If tens of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis joined forces and set off on a two-week march for peace through the Biblical deserts you’d think that it would be headline news, wouldn’t you? Think again. That is exactly what happened over the past couple of weeks when 30,000 women from both sides of the divide came together, but the landmark initiative was ignored by the Western media. In the Middle East itself, the event was treated with all the attention afforded to a weekly sewing circle; it was invisible.
The Women Wage Peace movement set off on 24 September from the banks of the River Jordan and included many who had been directly affected by the violence in the Israeli-led offensives against Palestine. One Israeli woman revealed that she was attacked and stabbed while pregnant, and a Palestinian mother said that she lost her son in another violent stabbing; they marched together in unity.
Altogether, tens of thousands of women came together over the two week period and on Sunday evening several thousand, mostly Israelis, arrived in Jerusalem dressed in white, waving placards calling for peace. Co-organiser Marie-Lyne Smadja said that the march was meant to “give voice to those tens of thousands of Israeli Jewish and Arab women of the left, centre and right, and their Palestinian partners, who hand in hand, together, took this road towards peace.” Israeli women want to prevent the next war if they can and try as soon as possible to reach an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, she added. According to another organiser, Palestinian Huda Abuarqoub, from Hebron in the occupied West Bank, “This march is not only another protest, but also a way of saying that we want peace, and together we can obtain it.”
These two women were echoing the sentiments of tens of thousands of others who had joined them en route to Jerusalem, but the fact that it barely registered in the media speaks more about those who run the media and their news values than anything about the women themselves. Their historic march came at a time when the Road Map for peace in the region is in tatters and lost in the rubble somewhere between Ramallah and Tel Aviv. Making peace does not mean making news, it seems.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is so unpopular that there are doubts about his ability to could win an election even if he was the only candidate to stand, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a long distance relationship with peace as he leads the most extreme right-wing government in the Zionist State’s relatively short history. The world has grown weary of these two and as long as they cling to power the chances of Hell freezing over are more likely than anything resembling a move towards meaningful peace.
It is quite clear that while the Middle East political landscape is dominated by these men and others like them, and as long as Western foreign policy is dictated by men, then peace will remain unattainable. One of the Women Wage Peace co-founders, Amira Zidan, an Arab-Israeli mother, recognises that this is a major stumbling block. “The men who have power believe only in war,” she told one agency reporter, “but with the strength of women we can bring something else, something new.”
The WWP movement drew on their historical and religious backgrounds as they erected a tent for peace which they called Hagar and Sarah after the mothers of Ishmael and Isaac, the brother patriarchs of the Arabs and Jews. The women taking part came from virtually every political background, and from towns, cities and villages across the region.
Among them was Michal Froman, who was stabbed by a Palestinian in January 2016 while pregnant with her fifth child. “As a religious woman,” she told an AFP journalist, “I say that not to believe in peace is not to believe in God.”
Women Wage Peace was established after Israel’s 50-day offensive against Gaza in the summer of 2014 when more than 2,100 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians. One of the first events that the women did was to fast in relays over 50 days in 2015, to remember, matching the length of the onslaught day for day.
In Cairo, the men from Hamas and Fatah have come together for a reconciliation pact in a meeting brokered by Egypt. As far as the Palestinian Authority is concerned, the Egyptian government is lending support to both Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, both rivals to President Abbas. “The Egyptians are driven, in these efforts, by their own interests, not our interests,” a senior Fatah official briefed the media.
Perhaps Abbas and his team should have spent the previous two weeks in the company of Women Wage Peace to try to understand the concept of unity and what it means. If the female descendants of Hagar and Sarah can put their differences aside and come together for peace, then how difficult can it be for the men?
It’s quite clear that Abbas’s stumbling block is that he doesn’t even like or trust his own people. That being the case, the best thing he can do for peace is to sacrifice his position and power, and walk away.
As the WWP members arrived in Jerusalem, Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu was holding a Bible studies class where he found time to issue this statement about Palestinian reconciliation efforts: “We’re not interested in fake reconciliation in which Palestinian parties reconcile with each other at the expense of our existence.” Hmm… playing the victim card again.
With such entrenched views, it’s little wonder that Israeli and Palestinian women have lost faith in their men to deliver peace and are doing it for themselves. Women Wage Peace is a great initiative which deserves massive publicity, but who knew?