‘Can You Hear Me?’

‘Can You Hear Me?’

This past week, I had occasion to see this film by Lilly Rivlin, the former president of Meretz USA, about women’s peace movements among Israelis and Palestinians. I very much liked this 50-minute documentary, finding it engaging and informative, but I have doubts about Lilly’s thesis. She posits that if women ruled the world, there would be no or fewer wars. This is a proposition that is never likely to be put to the test and it need not affect one’s overall sense of the film.

The evidence so far of women in power, alas – admittedly within what is mostly a man’s world – is dubious. The few examples we have is of women who show toughness as heads of government, to the point that most are associated with war and not peace. Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi were all war-time leaders:

  1. Thatcher decided to rally the United Kingdom and the Royal Navy for one last hurrah, a final assertion of imperial power, exactly 25 years ago, to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina.
  2. Meir (as indicated in our previous posting) missed preventing the 1973 Yom Kippur War by not responding to peace feelers from Anwar Sadat, and refused to close a deal with King Hussein that would have meant peace with Jordan and a possible solution to the Palestinian issue — over 20 years before Rabin and Hussein signed a peace treaty in 1994.
  3. Indira Gandhi used military force to conquer the Portuguese enclaves on the Indian subcontinent (the largest being Goa), continued the conflict with Pakistan and employed force to crush a Sikh insurrection with such brutality that she was assassinated by a Sikh bodyguard in revenge.
  4. Benizar Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan in the 1990s plus two or three prominent female leaders of Sri Lanka (with long unpronounceable names), were all undistinguished in resolving their countries’ civil and military conflicts.

But you don’t have to agree with this underlying view of the filmmaker to appreciate the film. The powerful images of walls and violence, and the words and actions of these dedicated women, will reverberate in your mind. Unfortunately, there was also a line toward the end, proclaiming – as if it were a positive thing – that women figured prominently in the electoral victory of Hamas; but I’m sure that Lilly was hopeful at that time that the elevation of Hamas into a governing party would make it more moderate and responsible.To be continued…

By | 2007-06-15T13:23:00-04:00 June 15th, 2007|Blog|3 Comments


  1. Carolyn Toll Oppenheim June 19, 2007 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    This blog is a total misreading of the thesis of “Can You Hear Me!” The fact that one woman cries out emotionally “if only women ran the world” is only an example of the feelings these Israeli and Palestinian women feel BECAUSE THEY KEEP TALKING AFTER THE SHOOTING BEGINS and men stop talking at just the crucial time it is necessary.
    This film is NOT about women ruling the world. Is IS very much about a 20-year record of Israeli and Palestinian women peacemakers continuing to dialogue AND to take local action together and
    sometimes separately –through thick and thin. It shows them maturing politically as the male leaders do not, degenerating into cycles of violence. And most important of all, it shows these wmen–even when they are under strain– going to the United Nations to join women peacemakers from all over the world to press for United Nations requirements that women be included in ALL official peace processes–precisely because of their findings, that women do not break down the diplomacy when the going gets rough.
    As for the “red herring,” in the blog, that individual women leaders have failed: this film is NOT ABOUT women ruling states, but is about the need for women to be INCLUDED in the state processes. For evidence of the value of including women, there are many political science studies. Scandanavian countries have laws requiring percentages of women in legislative and policy making bodies and these countries are hailed as models of civil society.

  2. Ralph Seliger June 21, 2007 at 1:59 am - Reply

    The fact should not be lost that I liked the film!

    Do men always stop talking when violence breaks out — at precisely when they need most to talk, as the film charges? Clearly, that’s too often the case. But this was not true of Rabin in the early ’90s, nor was this exactly true of Peres or even Netanyahu — although the latter two can indeed be criticized for over-relying on force.

    Was it because they’re male? Who knows?

  3. Gila Svirsky June 22, 2007 at 1:19 am - Reply

    Ralph, I do have to agree with Carolyn. The film was not about “if only women ran the world”, though one woman does say that. The film was a really beautiful account of how women keep going – talking, demonstrating, writing – demanding an end to the violence and injustice, even when (especially when) the violence worsens. The truth is that even Rabin and other male peacemakers continuously “suspend negotiations” every time the violence becomes bad. We (women) say that this is how the extremists control the agenda, and the time when talk is more necessary than ever.
    Also, one small point: While most of the separation barrier is fence, not wall, it is entirely wall within urban areas. So one can understand that the Palestinian population refers to all of it as “The Wall” – that’s what is in their face when they move around their towns.
    I do see clearly that you liked the film, but I wanted to present my own understanding of what it was about.
    Best wishes,

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