September 23, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

A group of Jewish and Palestinian women will be meeting once a week in Jerusalem for 10 weeks – not to thrash out politics, or find a solution to the Mid-East conflict, but to lose weight together.

Starting after Ramadan and the Jewish New Year, a group of Palestinian and Israeli women will be meeting face to face in Jerusalem. Not for political reasons, not to cast blame on who’s right or wrong in the Middle East conflict – these women will be focusing on their waistline, and sharing a simple and common desire to lose weight.

A Slim Peace, on Al Jazeera

“A Slim Peace” is a group founded in 2006 by Yael Luttwak, a 36-year-old American-Israeli filmmaker who grew up in Washington DC. Struggling with her own weight issues in Israel, she rounded up a group of 14 Israeli and Palestinian women to document their shared experiences, as they met in Jerusalem over a six week period.

While Weight Watchers in Israel was one of the first Weight Watchers branches to set up shop outside the US, Palestinian women only recently – thanks to American TV – have started grappling with the importance of healthy eating and dieting.

Learning about the ‘enemy’

Luttwak’s documentary – screened in New York City’s Tribeca Film Festival and around the world – exposes in a humorous way, the surprising connections these Israeli and Palestinian women make while learning about exercise, better nutrition, and the benefits of a homegrown Mediterranean diet. Some women even discovered that they had more in common with the “enemy” than they did with their own neighbors.

“Before, the only Israelis I knew were soldiers at checkpoints, I thought they were all brutal,” Palestinian student Enas Smoom told news service Reuters: “But in the group, we forget we are Israelis and Palestinians – we are just women talking about nutrition.”

Since the film was released, the concept has grown wider into a community project, funded until next year by UK charity, The Charities Advisory Trust, with four different groups of women having met over the last year in Jerusalem: “We have some women who are overweight and ones who just want to be healthier,” Luttwak tells ISRAEL21c.

Household educators

Luttwak, who divides her time today between Tel Aviv and London, sees women as important educators in the home. They influence and educate the children and are usually the ones who shop for food: “The whole idea is that they meet together,” says Luttwak who scouted out a location at a Jerusalem-based international school, where all the women – who normally wouldn’t meet “the other side” – would feel welcome.

Now, ongoing sessions will allow Palestinian and Israeli women to meet for 10 weeks, once a week, for free sessions offering nutrition advice and support from Suha Khoury, and Odelya Gertel-Kraybill.

They may not lose as much as they would like, and do admit that 10 weeks is a short time to make serious changes to one’s lifestyle habits, let alone the peace process, but the women participants and organizers have a longer-term goal in mind: “This class offers a vision of hope, and the women see it can really work from their own experience,” says Khoury: “I think they will transmit that to their children.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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