"Women are often at the helm of historical movements, yet they remain invisible in our history books. And that has deep consequences for how we look at and understand history, our present, our future, and who our leaders are."
Suhad Babaa is the Executive Director of Just Vision, an organization using documentary media to reshape narratives around the Israeli occupation of Palestine and support the work of Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders. Most recently, Suhad served as the executive producer of Just Vision’s 2017 film Naila and the Uprising, which follows the life and work of Naila Ayesh and other women leaders of the First Intifada.
How did you develop an interest in building peace in Palestine and Israel?
I always say that my story predates me: my father is Palestinian, my mother is Korean, and both grew up in war and conflict or its aftermath. Growing up in California, in a multi-faith household, I often wrestled with questions of identity, and the impact of war and conflict on our family, within a backdrop of race, ethnicity, and religion.
After 9/11 happened, I watched the US government start launching surveillance on Muslim communities across the country. That's when I asked myself questions about the way in which what was happening in the Middle East was impacting our own practices, and moreover, the kinds of stories we were receiving that influenced the way that the public and governments would act.
I ended up moving to Israel and Palestine after university, and working with incredible activists on the ground. But their voices were not heard in the US, nor were they even being amplified locally. I really wanted to be able to support their work, and so it’s a no-brainer that I ended up at Just Vision where our mandate is to amplify the voices of Palestinian and Israeli grassroots leaders.
Can you tell us about the movement for peace in Palestine and Israel, and the role women play?
There is a long legacy of nonviolent resistance in Palestine, including the mass mobilization of the First Intifada—the first uprising that took place in the late 1980s. When we started doing the research for our most-recent feature length documentary film, Naila and the Uprising, we hit on something important.
As we dove in, we realized that part of the reason that the movement was so successful was that women played a critical role in the decision making process. We knew that the First Intifada was so effective, in part, because it was able to organize across gender, class, political parties, and age in Israel and Palestine. But what we didn't realize is that not only were women key participants, they were actually the ones who were calling the shots.
Women have always been on the front lines in Palestine, whether it was the First Intifada or in Budrus, where there was a strong women’s contingent. And so the question for us as an organization is how do we make sure that they are visible. Because we believe that their visibility leads to legitimacy, which eventually leads to increased leadership roles over time.
Why is it important for women to be the storytellers?
I think it's always important that communities are able to tell their own stories.
Just Vision is a women-led team, partly by design, partly by happenstance. But it speaks to our ability to cover stories like one we told in the documentary film Budrus, and understand the role that women play in the town of Budrus. Women are often at the helm of historical movements, yet they remain invisible in our history books. And that has deep consequences for how we look at and understand history, our present, our future, and who our leaders are.
How do you increase coverage and support for grassroots pro-peace movements in Palestine and Israel?
There's quite a bit of coverage around Israel and Palestine, but often these stories reinforce a narrative of violence, or failed top-down political efforts. This makes invisible or criminalizes the activists on the ground, and the issue then seems intractable. But that’s simply not true. When we look at inequality, some of the most deeply entrenched issues of oppression, we know that it takes people power—communities galvanizing to put pressure on their political leaders who have either failed to take action or have consistently done the wrong thing. That's the case too in Israel and Palestine.
Just Vision's work is about both complementing and challenging the mainstream media coverage by presenting stories that are under-documented, critical, and, at the same time, have the power to inspire, mobilize, and galvanize people.