palestinian women activists, the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on October 31, 2000, was the culmination of intense efforts to introduce gender directly into the promotion of peace, the protection of civilians (especially women and children) in protracted conflicts, and the prevention of further escalation. Twenty years later, this landmark resolution still stands as a beacon in the dual struggle against militarism and patriarchy, although its goals have yet to be realized. How has 1325 been used in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation during the past 20 years? Why have efforts to advance its core precepts largely faltered to date? And where can feminists devoted to a just and durable end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict go from here?
This essay seeks to critically address these questions by reconsidering and updating the Israeli experience with UN Security Council resolutions on gender, peace, and security,1 draw lessons from past mistakes, and suggest directions for future action. It highlights how initial attempts by women peace activists to increase their participation and the incorporation of their perspectives into peacemaking and peacebuilding efforts — while underlining the gender-differentiated effects of prolonged conflict — gave way to a more generalized effort to promote gender equality in the country. Attention was thus diverted from the central aspects of the conflict, essentially depoliticizing activities related to the implementation of 1325. As initiatives under the rubric of 1325 branched out, the separation between most Israeli women activists and their Palestinian counterparts grew, leaving a void that is only now beginning to be filled. Attempts to re-politicize the feminist arena and develop more workable linkages between the various pathways to the actualization of 1325 signal the emergence of a more holistic approach which focuses on connecting changes in gender relations within Israel to ending the occupation, advancing Palestinian self-determination, and proceeding toward meaningful reconciliation.2
1325’s Tripartite Foundation for Gender Mainstreaming on Peace and Security Issues
The ongoing importance of 1325 lies in its integration of gender mainstreaming theories and tools into discussions on war, its repercussions, and its resolution — setting the stage for the redefinition of the concept of security to cover a broad range of civilian as well as military issues under the rubric of human security. Building on multiple state and civil society undertakings internationally, regionally, nationally, and locally — and on previous resolutions within the framework of the UN — it laid down the tripartite foundation upon which the scaffold for a gender mainstreaming-driven approach to peace and security was constructed in what was then still a rules-based global order.
The first element focuses on enhancing the participation of women in “the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict.”3 The second centers on the incorporation of gender perspectives during violent conflicts and post-conflict rehabilitation, as well as in the prevention, management, and resolution of armed confrontations.4 And the third, noting that women and children are the prime victims of contemporary conflagrations, calls for taking into account their specific needs (and especially their protection from gender-based violence in particular and violence in general) in conflict situations.5 These three components constitute the building blocks of what has become a universal undertaking to adopt a more gender-sensitive approach to peace and security and, by extension, into public affairs in general, assuming quite distinct forms in different parts of the globe.
Efforts to Link Gender, Security, and Peace Coincided With the Unraveling of Feminist Peace Activities
The Israeli experience with 1325, adopted just after the collapse of the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000 and the outbreak of the second intifada immediately thereafter, quickly assumed certain specific features. Israeli women’s peace efforts, many conducted in conjunction with Palestinian counterparts, predated the adoption of the landmark UN resolution. Women were among the first to call for direct negotiations with the PLO and to meet with its representatives, to support a two-state solution, and (following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993) to insist on the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of both sovereign entities. Through several women’s peace movements, they also advocated — both domestically and internationally — for greater involvement of women in the quest for an equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conundrum.
Just as global efforts to link gender, security, and peace were launched, however, Israeli feminist peace activities began to unravel. In the absence of formal talks at this juncture, Israeli and Palestinian women’s peace groups proposed introducing an internationally driven rights-based component into the process. Their representatives appeared before the Security Council in 2002, on the second anniversary of the adoption of 1325, to promote these objectives.6 Three years later, an International Women’s Commission for a
Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace (IWC) was created under the auspices of UNIFEM, but by then political circumstances on the ground had begun to change. The IWC continued to demand safeguards for women in the ongoing conflict, while constantly injecting women’s perspectives into efforts to resuscitate the peace process. But on the Israeli side of the triangle, its activities became increasingly marginalized both politically and in women’s civil society. The IWC finally disbanded six years later, due mainly to changing circumstances and to disagreements on the details of a viable accord. Until recently, with a few exceptions (notably the indomitable Women in Black; the Coalition of Women for Peace; Machsom Watch, a women’s venture designed to protect Palestinian mobility, especially at roadblocks; alongside an impressive array of individual women’s initiatives), women’s peace activism barely subsisted at the fringes of Israel’s increasingly right-leaning and divided society.7
At the same time, Israeli women leaders capitalized on the promulgation of 1325 to promote greater women’s representation in negotiating teams — the first such effort in any country. In the summer of 2005, a bill to entrench the participation component of the UN resolution was tabled. The revised version ultimately passed by the Knesset (Amendment #4 to the Women’s Equal Rights Law, 1951), sponsored by a broad spectrum of parliamentarians from the coalition and the opposition, expanded on the initial draft, mandating the inclusion of women from diverse social groups in all official panels (and, by implication, in negotiations on peace and
Although this much-touted embedment in law of elements of 1325 is unique to Israel, it has hardly been implemented. To be sure, between 2008 and 2009, then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni led Israel’s negotiating team, but the percentage of women in Palestinian-Israeli talks, when these have existed, has been minimal. The handful included in official discussions has consisted mostly of middle-level women professionals, underlining the confusion between descriptive (numerical) representation of women and the substantive representation of a variety of women’s voices.
