Daphna Golan-Agnon

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Daphna Golan-Agnon

"My PhD thesis focused on the reconstruction and use of history in South Africa, in particular the invention of Zulu tradition by the Apartheid regime to legitimize the Bantustan policy. My book Inventing Shaka has become a textbook for the study of South African historiography and the use of feminist methodology. The Durban Based Legal Resource Center used this work and my testimony in their court case against the South African Police that led to the establishment of the Goldstone Commission on Zululand-Natal Violence.

"The first Intifada was at its peak when I completed my PhD and I became actively involved in establishing B'Tselem, The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, established in February 1989. I was its founding Research Director, in charge of establishing the data collection, research, and publication of the organization. I also researched and wrote some of the reports myself.

"I felt that my contribution to a human rights culture in Israel was more important than my research on South Africa and that learning and teaching the universal language of human rights was particularly important at that time of social disruption and violence. In 1989 I applied and was accepted for an international intensive program on Human Rights and International Law at the International School for Human Rights in Strasbourg, designed for University teachers outside the legal profession.

"In 1991, the publication of my report with Stanley Cohen The Interrogation of Palestinians During the Intifada: Ill-Treatment, "Moderate Physical Pressure" or Torture? led to the establishment of two committees of inquiry, one in the IDF and the other in the Ministry of Justice and the General Security Services. Both committees recommended changes in methods of interrogation. Subsequently, I coordinated the work of human rights organizations and individuals in the campaign against torture that culminated in 1999 with the Supreme Court ruling that the methods of interrogation used in Israeli jails are illegal.

"Following the publication of the reports on torture, which are still studied in major universities, I received a research grant from the Washington based International Human Rights Internship Program to research lessons from South African Human Rights Organizations as a visiting scholar at the Center for Applied Legal Studies at Witwatersrand University (1991). I returned to Israel with the idea of creating an academic center like the Center for Applied Legal Studies. I envisioned and helped design a Center that would be an academic home for both human rights activists and scholars. This became the Hebrew University Center for Human Rights, later the Minerva Center for Human Rights.

"Shortly after the signing of the Oslo accord in December 1993, I became the Founding Director of the Israeli Center Bat Shalom which, with the Palestinian Jerusalem Center for Women in East Jerusalem, was entitled the Jerusalem Link - A Women?s Joint Venture for Peace. We studied feminist models of coexistence, especially ways of sharing Jerusalem. The research, art exhibitions, tours and public conference which I co-directed were edited with Amneh Badran and Jack Persekian into a collection of articles and art work entitled Sharing Jerusalem.

"On the invitation of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University and supported by a research grant from the Ford Foundation, I studied the relationships between the feminist voice and human rights language (1997-8). I focused on Israeli human rights activists protecting Palestinian rights and the relationships of the activists with the legal system. I examined why Israeli human rights activists challenge Israeli policies using universal values and the language of human rights. As I found that this universal language was not accepted by the majority of Israeli society nor by the Israeli courts, I searched for a new language and so developed the conceptual frame of my research published as Where Am I in this Story? (Keter, 2002 Hebrew). Using feminist methodology and written in a language accessible to the wide public, the book reached a wide audience, was highly praised by critics, and will be published in an extended version in English in New York by The New Press in April 2005.

"In 1999-2001 I was appointed by the Minister of Education to design and coordinate a national plan to reduce gaps in the education system. The recommendations of the committee led to a reform in the distribution of funding in all Israel?s schools, the establishment of research groups to change curriculum in history and civil education for Arab schools, and the celebration of International Human Rights Day in all parts of the Israeli education system. A collection of articles which I edited, including my own research on the discrimination of Arab students by the Ministry of Education, will be published under the title Inequality in Education in 2004 by Babel Press in Hebrew.

"Since 1999, I have established and taught two Fellowship Programs at the Hebrew University: The Human Rights Fellows Program of The Minerva Center for Human Rights, at the Law School, and the Fellowship Program for Gender Equality and the Prevention of Violence against Women. These programs give Jewish and Arab students a rare opportunity to study together and to engage in a dialogue on their responsibility to promote social justice and human rights in their communities. Both programs have served as models for other higher institutions in Israel.

"I began to examine what the students learn from this experience of being able to contribute to advancing human rights, their use of the universal language of human rights, as well as their motivations and passion to change. This research will be published as a book Learning and Doing for Justice - The Case of Israeli Students. I plan to extend this work also to study the ways NGOs accept, train and support the students.

"In 2001 with Professor Jona Rosenfeld I established a research group on students learning and acting for justice. The group is studying the different academic programs in Israel that encourage students to work for human rights as well as studying how to form an academic center to encourage, supervise, and support student activism to advance human rights and social change in Israel. We are attempting to set up new programs based on the Minerva Center Fellowship Program. I have been invited by Prof. Marshal Ganz to present the Human Right Internship Program to the Kennedy School of Harvard University and to establish an exchange student program.

"In 2003, I and Prof. Rema Hammami of Beirzeit University co-chaired an Israeli-Palestinian-South African Conference hosted by the Human Sciences Research Council, Cape Town. We are currently editing the articles for the conference as a book: Restoring Hope: Building Peace in Divided Societies. In June 2004, I and Salim Tamari, Director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies established an Israeli-Palestinian research group to study models of Reconciliation and Transitional Justice for Israel and Palestine. I hope that this group will now focus its efforts both on publication of a book as well as on the formation of a public process of acknowledgement and reconciliation." [1]

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  1. Daphna Golan-Agnon, Minerva Center for Human Rights, accessed October 26, 2007.