March of Hope by Women Wage Peace – personal perspectives

morning march (photo: Lisa Loden)

As someone who longs for and actively pursues peace, to join a march with thousands of women who share this passion was not much of a question for me. Despite never having taken part in a public march, this one, from the first time I heard about it seemed right. It was more than right; it was a hope inspiring journey for me. From early morning when I left my home to travel on a bus with women I’d never met to the end of the day when I arrived home near midnight on the same bus, this time with women whose names I now know and who I’ve seen both laugh and weep with happiness and hope, this was an extraordinary day.

The numbers who marched are disputed, but in the end, exact numbers are unimportant. What is important is that thousands of women (and hundreds of men) joined together to publicly proclaim their passion and commitment for peace – for a peacefully negotiated settlement to end the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

The morning events began near the Dead Sea at the baptismal site of Jesus at the Jordan river with a gathering of several (3-4) thousands from Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I met and exchanged greetings of peace with Arab Muslim women from Ramallah, Tulkarem, Bethlehem, Jenin, Hebron and their nearby villages who were bussed in with the full cooperation of the Palestinian Authority. I watched as Israeli Jewish women from all over Israel embraced their Palestinian counterparts, marched together and spoke words of peace to each other. I saw Christian Israeli Palestinian women, Jewish Israelis and Muslim women embrace. I heard their shared heartfelt words of peace.

We marched down a long hill and gathered at the Jordan to hear women speakers powerfully speak about peace, justice and equality for all. I heard the cry of thousands of mothers for a better future, for another way, for an end to violence, bloodshed, and terror. We raised our voices in Arabic, Hebrew and English singing a song especially composed for this event:

From the West to the East, from the North to the South, hear the mother’s prayer, Bring down the peace, Bring down the peace.

Then we traveled to Jerusalem where we were joined by thousands more, including over one hundred Druze women from the north of Israel. Still singing, we marched together through the streets of Jerusalem, three kilometers to the Prime Minister’s house, ending in a large rally in central Jerusalem. There we heard deeply moving personal stories of the quest for peace and its cost.

evening rally of March of Hope (photo: Lisa Loden)

All the speakers, from across the wide spectrum of society, from the right and the left, Jews and Arabs, secular, religious, settlers, business women, mothers, politicians, young and old all spoke powerfully about an end to war, peace, justice and equality for all. We were encouraged, even exhorted, to continue, to be steadfast, to believe that we can make a difference; that together we can turn the tide away from war and violence. For the sake of our children, for the children of Israel and Palestine, for our shared future.

As a Messianic Jew in this gathering I could have felt very alone. To my knowledge, in the morning I was one of less than five from my community. In the afternoon and evening I don’t know if there were any from my community, but I never felt alone. I was with sisters who share my heart and God’s heart for peace. Again and again I heard the words “Blessed are the peacemakers” and from Psalm 34 “who is the one who loves life. . . let him turn from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it.” Together, thousands of like-hearted people, we said no to despair and death and yes to hope and life. My joy in this day was colored with sadness for the absence of those from my community. Hope, together with longing, was kindled in my heart for my Messianic sisters and brothers to walk in solidarity with me and those many from among our people Israel who are seeking peace and pursuing it, together crossing every divide and difference the world can lay in our paths.

Below are the thoughts of other believers, Israeli and Palestinian, who participated in the March of Hope.

This past Wednesday, I marched with 4,000 Israeli and Palestinian women at Jesus’ baptismal site near Jericho, chanting “Women walk for peace.” I walked to show solidarity with my Israeli Jewish, Palestinian Muslim and Palestinian Christian sisters that I, as an evangelical Palestinian, believe that our leaders should come to the negotiation table to make a political agreement that will end our conflict. 

Listening to the Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, a devout Christian who mobilized her church and community to end the civil war in Liberia, and Hind Khoury, director of Kairos, I felt empowered that we, as Christians, can play a role in achieving a just and equal peace. Leymah’s words stay with me: “As we stand in this space of equality, justice and oneness, the message that I get as a Liberian coming to Israel and working with Israelis and Palestinians is that this space is a representation that we are doing peace because we are equal and none of us is better than the other.” May this be our prayer and call to action as Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews. 

–Shadia Qubti, Israeli-Palestinian Christian

Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, is a time where Jews remember that G-d brought us out of Egypt and we dwelled in the desert for 40 years as the generation changed their perspective from that of slaves to free people. 

This Sukkot, thousands of women voluntarily gathered in the desert, this time as free women, to protest the idea that we are enslaved to war, conflict, or politicians that seemingly dictate our futures. And just as it was 4000 years ago, so it is now — they do not dictate our futures. 

Several concepts stood out to me. First, there is the biblical concept that when you walk out of the land, G-d will give you the land where you put your foot (Gen 13:17). Second, do not believe them when they tell you it cannot be done (“There is no partner”) (Psa 1:1). Third, G-d requires us to do justice (Mic 6:8) and walk humbly. As Israelis, we have walked too proudly for too long, thinking that we can treat people unjustly and it will not affect us. 

To me this march demonstrated that we are changing our mentality again, from slaves to free people. 

–Hedva Haymov, Israeli Messianic Jew

It sent chills down my spine to see so many people gathering together to bring an unmistakable message to the world: that peace is possible, that there is hope, and that Israelis and Palestinians can work together, walk together, and cheer together for a better future for all the people of this land. The sense of solidarity was astounding! 

Leymah Gbowee’s inspiring words were dynamite. She could hardly speak two words without the audience breaking out in rapturous applause, because everything she was saying was so poignant, expressing what many of us feel but have had a hard time articulating within our respective communities in the (oftentimes) very isolating and exhausting grind of day-to-day peace work. 

The march reminded me that I am not alone. There are thousands all around me who believe as I do and share the same vision for equality, justice, security, and freedom for all. Peace is happening, and has been happening, for a very long time. Wednesday’s march simply made visible the invisible and brought to the fore a current that, though often overlooked, is no less real.

–Elie Pritz, Christian in Israel

It gave me hope to see all these women (and men) come together for peace in light of recent despair and violence. While our situation in Palestine is quite different from Liberia, it was moving to hear Leymah Gbowee encourage us from her experience waging peace in her country’s dangerous and violent conflict. 

Women Wage Peace put aside issues that divide and committed to peace. As a Palestinian, I was uncomfortable that they did not address core issues like the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967, the settlements, and more. At the same time, I wanted to show solidarity and my commitment to peace.

I was happy to see Hind Khoury, a Palestinian Christian, address the Israelis: “Will you last? Peace is hard work. Poverty, unemployment, insecurity, daily oppression and violence cannot endure. We also want our children to live, to love, to have a family, to have a decent and secure world, and to enjoy freedom.” 

As a Palestinian Christian, I was proud to walk in solidarity with Palestinian Muslims, demonstrating that we as Palestinians want an end to the conflict, we want peace, and we are partners for peace. 

–Shireen Awwad Hilal, Palestinian Christian