“We are strongly opposed to militarism, racism and occupation and believe that these issues are closely connected to each other as well as to women’s security and safety”: Khulud Khamis of Isha L’Isha, Haifa

By Milena
Rampoldi, ProMosaik. In the following I would like to introduce

readers to Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center. I talked to Khulud Khamis, the coordinator, about how
the centre was established, which are the main themes it deals with, and also
about the structure. The aim I
wanted to achieve with this interview is to show how important feminism is in
all cultures, religions, and communities. And that there can only be a feminism
characterised by diversity, and tolerance. 

Isha L’Isha’s mission is to advance the status and
rights of women and girls, and to promote peace, security and socio-economic
justice from a feminist perspective through education, research, dissemination
of knowledge, advancing legislation, and public events. Established in 1983, we
are the oldest grassroots feminist organization in Israel and one of the
leading voices of women’s rights in the country. We offer women a safe,
supportive environment in which they can address their needs, providing room for
self-expression and development. Parallel to this, Isha L’Isha works on a
national level, advocating for women’s rights in all fields.
Throughout the years, we have empowered thousands
of women and provided them with skills to take control of their lives.
Currently, our main areas of activity include
Fighting against Trafficking in Women and Prostitution; Women and Medical
Technologies, and Building an Empowered Community of Women. We also house the Haifa Feminist Institute, with
the mission of
collecting and documenting the history of feminist
activism in Israel from 1970 to the present, to make women’s social and
political contribution visible and to inspire future generations. Our vision is a society where all women
– regardless of religion, ethnicity, or cultural background – enjoy equal
rights in all fields, including economic, social, and political; a society
without gender-based violence; a society in which women’s voices are heard, and
in which women have full and equal access.

Organizational structure: Isha L’Isha is a non-hierarchical, member
organization governed by a Collective that includes all of its members and is
open to all women. Our members are Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jewish women,
Palestinian women citizens of Israel, lesbian women, transgender women, women
from low socio-economic background, researchers, and community leaders and
activists. The Collective meets once a month to discuss ideological issues and
set long-term strategies. All decisions are made by consensus at these
meetings. The Collective is one of the unique aspects of Isha L’Isha, and it is
what keeps us a grassroots organization.
Our staff all work
part-time, and each at the same base salary. Another unique aspect of Isha
L’Isha is the mentoring our salaried staff members receive. Each staff member
receives individual mentoring from a veteran member who is familiar with all of
our activities and processes. They meet on a regular basis, to discuss dilemmas
related to work and inter-personal relationships between staff members, and to
design monthly work plans based on specific needs and developments. We have
approximately 100 members, and they are asked to pay a small amount of dues
each year, but we have never refused any woman membership because of inability
to pay (or for any other reason). Members are encouraged to be active and
volunteer on project steering committees, committees for special events, and
the board. Each project has a steering committee comprised of the coordinator
and Isha L’Isha members. The steering committees meet on a regular basis to
discuss the projects’ progress and dilemmas, and make decisions regarding
future activities. We also have a financial committee, which meets once every
two months to follow up on the financial aspects of the organization and give
recommendation to the board. Volunteers are crucial to the organization; they
sit on the board and project steering committees where they take part in
decision making, and are active in the daily work of the organization. 
When did your movement begin? And what
was the “spark” that ignited the movement?
movement goes back to the ‘second wave’ of feminism in Israel in the 1970’s.
Many feminist organizations were established during these years, but only few
survived and have successfully carried on radical ideas. The movement was
initially part of the worldwide feminist fervour of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Locally, it got its ignition from the disillusionment of women with
state propaganda about the ideal status of women in Israel. Thus, the
establishment of Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center was an organic result of
the grassroots activism of feminists, and a response to the needs of feminist
women in Israel – both Jewish and Palestinian.   
What injustices / issues does your movement
focus on?
an organization that is based on a feminist collective, 
we look for issues that affect mostly
oppressed groups in society that are not being addressed by anybody else, while
at the same time constantly fighting against all forms of violence against
women, and promoting peace, security and socio-economic justice from a feminist
perspective. We are strongly against opposed to militarism, racism and
occupation and believe that these issues are closely connected to each other as
well as to women’s security and safety. Throughout
the years, we have empowered thousands of women and provided them with skills
to take control of their lives.
  Currently, our main areas of
activity include Fighting against Trafficking in Women and Prostitution; Women
and Medical Technologies; Women and Disabilities, and building an empowered
community of women activists and grassroots leaders of social change.  
What are the key demands or rights being
claimed by your movement? Who are you making these demands to? (e.g.,
governments, corporations, international bodies,  corporations, other
actors, society at large) them?
Key demands in recent years have focused on women’s health,
sexuality, economic wellbeing, citizenship and status, and security. Our
current projects include anti-trafficking of sex-workers, the rights of women
with disabilities, the political and moral repercussions of reproductive
technologies, and abortion rights. In the economic domain – the right to
gainful employment, protection from economic violence, and from racist, ageist,
and classist discrimination. Lastly, as part of our continuous struggle for
peace and conflict transformation and in keeping with UN Resolution 1325, we
have attempted to disseminate inclusive definitions of security, highlighting
the invisible insecurities of women, girls, and minorities. Our addresses are
authorities (the police, local municipalities, or state ministries) and public
opinion. But mostly, we work with women and girls via empowerment sessions,
courses, and open discussions.
are the key ideas and concepts used by / in your movement? And how do you
define them?
We endorse an intersectional, radical feminist perspective
that sees gender injustices as embedded in the local history of occupation,
militarization, and a racist national legacy of Jewish, western, and
heterosexual supremacy. Accordingly, we are committed to equal
self-representation of Palestinian, queer/lesbian, Mizrahi, and Ashkenazi women throughout our projects, discussions, and public
is your movement active?
Isha L’Isha is located in Haifa, the hub of many feminist
activists and several feminist organizations. We lead grassroots actions such
on the local level, but our reach is national, as we also work on raising
awareness and advocacy, participating in various governmental committees to
press for legislation changes that will benefit women and other disenfranchised
What are some of your key achievements
and gains as a movement?
Our achievements are mainly in changing public
opinions on issues pertaining to women’s lives, such as violence
against women. These are long term changes that are sometime visible only in
hindsight. Two major areas in which we had made a direct impact on law changing
and on women’s lives are in eliminating trafficking in women and on
issues of fertility rights. Specifically in trafficking in women, Isha
L’Isha has been the leading force behind both changes in legislation, as well
as changes in how trafficked women are treated by authorities, especially by
the police. 
What would make your movement stronger?
Financial stability could contribute greatly to our
movement. Visibility and strong public voice could influence changes in
our society.    
How does your movement define
solidarity?  What would greater support and solidarity look like for your
Solidarity for us is first and foremost the ability to
work together beyond national, ethnic, class and sexual differences. Solidarity
between Palestinian and Jewish women is the core essence of our activism.
We perceive ourselves as part of a resistance movement against
oppression and would benefit greatly if our society would be less fragmented
and less racist.
Where could people learn more about your
We have
published an article about the participation of our organization in national
feminist conferences and the implementation of a system of equal representation
in Awid publication “building Feminist Movements and
Organizations” in 2007. We invite you to visit our website, 
and Facebook page
We encourage you to contact us for any cooperation or information via our
development and outreach coordinator at isha.haifa[at]