PREPARATIONS FOR THE JOURNEY
Women all over the country were involved in preparations for the Journey and the special events in each region. The Journey that had moved from place to place reflects the fact that WWP is a grassroots movement with activists in each and every region of Israel. On the eve of the Jewish New Year an exhibit of works of art by well-known artists was opened in the Tel Aviv Sommer Gallery; the colorful Peace Van which accompanied us throughout the Journey was prepared; interviews were given to radio and newspapers journalists; a declaration of intentions – a Call for Peace was written and a booklet of texts about peace and reconciliation was prepared. A local campaign to raise money for the project succeeded to raise all the target sum within two weeks! We received support from many groups and individuals abroad such as Danny Glover and Helen Mirren. A Chinese singer decided to come to Israel in order to participate in the events……and more.
FIRST WEEK – WE TURNED SOUTH AND MET WITH DIVERSE COMMUNITIES
September 24th – First steps in the western Negev – the area bordering Gaza
At the opening ceremony in Sderot we called for peace and a political agreement. Vivian Silver said: When we hear the word arms and think about parents hugging their children; when a shot refers only to a drink at the bar; when a shell refers only to a turtle; when an exercise is only what we do at the gym and patrols are children stopping traffic at crosswalks then we will know that peace is really here.” Several public figures also spoke at the ceremony.
Then, crossing the rope bridge to Kibbutz Tzeelim for a rally, public figures and Knesset members took part and spoke to us.
Ahlama Peretz spoke about the need to bring the word PEACE back into our vocabulary. She said that our role in the peace-making is driven from our commitment to our grandchildren.
Gadi Yarkoni, head of the Eshkol Regional Council, who was wounded and lost both his legs in Operation Protective Edge added: It’s time to change reality; it’s time for a long term political agreement that prevents the next war and ensures hope. Women Wage Peace offers another kind of discourse and I ask our leaders to listen to them. Why is it so hard to believe in the possibility of peace? We cannot allow despair to take over. Our role is to spread hope and wage peace between us and our neighbors.
MK (member of the Knesset) Amir Peretz: Whenever women take on responsibility, they are committed, militant and determined. I believe that Women Wage Peace will not give up. Some say that US President didn’t mention the Palestinians in his UN address; even if he didn’t, they are still here. We have to reach an agreement that builds a new reality for our children and theirs.
MK Yehuda Glick: “We have so much to contribute. We want to connect to your actions. This year will be a year of getting to know one another and appreciate each other. I have no doubt that peace is closer than what people think.”
One of the issues raised by many of the speakers, all of whom are residents of the region, is the deplorable humanitarian situation in Gaza and the need to improve those conditions. Haim Yellin: The conflict with our neighbors is a human conflict; if the citizens of Gaza are stronger, there will be less terror. We can win this war without shooting another bullet by strengthening the citizens of Gaza. If Israelis wish to live a better life, the Gazans also have to live a better life. Sigal Moran, Head of Bnei Shimon regional council: The most dangerous people are those who have nothing to lose.
Alon Shuster, head of Sha’ar Hanegev regional council: We cannot abide a situation where we ignore what is happening around us. The first step is to understand that the majority of the Palestinians want peace. In order to live in peace we must acknowledge that a human being is a human being. Here, in this border with Gaza region, people understand what life is like during wars and during emergencies. Children here live in a reality of rocket fire, of sirens and of the threat of the tunnels. But, across the border there are also children who are exposed to the same dangers and fears.
Dov Hanin, MK: I’m moved to be here for the beginning of the Journey”. This region has been associated with war, fear and threats for the past few years. Thick clouds and darkness threaten us but instead of cursing the darkness, it’s better to turn on the light. This is what Women Wage Peace is doing – lighting the light of hope for Jews and Arabs. A tiny light can get rid of the darkness. Women Wage Peace is a tiny light that is growing.
September 25th – Yeruham and an isolated Bedouin Village
On the second day of the journey we reached Yeruham, a developing town in the Negev, and marched to Hagar’s Well where we met Elana Biton, a local activist and the mayor’s wife: Go to the source of water; from there you can grow. “For you shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace” (Isaiah). Peace is present, peace is accessible and peace is possible. You just have to open your eyes.
On the way we saw sea squill flowers; Hagit Lavi told us that these flowers signify trust and hope; they don’t wait for the rain; they know the rains will come. Just like us – Peace will come because there is no other way. When General Amram Mitzna, previous mayor of Yeruham, tells us that Israel’s security depends on peace and reconciliation, we walk on feeling strengthened.
