The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most controversial conflicts of our times, and international news report it as an endless story of violence and death, with each side blaming each other. Rarely are we told the stories of solidarity and hope of the thousands of Israelis and Palestinians working together for peace.
Jewish and Arab women from all walks of life and political inclinations, religious and secular, have joined forces under Women Wage Peace (WWP), a grassroots movement that promotes a non-violent, respectful, and mutually accepted solution to the conflict. It was created in the aftermath of the 2014 war in Gaza, which started when three Israeli boys were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas. Then, as an act of revenge, a Palestinian boy was murdered by Jewish extremists.
“From that horrible tragedy, which should have been contained, a war broke out, and civilians and soldiers on both sides were killed for nothing” Dr. Orna Raz, a member of WWP, tells us. “That war was avoidable, and I saw how things got out of hand and no one, not one single leader, took responsibility and stopped the madness.”
“Jewish and Arab women refuse to be enemies”
Tired of the bloodshed and acknowledging that both Israelis and Palestinians have the common desire for a peaceful resolution of the conflict, WWP formed to get leaders to reach a political agreement and include women in decision-making. Orna joined the movement shortly after it was founded.
“Soon after the [Gaza] war broke I attended a demonstration in the Arab town of Tira. One of the speakers, an Arab woman, talked directly to the women in the audience and said what many of us know, that not a single woman from Gaza or from Israel was involved in the attacks, but that it is always the women who pay the price for men’s war. All the while a woman stood next to the stage carrying a sign ‘Jewish and Arab women refuse to be enemies’.”
She felt optimistic, she recalls. In 2000, ‘Four mothers,’ an anti-war movement founded bythe mothers of soldiers, was influential in the withdrawal of the Israeli army from South Lebanon. “The women put pressure on the leaders and were able to change public opinion. The Four Mothers became an inspiration to Israeli women and to the new movement Women Wage Peace.”
A new approach to finding a solution
Women Wage Peace aims to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the full participation of women in all aspects of peace making and security. The movement doesn’t endorse one specific solution, but is rather a call for a diplomatic agreement that is respected and accepted by both sides. After decades of tenacious conflict, WWP believes there is a need to change the approach to finding a solution and promotes dialogue through inclusive and non-violent events – including rallies, workshops and discussions.
Living in the US when Women Wage Peace was created, Orna started to contribute to the movement by translating texts and writing essays. Back in Israel, Orna has participated in many of the WWP’s peaceful events over the last few years, including “Operation Protective Fast.”
In the summer of 2015, to mark a year from the war in Gaza (also known as “Operation Protective Edge”) Women Wage Peace activists set a big tent in front of the Israeli Prime Minister’s home. They took turns to fast for fifty hours each over fifty days, to commemorate the duration of the war and to urge the government to return to peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The following year, Orna joined the ‘March for Hope,’ which saw Palestinian and Israeli women united to demand peace and deliver messages of hope. The March started in Rosh Hanikra, at the far northern border with Lebanon, and culminated in a mass rally in front of PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem. During the two weeks of the march there were local events, workshops and speeches at different points along the way. In Qasr El Yehud, on the Jordan River near Jericho, about a thousand West Bank Palestinian women joined their Israeli counterparts in a demonstration of togetherness and longing for peace.
Orna also took part in the visits to the Knesset. In 2018, every Monday without fail, a group of Women Wage Peace activists, dressed in white and turquoise, attended the Israeli Parliament while in session to promote their goal. When the Knesset was dissolved for the general election last April, they erected the Mothers’ Tent in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to call on all political parties to commit to resolving the conflict.
By recognising the need for diverse voices within the movement, it presents WWP activists with different perspectives to bear on what peace and security mean and how they can be realised.
“It was very interesting for me to meet religious women who live in towns and settlement across the green line [the demarcation line set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements] and to learn that they too are working toward peace and are eager to get to know their Palestinian neighbours” Orna says.
“One of the women told us directly that she personally would be willing to leave her home and move back across the green line if it means having a peace treaty with the Palestinians. I believed her when she said that she wasn’t the only one. More than 40 years ago Israelis who settled in The Sinai Peninsula left their towns and settlements in preparation for the Peace Treaty with Egypt.”
Women strengthen the peace process
Orna is a firm believer that women play a vital role in peace making. A former college teacher with a PhD in English Literature, she mentions ‘The Feminine Point Of View,’ a conference that took place in Britain in 1952. The delegates argued that after World War II it was time to give women a chance to lead, because men had proven again and again that they were aggressive and did nothing to bring peace.
Today Women Wage Peace has more than 40,000 members. Besides waging peace, they demand that women are included in all aspects of decision-making, as mandated by the UN Resolution 1325. This reaffirms the importance of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
Although Israel was one of the first countries to ratify it, women are still underrepresented in politics and many areas of public life, Orna says. “We are involved but strive to become much more influential. The percentage of women in the Knesset is less than 20% for 51% of the population. In local authorities it is much lower. The percentage of women in academia is high but in senior position the percentage again is low.”
And yet, there is overwhelming evidence that women strengthen peacemaking in the long term, according to the Inclusive Security Institute, an American think tank that supports women leaders. A study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries over the last three decades showed that when women’s groups were effectively involved, an agreement was almost always reached and had a higher chance of implementation. Their 2015 report also notes that as the percentage of women in parliament increases by 5%, a state is five times less likely to use violence when faced with an international crisis. And when 35% of parliamentarians are women, the risk of relapse into conflict is near zero.
Women Wage Peace is a powerful example of how women approach conflicts differently. With an unshakable commitment to peace, the activists promote a non-violent resolution of the conflict, based on respect and dialogue. They refuse the role of victims and take their power to the streets to make a strong statement: women can create their own future. A future, as Orna dreams, that includes a safe, just and humanistic society where everyone can flourish.