Women pick up the slack in flailing Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations

Thousands of women from the 'Women Wage Peace' movement take part in a march in support of peace in Jerusalem on October 19, 2016. (Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Where political dialogue has seemingly failed, thousands of women – both Palestinian and Israeli – linked arms and joined a march to call for peace, security and hope for their mutual futures.

Women Wage Peace, a movement that began from the aftermath of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, sponsored the “March for Hope,” a two-week trek from northern Israel through the West Bank. The march united women across people groups and religions through several events including an interfaith service at the baptismal site in Qasr al-Yahud and culminating in a rally outside the Prime Minister’s residence.  

Leymah Gbowee, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for leading a women’s peace movement that helped end war in Liberia, was the guest of honor. In a speech to the mixed crowd she warned that peace “is not an easy process.”

“If you, the women of this country are ready to go all out, be prepared to lose a lot of friends and a lot of support,” she said. Gbowee encouraged the women that, if they are ready, now is the time to ”say yes to peace. When you stand firm for what you believe, the men with guns are afraid of you.”

Participants, including several Palestinian and Israeli believers, were inspired by Gbowee’s words and the sheer number of participants in the march.

“I felt empowered that we, as Christians, can play a role in achieving a just and equal peace,” said Shadia Qubti, an Israeli-Palestinian Christian. “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.” 

Lisa Loden, a Messianic Jewish Israeli, said that despite low attendance from the believing community, she felt she was “with sisters who share my heart and God’s heart for peace.”

“I heard the voices of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian Muslim, Jewish and Christian mothers crying out for a better future, for another way, for an end to violence, bloodshed, and terror,” Loden said. “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.’”

Loden and Qubti shared their personal impressions of the event as well. 

According to the Women Wage Peace Facebook page, some 20,000 people participated in the events.

At local events held throughout the country, political leaders took part including Knesset members Merav Ben Ari, Amir Peretz and Yehudah Glick among others. Representatives of the movement also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

On Monday, women will march from the Prime Minister’s residence to the Knesset for the opening session to demand a return to the negotiations – and to include women in the decision making processes.

“From history we have seen that when women are involved in resolving conflicts, there was much more success,” Marie-Lyne Smadja, a co-founder of Women Wage Peace, said.

Women Wage Peace describes itself as “a non-political, broad-based, and rapidly growing movement of thousands of women, taking action to influence the public and political arena.”

A speaker at one of the events, Michal Froman, who was pregnant when she was stabbed by a Palestinian teenager in January, called on the women to choose life.

“Life here will be possible only if we stop blaming each other and stop being victims,” she said. “We all need to overcome and to take responsibility and start working hard for the sake of life here.”

Olfat Haider, an Arab Israeli from Haifa, told the Washington Post she believes that “Jews and Arabs can live together, and must live together.”

“It’s time to hear some women’s voices,” she said. “Women can talk to each other, they don’t fight with their egos.”

Many of the participants were met with criticism from within their own ranks. Settler leaders accused Froman of “making peace with killers” while some Palestinian women asked not to be named when interviewed because their own family members disagreed with their participation.

Opposition notwithstanding, Elie Pritz, a Christian in Israel, said the march “sent 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.”

“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,” she said.