Date of Interview 2004

Born in Faradis, a village near Haifa, Ibtisam Mahameed was one of the first women to leave the village to seek an education. A devout Muslim, she works with many groups that promote interfaith dialogue and nonviolence, including the Interfaith Encounter Association and the Golden Road. Ibtisam is deeply committed to strengthening the role of women in society, and was the first woman to run for mayor of her hometown. She recently received the "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" award from the Dalai Lama in San Francisco, CA. The award honors 50 individuals from across the globe for their work, commitment and dedication to the service of others. For an interview with Ibtisam produced by the Global Oneness Project, click here.

Ibtisam Mahameed
One of the reasons I became a peace activist is that I came to realize that there is no point to what's going on here. Violence creates more violence. Killing after killing, until when will this circle of violence go on? I got to know about the people that are working on bringing the different sides together.
If I consider myself a peace activist, then all my words and actions must be devoted to peace. For me this is Jihad, and if I die doing this I will be considered a martyr. How do I identify a martyr? He is one that takes a role in improving his community and its situation, according to his own understanding. People can call him what they like, but I consider this a sacred mission that I could use to help the next generations.
If you talk to someone that was an extremist in his own beliefs, you can feel that he starts to change his understanding. They call this "ants' work." I can't change the whole universe at once, but I can change a small group. If one person comes to work with me, he will be like my messenger. When he talks with his family he can tell them, for example, that not all Arabs are the same, they are not all terrorists. He will believe in our cause and he will defend it, he will support me. At the same time I will be planting hope. What is hope for me? It is changing this situation to a better one, for a Palestinian state to be established, to have rights and to live in peace so that our Palestinian brothers will not suffer any more.
 Obstacles & Challenges   
I feel like I am giving too much and not taking anything, or in other words that I am used by the people that work with me. I spend so much of my time and I get exhausted so I isolate myself for a week or so to take a break to rest. When I get back I find 50 emails or calls, people looking for me. There are also people that love me that come to me for who I am, Ibtisam. They call me to go out, or call me to talk. Some say, "Do not always take the initiative to listen, you have to talk as well." Those friends are what push me forward, they tell me not to give up. If you plant, you harvest.
If I go to Tel Aviv in this outfit [the traditional Muslim woman's attire], I will feel unwanted. They will fear me and wonder what is in my bag. I also get checked more because of my dress, especially before getting on a bus or in a train station or just walking on the street. Once I was waiting at the lights and there was a woman who walked away from me, she thought I might do something. I felt her fear and felt sorry for her so I tried to comfort her with a smile. I was just waiting for a minute for the light to cross the street. Those are things you face on the streets, it is not written on my forehead that I am a peace activist, so everyone looks at me the way they want. I still become afraid when I pass a Jewish street or neighborhood. You never know how the other will respond.
[As] I got to be in touch with others [in the Interfaith Encounter Association] I found that they also have their stories. For example, Elana [an Israeli member of the IEA] had a 16-year-old son that was injured in a bus explosion and stayed in the hospital for 6 months. She suffered a lot with him. He couldn't go to school. She was in a lot of pain because he was mentally exhausted and his whole body was a mess. She slept on a mattress next to him for six months until he came back home. When I heard her story, it touched me as a human and I cried. You can also hear the same story from a Palestinian woman. The suffering and pain are the same. A mother raises her son whether she is a Jew or Christian or Muslim or whatever. Our children pay the price.
Women in Society    
I ran for elections as the first woman in my town to do so. There was a lot of propaganda about it, to the tune of "What is a woman doing in a man's world?" It was a very hard 6 months. Today I hear women saying that their daughters will be mayor, not their sons. When a woman says her daughter has a stronger personality for this position than Ibtisam, it makes me happy. I want them to get to a point to talk about their daughters and how good they are and about their leadership. When she tells me, "I will prove to you that my daughter is a better leader than you," that is when I know I achieved my goal. It is not about competition or power, it is time to talk about everything clearly and find out why women are not playing a greater role in politics.
   Human Rights 
We should understand that rights are obtained not given, and understand that life is bigger than throwing stones and shooting. The essence of life that was given to us by God is to live in peace. What does peace mean for the Arabs, Jews, Christians, Druze, Buddhists or any person in the world? Every person has his own peace and global concepts of peace.
How can I live in peace with myself while there is a conflict going on outside? You might think I am crazy. I think that through dialogue and understanding my own situation I can build peace within myself. If everyone builds peace within himself, then we will build a society with new principles that are far from power and control. I can't stop the arms dealers from selling arms in the Middle East and making billions of dollars at the expense of innocent people that are killed on the street. Can I control the arms dealers? Of course not. The question is do I have control over myself.
   International Involvement 
It is known that America is interested in the existence of the State of Israel in order to defend its own interests at the expense of the Palestinian people and the tension in the Middle East. Do you think America is concerned about us? Would America start a war in Iraq and forget that the Palestinians are suffering for 50 years if they were concerned about us?
Religion itself is guided by the Bible and the Koran, but when a rabbi-- for example Ovadia Yosef-- calls the Arabs snakes and cockroaches, this is not written in the Bible, these are his own expressions. I don't blame the Bible. He is a representative of his religion but he also represents himself. If he is responsible for his personal expressions then I blame him as Ovadia Yosef, and not his Bible. The same is true about a sheikh who curses someone. The Koran didn't tell him to curse. This sheikh represents himself, not my Koran. We should separate between the laws of the Koran and the Bible and the expressions of people who play with religion.