In New York,Wednesday,the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children honored two pairs of friends dedicated to promoting peace across ethnic barriers.
Zejeneba Srajlik's husband was killed and her son was captured in 1992, when the Yugoslav army tried to rid her town in Bosnia and Herzegovina of all non-Serbs. But ten years later, Mrs. Srajlik, who is Muslim and speaks English with the aid of a translator, is working for reconciliation with Serbs and to assist displaced Bosnian-Muslims returning home. "We women bear the heaviest burden. We never supported war. We never wanted war. And now we have to fight for peace," she says.
Mrs. Sarajlic has been honored with the Voice of Courage award, along with her friend, a Bosnian Serb, Stanojka Avramovic. Together, they created the "Women of Podrinje," to aid hundreds of victims of the Yugoslav military campaign and to promote inter-ethnic dialogue. Mrs. Avramovic invited Mrs. Sarajlic to live in her home, and was her only Bosnian-Serb friend willing to join the project.
Bushra Jawabri, a Palestinian, and Julia Resnitsky, an Israeli, come from a younger generation. But they also understand the destruction of war and have been honored for their dedication to non-violent conflict resolution. They both attended Seeds of Peace, a summer camp in the United States, which brings together youngsters from areas of conflict.
Ms. Resnitsky moved to Jerusalem as a young child from Russia, where she and her Jewish family were persecuted for their religious beliefs. "I learned at a young age what it is like to be hated. That is why I can never hate anyone or anything," she says. "Although I was taught that Palestinians were my enemies, I never believed so. I joined Seeds of Peace to prove all of them wrong. And I did."
Ms. Jawabri, who is a refugee from the West Bank, attends college in New York. She says the recent escalation of Isreali-Palestinian violence has strengthened her resolve to fight for a peaceful solution. "I always asked myself why I have to witness innocent Palestinian civilians killed every day? Why I have to witness innocent Israeli civilians killed every day? Why did I have to witness 3,000 Americans killed on September 11? The answer is, I believe, it is my task, my mission that we all have to follow, which is to work for a better future, not just for ourselves, but for our children."
The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, the human rights group that gives the award, tries to assist the millions of refugees and internally displaced people around the world, 80 percent of which are women and adolescents.