Israeli women march to ‘wage peace’ but refuse to challenge the occupation

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I don’t like to start articles with throat-clearing but I need to start here with full disclosure:

My mom is a very active member in the Israeli NGO Women Wage Peace (WWP) and I’m obviously a man. Those are two things that have admittedly inhibited me in writing critically about this organization and its recent event, the peace march called “Journey to Peace”, which ended with a rally Sunday last week in Jerusalem, after a two week march through Israel and Palestine.

What’s there not to like, you might ask? Israeli women of the whole political spectrum were joining with some Palestinian women (they call the Palestinian women who are Israeli citizens ‘Arabs’), and they were even endorsed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Who could say anything bad about this? Indeed, the international mainstream press was highly positive, and the organization proudly lists many of the stories.

And yet, not all were happy with this. The Times of Israel posited that the “Israeli-Palestinian women’s peace march exposes Palestinian divides”, noting both Hamas and BDS opposition to what was perceived as “normalizing relations with Israel”. This depiction automatically portrays the Fatah dominated Palestinian Authority as the ‘moderate’ ones, where Hamas and BDS are automatically depicted as the more ‘intransigent’.

But Hamas and BDS were not the only ones critical of the initiative – there were in fact women – Jewish, Israeli women, who spoke quite vociferously and critically against it. One of these women, Orly Noy, a voice that is always worth listening to, has written an article last Friday in +972 Magazine, titled “How can women ‘wage peace’ without talking about occupation?”. I think that article is a must-read, and should definitely not be drowned in the euphoric sense of 30,000 women wearing white, singing songs and banging drums together.

“I write these words with a great deal of sadness”, Noy points out,

“In the political reality of the last few decades, there is nothing trivial about the fact that tens of thousands of women are demanding to change that reality and are willing to march down the streets of every town and city in order to build their movement. That this is a women’s initiative gives it even greater potential. And yes, there is such a thing as women-led politics and it can be revolutionary and powerful — a politics that first and foremost challenges existing hierarchies and social structures”, Noy writes.

And yet –

“The women-led politics I saw in Jerusalem was the complete opposite of that, however. It was the kind that only strengthens those existing power structures. It was a politics in which being a woman means wearing white, singing and dancing.”

I share these sentiments exactly.

I want us to look at what is actually going on here, and a good place to start is the Women Wage Peace mission statement. It says that the goal is “To reach an honourable and bilaterally acceptable political agreement of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict which is to be reached by 2018”.

How will this be done? Three objectives are listed:

(1)  To grow our numbers through diversity by reaching out to religious and secular women; Jews and Arabs; right, center, and left-wing voters; immigrant and native-born residents from all corners of the country, as well as moderate settler women.

(2)  To pressure the Israeli government to prioritize the reaching of an agreement.

(3) To increase the number of women in all aspects of negotiation as mandated by UN Security Council resolution 1325 to which Israel was the first signatory in 2005.

The first objective merits close scrutiny. It is “to grow our numbers”. Not to pressure the government first, but to grow the numbers. And how will this be done? By appealing to a wide spectrum – right center and left (including ‘Arabs’), and, notice this – “moderate settler women”. Now, let’s pause on that one. “Moderate settler women” – who are they? Supposedly, settler women who say they want ‘peace’. Who will be the arbiter of who is a ‘moderate’ settler? This opens up for all kinds of possibilities, but before we go deeper into it, let us note, that as UNSC Resolution 2334 of last December stated, all Israeli settlements are ‘flagrant violations’ of international law. They are, to put is simply, war crimes, under the 4th Geneva convention article 49. In other words, all Israeli settlers are effectively war criminals. But not for Israelis. That mentioned resolution was also bemoaned by the Israeli Zionist left, for the ‘damage’ it inflicted on the ‘settlement blocs’. Israel really does want to normalize the occupation – this is not just some slogan that Hamas and BDS are senselessly throwing around. And Women Wage Peace participate in this normalization. There are ‘moderate settler women’.

Noy refers to the speech that one of these ‘moderate settler women’ gave at the Jerusalem Rally:

“All types of women, including a settler who, as she put it, lives in “beautiful and bleeding Samaria.” Yes, even she wants peace. But how does she see us achieving that peace? “When tens of thousands of women are able to talk about the difficult topics our leadership won’t be able to ignore us.” But what are those difficult topics we must talk about? Perhaps the defiant and growing presence of settlements, like the one she lives in, and which prevent any chance of establishing a Palestinian state? No. So perhaps the occupation and the checkpoints she passes through every day on her way home? Human rights violations? War crimes? No. A West Bank settler can so easily stand on stage and speak about the need “to talk about the difficult things,” because she knows they won’t actually be talked about. Otherwise, she might not be able to take part in the movement from the get go.”

