Friday, November 17, 2017

The women waging peace


By The Palestine Monitor - December 12, 2016
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Peace Process] [negotiations]

Every Monday afternoon, a group of about 100 women gather in front of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. They wear white clothes and a blue accessory carrying the slogan Women Wage Peace - the name of 30,000-strong movement, born after the 2014 war on Gaza. Women from across the political spectrum, sometimes with no party affiliation, joined forces to push the Israeli leadership to “go back to the negotiating table”.

 
Women Wage Peace does not take a clear position on how the talks should happen. It counts in its ranks members of right-wing parties as well as hardcore leftists, an unlikely mix. At their events, guitars and drums can be seen alongside women aggressively booing politicians they disagree with.
 
According to the movement, the only preconditions for negotiations to resume are the will to reach a just compromise, and respect for the demands of both Israelis and Palestinians. Some are in favour of a two-state solution, others are not – but the movement itself does not take a specific stance on this. In the words of one of its members, the movement is “open to an array of possibilities”, which is very uncommon in a country that has been more and more politically polarized over the past decade.
 
Men are about 15% of the movement’s members according to Women Wage Peace's media team. But really, it’s about women. “You can’t leave 50% of the population out of the peace talks, out of the effort for peace,” said Galit Mass, a volunteer who started the weekly Knesset events.
 
Mass, a dynamic short-haired woman, explains that women can make a difference in the peace process as they did in countries such as Ireland, and because “it’s usually in their nature to keep the fire down”. Other women explain they had a child who served in the army and the fear for his life triggered their commitment to the cause. A line commonly used in the movement's material is: “Only an honourable political agreement will secure the future of our children and grandchildren.”
 
Women Wage Peace insists Israel should uphold U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, of which it is a signatory. The resolution, dating back to 2000, highlights the important role of women in peace negotiations and peace building, and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.
 
To pursue this goal, the 10,000 active members of Women Wage Peace say they are in contact with Palestinian women organizations and meet on a regular basis. In mid-October, Women Wage Peace organised a march from the Lebanese border to the Prime Minister’s house. The Israeli movement had been walking for about two weeks when 1,000 Palestinian women joined the march in Jericho.
 
Huda Abu al Arkub, a social activist who co-founded the Center for Transformative Education, and was a consultant on education policies for the Palestinian Authority, joined the march. At the end of the event, she said: “I’m standing here with Women Wage Peace to say loudly and strongly on behalf of the women of the region: enough! No more war, no more bloodshed, and no more discrimination. No more separation barriers between us!”
 
So far they succeeded in establishing the first peace lobby in the Knesset - the same kind of lobby that pushes for commercial interest bills. Three parties are working on it: Kulanu (center), Meretz (left), and Labor. Aida Touma Suliman, a member of the Knesset with the Joint List – the main political representation for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship - said her party refused to join this initiative since Women Wage Peace does not stand for “anything clear” and therefore has either none or a hidden agenda.
 
“I find a bit strange that they are in touch with all the political spectrum because they will be in touch with politicians supporting the settlements for instance, and in a sense, it’s like legitimizing it”, Suliman told the Palestine Monitor. Despite that, she said she appreciates how the movement is putting “peace back on the table” and seems to be the only game in town. She did meet with them a few times, most recently to discuss resolution 1325.
 
Without the Joint List, but with Kulanu - the party whose chairman, Moshe Kahlon, supports a high budget for defense as finance minister - the lobby for peace is supposed to start working next month.
 
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to join the Paris Peace conference, due to take place by the end of December. Last week, a law that would allow Israel to retroactively legalise settlement outposts built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank passed its first Knesset reading – with critics slamming it as a provocation, endangering the “last chance” for a two-state solution.
 
Despite that, Women Wage Peace will continue to wave their placards featuring portraits of Knesset members to make their demands heard. They say peace is “still an option.”
 

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