In the Bedouin village Rahma, we were hosted by Salima Asajira. Salima told us her story and prayed with us for peace. Debby Golan from Atid Bamidbar (future in the desert) said that Women Wage Peace is learning about the history of forefathers and foremothers, thus follow the path of Sarah and Hagar in order to understand, influence and change reality.
September 26th – Beer Sheva and Dimona – The Main Event in the South
The third day began with the tragic news of 3 casualties in a terror attack in Har Adar, not far from Jerusalem. We considered cancelling the event, but later we decided to change parts of the program and continue with the journey. We started at Abraham’s Well in Beer-Sheva where we listened to the biblical stories of Abraham, Hagar, Sarah, Ishmael, and Isaac in a different light. Later on, we toured the Old City of Beer Sheva which was built during the Ottoman period and further developed during the British mandate (1918-1948).
In the afternoon we held a ceremony at the Beer-Sheva train station with women who arrived by the Peace Train from all over the country. City council member Mina Kelman Hadad said that showing compassion for others can lead to more forgiveness. Donna Kirshbaum with the cello and Neta Shemesh with the flute played a musical intermezzo before we continued on to Dimona for the Main Event in the South. Dimona’s mayor, Benny Biton, along with many residents, hosted an unforgettable evening. Thank the mayor, the municipal workers, our local WWP representative, and Dimona residents who hosted us so warmly. We were amazed by the local Parkur dance troupe, met men and women who came to show their support and were honored by the support of MK Tali Ploskov.
Tami Yakira, a WWP activist, said when the ceremony was other : “When I saw the Peace Flag sewn by WIZO members flying on the municipal building and when I heard Benny Biton speak about peace belonging to everyone, and when I saw the dancing on the stage, once again I felt that magic moment when it is clear that Peace will come and maybe even soon!”
September 27th – The Bedouin Communities: Um Betin, Lakiya, Rahat
The fourth day was dedicated to our Bedouin sisters. In Um-Betin village we heard interesting personal stories, learned about the complex situation in the Bedouin communities that are already recognized by the government but still don’t have basic infrastructure. We had a fascinating meeting with young inspiring women who want to improve living conditions in their community. The visit to Embroidery in the Desert – the first Arab women’s organization in the Negev, where women told us about their desire to be trained for professions that might help their community, was inspiring. Later on we arrived in Lakiya, another Beduin town where we met enterprising, strong and wonderful women, who despite a challenging social situation, succeed in setting up small businesses. Then we moved on to Rahat for a marvelous dinner and round table discussions while Yael Deckelbaum and Mira Awad sang for us. It was an incredibly stimulating day that left us with a feeling of unity. Yes it’s possible!
September 28th – On the way to Arad we met more Bedouin women
Ghadir Hani, an Arab activist, organized this day in the Negev. In the morning we visited a center in Hura, another Beduin town, that supports small businesses. Catering Service is not small any more. It produces 9,000 meals a day for children who like ‘Mom cooking’. Camella Alhuagera told us her personal story and explained how her work as a production manager has affected her life. Then we visited a school for Autistic children where Nur Abu Shehab, a Speech therapist and Nahda Alakabi, a new member of WWP, spoke to us. The day before she wore an embroidered black dress, but overnight sewed a new dress with WWP colors (white and tourquise!). At the local library we heard about projects for empowering women in Hura. Attorney Lilach Mesner spoke about the importance of mediation and how WWP mediates from the circle of conflict to the circle of direct negotiations. MK Said al Harumi, Dr. Muhammed al Nabari, Hura mayor and Yitzhak Zivan, a volunteer in Hura social community also spoke to us.
In Arad we met an active and lively chapter of WWP whose goal is cooperation among the diverse communities of the town. Ava, Sarit Oked, Hadas Daltrof and many others came to meet us. Mayor Nisan ben Hamu explained the complicated tensions among the various old and new communities but added that Arad has also ‘sweets’ to offer. Sarit and Hagit led us on a walk through the desert to Z’man Midbar (time in the desert) inn where we had a workshop with Efrat Sar Shalom and sang again with Yael Deckelbaum.
September 29th –Yom Kippur eve – on the way to the Dead Sea
The last day in the desert was started with the sunrise over the Dead Sea while listening to the sounds of Neta Shemesh‘s playing the flute. We walked through Wadi Zohar with the guidance of Sheila Dvir and Hagit Lavi who told us about this ancient trade route. Donna Kirshbaum talked about the connection between Yom Kippur and Purim; Ulfat Heidar read a poem by Mahmud Darwish. We returned home immersed by thoughts, experiences and expectations for the next part of our Journey.
October 1st – the Dead Sea
We met at Avnat by the Dead Sea and met with 20 young women, most of them with babies. For us this was an opportunity to hear about this very special place – an military post from the 1980’s which was turned into a religious high school for dropouts with housing for the staff. The community has expanded and today both religious and secular people live in Avnat.
