It was a happy coincidence for me to be in Israel for Succoth so I could take part in the Women Wage Peace protest. Over a number of days, Palestinian and Israeli women had began marching in small numbers across the country. On Wednesday 19th October, I caught the bus from Jerusalem to the Allenby Crossing, where we danced and sang together and then marched to Qasr al-Yahud, the site where Jesus is believed to have been baptized by John the Baptist, where Mohamed met some of his companions and Elijah the Prophet met Elisha.
At that point the media reported that I was in the company of 2,500 Jewish and Arab Israeli women who’d arrived on buses from all over the country, from as far away as the Sea of Galilee and the Negev and Arava deserts and we were joined by more than 1,000 Palestinian women from the West Bank. By the time we walked in Jerusalem to the final destination – the Prime Minister’s residence – the official police count was that we were 20,000 strong.
As we marched I looked at the women around me. There were many wearing white t-shirts, many with hijabs, others in Burkas. There were young women and old, women carrying babies, and a scattering of children and men. There were secular and also religious Jews; there were Druze and Arabs; Christians and Muslims. I even saw one Buddhist Monk. I saw one women so old and fragile that we were terrified that she would be injured just being in the crowd.
It was also the case that some of the marchers were women with disabilities. There were buses that allowed some women with mobility issues to be included, but as we walked I saw women walking with sticks, some who were visually impaired, others who were deaf. I didn’t ask but there were no doubt many suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of living in a state of war. There were sure to be many carrying scars on their bodies and minds.
As we walked we talked to strangers and heard their stories. We sang songs of peace – maybe a few too many from the Vietnam era. We had learnt a song by the Jordan River: the Prayer of the Mothers for peace. The atmosphere was celebratory, despite the searing heat and the exhaustion many of us felt after more than12 hours on the go.
We sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in English, Arabic and Hebrew. We heard the pain of the conflict from both Israelis & Palestinians. We heard Palestinian Huda Abuarqoub from Hebron stating unequivocally “Enough with the myth, I promise you, you have a partner”. We heard Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowye, who came from Liberia to join the march, tell her own story and ensure us that if women really want peace we will find a way for this to happen.
There was one feature of the march that I have not seen reported anywhere. When I said that we heard the singers and heard the speakers, I meant this literally and figuratively. For throughout the whole event outside the Prime Minister’s house one woman was working almost without a break. That woman was one of the many unsung heroes of the day – she was the sign interpreter.
With no fanfare, signing ensured that women with hearing impairments and Deaf women were included in this event. This is a fine example of how all organisations should act. People with disabilities generally don’t want focus on their disabilities. Those who can’t hear just want facilitation so that they can participate in the ordinary way that other ordinary citizens find unproblematic. The provision of a sign language interpreter was a silent protest over and above the general protest that women want to make peace now.