Hope Keeps Us Warm / by Sophie Schor

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Originally published by The Jerusalem Post,  online here.

SOPHIE SCHOR 11/03/2016

It was hot, 32 degrees, yet the warmth I felt was coming not from the desert heat, but rather from the company I was with. I was surrounded by thousands of women clapping in unison. Hope rose in waves around us.

Women Wage Peace, an Israeli women’s peace movement founded in November 2014, organized a massive event called the March of Hope, in which, for three weeks, women marched throughout the country demanding a return to diplomatic negotiations and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Beginning this Succot in Rosh Hanikra near the Lebanese border, 20 women walked 250 km. to Jerusalem. En route to the capital, they met with different communities and organized solidarity marches, and they were joined by hundreds of people for different legs of the journey. The march culminated on October 19 as thousands of women wearing white wound their way through the streets of Jerusalem from the Supreme Court to the Prime Minister’s Residence.

The organizers claim that the crowd reached 20,000 people.

Women Wage Peace was founded two years ago, after the 2014 war in Gaza.

Women from around Israel organized around the belief that the cycle of violence must end. The organizers claimed that women’s voices are valuable, but ignored. They believe women should be included in diplomatic negotiations.

They believe women possess the power to transform a deadlocked conflict into one that can be resolved, and seek to reconnect fractured groups in Israeli society by connecting women to each other based on communal female experiences.

The one thing they highlight again and again is that everyone wants the same thing: peace.

In their attempt to unite Israeli society over this topic the group does not provide any specific details of what “peace” might entail, which some may target as a weakness.

I originally had my reservations about this movement: I had doubts concerning their a-politicism, as everything here is political and the lack of a defined solution seemed impractical.

However, the ambiguity is working.

In the past two years, more than 10,000 women from around the country have joined the movement. On the morning of October 19, I joined as well.

The morning of the march, I stumbled bleary-eyed at 7 a.m. to the bus to head to the Dead Sea. The joy was contagious as we made our way through the South. We snaked through back roads and were flagged down by ladies in white standing at junctions waiting to board. Women from the entire country were gathering, from Eilat to Umm el-Fahm. When we arrived, there were buses as far as the eye could see. Women disembarked and joined the ever-growing crowd, being welcomed in Arabic, Hebrew and English: “From Nablus! From Tel Aviv! From Ramallah! From Jerusalem! From Haifa! From Kalkilya! From Eilat! From Afula! From Hebron! From Ashkelon! From Jenin!” shouted the organizers. “Welcome!” The choice of location was important: Qasr el-Yahud is a pilgrimage site holy to the three monotheistic religions, but it is located in Area C, so both Palestinians from the West Bank and Israelis can go there. It is one of the rare spaces where a meeting like this could take place.

The event itself was even more unusual: 4,000 Israeli and Palestinian women marching next to the Jordan River.

The energy was palpable as Leymeh Gbowee mounted the stage. Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Laureate and leader of the women’s peace movement in Liberia that succeeded in ending her country’s civil war, has joined forces in solidarity with WWP. She stood there as a symbol of what could be achieved. She started chanting with the crowd: “When I say women, you say: peace! When I say peace, you say: Yes! When I say war, you say: No!” The scene was magical as we marched beside the river – thousands of women in white walking in the desert as far as the eye could see: women wearing hijabs, women wearing high heels, women with kids on their shoulders, older women carrying canes and portable chairs to sit on, young women linking arms and singing, teenagers snapping selfies. That morning was a loud declaration: there is a partner for peace.

The march continued that afternoon in Jerusalem. We began next to the Supreme Court, waved to the Knesset, blocked intersections, and as far as the eye could see, there was a wave of white.

At one point I looked back at the crowd; there was no end in sight. Women around me held tambourines, banged on drums, began chanting, created new lyrics to old peace songs. WWP has done the unimaginable: they have brought back the word “peace” to Israeli society.

The event was an affirmation that there are women from both sides who are willing to meet, march, stand together and find a solution. Hope was the word of the day.

However, their work is not over. Since the march, the women have been sitting in a succa in front of the prime minister’s house. On October 31, I marched with them from their succa to the Knesset.

Hundreds of women stood outside the Knesset during the opening of the winter session, singing songs of peace and coaxing representatives to come out and join them.

The women have organized shifts to be present inside and outside the Knesset to pressure the government to put negotiations with Palestinians on the political agenda. Now, while the winter cold is starting to creep in, hope is keeping me warm. 

The writer is the editorial coordinator of the Journal of Levantine Studies at Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. She previously completed her MA at Hebrew University of Jerusalem with her research focused on Women Wage Peace. She can be found at www.sophieschor.com.