An Open Letter to POTUS Donald Trump

Leora Hadar and Hamutal Gouri

Open letter to US President, Donald Trump,
Welcome to our region and to Jerusalem, this holy city that holds within its walls and streets the history of people of all three religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
We, Leora Hadar and Hamutal Gouri, members of the grassroots movement Women Wage Peace, urge you to take advantage of your visit to our region to call upon our elected leaders to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that will lead to a mutually and lasting peace agreement. We believe that this is the only way the end the tragic conflict.
I, Leora Hadar, a mother of four children, am a resident of Alei Zahav in Samaria. My Husband’s parents made Aliya to Israel from Iraq following the establishment of the State of Israel, and my parents were born and raised in the US and came to Israel out of Zionism and love for the land of Israel.
Every day, I choose to live in this country despite all the difficulties, because I believe that we can make a difference and create a better future and because I know that we must all accept that we are all living here together on this tiny piece of land and must find the ways to live together in peace.


I, Hamutal Gouri, daughter of Haim and Aliza, of the founding generation of the State of Israel, married to Doron, a native of Jerusalem, and mother to Daniel and Na’ama. I have been a feminist, a peace and human rights activist for more than 35 years. I was born, raised and have lived in Jerusalem my whole life. Jerusalem, the city that millions of Jews, Muslims and Christian hold in their hearts and prayers is also at the heart of a bitter political conflict. However, this city can also be the place of birth of a new era of security, prosperity and peace to all.
Today, we bring our voices together and address this letter to you, President Trump. You are in a position to lead to a breakthrough and resume a process that will lead to peace agreement that will finally put an end to the terrible and bloody conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. We also demand that women from diverse communities will be actively involved in this process. We, women, bring to the negotiation table and to civil society and grassroots peace building efforts our extensive knowledge as civilians and activists who know how real security feels and looks like for us, our families, our communities and our societies. We know that research shows that the active involvement of women in resolving violent conflicts around the world has contributed to achieving better and more sustainable agreements.


We believe in the power and capacity of women to promote creative and pragmatic solutions and effectively address differences and controversies by practicing deep listening, mutual respect and inclusion. We know this to be true because this is the way our movement, Women Wage Peace, operates. We know this to be true because we are committed to bringing together women from across the political spectrum and fro, diverse communities to work together for a peace agreement. We know this to be true because we chose to work together through dialogue, politics of acquaintance, care and responsibility. We work together to achieve our shared goal and a shared existence, despite all the differences.
We, Leora and Hamutal, demonstrate this, by co-authoring this letter; by bringing our voices together, despite all the differences and despite the fact that we may not agree on many things.
Thus, just as we found ways to overcome differences and unite our voices to one, powerful voice, we expect you and our elected leaders to do the same: to seek for that which brings us together; to work for a better future for our children and for our region.
And we expect you to consider our security and safety as women and to engage us as equal partners in the negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement.

Four Stories of Hope, Persistence and Leadership

Last week I spent a while inside a hole in time. In the early hours of Saturday morning I flew to Washington DC and on Wednesday I was already back in Israel, enveloped in the warmth of my family, everyday life, work, home and activism.

I traveled to DC in for the JStreet National Conference, as a representative of Women Wage Peace, to speak at a panel sponsored by the JStreet Women’s Leadership Forum. The conference this year was organized in the theme of “Defending Our Values, Fighting For Our Future” – a strongly appropriate title given the public and political climate since the election of Trump as president. 3,500 participants from all over the US, Israel and the Palestinian Authority came together to think, listen and voice ideas about how to keep moving toward a two-state solution in a time when no politician in Israel or the US persist in this.

I came to the conference to express a gendered, critical view, a perspective which is not sounded enough even in the progressive Jewish left. I came because I believe that In times like these, it is critical that we work closely together to promote our shared values of peace and democracy and hold courageous and vital conversations about resistance and hope

As a story teller, I was constantly looking for stories I would want to cherish and take with me. Here are 4 short stories and an epilogue.

Lens

The panel I participated in, sponsored by the Women’s Leadership Forum, was titled “Change makers on the Ground in Israel”. I talked about Women Wage Peace, and why I am so committed to this movement. I told the listeners that we view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a powerful inter-sectional gender lens.

The audience, mostly women, were nodding in agreement and understanding. The attentive faces told me my words were welcome and relevant. I hoped my message would trickle and resonate outside that room and was overjoyed when my friend and collaborator Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, echoed my words in a panel that took place the following day in the plenum.

I did come out feeling that we still have a long way to go until women from diverse communities are equally represented in formal negotiations and in civil society efforts to end this conflict. However, in order to demand that of our elected officials, we must implement principles of inclusion and diversity in our own spaces. The gender lens is not a “prop”, it is a way to examine our political reality fully and comprehensively, without overlooking the perspectives, needs and assets brought to the table by 51% of the participants.

Hope

I also talked about the significance of hope and the notion that we cannot live without hope. During the conference, speakers kept stating that “despair is not an option”, which is very true. Despair, in the sense of apathy, indifference and resignation is, indeed, not an option.

