Call for a return to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations
Thousands of women packed the street in front of the Prime Minister’s home in Jerusalem for a gathering that was part political demonstration, part activist reunion, and part hopeful dance party. Many of the women came from Kasr al-Yahud, a religious site where they were joined by more than 1000 Palestinian women.
“I wanted to meet other people with similar values, especially Palestinian women who I don’t usually get to meet,” Avigail Morris, an Israeli Jewish anthropologist who lives on Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava desert told The Media Line. “Policies need to be changed, and many of us are sick of the fighting. People create their own reality, and we need to know that there is another reality and to seek it out.”
The demonstration comes almost exactly one year since a series of Palestinian stabbing and shooting attacks have shaken Israelis. At least 38 people, most of them Israelis, were killed, along with more than 200 Palestinians, many of them involved in the attacks.
There have been no formal Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in almost four years, although Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did come to Israel in September for the funeral of former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, and shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu there.
Head of the Peace Authorities in the Middle East, Palestinian Huda abu al-Arkub from Hebron called for a political agreement between the two sides. At the Jerusalem rally, she said “you have a partner. I’m standing here with Women Wage Peace to say loudly and strongly on behalf of the women of the region: enough! No more war, no more bloodshed, and no more discrimination. No more separation barriers between us!”
At the rally, the women came from all over Israel – some even from Jewish communities in the West Bank. Michal Froman, who lives in the West Bank, was three months pregnant when a Palestinian stabbed and wounded her in the West Bank. She came with her infant daughter.
“Life will be possible for us here only if we stop being victims of terror, of the occupation. We all need to rise up and begin to work very hard for the sake of our lives here,” she told the crowd of women. “Death only goes in one direction. Life here, in this land, will be possible only if we stop blaming each other, only if we stop being victims.”
Many of the women at the rally in Jerusalem had been to the multi-faith prayer service at Qasr el-Yahud at the Jordanian border earlier. There, about 1000 Palestinian women joined them, as well as 300 Jordanian women. The Palestinian women were not able to join the march in Jerusalem, as they need Israeli permits to enter the city.
The women in Jerusalem said the inter-faith prayer service was a moving experience.
“It was really wonderful – hot but wonderful,” Avigail Morris said. “We walked together, talked together and danced together.”
Women Wage Peace was founded during the 2014 war between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. It describes itself as a “broad-based grass roots movement with a core of nearly 10,000 Israelis and 23,000 supporters worldwide…it is a uniquely nonpartisan movement that promotes public support for a diplomatic agreement.”
“We feel women can bring a different approach,” Women Wage Peace spokeswoman Vardit Kaplan told The Media Line. “Women have already been part of peace agreements in northern Ireland and in Liberia. We won’t give up and we will push the government to reopen the peace negotiations.”
The group seems modeled on the Four Mothers, an Israeli protest movement which advocated for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, in the last 1990s. The group is widely credited for helping to sway Israeli public opinion in favor of a withdrawal.
Many of the Arab women attending the rally said they had come to show their support for peace. Miriam Abu Zalam lost a son in a car accident ten years ago. She says that loss made her want to stop other women from losing their sons.
“It is such a waste that people on both sides are being killed,” she told The Media Line, a patterned head scarf tied tightly around her hair. “I want both Netanyahu and Abbas to do more to make peace – it’s enough. My heart still hurts from losing a son, and I don’t want any more mothers to lose their sons. There is nothing more precious than a son.”