"No one can relieve your itchy back like the scratch of your fingers. – Don't accept the role of the victim. Take active measures to change things for the better. Use your strength!"
Nabila Espanioly, born in Nazareth in 1955, a Palestinian with an Israeli citizenship, obtained a BA and MA in Psychology from Bamberg University, Germany. She returned to Nazareth with a tremendous enthusiasm to benefit her community from her academic experience. She has been active in the Israeli peace movement for 25 years. Her main concern in this connection is to help bringing together Palestinian and Jewish women in order to promote peace.
Although all women have Israeli passports and live in the core territory of Israel they have hardly any possibility of meeting. For this reason, she has founded the group “Jewish-Arabic Women for Peace” and also co-founded the Haifa “Women in Black” group. Moreover she is a founder and chairperson of "Mosawa" (Equal Rights), a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization based in Haifa. In addition, she has coordinated poster actions and worked out appeals against the war, issued by different women’s groups for publication in the press.
She has taken an active initiative in the preparations of the big demonstrations in Tel Aviv and set up, together with Reuven Moskovitz, solidarity programs for women’s groups in order to supply the besieged Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with food and toys.
In 2003, Espanioly shared the international Aachen Peace Prize with the Jewish-Israeli historian and peace activist Reuven Moskowitz in recognition of their efforts to promote peace and human rights in the Middle East.
The far-flung clan of the Nabila Espanioly has existed in Nazareth for centuries, and has indeed lent its name to an entire area of the city. She was born in 1955, as the seventh child in a family of eight daughters and two sons. At that time, Galilee was still under military rule. In order to travel from one town or village to another, inhabitants of the Palestinian areas required written permission from the Israeli army, which was only granted as a matter of political goodwill.
Palestinian land, once the very basis of the people's life, was confiscated almost entirely by the Israeli state. Many Palestinians - especially members of the older generation - felt helpless, and did their best to fit in with the status quo. Espanioly remembers: "They used to pronounce a proverb to us children and young people: 'Stay close to the wall, where it's safe'. In other words: 'No experiments'.
In 1966, military rule in Galilee was ended. Nonetheless, the Palestinian minority - in official parlance, "Israeli Arabs" - were still disadvantaged in many ways: in the assignment of development funds from local authorities, in the field of education, and in their professional lives.
The second generation - Espanioly 's - was no longer prepared to accept this: "In my case, the light went on when I tried to matriculate as a student of Social Work in Haifa: I was turned down. When I turned to my sister, she said, 'Nabila! Don’t you realize you have to fight for everything?'" Espanioly resolved to take up the struggle and was eventually admitted to university; later, she even got a job as a government-employed social worker. But her active commitment to the rights of Palestinians soon got her into trouble. "I lost my job three times, and I'm sure Israel's internal secret service had something to do with it", she says.
At the beginning of the Eighties, Espanioly went to Germany to study psychology in Bamberg. In 1987, she returned and founded ‘Al Tufula’, a center for women and children in Nazareth. One of her goals was to improve the care and education of pre-school children in the Palestinian areas of Israel. Espanioly sees it as one of Al Tufula’s main tasks to assist children in the development of their personal and cultural identity. She says, "We produce children's books and educational materials that enable the children to perceive their Palestinian identity, and to reflect upon it. For if one wishes to co-exist with the other Israel, the Jewish Israel, one has to exist in the first place."
She is also a founder and Chairperson of The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel ‘Mosawa’ (Equal Rights), a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization based in Haifa. It was established in October of 1997 as a Non-Governmental Organization. Mossawa works to promote equality for Arab Palestinians within the borders of Israel. It utilizes advocacy methods to change the social and political status of Arab Palestinians in Israel in an attempt to gain minority recognition and rights, without sacrificing their national and cultural rights as Palestinians. Mossawa cooperates with other NGO's, local councils, elected representatives of society, international and local human rights organizations, and embassies in an effort to achieve the set goals and establish a solid networking arena.
‘Mosawa’ campaigns for the civil rights of Israel’s 1.2 million Palestinians, who make up around one fifth of the Jewish state’s population and who still feel like second-class citizens. “Although we pay taxes like everyone else, Palestinian towns and villages are, on average, much less developed”, says Espanioly. “Entire villages have been declared illegal by the Israeli government. They have no water, no electricity and no social services.” She says that Palestinian parents receive lower child benefit payments, despite paying the same social insurance contributions. Palestinian schools are far less well-equipped, and it is very difficult for Palestinians to acquire access to a university.
Espanioly demands that Israel’s Palestinians be recognized as a national minority: “I’m a Palestinian, not an Israeli Arab, but the reactionary forces in Israel refuse to refer to us as Palestinians. For that would mean admitting that this country used to be Palestine, and that non-Jews also have a right to live here on an equal footing.” In 1948, Israel expelled 750,000 Palestinians and destroyed almost every Palestinian town and village. Espanioly insists that Israel must acknowledge this historical injustice and accept responsibility for it: “Until they do so, we cannot look to the future.”
Since the Eighties, Espanioly has been politically active, not just as a Palestinian but as a feminist: “Female Palestinians in Israel are subjected to three separate kinds of discrimination: as members of the Palestinian minority, as women in Israel and as women in conservative Palestinian society.” Today, she works alongside Jewish and Palestinian women to oppose violence against women, and to promote equal rights in the workplace. Together with the international organization “Women in Black” and the Israeli-Palestinian “Women’s Coalition for Peace”, Espanioly coordinates campaigns against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and organizes aid convoys for the areas cut off from the outside world.
Since the '80s, Nabila Espanioly has been politically active, not just as a Palestinian but as a feminist. She says, "Female Palestinians in Israel are subjected to three kinds of discrimination: as members of the Palestinian minority, as women in Israel and as women in conservative Palestinian society." Today, she works alongside Jewish and Palestinian women to combat violence against women and to promote equal labor rights. Together with the international organization "Women in Black" (WiB) and the Israeli-Palestinian "Coalition of Women for Just Peace" (CWfJP), Espanioly coordinates campaigns against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and organizes aid convoys for the areas cut off from the outside world.
For Nabila Espanioly, peace policy, the promotion of women and children’s education are indispensable. She says, "The Palestinian population in Israel does not have equal rights and is exposed to a growing discrimination in all spheres of life. Especially Palestinian women come last in Israel when it comes to job opportunities. Since the expulsion in 1948 and the expropriations in subsequent years, the traditional jobs in agriculture no longer exist. Since the landless Palestinian men are now predominantly employed as unskilled workers in low-income jobs, it is essential that women also seek employment. Yet, nursery places are also lacking. While 95.4 percent of the Jewish children go to nursery, such places are only available for 36 percent of the Palestinian children. The children's books and toys issued by the Israeli Ministry of Education are based on Jewish living conditions and do not take into account the language and cultural heritage of the Palestinians." For Espanioly the strengthening of a Palestinian identity is therefore an absolutely essential foundation of a multi-cultural society in Israel.
Nabila Espanioly is a campaigner for the civil rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel, for peace between Israel and Palestine and for equal rights for women in general and for Palestinian women in particular. She acts to promote peace and advocate human rights in the Middle East.
Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel (Mossawa)
The Feminist Center in Haifa (FCiH)
Jewish-Arabic Women for Peace (JAWfP)
Central Asia and the Middle East | Israel