Consensual Women’s Issues Given Preference Over Contentious Ones
The adoption of this amendment signaled a major shift in Israeli attitudes to the implementation of 1325, with the twin aim of eliminating patriarchy and militarism attenuated by a drive toward inclusion in existing processes. The gender mainstreaming approach was therefore reinterpreted to encompass women’s participation not only in peace and security but in decision-making in general. In the same vein, the incorporation of women’s perspectives on war and its resolution was broadened to encompass all matters on the public agenda, and the importance of a gender analysis of the effects of armed conflict was redirected to incorporate all policy initiatives.
This generalized adaptation of 1325 to local conditions in Israel (as in many other countries) coincided with the introduction of extreme neoliberal policies. The preoccupation with safeguarding the status of women, and especially their physical protection from sexual harassment and gender-based violence, unleashed a stream of legislative initiatives and women’s activities spearheaded by veteran women’s organizations, which stepped in to offer services heretofore provided by the state. This process of “NGOization” meant that consensual women’s issues took preference over contentious ones, effectively leading to the de-politicization and fragmentation of women’s action (especially as gender aspects of identity politics became institutionalized).8 Only in small, mostly academic enclaves was the transformative meaning of gender mainstreaming approaches explored and was gender equality linked to a restructuring of the sociopolitical order along egalitarian lines.
Israeli Plan Watered Down Palestinian Dimension of Peace and Security Issues
The devolution of women’s action and the accompanying dissipation of feminist solidarity came to a head at the beginning of the second decade of this century. Heavily influenced by gender mainstreaming approaches and inspired by a variety of activities in 86 countries across the globe to draft National Action Plans (NAP) to implement 1325, a multiorganizational grassroots effort to design an Israeli action plan was launched in 2012. A series of in-depth discussions led to the formulation of a civil society-rooted “Comprehensive Action Plan for the Application of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325” in late 2013.9
In the absence of agreement on the most essential aspects of the conflict (tellingly, even on the use of the term occupation), not to speak of the role of women in its resolution, the final document focused almost exclusively on domestic matters and on removing obstacles to economic and social equality for diverse groups of women. While it substantially broadened the concept of security to incorporate the many dimensions of human security and updated strategies to overcome gender inequality, its final text was not signed by representatives of key women’s peace movements and several feminist organizations which dissented from the official policy of “conflict management.” These withdrew from the undertaking in frustration because of the overemphasis on domestic matters and the watering down of the Palestinian dimension of peace and security issues.
Hardly surprisingly, therefore, after intense lobbying, it was not difficult for a right-wing government to embrace the recommendations of this exercise. Government Decision 2331 of December 14, 2014 pledged official commitment to gender mainstreaming in all state bodies and to the development of a binding Israeli NAP.10 Thus, the quest for consensus across a broad range of women’s groups and interests domestically — in itself a worthy cause — came at the expense of more pointed efforts to deal with the gender dimensions of the external context within which Israel — and Israeli women — subsist.11
Netanyahu’s Third Consecutive Term Saw Regression on Gender Equality
The divorce of gender matters domestically from their external and diplomatic corollaries was reinforced after the 2015 elections, which witnessed the return of Binyamin Netanyahu for a third consecutive term (and a fourth overall) at the head of an avowedly right-wing government committed to extending Israel’s presence in the West Bank (as conflict management gave way to a quest for outright control of the occupied territory), while downplaying its adherence to pluralism, social equity, and substantive democracy. The dimming prospects for negotiations after the breakdown in 2014 of the U.S. initiative led by then-Secretary of State John Kerry, alongside the continuation of low-intensity violence, came together with the ascendance of an ethnocentric, ultranationalist, hegemonic interpretation of Israeli identity. This combination substantially accelerated social divisions, undercut individual and collective rights, facilitated neo-authoritarian tendencies and magnified populist propensities.