The meeting led to a discussion about peace, about living near Palestinian villages, about security checkpoints, and how to explain to children what a checkpoint is. Biki Deutsch : If all mothers would raise their children to non-violence, then maybe there wouldn’t be any wars. She and her friends want to meet their Palestinian neighbors. We invited our hosts to Biankini Beach to meet women from Jericho and then continued on to Kumran. We heard the story of Kumran historic community and thought about what we could learn from that period with its many sects who all believed in their uniqueness and were ready to go to war for these principles. We wondered if this is what is happening now and how WWP is trying to reach all the diverse communities in Israel, emphasizing our shared interests.
We walked to Biankini – a special beach founded by a special woman, Dina Dagan from Jerusalem. In our honor, Dina invited her Palestinian friends as well as a troupe from Jericho to meet us while we invited women from the Dead Sea communities. We spent the evening dancing and singing with women from all these communities and shared dinner at the Biankini restaurant.
October 1st – Karameh, Ali’s Place near Gush Etzion Intersection
Another group of about 200 women – Israelis and Palestinians from Bethlehem and Hebron met at Ali’s Place. Orna Ashkenazi and Julette read poems of peace in both languages and Mira Ilabouni sang: We won’t wait for the next war; we will continue meeting until peace comes.
Ali abu Awad, our host, told us about his family and how as a child he threw stones at Israeli soldiers and spent time in jail. After his brother’ was shot dead at the checkpoint at the entrance to their village, Ali became a peace activist, joined the Bereavement Circle and now preaches non-violence. Abu Awad established the Karameh Center on his family’s land in the middle of Gush Etzion. Men know how to wage war; women know how to wage peace… We are not involved in the question of who own this land; it doesn’t belong to anyone; we belong to the land; peace is not about being the same but in creating equality. Dialogue is possible only among equals. He thanked the Palestinian women who came to the event and said that he is trying to bring hundreds of Palestinian women to the Main Event on October 8th.
Leah Migdal sang; Talia and Madeleine from the Young Women’s Chapter spoke. When Neta Shemesh played her flute, Hussein joined her on his violin. Yael Admi and Huda abu Arqoub spoke about activities for peace on both sides; Lara, Huda’s sister said that her concern for her children’s safety led her to work towards peace; Yara, Lana’s daughter spoke in fluent English about equality and freedom. Lana sang in Arabic: “When a rainbow appears, I’ll know that this is the time for peace, Inshallah”. We all sang the Prayer of the Mothers with Leah Migdal, Ronit Shefi and Mira Ilabouni.
SECOND WEEK IN THE NORTH: GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY, CARMEL SHORE
October 2nd – The Journey to Peace goes North to Hatzor and Tiberias
Yael Admi: We began our 8th day at the colorful market of Hatzor, a development town in the Galilee. A market that allows for human, feminine and warm meetings. Yael Almagor brought a crate of beautiful mangoes to the Sukka and explained that, like farmers, we plough the country with patience and hope. Edna, with her lilting accent arrived and invited all of us to dance and wage peace joyfully. While we were dancing at the marketplace, many passersby joined us and showed their support to WWP goals. I was tremendously moved by Orna Shimoni who said that ever since her son was killed in Lebanon, 20 years ago, she never danced or had such a good time as she did at the marketplace with the Galilee Dance Troupe.
Shimon Suissa, Hatzor Mayor, wished us success; Giora Zaltz, head of Upper Galilee regional council said: Peace is a way of life. Peace enables us to develop and flourish. Peace is the only strategy that can succeed. In Rosh Pina we met a group of young mothers and mothers to be – Jews and Arabs – who felt that our actions were a fulfillment of a their dream.
On the way to Tiberias, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, in the backyard of the Church of the Bread and Fish, we began to hear the song “Who is the man who desires life?” At first it was quiet singing but gradually it got stronger and all the women in white got up from their chairs to sing together in a big circle. Despite the heat and the long day beforehand, they got up, danced and sang.
In Tiberias we marched from the Municipal Park to the Archeological Park in the Old City with dozens of children joining us on the way. In the afternoon we held a ceremony at the Roman Amphitheater in the presence of mayor Yossef Ben-David, Rabbi Didi and many local women. While Edith Zin sang, several local women were so excited to see us marching that they went home, changed clothes and joined us for the ceremony. Two of them continued with us the next day to Nazareth.
