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Women’s Peace Train | Dr. Paula Rayman

Contributed by Dr. Paula Rayman, founding director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at University of Massachusetts Lowell and Director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture

There is no peace in the Holy Land this year. Underneath the spirit of lighting the Hanukah candles, of walking in prayer along the ancient Via
Delarosa pathway of the Cross, of hearing the call to prayer five times a day from the turrets of the Mosques, is anxiety, even fear. In this land so filled
with conflict for so many decades this winter is particularly difficult. That is why the launch of the women’s peace train is so remarkable.

On Nov. 25 the Women’s Peace Train began near the Lebanese border town of Nahariya and traveled to the town of Sderot near Gaza. The 1,000 women on the train came from across the political spectrum, including Arabs and Jews, the religious and the secular. The Women Wage Peace movement’s objective, according to Michal Shamir, a founding member, is “to convince people there is no alternative to a peace agreement.” The women, moreover, are pushing for implementation of U.N. Resolution 1325, which calls for women to have equal participation in political, economic and social aspects of peace and security negotiations.

Since this summer’s war in Gaza, adults still wait for sounds of rockets and children still have nightmares from sleeping in bomb shelters. Since the
summer of violence no leaders have arisen from the cycles of “an eye for an eye” mentality to offer the peoples of Israel and Palestine a partnership vision that would lead to a lasting peace.

During my recent visit to the region there was harmony among the religious and secular, men and women, middle aged and millennials, Christian and Muslim, Palestinians and Israeli Jews on one issue: There is little faith in their government. According to a recent Jerusalem Post poll, 60 percent of Israelis want a change in top leadership, 64 percent believe the country’s socioeconomic situation has gotten worse under the outgoing government and 58 percent think the security situation has worsened. Palestinians are similarly disenchanted with their leadership. According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, only 35 percent of Palestinians are satisfied with the performance of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and 81 percent view Palestinian Authority institutions as corrupt. A Palestinian taxi driver told me, “I do not believe in Fatah. I do not believe in Hamas. I only believe in my family.” Echoing this thought, my Jewish kibbutz friend said, “If we had leaders who offered a German Marshall Plan for Gaza instead of sending them rockets we all could have slept this summer.”

So as citizens of Israel face new elections without any leader seriously discussing the reality of the occupation, where is the hope for peace?
Certainly not in the general population. Seventy percent of Palestinians believe that the chances for establishing a Palestinian state next to the
state of Israel in the next five years are slim or nonexistent, and less than 30 percent of Israeli Jews believe that negotiations will lead to peace.

One interesting model is offered by the women of Northern Ireland. In the 1990s women crossed the divide as Protestants and Catholics marched to end the Troubles. By 1998 they had been the inspiration for the Peace Accords. The Accords were meant to be the beginning of a larger process to create a
unifying constitution and bill of rights. However, when I visited Belfast this Fall the women spoke of a “stuckness” that has brought about a negative
peace – no more stream of violence, but no positive peace born of genuine security for all. The huge, famous murals of combat images still line the
streets. But the Northern Women’s Coalition, the Belfast Feminist Network and the non-governmental organization Democrashe are among key groups who have focused on how to advance women’s leadership on local council levels, how to implement U.N. Resolution 1325 and more remarkably have brought together Irish women from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland to craft a unified vision for a National Action Plan that builds from the African concept of Umbuto: “My dignity rests on yours.”

When I traveled from Northern Ireland to Israel/Palestine I found women eager to learn from their sisters not only in Ireland but also in Liberia, where
women led a nonviolent revolution in overthrowing the brutal dictatorship of Charles Taylor in 2003. And while conversing in Haifa with the national
organization Isha Lisha (Women to Women), the emerging new group Women Wage Peace, and a Moslem-Jewish women’s group in Ramle, it became clear that something important was happening. Women understood that they needed to rise up, demanding both bread and roses.
On this side of the ocean, in this darkest of seasons, there are things that can be done to help the train advance:

• Raise the prospect of hope and share the news about the train with your family and friends;
• Call on the coalition of women in Congress to pass a bipartisan resolution supporting the Women Wage Peace movement;
• Support leaders and organizations who are working to create collaborative National Action Plans and implement Resolution 1325 the world over.

There is hope. As of today, 7,000 Israeli and Palestinian women have become members of Women Wage Peace. There can be a light at the end of the long, long tunnel.


Published with permission.

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