Inevitably, the quest for gender equality was adversely affected.12 For the first time in Israel’s history, the forward progress of women began to stall and, in some instances, backtracked. Income discrepancies actually grew, gender segregation in higher education was officially sanctioned, discrimination against women in public spaces became more commonplace, and new forms of sexism emerged in tandem with greater intolerance, incitement, and outright racism. Progressive forces were systematically discredited and women’s voices shunted further, if possible, to the sidelines. As the Coalition of Women for Peace contracted and the IWC collapsed, new women’s initiatives appeared — most notably the grassroots Women Wage Peace and Forum Dvorah, a group of women security experts. In an effort to create a nonpartisan front favoring a negotiated settlement, these latest additions to the women’s peace tent could not agree on anything else of substance — from ending the occupation to the contours of a preferred political solution. It is hardly surprising that Palestinian feminist activists — abiding by the rules against normalization — pulled out.
Thus, although some efforts were made during this period to revive national-level activities to combat growing signs of gender abuse (particularly on issues related to sexual violence and economic discrimination), until very recently critical women’s voices (along with dissenting opinion generally) have been suppressed. As a result, with very few exceptions, Israeli women withdrew from the domain of peace and security in their own immediate context.
Four Reasons for Retrogressive Record on Implementation of 1325
Four sets of explanations help to account for this very uneven and frequently retrogressive record. The first is inherent in the 1325 platform and in the ways gender, peace, and security issues have evolved during the past 20 years. The principles laid down in the original resolution adopted by the UN Security Council, however path-breaking, were of a general nature. Subsequent additions — mostly passed in response to the growing distress of women in conflict-ridden areas — accentuated specific measures to protect women in war zones and in post-conflict rehabilitation. This evolution created a built-in contradiction between the protection and
empowerment pillars embedded in the original text. Indeed, the systematic treatment of women as victims runs the ongoing risk of belittling their role as peacemakers and problem-solvers. This tension continues to affect Israeli activities related to 1325, as well as similar initiatives elsewhere. It also underlines the ongoing friction between the desire to incorporate women and their heterogenous perspectives into the handling of violent conflict and its resolution and the allied need to ensure their active presence in policymaking and implementation.
The second set of reasons for Israel’s skewed record in the application of the 1325 process relates to internal strategic differences within the women’s movement writ large. The shrinking circle of feminist peace activists has persisted in its demand for a political role in the settlement of the conflict but has consistently been skeptical of the utility of engaging with Israel’s increasingly right-wing political establishment. The vast majority of women activists and veteran women’s organizations have avoided dealing with the intricacies of Palestinian-Israeli relations but continue to interact with the formal leadership on consensual issues related to gender inequality. This pattern has entrenched their dependence on existing male-dominated power structures, further exacerbating rifts within the already exceedingly heterogeneous feminist peace camp and hampering its overall efficacy.
These strains have spilled over to a third area: Israeli women’s ties with Palestinian women. There has always been a distinct asymmetry in these joint peace efforts. As the occupation has deepened, disenfranchised Palestinian women have increasingly felt the heavy hand of Israeli overrule and have therefore accorded greater significance to the national goal of ending the occupation and asserting their right to national self-determination. Israeli women, by contrast, have mostly viewed the partnership with their Palestinian sisters as a springboard for future cooperation on feminist and other matters of mutual concern, downplaying the specifically gender-based aspects of the occupation and the urgency of finding a political solution to thwart the entrenchment of Israeli control. From the outset, these different priorities were compounded by ongoing tensions between the gender and political elements ingrained in the 1325 trajectory, which often bisected national identities.
Indeed, during the first decade of Israeli-Palestinian collaboration within the 1325 framework, joint action was viewed as an asset in the political struggle and as an instrument for mobilizing women constituencies domestically. Scores of meetings and exchanges were held at home and abroad, during which efforts were made to delineate points of convergence on feminist as well as political topics and to bridge the widening gaps on substance and strategy. Inevitably, however, after a frustrating 10 years with little progress on the diplomatic front, the limits of this partnership — and hence its utility — became more apparent. Women’s action did not always coincide with a common commitment to feminist precepts, nor did cooperation necessarily imply dedication to a shared political vision. In the absence of an agreed-upon set of values and specific objectives, disagreements grew just as the benefits of joint work receded.
