Founder | Political is Personal
Tell us about what inspired you to launch the Political is Personal (PiP) / Israel + Palestine initiative.
It is a mix of different things, I have lived in Israel for 11 years. It is a very interesting and dramatic place to live in. When I came to Israel, I pursued a bachelor’s degree in Government Diplomacy and Strategy with a focus on conflict resolution and international affairs. I do not know if I have always been a feminist, maybe unconsciously, but I took two classes: Women in the Middle East and Gender in Society, and they helped me realize many things about my life as a woman in Israel, within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I became aware of many small details about women’s lives. Women who are exposed to feminism in their coursework find out things about their own lives. The course was the first time I was exposed to in-depth approaches toward feminist thinking, and the status of women in Israel and Palestine, as well as what the conflict meant for their lives and how it affected them, directly and indirectly. I was learning about things, and then looking at my own life, I realized that the conflict has an effect on my life as well (that's not to say I am miserable in Israel). During my bachelor’s degree, each paper I wrote had to do with gender or women. It was impossible for me to write about anything else as it did not seem genuine to me.
While I had been studying, I worked in different, somewhat irrelevant fields as I had to make an income. I had internships with peace NGOs and worked with an NGO within the Palestinian society. Even within these NGOs, there was a lack of women’s voices. In many instances, there were only men in management positions and decision-making roles.
When I finished my MA in 2014, I was working for Moroccan Oil, a hair product company. I wanted to go back to working on projects that had to do with empowering women within the context of the conflict. I had been writing a blog about my experiences here and was enjoying it. I combined writing with channeling women’s voices in the conflict. In May 2015, I interviewed my friend and her story was the first one uploaded to the website. Then I interviewed another friend of mine, and it just took off from there.
In short, the initiative is a database of stories gathered from interviews that I conduct with Israeli-Jewish and Palestinian women. The women are either anonymous or have their first names in the story. I record the interviews to transcribe them, so they can also be used for research.
What does a typical day look like for you?
It is not like a typical 9 to 5 job. I started this initiative while I was working for Moroccan Oil because of the risk involved. At first, I posted the stories on a Facebook page, which later became a website. I had wanted to do something I was good at and liked doing for a long time, but i had to think about how to make an income as well. I noticed an increased interest in reading the stories I was publishing so I quit my job two years ago, about 3 months after I started the initiative. A lot of time was going into it and I wanted to go all in, and give it a try to see where it would go.
My typical day working on PiP varies. It depends on whether and where I am interviewing someone. If I am interviewing a woman within Israel, then depending on where she lives that can take some time. If I am interviewing a woman in the West Bank, then going to see her usually takes a whole day, as even though the West Bank is near to where I live, it is complicated to get there. I have to get to Jerusalem first, then to East Jerusalem, and then I take a bus to my final destination in the West Bank. Coming back takes even longer because the checkpoints can be time-consuming.
When I am not meeting women, I spend a lot of time at home writing up the stories. They have gotten longer with time: they easily come up to 8 to 12 pages on average, and some transcripts amount to 20 pages. I spend considerable editing them.
To find the interviewees, I reach out to several women, asking them if they would like to be interviewed. This can be challenging with Palestinian women due to a lack of trust. I have a lot of meetings with women from different organizations based in Israel, to get their advice and exchange ideas. There is a lot of activity within this field and a good support system between organizations. Recently, I began hosting more speaking events about PiP, my background and the need for this type of platform, the conflict, and Israeli society.
In your capacity as a founder/storyteller with Political is Personal, what are the skills that make you good at your job?
I am good at conveying what someone told me and at exposing the raw truth about women’s lives and providing them with a space to share their experiences. One of the most important things about the initiative is that everything is honest and truthful, and very raw.
I write the stories as close as possible to what the women told me, almost verbatim. I am very careful not to filter anything that was said to me, even when there are things I didn't like. I do not want the stories to be like conventional journalism or to be filtered by my own perceptions and assumptions, or to turn it into some sensationalized story.
I want it to be truthful, which is something unique that I bring. When I ask Palestinian women about interviewing them, I am upfront with them and do not want any kind of misunderstandings to arise. I want them to know everything about me and for them to be honest.
What are the biggest challenges you have encountered?
I was declined from a grant application. It made me re-evaluate how I am going to go forward with PiP.
Another challenge is traveling to the West Bank as it is time-consuming, and I am Jewish. However, it does not scare me., despite the tensions that I feel when I go through a checkpoint.
Yet another challenge would be getting through to Palestinian women in Gaza and the West Bank (because of the lack of trust), as well as to Israeli-Jewish women who are not that politically active or center-right. They are a bit more difficult to convince because they immediately see the initiative as being a political one, meaning one that is more on the left. I want to hear what they have to say and what their lives have been like, and to hear if they have right-wing opinions and where they are coming from because their beliefs might be based on their own experience.
How do you think the scope of your work will evolve?
When I first started PiP, I wanted to circumvent the conventional fundraising process, where you apply for grants. I thought of turning the initiative into a social entrepreneurial endeavor, creating a product, rather than relying on grants. This may be an option that I revisit. I might also look more seriously into crowdfunding.
What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a project like yours?
I do not know if I should have done things differently. The one thing that I know I have done well is bringing unfiltered honesty to the stories, to women’s voices.
It is a little bit difficult to move around in the non-profit world. There are many different things you can do and different paths you can take like social entrepreneurship. It certainly has been an immense learning process. The most important thing to do is constantly re-evaluate the reasons why you do what you do and keep asking yourself, once in a while, if it still makes sense to you, not only the mission of the project itself, but in your life personally.
What are some of the barriers facing women trying to get involved in foreign policy or politics?
There is a fear among women of going into work that influences policymaking in some way. I feel that I have been scared because I am a woman, even though I have always been interested in politics, and wanted to go into it one day. I am also aware that as a white woman it probably would be easier for me than as a woman of colour. Going into politics would be scary because so many things would be expected of me.
I have been afraid of doing what I am doing, i.e. something that is political. Some of the things I have written about, for example things Palestinian women have told me, are things that many in the Israeli government, Israeli defence forces, and the Israeli army probably would not want to come out.
The more women we see in these political contexts, the more women will want to be in those contexts as well. I see it for myself, I feel strengthened just being able to meet with women that do similar things and give me advice. My motivation becomes even greater because it feels like a support system of women are helping me in terms of Political is Personal, and in other ways. I think that if girls see women in politics and decision-making positions, then they will feel like they can do it as well, like it is not off-limits for them.