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How thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women are waging peace

The thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women who marched in Jerusalem and Jericho this month are not only demanding peace from their societies, they are reaching through stereotypes and artificial boundaries to find true partners.

By Riman Barakat

Thousands of women from ‘Women Wage Peace’ march on the Israeli Prime Minister’s Residence Jerusalem, October 19, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Thousands of women from ‘Women Wage Peace’ march on the Israeli Prime Minister’s Residence Jerusalem, October 19, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Less than a year ago a group of Palestinian and Israeli women spent a weekend in Tantur, situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, brainstorming what we could possibly do to break the cycle of violence and political stagnation. Everyone had their own personal reason for being there, whether it was the Israeli mothers who had to send their children to war or the Palestinian women who were exhausted by the daily incursions of the Israeli army, checkpoints, and the inability to live freely and imagine a hopeful future for their children. Personally, I felt torn apart having seen Jerusalem split into a hundred pieces, a place that should be the inspiration for coexistence instead oozing with the blood of Palestinians and Israelis on a near daily basis.

Over the last 11 years I have done my best to be involved in any possible initiative that attempts to bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace. Why is Women Wage Peace different? My belief has always been that if any group professes that they will bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace, they must have to want it so much so that they are willing to wed themselves to the cause. These women are of that character; they are unstoppable and determined but most of all, they believe they can create their own future. In order to create a different reality, we believe that we have to be that reality.

“We need to think outside of our surroundings,” Lily kept saying, and together we visualized the March of Hope, a march of togetherness — a cry to the whole world, coming from a mother’s womb, to stop the violence. We resolved not to stop, even in the midst of most terrible acts of violence. We met and shouted out, “ Enough! Enough!” in Arabic, Hebrew and English. We resolved to propose a shared language of hope, of humanity, of an unshakable commitment to peace, and we rejected the language of separation.

The author, Riman Barakat, addressing the Women Wage Peace rally at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, October 17, 2016. (Gili Getz)

The author, Riman Barakat, addressing the Women Wage Peace rally at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, October 17, 2016. (Gili Getz)

When I stood in front more than 500 women at Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam earlier this month, I was not yet sure everyone truly understood or believed what was about to happen two days later — a joint march of thousands of Palestinian and Jewish women. As I called on the mostly Jewish group of women gathered there that day to come join hands with the Palestinian women, I felt the crowd cheering, moved by the thought of Palestinian partnership. Two days later, as the march commenced, a seemingly endless stream of Palestinian women descended from bus after bus, from Nablus, Hebron, East Jerusalem, Jericho, Jenin, Bethlehem. And mind you, they were there to really participate, and participate the did, singing out the words of peace.

We need to allow ourselves to bring down the barriers within and without, to dare to look each other in the eye and see the humanity. A long time has passed with us here and them there. The first step is to breach that psychological barrier and allow ourselves to be welcomed by those we call the “other.” I can’t recall the last time so many Israelis and Palestinians met and walked together. I believe I was much younger then, during the Oslo Accords. Yet after more than 20 years of separation, thousands of women are once again uniting for a common cause. It is a historic moment, and even those who try to ignore it will find it harder and harder to do so as it continues to grow.

Thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women from ‘Women Wage Peace’ march near the West Bank city of Jericho, October 19, 2016. (Flash90)

Thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women from ‘Women Wage Peace’ march near the West Bank city of Jericho, October 19, 2016. (Flash90)

When my dear friend Huda Abuarqoub from Hebron stood on the podium at the end of the march outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, declaring loudly, bravely and clearly, “Enough with the myth, I promise you, you have a partner,” it almost felt like a dream, like we were on a different planet. I watched the shock and elation of my Israeli friends. It was as if Huda herself was from another planet. But she was real, here, in the flesh, loud and clear. And everyone saw the magic that morning, only it wasn’t magic. There is a partner and the partner is real. It’s time to stop constantly demanding proof.

Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowye, who came from Liberia to join us in our march, invited the audience to take part in what she called “the open mind challenge,” picking up on what I said earlier in my speech about seeing the humanity of the other. She told us a story from her childhood about an old woman who lived on top of a hill in the forest, whom everyone thought was a witch who ate little children. Leymah’s grandmother insisted on taking the children to visit her. What was the point? The moral of Leymah’s story is that we need to cross those borders within ourselves, to deconstruct the stereotypes we’ve built about each other — an accumulation of many “thin walls,” as she called them. All it takes is one simple act of courage to traverse a border or boundary of fear, to challenge ourselves, and dare to truly meet the other.

What we witnessed on October 19 was an unsurprising surprise, that yes, those on the other side are human beings, full of love, who also want life and peace. Yet there we were, all of us aghast, my Israeli friends and I, as we listened to Huda stating nothing but the obvious. The myth of the evil witch on the top of the hill was shattered right then and there, and the partner for peace was among us, present in every shape and form.

Riman Barakat is a Palestinian peace activist, the CEO and founder of Experience Palestine for International Missions and Delegations, and a board member of ALLMEP ( The Alliance for Middle East Peace). Previously she was co-director of IPCRI (Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives) as well as he Palestinian executive director for Breaking the Impasse. 

