Thousands of Israeli Women are Saying “Enough,” Demanding a Peaceful Resolution to the Conflict

By: Avital Brown and Donna Kirshbaum, Women Wage Peace

Women Wage Peace (WWP) is a NGO of Israeli women working for a viable peace agreement. WWP is a screening partner for the Women, War & Peace series and has coordinated screenings of Hebrew and Arab subtitled versions of Pray the Devil Back to Hell for thousands of viewers.

Summer 2014. Fifty days of war with near-constant rocket fire between Israel and Gaza.  Chilling fear seeps into our bones. Adults are consumed with worry about sons, daughters, neighbors and friends at the front lines, frail parents, and young children: not everyone succeeds in running for cover at a moment’s notice. Afterwards, we recalibrate our new reality, with its dead, its survivors, its heroes, its injured, and its bombed places. All over again.

Summer 2015. Fear lingers: when will the next violent round erupt?  Despair follows: the constant message that there’s no partner on the other side with whom to negotiate dashes hopes for a lasting agreement and the beginning of normality.  And yet. Thousands of Israeli women face their fear and despair by joining a movement, Women Wage Peace, formed just as the last missile fell in August 2014.  Our political beliefs vary, but we all believe in re-awakening demand for a non-violent, honorable and bilaterally or regionally acceptable political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Hundreds of us spend that summer fasting in shifts outside the Prime Minister’s residence in 40˚ C / 104˚ F heat, remembering the previous summer’s war and the need for re-engagement with the Palestinians. Thousands visit our tent made of plastic tarp and aluminum poles held together by goodwill, including Minister of Education Naftali Bennett, Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, Members of Knesset [Parliament], foreign diplomats, tourists, and passersby of all ages.  

By the closing ceremony on the fiftieth day of our Operation Protective Fast, our contribution to a better reality crystallizes: we will spend the next year nurturing migvan [diversity] and achdut [unity]. From the start we’ve welcomed secular and religious women, Jews and Muslims, those identifying as Israelis and those as Palestinians, from the left and the right, grandmothers and university students.  Anyone can join who shares our core principles – a commitment to life, non-violence, inclusivity, volunteerism, rotating leadership, and a balance of women and men at the negotiating table. But the birthright of a secure future is too imperiled now, we realize, to let diversity and unity develop on their own. So we decide to secure the necessary training and undertake the diligent outreach that will make us exceptionally diverse and unified, unlike anything Israel has ever seen. 

And something else happens. As our hope grows, so does our courage and our creativity. For example, before the 2015 elections we demonstrated at over forty highway intersections and spoke up at each party’s campaign rallies. Women Wage Peace delegations delivered our message, in person, to Netanyahu and to Abu Mazen’s chief of staff. We’ve been forging relationships with Palestinian women and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Our fasting tent is now a traveling tent poised to create space for deep listening throughout the country. 

Photo by Meir Ohayon

Photo by Meir Ohayon

Thousands have seen our specially-captioned Hebrew and Arabic version of Pray the Devil Back to Hell. The eyes of our audiences sparkle after each screening, giving us, and them, hope that a change in our reality is possible.  Some say their hope is renewed watching women of all classes and religious backgrounds unite. Others tell us it’s the determination of Liberian women sitting outdoors in rain or shine demanding an end to the violence, knowing that peace-building between traumatized peoples is a process, not an event and saying, “The men have been out there and made all the mistakes. The women were determined to make a difference this time.”

Right now we’re gearing up for a late autumn march which we’re calling The March of Hope. We plan to bring thousands of women from east and west of the Green Line and from all over the Middle East and beyond to the lowest place on earth, the lifeless sea between Israel and Jordan, from which we will rise up together to demand a new reality here. We expect the march to be a game-changer.  We continuously watch trailers of past marches from the USA, India, Berlin andLiberia, imagining the effect of thousands of women (and men) marching together to the banks of the Dead Sea – to honor life and create a better future for all Israelis and Palestinians.

To learn more about Women Wage Peace and to support our work, please visit our English Facebook page, and follow us on twitter @WomenWagePeace.