Saturday, December 16, 2017

Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women march in a ‘Journey to Peace’


By Rhiannon F. - October 11, 2017
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Peace Process] [West Bank]

There appears to be no activity in the harsh environment of the Jordan Valley desert, south of Jericho in the West Bank. Walking towards what could be a mirage in the sandy landscape, a voice over a loudspeaker is suddenly heard; “We welcome many women from all over Palestine and Israel.” Moving closer, a faint picture of tents, the same colour as the earth, can be seen. “We are women and we are strong. We turn to our leaders for immediate negotiation.”

A peace village has been erected for the final day of the Journey to Peace, a two-week march organised by the Israeli grassroots movement, Women Wage Peace. On entering the 'reconciliation tent’, a sea of Israeli and Palestinian women all wearing white are mingling, while a speaker braces the stage presenting a motivational speech. “We will continue our journey until an agreement is signed, and our dream will become a reality, yes, it, will. It’s possible.”

The organisers estimate the number of people in attendance at the peace village to be 10,000. This is the third year Women Wage Peace have put on such an event, and they say it has only grown in numbers. Their original mission, as written on their website, is to reach a “bilaterally acceptable political agreement of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict by 2018,” though many people in the crowd recognise it will be a much slower process.

Women Wage Peace’s Head of the Southern Chapter, Orli Gold-Haklay describes the organisation as a non – partisan grassroots movement, pressuring leaders to start peace negotiations and see them through. “At this point, we aren’t demanding something specific, this enables a diverse group of women to join us, from different political spectrums.”

Calls to boycott the march have come from Palestinian parties and activist groups including The Union of Palestinian Women Committees Society - a branch of The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). As stated in the Times of Israel, the PLO’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society sent out invitations prior to the Journey to Peace march and organised buses for Palestinian women to attend the Jericho event.

      

Music was a central point of the Journey to Peace celebrations. 

The PFLP condemned the official invitations sent out by PLO on the basis of perpetuating 'normalisation’ and labeled it a 'peace deception.’ In a statement on their website, the PFLP said:“This event is a distortion of the image of the Palestinian woman who has played a leading role in the revolution through generations.”

Gold-Haklay responded to this by saying any organisation that wants peace needs to support the march, not boycott it. “Any effort of the Israeli side needs to be embraced by people around the world, who want to end the conflict,” she continued.

Women Wage Peace has ensured their march, which has visited a range of Israeli and Palestinian villages within Israel in the past weeks, has culminated in a mass gathering near Jericho. “We had the meeting in the Dead Sea to enable as many Palestinian women to join us, seeing as they can’t get permits into Jerusalem,” Gold- Haklay explained.

A young Israeli, Tal Miller, who lives in the settlement of Na'aran in the West Bank, sees the value in this. He believes the wall between Israel and Palestine is an excuse used by the majority of his people to not connect with Palestinians. “It’s a slogan for saying we’ll be on our side and you’ll be on your side. We need to make contact though, and communicate.” He goes on to say there needs to be a change in mindset in the people of Israel. “Peace is not a political agreement, we needs to change minds and the ability to live with and respect others.”

Warda, a 44-year-old Palestinian woman from Hebron who didn’t wish to use her real name, says there are no other opportunities to meet Israelis in a civil fashion. “In Hebron there are Jews that make problems, but this [today] is how we want it, it’s how it should be,” she commented on the equality she was met with at the gathering. A widow from the age of 20, Warda hopes there will one day be peace in Hebron. “Jewish people have power and are able to affect their politicians in order to change the situation [of conflict],” she said with faith. Palestinians however, were a minority among the marchers.

Fatima Wakeed, a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship originally from Nazareth, believes the Israeli Jews and Arabs share a common life in Israel, though she went on to say: “We get some rights, but not all the rights. We live in a little peace though we want peace all the time.” She is adamant both sides of the conflict need to talk and find solutions. “We suffer enough, we want peace for our children, men and women. It’s the best solution.”

Marcia Kreiscl, 79, stands with a sign showing a photo of the first Palestinian family she met through working. 

Women Wage Peace takes inspiration from Hagar and Sarah, depicted in the bible as the two wives of Abraham, who found themselves in conflict. Gold- Haklay said it shows an ancient tension between the Muslim and Jewish people. “The ancient mothers wanted for their children, what we want for ours, prosperity and stability. Through them we can create a new narrative of living together and coexisting.”

The focus on the power of women is strong in the participants of the march. Dedora from Timrat in northern Israel is 70 in two months time, though as active in the march as the youth. “Just women can bring peace. I think men have another side, they control others, whereas women are stronger in their patience,” she said between banging an Indian drum and singing. Warda, from Hebron, also mentioned she was at the march to meet other women. “We aren’t stronger without men, though we feel more free when it’s women alone,” she explained.

In mid afternoon, after live music performances and further speeches, the Israeli attendees piled onto buses and travelled to Jerusalem for a final rally. The majority of Palestinians cannot travel to the holy city due to permit restrictions, so in support of them, as Sigalit Givon from the settlement of Modi’in puts it; “the Israeli’s will go to Jerusalem and erupt from within.”

The march was peacefully met and guided by local police officers as it weaved through the holy city’s streets blasting the John Lennon hit, Give Peace a Chance, from car speakers. Women Wage Peace estimated there to be 35,000 people, including the crowds attending an evening concert in Independence Park. Some young people in the crowd mentioned they had come along just to see the performer Yael Dekelbaum in her band Prayer of the Mothers.

After putting on such a large production, work continues for Women Wage Peace. The organisation has started a political caucus of women in the Knesset who will hold discussions every week and continue to pressure their leaders. Gold-Haklay also mentioned they were focusing on bringing more young women into the movement. “The bottom line is we are doing this for them.”

 

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