I just got back from Berlin. My colleague and I, Dr. Rehab Abed Elhalim, represented the Women Wage Peace movement at the “Canaan” conference hosted by the German foreign ministry, for 20 Israeli and Palestinian women working towards peace. The conference consisted of workshops to promote understanding and brainstorm together on how to move forward towards a solution to the conflict, building on the 1325 UN Security Council resolution (on which Israel is signed), calling for the equal participation of women in efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. The highlight of the conference was a formal event, where Rehab and I addressed members of the German parliament and the foreign ministry. We also met German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He was very encouraging, saying that he knows about the movement, our work is important and to keep going.
The workshops, in which we were originally instructed not to actively participate in (since Women Wage Peace’s mandate is not to suggest a specific solution to the conflict, but rather – to demand that our leaders sit down and reach a political agreement) were heated and emotional. Although I’ve always believed in peace, and have been very activein Women Wage Peace for the last four years, for me it was the first time I had ever had an actual discussion with a Palestinian. I discovered we had a lot in common. At lunch break, we discussed our children and how annoying they can be, and shared family photos. They were surprised to know that when my kids get me really upset, I do have a limited vocabulary ready in Arabic. I also felt their compassion. At one point in the conference, one of the Israeli women noted that her son refused to serve in the army. She said it’s not that big a deal, since most soldiers just serve in the army so they can become computer specialists and make a lot of money once they are released. I had to intervene. I told the group that many of the women in Women Wage Peace are actually mothers of combat soldiers. My older son just completed his combat service and my younger son is about to be drafted to a combat unit. It’s their duty and I’m proud of them. But at the same time, this reality is exactly why we’re taking action – to make sure they have a future. To this, the Israeli woman then responded, well, I guess having a soldier in the army could be unpleasant. And I said no, not unpleasant. Terrifying. My colleague Rehab, one of the founders of Women Wage Peace, wasn’t the only one who hugged me then. So did all the women at the workshop, ruining all of our makeup but realizing once again, that we are all sisters.
At the formal event, Rehab and I presented Women Wage Peace, the largest grassroots movement in Israel, with 40,000 members from the right, left and center, Jewish and Arab. We presented our new “Political Alternatives First” law that we are now promoting in the Israeli Parliament, a law that demands that political alternatives are thoroughly considered before our leaders decide to go to war. There was also some drama. Due to a technical glitch, and after we had participated in a panel on WWP, the event suddenly ended without our giving our speeches we had so carefully prepared. Rehab, an inspiring and formidable lady who gets what she wants, got up and announced, I came all the way from Israel to present Women Wage Peace. So either I give my speech right now, or I’m getting on a plane home! The conference’s organizer immediately ran out to the foyer, where the parliament members were eating hors d’oeuvre and brought them all back to their seats to hear us. I’m betting we were the first Israelis who ever brought German parliament members back into a session after a 2.5 hour long event, to hear more speeches! It just goes to show what you can achieve when you are determined enough.
Now back at home, drowning in a week’s worth of laundry, I can’t stop thinking about it. Me, an Israeli Jewish woman of Ashkenazic decent, standing in the German foreign office (originally a Nazi headquarters), 70 years after Kristallnacht, telling the German parliament that all women in Israel want peace, and asking them to help us pressure our government to promote a political agreement to stop the cycle of violence. And hearing them tell us they will take action to help us, because the children of Israel deserve peace. This emotional experience just made me realize, once again, that realities can change. In my speech to the parliament, I noted that my daughter Naamah recently celebrated her Bat Mitzvah. My message to her was: peace is possible. There is nothing more important. And brave determined women, Israeli and Palestinian, can and will bring peace.
We’re not stopping. Join us.