A Palestinian Perspective on the March for Peace
Yesterday morning, I drove out of Jerusalem on one of the busiest days of the year as the city is packed with Israeli Jews celebrating Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. I went to pick up my Palestinian friends in Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. Since they are from the West Bank, they are not allowed to be on Israeli roads, so we drove through “The Valley of Fire”’ and the back roads to Jericho in order to get to Area C, where both Israelis and Palestinians can drive. We were on our way to Jesus’ baptismal site to join the march for peace initiated by Women Wage Peace.
Upon our arrival at the site, we walked down to the banks of the Jordan River, a now-small, muddy and shallow stream of water one could easily wade across to enter Jordan were it not for a small string of buoys marking the border and soldiers watching on both sides. This site is accessible to Palestinians, Israelis and internationals and thousands of women dressed in white entered the area alongside us. Hugging and greetings began as we saw many other friends and acquaintances there as well. It was a warm, welcoming environment where fellow marchers asked us where we are from and introduced themselves as we walked together, chanting “Women walk for peace.”
For me, the highlight of the morning was listening to a speech by Leymah Gbowee, the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work as a Liberian peace activist that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War. I found it fascinating that Leymah, a devoted Christian who mobilized her community to take action against injustice in her country, began with her church and then moved on to her Muslim neighbors and then to the entire nation. All the women were gathered under the shaded areas, attentive to her contribution and solidarity:
What you women have done today to put an end to the political rhetoric that there are no partners for peace, because we, Israeli and Palestinians women, are partners for peace.
Women of both countries should reject the narrative that war is your future.
Reject the narrative that war is the future of your children.
Reject the narrative that you have been at this for so long and there is no way we can find a peaceful agreement. It is a lie.
Reject it and work for peace.
I sat there, enjoying the supportive atmosphere, but as a peacemaker who has been doing this for quite a while, I hesitated as I listened to her words. My experience and a history of the peace movement have shown that many say they want peace, but few stick with it. At the same time, I wanted to keep an open mind, perhaps because deep inside me, I yearn for a partner for peace and I want to have a sign of hope.
...Where there is injustice in one place, there is injustice everywhere. Many of you have come today, especially to my Israeli sisters, you may not have felt the war like our Palestinian sisters, but the efforts for peace is because your conscious is telling you today that where one mother cries, it is also the cry of every mother.
It moved me to hear her acknowledge that there is an imbalance of experience in war between Palestinians and Israelis, and to hear her appeal to Israelis to recognize this. I clapped, affirming her words. The fact that Israeli women also clapped in agreement makes me think that hope is not lost.
Leymah then voiced some of my thoughts:
You have to get prepared. After this march, it will be the tough times to say “This is our position. This is what we want: We want peace. We want justice. We want the respect of human rights for every human being.” You can’t stop now! Stopping is never an option for you. Even if you are sleeping in your comfortable bed, you are at WAR! There is no way that anyone in Israel can say they are in peace. War doesn’t touch me because psychologically wherever you find yourself, you still can imagine something happening to me or to my children. No one should live that way
To my Palestinian sisters, I want to congratulate you also for making a journey regardless of everything that has happened. You are proving to the world that we are going to build peace regardless of what our political leaders say.
I do not think that this march is going to change the status quo, but change has to start somewhere. With determination and right intentions, I believe change will happen. My faith in peace grew a little stronger as I stood alongside Israelis who are not afraid or ashamed to wage peace. My hope for peace has been renewed to continue a little longer.