In the following decade, as the situation on the ground worsened and joint initiatives dwindled to a trickle, a sense of failure — along with no small doses of disappointment, anger, and fatigue — accelerated the process of mutual disengagement. By the 20th anniversary of 1325, the Israeli-Palestinian women’s partnership had almost completely ground to a halt. Few points of contact — politically, socially, or personally — remain today. In retrospect, it is testimony to the dedication of Palestinian and Israeli women to the values embedded in 1325 and to the belief in the feasibility of overcoming male-dominated structures that have sustained unfettered militarism that their partnership endured for so long.
If the first three explanations for Israel’s faltering adherence to the spirit and guidelines ingrained in 1325 are at least somewhat a product of women’s action or inaction, the fourth group of reasons — the contextual one — has traditionally been beyond their control (in fact, the ultimate purpose of the process it set in motion is to transform women from passive objects of violence and war to active agents in overcoming their deleterious effects). Without going into much detail, during the past two decades, the geopolitical landscape has shifted dramatically not only on the international and regional levels but also internally in Israel and Palestine. The Trump administration’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the downgrading of relations with the Palestinian Authority, the halting of subventions for UNRWA and Palestinian causes, and its recognition of the legality of Jewish settlements came to a head in January 2020 with the unveiling of the so-called “Deal of the Century.” This initiative calls for partial Israeli annexation of 30% of the West Bank and the establishment of a truncated, landlocked Palestinian entity in the remaining area. Along with ongoing efforts to forge relations with Arab states while bypassing the Palestinian issue, it has threatened to bury what little remains of the
prospects for a two-state scenario.
The resultant turmoil has curtailed political maneuverability in general, let alone on the gender front. It has not, however, completely quashed these efforts. The apparent stalemate is giving way to the reawakening and rejuvenation of Israeli progressive voices in general and of feminist activism in particular. The thrust of these efforts goes to the heart of the quest for the creation of a peaceful, democratic, equal, and just environment for all residents of the land. This vision is based on an understanding that cooperation is not a substitute for reconciliation, just as progress on the status of women is not synonymous per se with the elimination of male chauvinism.
Impact of COVID-19 on Feminist Action
The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has contributed to the revival of feminist action in manifold ways. COVID-19 has intensified existing gender differences and created new asymmetries. Over 65% of those laid off in the first nine months of 2020 are women. With schools mostly closed or operating remotely, women’s “invisible” work — unpaid, unrecognized child care, supervision of education, and other domestic tasks — has skyrocketed. Violence against women has soared. Women’s absence in critical decision-making forums has been striking. At the same time, it has become increasingly apparent that the exclusion of their voices has hampered economic and social recovery efforts.13 A new solidarity amongst the very different inhabitants of the Israeli women’s terrain has begun to emerge, radiating into other fields as well.
The coronavirus phenomenon has not only accentuated gender disparities but has also introduced new elements into Israeli approaches to security. The multifaceted uncertainties the pandemic unleashed on a variety of fronts have been accompanied by significant shifts in its definition. Civilian components — especially related to medical, economic, social, and governance matters — have come to the fore alongside traditional military interpretations. The importance of human security in all its manifestations is therefore gaining traction. This has brought about greater women’s action on all major issues on the national agenda, paving the way for the repoliticization of their activities generally and their reengagement specifically, on Palestinian-related matters.
A broad coalition of diverse women’s organizations (The Feminist Emergency Headquarters), consisting of over 70 organizations and activists, was established immediately after the appearance of the coronavirus in Israel in March 2020. Its purpose is not only to trace the deteriorating condition of divergent groups of women during the crisis in all its ramifications but also to amplify their voices in the design of workable solutions.14 This umbrella group and many of its constituent parts have issued a series of reports on the gender asymmetries during the pandemic, proposed ways of bridging the growing gaps, and organized a series of activities to press home their demands for a more overarching power restructuring in the country.
Revival of Linkage Between Domestic Efforts and Quest for Israeli-Palestinian Peace
These initiatives — along with those of individual women’s, human rights, civil liberties, and specialized organizations of academics and experts — have started to directly link domestic efforts to the need to achieve a lasting Palestinian-Israeli accommodation under the banner of 1325.15 An initial call in this vein issued in anticipation of the 20th anniversary has been supplemented by other petitions, such as those issued on behalf of Women Wage Peace focusing on women’s inclusion in negotiations and the adoption of an Israeli NAP on one hand16 and a detailed paper advocating for the inclusion of all women citizens in the quest for gender equality and touching on the many civic and defense facets of human security circulated by a group of Palestinian women’s rights organizations on the other.17 Allied webinars, discussions, conferences, demonstrations, and rallies surrounding the two-decade anniversary of 1325 have all highlighted a holistic approach to its implementation.
