To Go Wide or Deep – Women’s Peace Work
PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 31 Aug 2015
27 Aug 2015 – This posting has five items:
- Haaretz: Hungering for Peace, Women’s Movement Launches Protest Fast;
- Social TV: WATCH: Israeli, Palestinian women ‘fast for peace’, here the women insist you have to be political and talk about Occupation and Palestinians ;
- +972: Why I joined Israeli women fasting for peace, and why I almost quit, Shoshana London Sappir asks the difficult questions about how political can or should a pressure group be;
- Times of Israel: With phased hunger strike, Israeli women urge new attempt at peacemaking,history given, questions raised – e.g. are women better at making peace because they -often mothers – have more empathy?;
- About Women Wage Peace, from their website
Women Wage Peace started 50-day vigil outside prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Wednesday, marking anniversary of last summer’s Gaza war.
Eetta Prince-Gibson, Haaretz
July 12, 2015
Nearly 60 women from the Women Wage Peace movement held a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony Friday night outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, as part of a 50-day fast to mark the anniversary of last summer’s Gaza war.
The fast vigil started last Wednesday, and calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government to advance peace talks with the Palestinians.
The movement was founded last year in the wake of Operation Protective Edge and was formally established as a nonprofit organization this April. Loosely organized, primarily through social media, the group has more than 12,000 “Likes” on its Facebook page.
According to retired judge Saviona Rotlevi – an internationally regarded expert on children’s and women’s rights, and one of the group’s founders – it is nonpartisan and includes Jews and Arabs, religious and secular women, and is funded by small kind donations.
“We have no intent to form a party or topple the government,” Rotlevi said at the fast. “Our only objective is to convince people there is no alternative to a peace agreement.”
More than two dozen women have already fasted. According to the plan, several women will start to fast every day, for between 24 and 50 hours, drinking only water while sitting under an open tent and engaging passersby in discussions regarding their demand for peace initiatives. The vigil is set to continue until August 26. Due to municipal regulations, the organization is not allowed to maintain its presence after 11 P.M. or over the Sabbath.
As part of the campaign, Women Wage Peace sent a letter to Netanyahu. “In the next few days we will become neighbors,” the letter stated. “You will see us each and every time you leave your home or return, sitting on the corner, day and night … We call on you to return to negotiations and reach a political solution, in order to prevent the next war.”
A similar letter has been sent to all Knesset members. The organizers also tried to deliver a letter to the prime minister’s wife, Sara, along with flowers for the Sabbath, but were rebuffed by guards at the entrance to the compound.
The women have chosen to fast, Rotlevi explained, because “fasting is meaningful in every culture, and is specifically important to both Jews and Arabs. Fasting is a deep, emotional statement of self-restraint, determination and introspection. It is a sign of strength, a reminder of what is truly necessary.”
Most of the women wore the organization’s white T-shirts with the distinctive turquoise and black “Women Wage Peace” logo in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The fasting women wore small, turquoise signs around their necks.
Said Yael Admi is a 57-year-old software engineer from Even Yehuda. “I fasted because it’s a meaningful way to show restraint and strength, and that’s how the State of Israel should be conducting itself,” she said. “My brother was killed in the military 45 years ago. I promised my parents that I would bring many children into the world, and would do all I could so children would not die in unnecessary wars.”
Friday’s brief ceremony included the traditional blessings of candles, wine and challah, plus singing. Tzippi Levin-Biran, who described herself as a secular rabbi, gave a discourse on the portion of the week, Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), which describes both acts of zealotry and the dignified request by the five daughters of Zelophehad to be granted rights of inheritance.
“This portion challenges us to find ourselves between extremism, zealotry and ways of peace,” said Levin-Biran, from central Israel. “Is violence really the only way? Must we always draw our swords? The portion teaches us we have enough inner strength to restrain ourselves and to engage in dialogue without fear of losing ourselves.”
