For the past 5 years, since the end of the last Gaza war in the summer of 2014, the most active and persistent movement for peace in Israel has been Women Wage Peace. In order to prevent the next war by insisting on the need for a diplomatic agreement to end the conflict, a small group of Jewish women banded together to form this impressive and very active peace movement which now numbers 43,000 people in Israel, including Israeli Arab Palestinian women and some men who have joined the movement. And it is growing and expanding all the time, reaching out to Palestinian women on the other side, forging relationships of friendship and trust, spreading a much needed message of peace and harmony, and increasing love and mutual understanding, through non-violent methods and dialogue.
According to their website, this movement is pluralistic and broad-based:
We are a grassroots movement with tens of thousands of members from the right, center and left of the political spectrum, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, united in the demand for a mutually binding non-violent accord between Israelis and Palestinians.
This movement is active throughout Israeli society to raise awareness and engage the public in discussions about the importance of finding a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They do not dictate to the politicians the exact contours of the solution. They simply demand that the politicians return to the negotiating table to carve out the solution, which they believe is reachable, as they say quite clearly:
Peace is not a utopia: it is the necessary foundation for the lives of the two peoples in this place, in security and freedom.
I believe that this is a very important statement since so many Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs do not believe any more that peace is possible, or have been taught to believe this by their politicians who prefer to simply blame the other side and repeat the worn-out mantra that says we do not currently have a partner for peace, which you can hear from political leaders in Ramallah as well as Jerusalem. I believe, on the contrary, that with political will, there could be partners for peace! In fact, there have been partners for peace many times that have been ignored by Israeli political leaders—and by their Palestinian counterparts–which is extremely unfortunate. I have felt strongly for a long time that if seemingly intractable conflicts have ended in Northern Ireland, South Africa, Bosnia-Herzegovina and other places, there is no rational reason why our conflict cannot be brought to an end as well!
The Women Wage Peace movement creates opportunities for dialogue with individuals and groups through formal and informal meetings within the community. The movement also organizes national events, such as demonstrations and protests, in order to pressure decision-makers to work toward reaching a viable peace agreement.
I recently met with some women in Jerusalem who are the leaders of the Jerusalem branch of this movement: Ahuva Tamar Batz and Ronit Barmat, along with a Palestinian woman from East Jerusalem, Nafiza Badarin, with whom they are now working closely to help them engage with Palestinian women from “the other side”.
These women are full of energy and enthusiasm for the movement that has changed their lives during the past few years and which gives them hope that peace is possible, which is one of their main mottos.
For the past three years, Ahuva Tamar’s apartment in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem has become a hopping hub of peaceful activity for Women Wage Peace in Jerusalem. Ronit Barmat, who lives in the same neighborhood, shares her enthusiasm for the work of this movement with they both say “promotes positivity, hope, peace and love” in Jerusalem and beyond.
Ahuva Tamar had participated in a dialogue group with women through my former organization—the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel—in 2002-2003, which was the first time that she encountered Palestinian women and began to hear their narrative. On the other hand, Ronit Barmat is relatively new to dialogue with Palestinians, having only begun to be involved 3 years ago, with Women Wage Peace. I asked them both how they see their main goals as peacebuilders involved in this relatively new organization. Do they feel that they are influencing the political peace processes? Ahuva Tamar responded by saying:
There are two pillars to Women Wage Peace. One of them is to encourage the leaders to make a peace agreement. The second one is U.N. Resolution 1325, which calls for 50% of the people involved in negotiating conflicts around the world to be women, including in our region. Women Wage Peace takes these pillars seriously by lobbying in the Knesset and by demonstrating in the public square. We want to bring the peacebuilding world into the peacemaking world.
Through people-to- people organizations, the people can make the solution together, instead of begging the leaders to do it.
We are impressed by the Liberian model in which a women’s movement overthrew their corrupt and ineffective government (led by Charles Taylor), for which they won a Nobel Prize, and they became the government. We would like to do the same here!
I further asked them why they persevere while many organizations and people have given up. What keeps them going?
All three responded that they didn’t see that they had any choice. They are engaged in Women Wage Peace because they feel that they are bringing back hope as a central topic in our societies. And they emphasized that they are bringing back lev— the Hebrew word for both the heart and the mind—to work for peace.