At the same time, these initiatives on the ground were complemented by an appeal signed initially by Israeli women political and civil society leaders to the international community on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the UN resolution, calling for its reengagement in bringing about the end to Israeli occupation and its active involvement in realizing Palestinian self-determination alongside Israel. The initial list of signatories — many of whom were prominent in feminist peace groups during the 1980s and 1990s and later in the IWC — was supplemented by an additional group of over 150 mostly second and third generation civil society and women’s rights activists. This call, together with a separate Palestinian appeal directed at the same audience, evoked an impressive response from past and present international women leaders, reaffirming the significance of wedding global efforts to local women’s concerns in Israel and Palestine.18 A common thread throughout these distinct texts is a desire on the part of feminist activists on the official and civil society levels to take charge of the destiny of their societies by not only terminating repression and violence but also paving the way to equitable interaction leading eventually to reconciliation based on mutual respect.
The campaign for the substantive implementation of 1325 in Israel and Palestine, after many years of joint, parallel, and separate action and multiple detours and setbacks, is finally beginning to mature. The values and ideas driving its formulation — that women’s rights are human rights, that gender equality is a joint venture of men together with women, that armed conflict is gendered, that the exclusion of women from the challenges of peacemaking and peacebuilding mirrors deep domestic asymmetries, and that the rectification of all of these discrepancies requires a complete reconfiguration of power relations within and between warring parties — are now being brought to bear on a much more challenging reality. Gender mainstreaming strategies and the inclusive connections inherent in the concept of human security are coalescing into the design of a comprehensive gender-driven alternative to peace and security than that conducted by male-dominated establishments to date. The promotion of this embracing notion may yet — if pursued consistently and persistently — prove to be the most viable way to overcome too many years of conflict, oppression, inequality, and animosity among and between Israelis and Palestinians.
1 A full list of these resolutions (the latest adopted in 2019), as well as statements and discussions on Women, Peace and Security, may be accessed on: https://www.securitycouncilreport.org/undocuments/women-peace-and-security
2 Some of these ideas draw on a series of discussions held by a coalition of feminist organizations and activists under the auspices of Itach-Ma’aki during the latter part of 2020.
3 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, https://undocs.org/S/RES/1325(2000), paragraph 1.
4 Ibid., esp. paragraphs 5,6 and 9.
5 Ibid., esp. paragraphs 9, 10 and 11.
6 For a closer understanding of these efforts see the analyses of Terry Greenblatt of Bat Shalom and Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas of the Jerusalem Center for Women, who appeared together before the Security Council. Terry Greenblatt, “Feminist Strategies to Get International Initiatives Back on Track,” in Sarai Aharoni and Rula Deeb (eds.), Where Are All the Women? U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325: Gender Perspectives of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Haifa: Pardes Publishing House, 2004), pp. 45-49; Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas, “Feminist Strategies to Get International Initiatives Back on Track,” in Ibid., pp. 50-53. For further commentary see Naomi Chazan, “Strategies for the Inclusion of Women in Conflict Resolution,” in Ibid., pp. 54-58.
7 Women peace activists continued to work within the framework of mixed gender peace initiatives. For an overview of this period see: Naomi Chazan, “Peace Action and Conflict Resolution: An Israeli-Palestinian Exploration,” in Elie Podeh and Asher Kaufman (eds.), Arab-Jewish Relations: From Conflict to Resolution (Brighton and Portland: Sussex Academic Press, 2006), pp. 283-318.
8 Hanna Herzog, “Re/Visioning the Women’s Movement in Israel,” Citizenship Studies, 12, 3 (2009), pp. 265-282.
9 Women’s Leaders for Peace and Security, A Comprehensive Action Plan for the Application of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (Jerusalem: Van Leer Jerusalem Institute,2013).
10 https://www.gov.il/he/departments/policies/2014_des2331. In Hebrew.
11 Some of these issues are explored in a background paper prepared for the working coalition working on the comprehensive plan. See: Sarai Aharoni, Women, Peace and Security (Jerusalem: Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, 2015).
12 For an expansion on these themes see: Naomi Chazan, “Israel at 70: A Gender Perspective,” Israel Studies. 23, 3 (2018), pp. 141-151.
13 All relevant data and reports may be found on the Center for Knowledge on Gender and Women’s digital platform, (yodaat org.), and especially its coronavirus section.
14 For further information, see their website: https://sites.google.com/view/feministisrael, in Hebrew.