As the ceremony ended, Ruthie Bar Sinai, a 64-year-old education professional from Jerusalem, sipped a glass of water and nibbled a piece of challah to break her 40-hour fast. “I’m not fooling myself that we’ll have peace tomorrow,” she said. “But we have to try – even if we can’t see any solution right now. By talking, by pushing and restraining ourselves – we will find a solution.”
Rotlevi added that Women Wage Peace “seeks to harness the special strengths that women bring. Women bring a voice that is different from men and speak in a less militaristic discourse. Women know how to work in circles, without hierarchies, and so they can find solutions that men sometimes cannot see.”
Rotlevi acknowledged that, as a former judge, the transition to public activity has been difficult for her. “But I realized I cannot sit at home. For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I must do everything I can to prevent the next war. I will not accept that, as women, our sole role is to bring children into the world but then have nothing to say about their lives.”
The organizers were careful to end their activities by 6 P.M., in compliance with municipal regulations. They also informed participants and passersby that they will be returning on Sunday morning. On Monday evening they will screen “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a film about the women’s peace movement in Liberia.
“All over the world, women have found solutions to problems that men could not solve,” concluded Admi. “We, Arab and Jewish women, can do it, too. I know it doesn’t seem like there’s a solution now – but there’s always a solution, if we’re willing to search for it.”
By Social TV / +972
August 27, 2015
To mark the anniversary of last summer’s Gaza war, a group of Jewish and Palestinian women from the “Women Wage Peace” movement launched a “protest fast” in a tent outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The women have been criticized for choosing to present themselves as part of a political movement. However, the group believes that one cannot talk about “peace” without occupation, and cannot demand peace negotiations without recognizing the right of another nation to live here.
Can a peace group be apolitical? Could I be part of a movement that tries to be? Twenty-five hours of fasting and frustration.
By Shoshana London Sappir, +972
July 24, 2015
When I was asked to join a communal fast on the anniversary of the July 2014 Gaza war, I thought it was a brilliant idea. A group of women would fast in 25- or 50-hour shifts in front of the Israeli Prime Minister’s Residence for 50 days, coinciding with timing of the 50-day conflict last year, and demanding the government pursue peace. Women Wage Peace, the group that organized the event, gave it the catchy title of “Tzom Eitan” – a play on the official name of the Israeli military operation, “Tzuk Eitan” (“Protective Edge” in English, literally “strong cliff”), but with the word for “fast” replacing the word for “cliff.”
Having just returned from my 25-hour fast, I would like to share my experience, which was at times uplifting and at times disturbing. At times I was on the verge of quitting, going home and eating. But in the end I stuck it out till the end of my fast, and then some. I spent most of the time in conversation but also in heated arguments. I left feeling physically weak and politically confused.
The action spoke to me on many levels: I thought of it as a political protest with religious undertones. I felt in communion with Gandhi, hunger strikers in prison, and the noble tradition of nonviolent resistance. I loved that the dates coincided with the Muslim fast of Ramadan and the Jewish fast of Tisha b’Av. I signed up.
Armed with my conviction and a big sun hat, I arrived at the designated time and took my place in the protest tent, in the same location where I have attended countless demonstrations against war, occupation, racism, vandalism of churches and mosques, the government’s economic policy over the past 35 years. Over the next 25 hours, however, I would learn that the group that organized the action had very different ideas about its meaning than I did, to the point that I almost quit. But every time my doubts surfaced, so would supporters who dropped in and encouraged me to stay, expressing identification with my message and respect for my action.
Supporters came and went, some for minutes and others for hours, appropriately making the experience feel like sitting shiva. They came from all over the country and even abroad. A rabbi and a musician drove down from northern Israel to deliver a Dvar Torah and a round of We Shall Overcome in English, Arabic and Hebrew. Another woman, whom I had met doing relief work in Palestinian villages in the West Bank, also came by. An elderly friend of my mother’s who lives in the neighborhood sat with us for a bit on her way to the supermarket and then again on her way back.