Indeed, the movement simply does not utter the word “occupation” as a rule. Noy tried to get some of the Palestinians to speak about it, and it was hard:

“I came early, deciding to sit in a cafe along the route of the march. After a few minutes, two women dressed in white and speaking in Arabic sat next to me. I asked if they were part of the march; they said yes. After a brief conversation, I asked one of the women, a Palestinian-Israeli from Jaffa, if she isn’t bothered that Women Wage Peace never even hints at the word “occupation.”

“This was the decision that was made,” she responded evasively. When I asked once more whether or not it bothers her, she said, “of course it bothers me. It bothers me as a woman, as a Palestinian, as an Israeli, but this is what they decided. That we must speak about the future, we’ve already spoken plenty about the past.” But the occupation is not the past, I insisted. It is very much the present. “You’re right, but what can we do? Keep sitting at home? We need to do something to change reality.”

So the Palestinian women want to talk about the occupation, but someone at the core of this movement, a movement which is actually dominated by what could be described as ‘liberal-Zionists’, decided that this would defeat the purpose of appealing to the wide spectrum – the predominantly Jewish-Zionist spectrum that is.

And this silence creates not only a space for ‘moderate settler women’ as it were – but also for the most rabid, messianic settlers – men no less – like Yehuda Glick – who became Member of Knesset (Likud) last year. Glick seeks the establishment of the Third Temple in the place of Al Aqsa, and has single-handedly broken the status-quo at the Al-Aqsa compound by praying there. He has stopped his visits to the compound only because Netanyahu had banned MK’s visiting there in attempt to calm tensions.

Glick had joined the march in its early stages, and WWP prides itself with an article about it (nr. 2 on its media list), from the settler-outlet Israel National News.

Here Glick is quoted saying “It’s true that a significant part of their activities are carried out by left-wing women, but I say, let’s not leave it to the left. Let’s take part. And they know my opinions. I say that peace includes massive sovereignty and construction in Judea and Samaria and they still applaud.”

In other words, this movement is allowing even men – messianic settlers – to whitewash themselves as ‘liberals’, because they, too, want ‘peace’.

That ethnic cleansers seek to pose as ‘liberals’ is really not new in Israel. For example, former Knesset co-speaker Moshe Feiglin, who in 2014 authored a 7-point plan for the complete ethnic cleansing of Gaza, also got a prize for his humanitarian work in protesting Chinese violations of human rights, and continues to fight for ‘human-rights’ in Israel. In Israel this is compatible – if those ‘terrorists’ are not human anyway, then they don’t need ‘human rights’, so there’s no contradiction, right?

So, this is what is happening here. WWP is not naming anything to do with Israel’s violations – not the occupation, not settlements, not the siege of Gaza – it’s staying supposedly ‘not political’, snow-white – but demanding ‘peace’ through ‘negotiations’.

Per their third objective, Women Wage Peace are apparently trying to sell us the notion that suggests that if only there were more women in Israel’s negotiation leadership, things would be better. And yet, I would like to point out that it is not true that Israel is led by men alone. In fact, there are several women leaders, currently and historically, who in their chauvinism, violence, coarseness, intransigence and arrogance could make the typical ‘male chauvinist’ seem pale. These include the late Prime Minister Golda Meir, who said that there was no such thing as Palestinians, who was so proud of herself, she ignored the Egyptian Saadat’s 1970 peace overtures and got Israel into the 1973 October war – because force was the only language she could understand. And what about Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the fascist, with her genocide of ‘little snakes’ – children of Gaza? And what about Israel’s top diplomat, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, with her “this land is ours, all of it is ours?” Not enough? What about the ‘centrist’ Tzipi Livni, who demanded “real hooliganism” when she was Foreign Minister during the 2008-9 Gaza onslaught, and thought that is was a “good thing” that Israel responded by “going wild”?

In other words, women don’t necessarily wage peace. Does it make any difference for a Gazan child that they and their family are obliterated by a male pilot, or by a woman who demands ‘hooliganism’ or a woman who wants to kill ‘little snakes’? It makes no difference at all. If these women do not want to name any aspect in the paradigm of the Israeli oppression, then what they are peddling is simply the notion that since they are women, we should listen, and that it will work.

But in the power structure of today, not naming anything but ‘peace’ and ‘agreement’, and claiming you are ‘not political’ is just divisive. This is political, and the politics of it is effectively to maintain a status quo – whilst dancing and singing.

Those who want to speak about the critical issues spoil the party, which is supposed to be inclusive for everyone. But when the party is over, the Palestinians go to their Bantustans, and the ‘moderate settler women’ drive on their Jewish-only roads to get to their settlements. If only the Arabs could somehow accept this as ‘peace’, then all would be well…

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Thank you, Mr. Ofir, for your very brave, and insightful piece here.