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‘This Was My 1st Experience Of Living In A Conflict Zone’: Notes From Israel

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By Sanjay Shukla:

Israeli border police guards secure the scene of a shooting incident in Tel Aviv, Israel January 1, 2016. One person was killed and several were wounded in the shooting incident in central Tel Aviv on Friday, Israeli media said. A police spokesman confirmed there had been several casualties but would not say if anyone was killed in the incident on Dizengoff Street. REUTERS/Nir Elias - RTX20PTZ
Image credit: Reuters/Nir Elias.

From their homes, offices, parks, playgrounds, universities to their hotels, shopping malls, bars, and beaches, there is one common thing that one can find everywhere in the most advanced metropolis of the Middle East – Tel Aviv. ‘Bunkers’, shelters used during conflicts and wars by soldiers have become a part of the everyday life of Israeli people.

There is a nice Chinese proverb, “As water shapes itself to the vessel that contains it, a wise man adapts himself to circumstances.” This proverb applies to the Israeli society’s approach towards conflict.

Israeli people have conditioned themselves to life in an eternal conflict zone. They have made themselves acquainted to war, like warriors in a never-ending conflict as if the slightest laxity can cost them their nation.

Most Guarded City In The Middle East

I was astounded to see how the bustling city of Tel Aviv, the commercial capital of the Jewish state, has been turned into a landscape of bunkers, with security sirens and CCTV cameras all around, but without disturbing its beauty and ethos.

One can never imagine the dreadful sleepless nights the people of Israel have spent over the last 70 years to save the nation-state that never sleeps.

Since its inception in 1948, the country has been in constant conflict. They’ve been fighting several direct or indirect wars against neighbouring nations including Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and facing terrorism persistently.

Here, nobody knows when there’s going to be a rocket or missile strike in the city. No one knows which breath would be their last. Every few years, a minor or a major war breaks out. Underground bunkers are the best way to protect themselves from heavy bomb strikes from terror groups as soon as security sirens alert them.

I met a few people who told me that they lived for almost a month in underground bunkers in their homes during the war with Lebanon in 2006 to save their lives. Hezbollah launched rocket attacks on major Israeli cities like Haifa, Hadera, Nazareth, Tiberias, Nahariya, Safed, killing hundreds of people.

To save themselves, to save their one and only Jewish nation on the planet, they have transformed the whole city, even whole country, into a military cantonment. Every corner, every building has bomb proof bunkers and advanced security systems.

The Country Surrounded By Enemies

Locals or foreigners, everyone’s foremost duty here is to let people know how to save their lives during emergencies, where the shelters (bunkers) are, what the security alarms are meant for, and what precautions need to be taken.

Although it was my first experience of living in a conflict zone, I never felt threatened. I was never interrogated or treated as a potential suspect. Israelis care as much for foreigners as for their own citizens. During the recent terrorist attack in Tel Aviv this January, as soon as the news of the attack broke out, I received a precautionary call from my office administration, Tel Aviv University, advising me to remain inside my home and follow security regulations.

From the mountains of Golan Heights to the Desert of Negev, from the ultra-modern city of Tel Aviv to the ancient city of Jerusalem, the land of three religions is surrounded by hostile enemies like no other country in the world, equipped with missiles and set to attack at any time.

Israel has learned how to save its precious citizens from the enemy’s strike, and fight back to save their motherland.

The groups Hamas in Gaza (south-east) and Hezbollah on the northern front have left no stone unturned in their fight against these people who wandered all over the world during the last two thousand years in the search of refuge.

For the last one decade, as soon as Israel handed over the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority in 2005, Hamas has occupied it and has been involved in perpetual missile fire on Israeli territory. Moreover, the group Hezbollah has incessantly fired rockets on major Israeli cities, which forced Israel to transform its cities into cantonments.

Due to such a hostile environment, and a mere 8 million strong population in Israel, every citizen has to serve in the army no matter what career they pursue. Women are supposed to serve a minimum of two years while the same is three years for men.

Many nations that have taken their very existence for granted have lessons to learn from these brave hearts. Here, the people’s first and foremost dharma and karma is the army. Their one and only love is the nation where the contest for ‘survival’ never seems to end.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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