But while I was getting very strong messages of support from the street, I also received strangely demoralizing messages from none other than the organizers themselves. It began with them vigorously working the phones in an attempt to bring prominent members of the political Right, even the far right, to the tent. When I asked why, they explained they wanted to broaden the movement to include all women who want peace, and were especially interested in reaching out to sectors of Israeli society that disagree with them. I’m not against that in principle but I watched the message being watered down before my eyes and saw how the effort directly diverted resources away from the goal of strengthening the movement’s base: by gaining women from the Right they risked losing women like me. And sure enough, the more I asked the organizers’ about their agenda, the less comfortable I felt.
Several people fasted and a couple of WWP representatives were in charge during each shift. I am still not sure whether the two women on my shift reflected the group’s official line or their own points of view, but for as long as I was there it was they who spoke on behalf of WWP, and we had sharp differences.
In an attempt to appeal to the broadest audience possible, they refused to take a stand on any of the core issues that define the struggle for peace as I understand it, and which is what drove me to join them: social justice, human rights, occupation, racism, equality, democracy. The most they would commit to was demanding the government “return to negotiations,” the slogan writ large on our banners, under the title of the fast. It should come as no surprise that many a passerby shouted out, “with whom?” even from moving cars. As for the war we had gathered to commemorate, the discourse was limited to our desire as Israelis to keep our loved ones out of harm’s way, but stopped at recognition of the destruction we had wrought on the Palestinian side.
When visitors from the public or the press asked about the group, I was dismayed to hear WWP people repeatedly describe it as an apolitical women’s movement and emphasize that it was “not leftist.” “God forbid” was not as much said as implied. I asked them, as a leftist, where that left me. Again I was told it was a movement for all women who want peace. I was shocked by how casually they distanced themselves from the Left and adopted a rhetoric that has fueled a campaign of delegitimization and jeopardized the safety of leftist activists.
The low point for me was when the organizers invited the wife of one of the heads of Elad, an organization dedicated to evicting Palestinians from their homes and replacing them with Jews, to join us for a dialogue. Their line of thinking, they explained to me, was that we can find common ground with other women in the desire for peace even if we do not agree on the details. My thinking was that such a group represented a dangerous ideology we should confront head on, not try to engage.
Just as I was on the verge of walking out, along came Rachel Elior, a popular professor of Jewish thought, and an active anti-racism campaigner. I asked what she thought of the organizers courting the far right. She was surprised to hear and couldn’t see how that contributed to the cause of pressuring the government to pursue peace. She thought those groups’ world view was far too contradictory to our cause to be helpful. Because Rachel was there, I stayed and sat next to her in the circle we had formulated in the tent when the Elad lady came. Before I could get into any argument with her, however, A. interrupted me: “That is not what we are here for.” I thought it was. If we were to use this opportunity to enlist this woman to support peace, it seemed reasonable to me to try to discuss the impact of her actions on Palestinians.
A discussion ensued in which the organizers spoke about being a movement for women of all persuasions united around the wish for peace. Rachel pointed out that every normal human being wishes for peace; the question is on what terms. As an expert on Jewish history, she added, she knows in all the excruciating details how our people suffered under foreign rule, and she could not accept us doing the same to others. Before she left Rachel turned to me and said: despite your misgivings, your being here is important and meaningful. It makes a difference. Please don’t give up, stay the course.
So I did.
As time passed the atmosphere became increasingly social and I discovered personal connections with all of the people with whom I had been arguing. We were all too interconnected to be antagonistic. At the end of the day, despite serious misgivings, I decided there was value in sticking it out.
Two of my co-fasters slept over at my house and made it into a sort of slumber party without food. In the morning all three of us felt quite weak but we were only supposed to fast until 11 a.m. One of my friends spent the whole morning laying on the ground in the tent face down.
