By Ruth Eglash, October 19, 2016, published in the Washington Post


 Two weeks ago, a small group of Israeli women set off on a protest march to Jerusalem from northern Israel to demand that the Israeli government restart a peace process with the Palestinians.

On Wednesday, after reaching the Palestinian city of Jericho in the West Bank, the core group of 20 women were joined by more than 3,000 others, including about 1,000 Palestinian women.

Although most of the Palestinians could not proceed beyond the barrier that separates the West Bank from Israel, the Israeli women headed for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s formal residence, where they held an emotional rally.

The group, which calls itself Women Wage Peace, is made up of women from across the political spectrum and the religious divide. At the rally, many held banners reading, “Right, Center and Left are all calling for an agreement, Women Wage Peace.”

“We are not an organization; we are a movement. We have defined goals, and when we reach those goals we will disband,” said Marie-Lyne Smadja, a co-founder of the group. “From history we have seen that when women are involved in resolving conflicts, there was much more success.”

Organizers of the group points to U.N. Resolution 1325, which “urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts.” They say that it worked in Northern Ireland and in Liberia.

[Most Palestinians still blame Britain for the Israeli occupation, poll finds]

The movement was founded two years ago after the Gaza war, when many Israeli mothers had to send their sons to fight.

Vardit Kaplan, who serves as the movement’s spokeswoman, said that more than 10,000 women have registered with the group. And, she said, they have been building connections with Palestinian women, some of whom joined the march to Jerusalem.

“I came because I want to see a peace agreement with the Palestinians,” said Tanya Harkavi, who is from the city of Kfar Saba, near Tel Aviv.

Harkavi, a mother and a grandmother, said that women are better positioned to solve disputes because of their roles within the family and that it was time they become involved in the dispute with the Palestinians, too.

“Two years ago, my son was in the army; he fought in the Gaza war. I decided then that I did not want to launder army uniforms anymore. I want peace,” said Miki Rom, who also lives near Tel Aviv.

Activists with Women Wage Peace take part in a march at the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site near Jericho on Oct. 19. (Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

People demonstrate in support of peace near Jericho on Oct. 19. (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

One of the rally’s key speakers was Michal Froman, a religious Jew from the Israeli settlement of Tekoa. She was stabbed this past January at a clothing store by a Palestinian teenager from a nearby village. Froman, the daughter-in-law of the well-known peace activist Rabbi Menachem Froman, was three months pregnant at the time.

“It was important for me to speak here because I want people to know that the settlements are not preventing peace. I think the opposite: that peace will come from the settlements,” said Froman, who brought her 4-month-old daughter to the rally.

Olfat Haider, an Arab Israeli from Haifa, was among the group that walked from the north of Israel to Jerusalem. She said she believes that “Jews and Arabs can live together, and must live together.”

“It’s time to hear some women’s voices. Women can talk to each other, they don’t fight with their egos,” she said.

Each speaker at the rally received rapturous applause. But for many in Israel, such gatherings come with a degree of hopelessness, not only because the momentum for peace has all but disappeared, but also because many do not believe that there is a negotiating partner on the other side.

Since peace efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry failed more than two years ago, there has been little attempt by either side to return to talks.

Among the speakers was Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. After two days in Israel, walking with Jewish and Palestinian women, she said she believed that there were partners for peace on both sides and that finding a solution was possible.

“I say to my sisters in Israel, that this is your time to stand up and say no to war and yes to peace,” said Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. “When you stand firm for what you believe, the men with guns are afraid of you.”