MARCH OF HOPE: HOW ISRAELI – PALESTINIAN WOMEN WAGE PEACE
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Hope was lost when talks to resolve the long standing conflict between Israel and Palestine failed in April 2014. This was the first time since President Obama’s tenure commenced, that the conflict was attempted to be directly discussed by the leadership of Israel and Palestine, in an effort to resolve their disputes and bring about peace in their nations. The long standing nature of the conflict has resulted in deeply rooted emotional hostilities as well as extreme political and societal distrust on both sides. The most logical outcome, under the circumstances, was the failure of the talks – which was what eventually happened. The demise of the talks meant political stagnation, the resumption of attacks by Palestinians, daily incursions of the Israeli army into Palestinian territories, Palestinians contending with multiple checkpoints, and Israeli families bracing themselves to sacrifice their male family members.
Big nuclear powers, neighboring states, countries with vested interests, international organizations and pretty much the whole world had given up any hope of being able to resolve this chronic and entrenched conflict. It was at such a time, in 2015, that a group of Israeli and Palestinian women met at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute, situated on a Hill in Jerusalem, near Bethlehem, to brainstorm things they could do to help end the political stalemate and push the countries’ leadership into a dialogue to bring about lasting peace. Israeli mothers were tired of losing their sons to the war and Palestinian mothers were fatigued and fed up with protecting their sons and daughters from frequent incursions by the Israeli army. Both dreamt of being able to give their children lives of freedom and peace.
The result of the brainstorming was the two-week and 200-km cross-country march, starting at Rosh Hanikra, on Israel’s border with Lebanon on October 4, 2016, eventually culminating at Balfour Street, outside Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence on October 19, 2016. It started as a small event at Rosh Hanikra. All along the trek, there were workshops, speeches exhorting women to demand peace and a celebration of the humanity that they saw in each other, irrespective of years of being socialized to the contrary, which were bolstered by childhoods spent in the shadow of artificial boundaries. In the Palestinian city of Jericho in the West Bank, the core group of 20 women dramatically swelled to 3,000 women. Even though the Palestinian women could not cross the border separating the West Bank from Israel, the Israeli women continued the march all the way to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence.
Marie-Lyne Samdja, one of the founders of the pioneering group that led the march, Women Wage Peace, said, “We are not an organization; we are a movement. We have defined goals and when we reach those goals we will disband.” This movement was not political in nature, it was beyond all types of identities, except those of women aligned towards peace. True to their word, women of all ages; from both nationalities (Palestine and Israel); of any religious faith (Christian, Jewish or Muslim); or any political inclination (right, center or left) were present in large numbers. They were spurred by the belief that when women are involved in resolving conflicts, there is more success. Citing the U.N. Resolution 1325, which “urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts,” and the success of Liberian women in overthrowing their dictator, Charles Taylor, the Israeli and Palestinian women sought to form bonds and connections breaking-through long-entrenched stereotypes and prejudices. They sought allies in each other.
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Women Waging Peace is a very powerful example of the Third-Side role of Bridge-Builder at play. Not only did the Israeli and Palestinian women reject the artificial boundaries surrounding them, but they defied the language of separation and built connections and relationships that enabled them to work as a cohesive unit, with a common goal. They also played the role of Equalizer, by refusing to accept the role of victims with no power to change the situation, and by using their strength in numbers to make a strong statement to those at the political level. These women are a clear example that peace happens between people and that people at the civil society level can play an important role in having their voices heard.
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