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    COMMENTS

    1. Tammy Avigdor

      Thank you Rima for an well written article. You are a true leader.
      Together we will succeed to change the reality. Peace is possible!!!

      Reply to Comment
    2. Oh, for an election in Palestine so these women could take leadership in negotiations with the Israeli government for a way out of the impasse.

      Presumably their Israeli sisters will stand for election to get the force of public support fully behind them.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Carmen

      Inspiring and wonderful. Women have the strength and the determination whose fullness is yet to be seen. Join, don’t obstruct.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Thank you Riman for a beautiful, moving article. You so well described the magic that was actually reality – we DO have a partner, both sides, and us women – Palestinian and Israeli, Muslim, Christians and Jews – proved it and will keep on proving it till the “no partner” myth will belong to the past… I look forward to continued collaboration and hard, yet gratifying work side by side.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        Rivi – not only inspired by this article but by your post. Looking forward to the future!

        Reply to Comment
    5. Bus189

      Thank you Riman for once again demonstrating the boring tediousness and emptiness of the peace-building industry which is addicted to vacuous displays of large groups gathering under empty banners for the purpose of nothing but feeding their own personal egos.

      The emptiness of the moment is emphasized by the diversity of the people gathered there. They would be able to actually agree on nothing at the negotiating table, but nonetheless they all gathered together for the purpose of feeling something while effectively doing nothing.

      A peace partner is not just someone you can talk to. A peace partner is someone that agrees to a common paradigm on what peace will look like. I guarantee that within the group of women gathered at this “march” no such common paradigm exists, so there is no peace partner to be had. The whole “movement” is based on hiding the absence of such a paradigm and instead focusing on meaningless slogans.

      I also hope that the EU sponsored some nice t-shirts and some delicious drinks for the women that showed up to this empty event. With the amount of money the EU spends on the NGO industry in Israel I would have expected a higher turnout. And most of all I hope that you had fun and took lots of selfies.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Bus189: What’s your assessment of the peace plan laid out here by Israeli military and security people? (“Commanders For Israel’s Security”)

        http://en.cis.org.il/

        Reply to Comment
        • Bus189

          I skimmed it. To me it looks like a plan for a gradual unilateral withdrawal. Israel politically cedes 90% of the West Bank up-front. Territory east of the wall is declared outside future Israeli borders, the settlers there turn into an occupying militia and the IDF turns into a temporary occupying army. I realize that the last two parts is how much of the world sees the situation anyway, but that isn’t actually the current function of the settlers or the IDF. At present the settlers are pushing out Israeli political civilian control over territory and the IDF acts as the permanent sovereign in the entirety of the West Bank. After the implementation of this plan the Palestinians can just focus on forcing additional concessions, specifically on forcing the withdrawal of the IDF and the settlers because on the ground the territory ceases to be politically disputed (because, again, despite international opinion on the matter, on the ground at the moment control over territory is very much being disputed). Palestinian violence against the IDF and settlers then becomes a completely pragmatic approach. Rather than being concerned with potentially losing additional territory the Palestinians can in such a situation only benefit from attacking the IDF and the settlers. I am sure the next step for the CIS would then be to write up a plan about how a withdrawal would be beneficial to Israeli security.

          The idea that the IDF will continue to control all the territory east of the wall is a transparent bluff. The idea that this would improve Israeli security is also a bluff. This is a left-wing political document dressed up in the guise of being about security, yet strangely, it doesn’t bother to consider any possible security implications. It offers ideas for security, some of which I agree with (finishing the fence, keeping out infiltrators) and which are not intuitively related to the rest of the plan, but overall it is just a list of Israeli concessions.

          So the plan is basically a freebie to the Palestinians, with no obvious benefit to Israel. The Palestinians would also have no reason to negotiate. Why bother when the Israelis are ceding territory for free? Why make concessions when the Israelis can just be forced out of territory which they already accept they have no claims to?

          Reply to Comment
    6. i_like_ike52

      Very noble sentiments, but the problem is that in the Palestinian territories, as through the rest of the Muslim Middle East, the operative factor is that of Mao Zedong: “Power comes from the barrel of a gun”. It is the armed militias that control things, not well-meaning people like these women.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Lindsay cox

      Tell me what we can do in France to support you.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Carmen

      the only armed militias in palestine are the illegal settlements and their squatters and I would say that they are dangerous and an obstruction to peace. ‘never underestimate the power of a woman’.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Ketty Wadia

      I think that it is wonderful that the women of Israel and Palestine have come together to stand strong against violence and injustice and want to live in Peace with each other. The country has to unite under a “PEACE NOW” banner with “JUSTICE FOR THE PALESTINIANS”. This land grab policy has to end. The refugees need to return to their homes and their lands that have been so wilfully and purposefully destroyed. Compensation has to be given to them although it is hard to find monetary compensation for psychological trauma and the loss of innocent lives. Pressure has to be put on the government by way of sitdowns, hunger strikes, boycotts.
      And the main thing is stop ARMS from being poured into Israel by America. American Politics is to Divide and Rule and they must be told to stop interfering with Governments of other countries. BOYCOTT AMERICA from your Government Riman and see the difference.
      Get united in your determination for Peace.

      Reply to Comment
    10. I want to join I cook
      For peace all over the worrld

      Reply to Comment

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