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When the “red alert” sounds, people in my community have up to 15 seconds to make it to a shelter or safe room. I live in Kibbutz Beeri, 2.8 miles from the border with Gaza.
We are lucky. People in neighboring communities closer to Gaza have even less time.
For all of us, an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential imperative. Still, I am one of only a few women in the western Negev who has become active in the over ten thousand strong grassroots movement Women Wage Peace. Most residents in our area have sunk into despair, become cynical or tried to bury their heads in the sand.
Why is that?
Following the three wars with Gaza in the past eight years and coming on the heels of decades of continued bloodshed, too many Israelis have come to believe that we are destined to live by the sword and that there is no hope. They believe that we have no partner and that the Arabs won’t give up the struggle until Israel disappears. Many think that those who believe otherwise are naïve at best or traitors at worst.
The fact is that the peace movement has very little to show for its work over the past five decades. And I am writing as a loyal member of that movement. I have lived in Israel since 1974, having made aliyah in the first Habonim garin (group) to resettle Kibbutz Gezer. I remember demonstrating in New York in the early 70’s against the Alon plan that advocated keeping some of the territory in the West Bank. I then belonged to many protest groups – too many to enumerate here – and participated in countless peace demonstrations over my past 42 years in Israel.
Truth be told: We have failed miserably.
Following the last Gaza war in the summer of 2014 (Operation Protective Edge), I heard about women organizing around a new movement with an entirely different strategy. Women Wage Peace was established with one goal in mind: to pressure our government to reach a mutually acceptable diplomatic agreement with the Palestinians to end the conflict. And there was a critical addendum: Women are to be active players in all negotiations as stipulated in UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to which Israel is a signatory.
This is not just another protest movement. Rather it is a single-issue movement that is intentionally not promoting any specific peace plan . We are not using language that will prevent Israelis with varying political opinions from joining our call. We are not set on bringing down the government. An end to the conflict is in the interests of all – right, left, center; Israeli and Palestinian.
To be effective, we must show that we represent a critical mass of people. Over the past two years, by being a pragmatic movement focused on one issue, we have very deliberately sought out women across traditional dividing lines: political, religious, ethnic, social and geographic. We have been painstaking in our fieldwork, with our national, regional and local actions and the careful language we use to talk about the conflict.
We have active members in our movement from the settlements, development towns, Orthodox and secular Jews, Arabs, Druze, women from as far north as the Lebanese border and as far south as Eilat. We numbered over 10,000 members before these High Holidays and had over 23,000 supporters on Facebook. Over 20,000 (!) women and men participated in our inspiring two-week March of Hope that culminated on October 19th in Jerusalem. That morning, 1000 Palestinian women joined us near Jericho, showing support for our call to end the conflict through diplomacy and demonstrating that we do have partners on the other side.
While it was also heartwarming to see the tens of solidarity events held around the world in support of our march and its message, we understand that we must focus on garnering the support of the masses here in Israel. Those are the numbers that are going to count. Fortunately, the media is starting to pay attention to us, which will help boost those numbers.
The next step is to engage with the government. While continuing to build support on the ground, we will simultaneously be meeting with Knesset members and ministers. We have formulated legislative demands, which we will share with the public once they are formally submitted.
Am I optimistic? Cautiously, yes. Almost exactly two years ago I turned 65, officially retired and became a grandmother for the first time. I decided then that attending yet another protest demonstration with tens or even hundreds was having no impact. So I have chosen to join forces with a movement that has a chance to move the needle.
We in Israel need to be convinced that the long-standing paradigm that suggests that war is the only way to peace has to be replaced by the understanding that a mutually accepted diplomatic agreement is the only way we will reach security in this region. Women Wage Peace has undertaken this mission.