October 3rd – Nazareth and the main event in the North
Continuing the northern part of our Journey we had some moving meetings with women of the region – Jews and Arabs. The day began in Naharayim, by the Jordan river, at the memorial for 7 young girls who were murdered here by a Jordanian soldier 20 years ago. At Ashdot Ya’akov (Kibbutz) we visited Beit Eyal, a memorial center for culture and sports, founded by Orna Shimoni in memory of her son Eyal who was killed in Lebanon. 1,600 soldiers and civilians who were killed in the Lebanon Wars and in terrorist attacks at the border are memorized in this place. A sports club for people with disabilities was also setup in the same building. After participating in a few workshops, we headed to Nazareth for the main ceremony of the Journey to Peace in the North. The march through Nazareth streets to the square of Mary’s well was really inspiring as we got applauses and support calls from the merchants and passersby, especially from Nazareth’ women.
More than 800 women and men filled the square. Representatives of the three religions prayed together at the opening ceremony: The city’s Chief Rabbi, the Orthodox Bishop and the Chief Sheikh of. Ali Salaam, Nazareth Mayor, “stole the show” with his enthusiasm as he invited the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to meet and together in Nazareth. ”I call on Netanyahu and Abu Mazen to come to Nazareth and see Women Wage Peace in our city. We will go together to the leaders of both sides and tell them that we are tired of wars”. The excitement aroused by his words and by the singing of Yael Deckelbaum, Miriam Toukan and Mira Ilabouni got everyone up out of their seats to dance.
October 4th – Furedeis Gave us a royal treatment
Members of WWP met with the women of Furedeis under the pine trees on top of a hill facing the Mediteranian sea in the west and Zichron Yaakov in the east. About 1,000 people came to this event, including parents with children and … the Finnish Ambassador to Israel. The local council invested huge efforts to host us royally. The forest also occupies a public fitness center and Furedeis High School. Muhammed Muchsan, the school principal spoke about the power of the feminine teachers in his school. Furedeis residents set up food stands with traditional specialties, including the sweet and sour tamarind drink.
Ahmed Briya, Furedeis mayor, greeted us and called for a peace agreement in the near future. Zichron Yaakov mayor, Ziv Deshe, who came with his wife, a peace activist, talked about the good neighborly relationship and cooperation between Furedeis and Zichron as a model for a good neighboring between Israelis and Palestinians. The MC’s of the event were Tami Engel from Maagan Michael and Widad from Furedeis who read a poem by Mahmoud Darwish. Two mother/daughter teams, Anwar and her daughter from Furedeis and Naomi and her daughter from Ma’agan Michael spoke about their commitment to peace and to good relations among the residents of the region. The musical ensembles were wonderful: a Rock young group from Taibe and nearby villages played electric guitars. Yael Deckelbaum and Mira Awad sang well known songs and a new song they wrote especially for the Journey. Yael, who is invited to more and more women’s marches in many countries, spoke about the influence of WWP throughout the world. At the end of the event we met dozens of pupils who had just finished their school day and joined us in a march where we had the feeling that more and more Israelis from all religions and ethnic groups share our belief: Yes it’s Possible!
OCTOBER 6TH – WWP Young Chapter prepared a Happening in Jaffa
The event in Jaffa combined young people, music and joy reflected the message: We are not stopping – not in the air and not on the sea. We began our march at Bloomfield Stadium , passed by the Clock Tower and reached the Midron park at Jaffa seashore. Yael Decklebaum, Miriam Tukan and Liron Meyuhas led the march along with drummers, dancers and acrobats. Jaffa fishermen greeted us from their boats decorated with signs of WWP, as we arrived at the park. Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa opened the ceremony: I am moved to see these women who are making an important statement about peace. Moved, but not surprised. Throughout history, the contribution of women was significant and I believe in the ability of women to bring about change. Women’s power seeps in and unites; we can only hope that like this park which was turned from a garbage dump into a gem of serenity and pleasure and serves the Jewish and Arab residents in the region, that instead of a country of rifts, our country enables families and communities to live in peace.
David Daor and Miriam Masika performed a wonderful duet; MK Michal Rozin was moved by the power of women in front of her; Reman Barakat from East Jerusalem invited everyone to meet with Palestinian sisters in order to change the stigma on both sides. Gidona Erez and Norman Issa, the founders of Jaffa theatre spoke about the need to respect one another, to learn about each other’s culture and language and to raise children from an early age in an atmosphere that reduces fear and prejudice. The ceremony included the reading of the Call for Peace in both Hebrew and Arabic. The event went on with musical performances – the Rana choir, Miriam Tukan and the Prayer of the Mothers Ensemble. Michal Geffen got everyone up to dance. Gliders with WWP flags appeared high in the sky at the end of the event. On the land, sea and air – we are not stopping until there is an agreement!
The journey’s top day near Jericho and in Jerusalem will be reviewed in a separate post