A Palestinian and an Israeli stood side by side on a stage in front of 1,200 people. The message they brought was that there could be peace. They would repeat the message in other cities. The fact that they appeared together - and toured together - was as astonishing as it was courageous.
They were warmly received. No one asked why they were doing this. Everyone knew only too well. They were also two in a line of speakers touring cities over the past two years to tell of their suffering homelands and to try to explain how critical was the need for world peace, how deep was the hurt that conflict and fighting wrought, and that everyone should do everything they could to bring about peace. That included the audience.
Ironically, the Palestinian speaker felt free to spell out passionately how it was for the daily lives of people in Gaza, an occupied land; while the Israeli, coming from a democracy, seemed to have a need to be more circumspect. They were different and had undergone different experiences, she said. But their message was the same.
Earlier two other speakers had toured Australia and other western countries to talk about the problems their homelands experienced and of their profound wish for a tranquil way of life and for fairness. One, a lawyer, formerly a judge and now working pro bono, was from Iran. Well known for defending people and their human rights, this lawyer had caught the attention of those in authority. While searching government papers to assist a defendant, there came a big surprise. The name at the top of a government death list was familiar - it was the lawyer’s own.
A young Afghan parliamentarian also toured to speak out about the dreadful situation of Afghans, and especially of Afghan women, explaining the country was in desperate need of help to overcome corruption, within and without the government, and how war lords and those in the drug trade held sway. Despite four assassination attempts and the need in Afghanistan to always travel with body guards, the parliamentarian continued to speak out because, “They will kill me but they will never kill my voice”.
Not in the touring queue are two other names - those of a democratically elected national leader and a top Russian journalist. The national elected leader has sat at home under house arrest or in detention for about 15 years, after winning a democratic election against a junta of generals. International pleas, distinguished world awards and UN negotiations have not budged the junta. The leader remains at home, cut off from the world, the party, friends, family, with only one (employed) person in the house; a maid or a watcher? Who is to know?
The Russian journalist does not need a maid. Acclaimed for reporting the atrocities against civilians in war-scarred Chechnya, the investigative reporter was murdered in Moscow when arriving home in October 2006. There had been several death threats and the journalist had foretold publicly a likely death attack some time before it happened.
What did these protestors have in common?
- A readiness to stand up and be counted;
- a determination to defend human rights;
- close and personal experience of how malignant authorities work;
- their own lives put at risk (and perhaps their family in peril);
- they all attracted world attention; and
- they were all women.
The Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, 48, had received one death threat after another, and had been detained and beaten by Russian troops whom she reported threw her into a pit, threatened to rape her and performed a mock execution.
“Anna Politkovskaya imagined her own death long before it arrived,” the Washington Post reported (Ocotber 15, 2006). “For years, she was Russia's most fearless journalist, reporting for the newspaper Novaya Gazeta from the killing fields of Chechnya and exposing the brutality of the Kremlin's war under President Vladimir Putin.”
She was quoted as saying, “All the top officials talk to me, at my request, when I am writing articles or conducting investigations - but only in secret, where they can't be observed, in the open air, in squares, in secret houses that we approach by different routes, like spies. You don't get used to this, but you learn to live with it.”