Like a warm wind revealing the contours of a thawing snowscape, groundswell peace movements are emerging in Israel. Israelis and Palestinians both claim the land as their own, yet each is slowly recognizing that the other will not move. They are both there to stay and must learn to live together. The author recently spent six weeks in Israel interviewing some of the leaders of those movements. Below is the first in a short series of articles.
The words amazing and awesome, filched from the younger generation, best describe Women Wage Peace, a ground roots, apolitical, volunteer movement of Israeli and Palestinian women, mainly mothers, fed up with losing their sons and daughters to war and terror. They are fighting for peace despite mistrust on one side and incitement on the other. Women Wage Peace is also the largest female peace movement in Israel. In addition, the Palestinian women involved have to contend with anti-normalization activists in their own community.
Only two-and-a-half years old, this 13,000-strong pressure group has two aims: to influence government leaders to reach an honourable and durable peace agreement between Palestinians and Israelis; and to implement UN resolution 1325, signed by Israel, promoting the engagement of women in reaching accords on peace and reconciliation. Many studies have shown that, when women participate, these agreements are long lasting.
Pascale Chen, Coordinator of the partnership team at Women Wage Peace, explained that the membership is very diverse, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Bedouin, as well as ethnic, secular and religious Israelis. It is totally non-political and proposes no specific resolution to the current imbroglio.
Women Wage Peace also reaches out to other women’s organizations such as Na’amat and WIZO, both within Israel, and in Europe and North America. The group functions through its various teams, e.g. professional, diversity, relations with government and political parties, strategic, communications, and local teams totaling 25 in number.
Women power truly came into its own last October when a March of Hope was organized. That morning 1,000 Palestinian and 3,000 Israeli women gathered at Qasr El Yahud on the West Bank of the Jordan near Jericho in Area C, where Israelis and Palestinians can visit freely. The pilgrimage site is the lowest in the world, holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians. Joshua and the Israelites forded the Jordan there into Israel, and for centuries the river has been used for baptisms. The Palestinian and Israeli women greeted each other, marched from the parking lot to the river where there was music, and danced together. Emotions ran high. The group was then addressed by Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, Nobel Peace Prize winner, who helped negotiate peace during the civil war in her native land. In the afternoon, as many as 20,000 women, Israeli Jews and Arabs, marched to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, militating for peace.
Women Wage Peace holds the rights to a documentary on the role of women in the Liberian peace process, which it screens for groups in homes throughout the country. A debate follows the screening.
The group has a team training members how to link people, debate, mediate and organize their specific community groups. Outreach is handled by the publicity team through social media. New members can register online.
One of the prime partners with the organization is Huda Abuarquob, prominent in Allmep (the Alliance for Middle East Peace) with its Israeli and Palestinian sections. As leader of the Palestinian Section, she makes connections with other women’s groups and Palestinian organizations.
For International Women’s Day on March 8, the group invited various ambassadors to their meeting. Canadian ambassador to Israel, H.E. Deborah Lyons, hosted the gathering that attracted scores of women from the three religions, and was supported by many local diplomats. There, it was decided to establish a think tank and to hold a further meeting in May to plan programming. In the ambassador’s own words: “Not only is our group of female ambassadors (also open to our male colleagues) supporting the spirit of Women Wage Peace, but on a practical level we are also offering the organization the benefit of our experience in conflict resolution, making available facilities such as hosting for their meetings and events, and helping connect WWP with other women peace advocacy groups around the world.”
Finally, Pascale Chen explained her motivation for joining the group. “This country goes from war to war. When my son was about to enter the military, I decided I wanted it to stop. That’s why I took action and joined Women Wage Peace. With so much cynicism about peace and reconciliation, our objective is to restore hope.” That is a sentiment shared by most women on both sides of the Green Line.