After the March of Hope

Hamutal Gouri (Executive Director of the Dafna Fund) Image
Hamutal Gouri (Executive Director of the Dafna Fund)
on November 2, 2016

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Motherhood is not only the act of bearing and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations.

I spoke these words at an event organized by Women Wage Peace in Qasr el Yahud, on the western bank of the Jordan River near Jericho, on October 19th, as part of the March of Hope.

It was an historic event: For the first in a very long time, thousands of Jewish and Palestinian women from Israel and the Palestinian Territory met and marched together to demand a peace agreement in our region.

It was also a political event: a clear and resounding statement by women who are tired of war and bloodshed, who have had enough of being excluded from discourse and action for peace and security.

At the ceremony, as we were getting ready to march to the sounds of drums and joint singing, I could feel the excitement in the air. Months of preparation and hard work culminated in this watershed moment. Holding and being held by other women, supporting one another, I marched knowing that we are finally going to change the status quo.

Huda Abuarqoub, Regional Director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), and I were the MCs of the ceremony. As we took the stage, four thousand women – three thousand of them Israelis and one thousand of them Palestinians – surrounded us. I heard Huda’s voice resonating in the desert: “Women of the world, today is our day!”

I continue to cherish these moments as I return to my daily routine as Executive Director of the Dafna Fund – Israel’s first and only feminist fund. Thoughts of womanhood, leadership and agency linger in my mind.

As a feminist activist and professional, I am well aware that the discourse on the qualities of motherhood is a slippery slope towards essentialism, toward the quicksand of social constructs of “femininity” and “masculinity” that do injustice to all genders. Yet I feel compelled to claim for  motherhood a position of moral leadership in the political discourse on peace and security.

Society tends to perceive motherhood as a personal and intimate role that belongs to the private realm of the family. We have been led to believe that the tender care and containment essential to raising children are appropriate for “feminine,” caring professions but less so for executive positions of management and leadership that require firmness, decisiveness and determination. The “soft” qualities and skills that are vital for raising families and managing relationships are often shunned as unwelcome or irrelevant guests in the boardroom.

History, however, shows that in cases where political leaders on both sides of a conflict choose the path of ever-increasing aggression it only leads to more violence and bloodshed, loss and grief. On the other hand, when leaders choose a different path, when they reach out and shake the hand of the enemy, they change history. The willingness to make painful concessions and let go of past grievances has already led to breakthroughs in the relationship between people and countries in the Middle East and around the world. Some of those leaders paid with their life for their courage. Their political adversaries made their peace-seeking stance look like an act of weakness. However, the images of Menachem Begin and Anwar a-Sadat, of Yitzchak Rabin and King Hussein shaking hands are engraved in our collective memory. Those images remind us that peace agreements are possible.

The world we live in is harsh and complicated; it contains too much injustice and violence, too much cruelty and misery. Our world lacks compassion and healing, forgiveness and reconciliation. The world we live in needs us to see every person in front of us in her or his full humanity; it needs us to raise our voices when we perceive acts committed against humanity.

“I see your humanity; do you see mine?” asked Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Liberia who came to Israel for the March of Hope as a special guest of Women Wage Peace. She told us that awakening hope in hearts that have lost so much to conflict and war is a huge responsibility.  “Do not get into it if you are not serious”, she said.

We are serious. As serious as the giants who paved the way for women as equal and engaged agents of change. As serious as the giants who fought for women’s voting rights; as serious as the giants who fought and are fighting for gender, social and racial justice and for human rights. We are serious and we will not stop until there is a peace agreement. We are serious about creating a new political discourse based on mutual recognition and care. We are serious about putting peace-making and peace-building at the heart of the work of our communities.

Peace is possible. We owe it to ourselves, to future generations here and to the world itself to take on the spiritual and ethical responsibility of creating it and nurturing it.