Studying peace, war and violence from a feminist perspective is often a complex personal journey. Initially, when I started to work on gender and official peace-negotiations in Israel I was grappling with questions about women’s agency and voice within restricted political settings defined by security cultures and militarized identities. Later, these questions lead me to challenge existing narratives about the prolonged yet-failed Israeli-Palestinian peace process by looking deeper into women’s roles within bureaucratic support systems and the material aspects of what I came to identify as invisible ‘peace-work’. Listening to stories of Israeli women who participated in official talks with the PLO during the 1990s finally made me reconsider the universal applicability of the ‘women and peace hypothesis’ and to search for possibilities of reframing it to acknowledge that women from diverse locations may have different interpretations of the terms ‘peace’, ‘security’, ‘resistance’, and ‘equality’.
There are lots of ways to tell one’s own story. In fact, when I started my studies in the early 1990s, feminism and politics were rarely part of my everyday life. In my BA and MA studies at the Hebrew University, I specialized in classical studies and medieval European history, dedicating my time to a rigorous study of languages, including Latin, French, Provencal, Italian and German. At the end of my MA studies, inspired by my medieval studies mentor Prof. Esther Cohen, I became gradually interested in political theory, norms and gender studies and wrote my MA thesis on “Politics, Gender and Individualism in 12th Century France”, a political biography of William IX, Duke of Aquitaine (1071-1126).
My interest in gender and the Arab-Israeli conflict developed during a time period in which I was not pursuing direct academic studies. Prompted by the outbreak of the Second Intifada and my personal transition into motherhood I became involved in various local and international feminist initiatives. In April 2003, after I received a seed-grant from AWID I organized the first conference in Israel about SCR 1325 and co-edited (with my friend Rula Deeb) a tri-lingual publication titled ‘Where Are All the Women? U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325: Gender Perspectives of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict‘ (Pardes, 2004). Throughout the years I have shared some personal and important life experiences that transformed my views on women, feminism, politics and peace, like here and here (sorry, this chapter is in German!). I also wrote some non-academic stuff about ongoing women’s peace activism in Israel, like here and here and took part in writing many reports about gender equality and women’s rights. Here , for example, is the first report on the Impact of the Second Intifada on Women in Israel, submitted to the CSW in New York in 2005. I wrote this report as part of my ongoing activities at Isha l’Isha, the Haifa Feminist Center, where I have been active for many years.
Returning to more traditional academic research, most of my work after 2004 has focused mainly on studying and evaluating the applicability of emerging international norms about Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in the Israeli context. The first project in which I was involved as a researcher of this specific field was a quantitative research with Dr. Dalia Sachs and Dr. Amalia Sa’ar from the University of Haifa. Conducted during 2004-2005, this research was based on a face-to-face interview survey documenting Israeli women’s sense of insecurity during the Second Intifada. Its main findings were published in two articles in Sex Roles (2007) and International Sociology (2011). Our research explains, for the first time, Israeli women’s tendency to develop high levels of stress following direct and indirect exposure to political violence. We argue that women’s personal sense of insecurity should be understood not only as a manifestation of ‘feminine traits’, but as related to previous sexual and domestic victimization, to economic distress and ethnic discrimination among minority women, and to the cultural role of care giving among women of all socio-economic backgrounds. As such, this study remains one of the most rigorous scientific attempts to reconceptualize gender and insecurity in Israel during the Intifada and the changing nature of warfare in the region. Some of my thoughts about engaging in quantitative feminist research are developed in a chapter which appeared in 2016 in the book Researching War: Feminist Methods, Ethics and Politics (edited by my dear colleague Annick Wibben).
As part of my PhD dissertation, written in the Gender Studies program at Bar-Ilan University under the supervision of Prof. Naomi Chazan and Prof. Menachem Klein, I continued to explore other aspects of the WPS framework. My dissertation titled “Gender Perspectives and the Participation of Israeli Women in Formal Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations”, was an experimental analysis of the official Oslo Accords negotiations (1992-2000) from a gendered standpoint. It was based on a variety of sources including written documents and a series of interviews with Jewish-Israeli women and men that participated in the formal Oslo Peace process and included a historical and narrative analysis.
This research is one of the only existing empirical documentations of women negotiators’ narratives and has been recognized as such by several scholars in the field of Feminist Security Studies and Conflict Resolution. In an article based on the dissertation that was published in Politics & Gender (2011), I attempted to explain the gap between the vast community-based women’s NGO’s conflict-related activities in Israel during the 1990’s and their marginal incorporation in formal peace negotiations. I argue that the pattern of invisible inclusion of women professionals reveals 1) that the security logic developed by Israeli negotiators led to, and reinforced, a structured gendered division of labor, providing a rational justification for gender inequality; 2) that the ability to control administrative capacities and women workers generated symbolic masculine power and assisted in maintaining asymmetries between Israeli and Palestinian delegations; 3) and that mid-level Israeli negotiators’ narratives reveal the extent to which conceptual confusion and self-contradictory approaches toward the Oslo Accords reinforced women’s overall invisibility.
Another section of my dissertation has been recently published in Security Dialogue (2014) in which I use a postcolonial feminist analysis to examine the way acts of gender stereotyping in peace-negotiations may be linked to cultural framing. In this article I argue that these personal narratives (1) demonstrate and engage with Israeli essentialist and Orientalist discourses about Arab culture and masculinity; (2) manifest how ideas about strategic dialogue and negotiations are gendered; and (3) convey how policymakers and negotiators may use cultural claims to rationalize women’s exclusion from diplomatic and strategic dialogue.
During my Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at the Hebrew University (2009-2010) I started working on a documentation of the localization process of SCR 1325 in Israel after the Second Intifada. In an article published in Social Politics (2014), “Internal Variation in Norm Localization: Implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 in Israel”, I offer an analysis of four forms of interpretation to SCR 1325 developed in 2000-2010 by local and international actors: protest, political dialogue, legal reforms and transformative actions. I argue that these interpretative modules reveal a selective and instrumental localization pattern that goes far beyond conflict-related women’s rights which could be explained by two national-level factors: (a) despite the escalation of political violence, the State of Israel continued to develop national machineries promoting gender equality for women citizens, minimizing the internationalization of local campaigns for women’s rights; (b) by using the universal language of SCR 1325 to construct, redefine and reinforce domestic identities and interests, governmental agencies and women’s groups were engaged in promoting local ownership of international norms. I also argue that SCR 1325 proved to be especially beneficial on the civil society level, enabling women’s organizations to survive the generally unfavorable domestic opportunity structure during the Second Intifada.
Here is the shorter versionSarai Aharoni CV 2016: my CV