A religious Jew in full gear sat down with us. He identified himself as Moshe, a far-right-leaning former student of Rabbi Goren and the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva – ground zero of the settlement movement. Our visitor said: “The Torah is the most important thing in my life, and peace is the most important thing in the Torah, so of course peace is the most important thing for me. As a religious Jew I cannot agree with your fasting, because Judaism frowns on fasting outside of the religiously prescribed days. Nor do I agree with your politics at all. However, I am personally so moved and impressed by the fact that you are fasting that I had to come and hear what you had to say.” Moshe went on to express to his objections (“Who are we going to make peace with?” “They all hate us”), but before he left my friend got him to recite out loud with her, from a written page in Hebrew and Aramaic, “The Prayer for Peace.” It was moment of unity on a human level, but did it have political value?
In the last hour of my 25-hour fast, Prof. Charlie Greenbaum, an octogenarian activist for children’s rights, came to show his support and talked to us about the power of fasting from the perspective of social psychology, his field of expertise: From the faster’s point of view, the experience of hardship and suffering increases the sufferer’s commitment to their cause. From the point of view of the public witnessing the fast, the sight of someone willing to make a sacrifice for their cause elicits deep respect and gets people’s attention. Thus, people like Moshe. This opened a discussion about why we were fasting, and I learned that many of the eight or so women who were fasting together at that point felt they were making a radical statement of protest and identification with the suffering of all sides in the conflict.
Through all the ups and downs, I observed just how deep the gulf is between the rhetoric of the movement’s representatives and its rank and file. Movements like Women Waging Peace could be much more effective if they accept that taking a clear stand on the issues will inevitably involve conflict.
On the way home I felt lightheaded and asked the taxi driver if he had any water. He apologized that he didn’t as he was fasting for Ramadan. I told him that I was fasting too and asked if he had seen the protest. We talked about fasting, breaking fasts and protests, and when we got to my house he did not want to take any money, “because you fasted and protested for peace.” I insisted on shoving my money into his clenched hand and wished him: Sawmak makbul, may your fast be well-received.
A symbolic 50-day fast being held outside the Prime Minister’s Residence is a counterpoint to last summer’s 50-day war with Hamas
By Eric Cortelessa, Times of Israel
August 08, 2015
Enduring the summer heat, a group of women from across the country are camped outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. Their aim: to implore Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to renew peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Organized by Women Wage Peace, a grassroots organization established nearly a year ago, the women have embarked on a symbolic 50-day fast. Each participant is fasting 50 hours at some point during the period of the demonstration, which began July 8 and runs to August 26, the same dates as 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.
The women have set up a tent on Azza Street, around the corner from the Prime Minister’s Residence, both to guard them from the sun and to provide a safe space where women can discuss how best to end the conflict.
The last round of negotiations, brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry, collapsed in April 2014 after nine months in which Israeli and Palestinian negotiators attempted to deliver a framework agreement of a final status peace treaty.
Shortly after the talks fell through, a series of violent acts — the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas members, followed by the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish extremists — erupted into the 50-day Operation Protective Edge.
While last summer’s military operation caused devastation among Israelis and Palestinians, Women Wage Peace is hoping that this summer’s Operation Protective Fast will begin a healing process.
“We are demanding that leaders end the bloodshed in the region,” Lilian Weisberger, a member of the group, told The Times of Israel. “As mothers, we say, ‘It’s enough.’ We need to speak up because we are worried about future generations, and we don’t have the privilege of giving up.”
For Weisberger, 54, the fast is both political and personal. “One of my sons participated in the Gaza war, and that was a horrible time for me. I was feeling a lot of despair and fear,” she said, holding up a sign that stated “I am fasting” in Hebrew.
Weisberger isn’t an anomaly among the members of Women Wage Peace; many are there because they have children serving in the Israel Defence Forces.
Hadar Kluger, an organizational committee chair for Women Wage Peace, has a son and daughter currently enlisted. Her son is a pilot and her daughter is an IDF officer stationed close to the Gaza border.
