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Palestinian and Israeli Women, in New Book, Seek Peace

Peace By Peace, an American non-profit group, has brought together Palestinian and Israeli women to discuss how to achieve peace. The organization released a book that tells how the 60 women envision peace. Late last year, before the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, the women visited Washington. They said they hoped to push for peace which they say has eluded the region's male leadership.

In 1993, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, with a handshake on the White House lawn, gave their people hope that a peaceful Palestinian state in the occupied territories was on the way.

But since then, there has been renewed fighting, with, most recently, Hamas firing rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns and Israel launching a ground offensive in the Strip.

In November, a group of Israeli and Palestinian women gathered in Washington. They said they hope their vision can advance Middle East peace in ways that men have been unable to.

"Peace is not about doves, peace is not about words on a piece of paper. It may be one part of it, but it is about conditions on the ground that includes honoring and trusting," Patricia Smith Melton said. She is the founder of Peace By Peace. In her newly released book, Sixty years, Sixty Voices, Melton gives voice to 60 Palestinian and Israeli women, this group among them.

Two of the Israelis and two of the Palestinians first encountered each other around this table.

One of them, Nira Lamay is an Iranian-born Jew. She works in Israel's Parliament and once served as a lieutenant in the nation's army. Because of her appearance, she says she has been subjected to the same checkpoint searches endured by Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

"People have to meet and put down the barrier of fear and another very important thing is the education of children because even if we sign a peace agreement tomorrow, the children or the teenagers will have to learn to live with it," Lamay stated.

Lamay says women can teach tolerance to both Israeli and Palestinian children. A school principal in the Israeli occupied city of Hebron agrees, up to a point.

Reem Al Sharif says the tension and occasional violent clashes take a toll on the children.

In Hebron, 150,000 Palestinians live in uneasy coexistence with about 500 Israeli settlers.

"To go to the school, you have to go through different checkpoints. Some checkpoints are with metal detectors and sometimes you go through personal check," Al Sharif said. "The other way is the Islamic cemetery. So you can imagine what are the scenes those children see every morning."

In some places on the West Bank, an Israeli-built wall separates Palestinians from Israelis. Al Sharif says if women from both sides could bypass this wall, they could make peace sooner than the mostly male politicians

Barbara Sofer is a spokeswoman for Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America. The group founded Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, which treats both Arabs and Jews.

In the book, Sofer calls the hospital an island of peace where people from both sides bring out their better selves, bridging their differences.

She believes women are better qualified to reach a peace agreement. "The vast majority of unsuccessful peace makers in our region are men, so we need to have sort of a protesting tent. We need to have a long table of women and we have to come up with a document."

Peace By Peace hopes its book will create a climate for peace in the Middle East.