“That situation is what influences me [to be here],” the 49-year-old Haifa resident told The Times of Israel. “I know that there is a possibility that they will have to fight another war. So I’m afraid for them.”
Women Wage Peace was founded in the wake of Operation Protective Edge. The NGO says its mission is to influence “politicians and opinion makers to work vigilantly towards achieving a political agreement” and “to give women leadership roles in planning, decision making and negotiation process centers, in order to reach an agreement.”
Marie-Lyne Smadja, one of the organization’s founders, emphasized that women bring a level of empathy to the table that will be necessary for Israelis and Palestinians to reach some form of accommodation; she also tried to counter claims that the group’s orientation was clouded by naivete.
“We recognize that it will be very difficult and that Israel does face a lot of challenges to reach a peace agreement, but it is also our position that it is in Israel’s overwhelming interest to always be trying to achieve peace with its neighbors by talking, empathizing and engaging in serious negotiations,” she said.
Acknowledging the murderous track record and extremist religious imperative motivating organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, Smadja said there were no easy solutions, but insisted that Israel “can’t afford to wait for the perfect circumstances.”
Since its inception, the group has grown rapidly and now has more than 7,000 registered members and 12,000 followers on Facebook. It relies on crowdfunding in addition to private donations.
“Financial growth is very important for us, because it allows us to expand our reach and consequently recruit more diverse women interested in promoting peace,” Kluger said. “Not everyone here has children in the army. Some are just interested in ending violence between Arabs and Jews.”
Because of Israel’s compulsory military service, however, most of the mothers in Women Wage Peace do have the experience of fearing for their children’s fate in the face of combat. Dena Maltinsky, 66, is participating in Operation Protective Fast ten years after her two children served during the Second Intifada.
“As a result of last summer — of the horrible memories and horrors of last summer — I felt quite strongly that something needs to be done now,” she said. “We cannot wait. We need to start talking [with the Palestinians] so that we solve this terrible situation between us. Because when you’re talking, you’re not shooting.”
Sometimes passersby argue with them about the protest. Maltinsky views the exchanges as healthy even when they’re noxious. “Sometimes it’s painful, but I also believe that it is necessary,” she said.
Meanwhile, the symbolic fast contains another layer of metaphorical significance for some of the women there.
“I believe that fasting is an action that helps us really be present,” said Noga Tsvi in the final hours of her own fasting stint. “Doing things of routine — like eating — makes us forget. We need to remember.”
Smadja had a similar feeling: “The fast is a form of meditation. It is also a way to think about the past in the hope of improving our future.”
Women Wage Peace works to bring about a viable peace Agreement. We will place the option of a political resolution at the top of the public agenda, as it is the only outcome that offers life and hope. A new and different reality in the Middle East is feasible, and we must strive for it. We have therefore decided to initiate, mobilize and propose an alternative. The last round of violence has made it clear to all that we must break out of the spiral. Whether Left or Right-wing, religious or secular, Arab or Jewish, we want to live in a society characterized by normality, prosperity and human rights. All of us wish to lead a sane and balanced existence.
The movement will operate to enlarge the peace-seeking public interested in a long-term understanding between Israel, the Palestinians and other states in the region. Simultaneously, we will continuously engage decision makers and demand a change in priorities, giving a negotiated agreement preference over military and security-based approaches. Wish to bring We together all the women’s Initiatives in order to create as broad a base of Influence as Possible.
Join us. Spread the word. Influence change.
Jews for Justice for Palestinians is a network of Jews who are British or live in Britain, practising and secular, Zionist and not. We oppose Israeli policies that undermine the livelihoods, human, civil and political rights of the Palestinian people. We support the right of Israelis to live in freedom and security within Israel’s 1967 borders. We work to build world-wide Jewish opposition to the Israeli Occupation, with like-minded groups around the world and are a founding member of European Jews for a Just Peace, a federation of Jewish groups in ten European countries.
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