But sometimes we’re moved to action by a sense of desperation and urgency, driven by the feeling that we have nothing to lose. Alongside that, there must be hope. Hope in the sense of believing in future good even when it seems despairingly remote and impossible.

Hope means insistence on believing in that good even when it seems we got dealt a lousy hand this round. Hope is the stuff from which the greatest stories about the human ability rise above hardships and challenges, above the doubts and disregard are made of. Do not mistake hope. It is not a “nice feminine quality”. Hope is a radical idea that sees far and beyond. Hope, if you will, is a very serious business.

Seriousness

In my last day in DC I got to meet Congresswoman Barbara Lee for the 13th District of California in the Democratic Party. Lee was elected to congress for the first time in 1998 after a long and impressive career as a civil rights activist, a member of the Black Panthers and a Senator in California State Senate.

I admit I was nervous before the meeting. This was my first time meeting a Congresswoman, not to mention a woman who is a model of brave leadership, determined and committed to justice and equality through and through.

We had 15 minutes together. I told her about my work in the Dafna Fund and about Women Wage Peace. I spoke of the magic that was created in the Palestinian and Israeli women’s march Qasr Al Yahud, on October 19th, 2016. I told her about the tears and joy of women who had only met for the first time, falling into each other’s arms in an embrace that spoke closeness and faith in partnering for peace. As I spoke with a trembling voice, I knew she understood.

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Determination

All the while, I kept getting updates on current affairs in Israel: the State Comptroller’s report on the 2014 Operation Protective Edge and the winds of war stirred in order to distract public attention from the high ranking political officials’ oversights that cost us in dear life.

From time to time I stole a glance at my email and IM messages from Israel. I read the Letter of the Mothers, which my friends at Women Wage Peace had written and watched as they stood firm outside the Ministry of Defense, demanding the defense cabinet to take responsibility for the Comptroller’s report and act immediately to end the conflict by resuming negotiations to reach a mutually binding peace agreement.

I saw, in the pictures of my friends’ faces, the hope, determination, persistence and willingness to lay everything aside and rise again and again to act in favor of the only logical solution that will end the bloodshed, suffering and loss that is binding us in a forcible grip for too many years.

Written in Jerusalem, in deep appreciation to our dear partners of the JStreet Women’s Leadership Forum.

This world needs mothers

“Motherhood is not limited to the act of bearing and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations”.

I spoke these words spoken at an event that Women Wage Peace held in the Baptism site north of Jericho on October 19th, 2016, as part of the movement’s  March of Hope.

It was an historical event; for the first in a very long time, Jewish and Palestinian women from Israel and the Palestinian Authority met and marched together for a peace agreement in our region.

It as a political event; a clear and resounding statement by women who are tired of war and bloodshed; who have had enough of being excluded from discourse and action for peace and security.

It was a formative event for me, personally; an opportunity to reflect on my own actions and leadership.

As we were getting ready to march to the sounds of drums and joint singing, I shed sweet tears of excitement and joy. Months and weeks of preparations and hard work culminated in this watershed moment. Holding and being held by other women; supporting and supported, I marched knowing that we are going to get far, together.

My face was beaming with tears and laughter; it reflected deep feelings of gratitude and determination. I knew there and then the mental and physical sensation of being in the presence of collective greatness.

As we took the stage, Huda Abu alarquob and I, to MC the ceremony, the collective greatness embraced and inspired us. “Women of the world, today is our day!” I heard Huda’s voice resonating in the desert. Her voice empowered mine. The blazing sun and the beaming faces of the women sitting in front of us shed their lights on us both.

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The March of Hope at the Baptism site near Jericho. Photo by Anat Saragusti

I continue to cherish these moments as I return to my daily routine. Thoughts of womanhood and leadership linger in my mind; thoughts of all that I am learning from my many partners to the March of Hope and the journey towards social change.

I am a feminist activist and professional; I am well aware that the discourse on the qualities of motherhood is a slippery slope towards essentialism; towards the quicksand of social constructs of “femininity” and “masculinity” that do injustice to all genders. Yet, I am compelled to make motherhood –  as position of moral leadership –  present in the political discourse on peace and security.

Society tends to perceive motherhood as a personal and intimate position that belongs in the private realm of the family. The tender care and containment that are essential to raising children are appropriate for “feminine” caring professions but less so executive positions of management and leadership that require firmness, decisiveness and determination. These “soft” qualities and skills that are vital for raising families and managing relationships are often shunned as unwelcome or irrelevant guests in the boardroom. The qualities that are the life line of human existence and perceived as signs of weakness at the negotiations table.

We tend to think it is so; especially in our region where the conflicts dictates a language of zero sum game.

Really?

In every human encounter; personal, professional or political a rainbow of emotions comes into play. Each situation triggers us and pushes unconscious buttons. Minor and major crisis erupt when we act out of blindness, vanity or aggression. In times of crisis, our own responses can calm things down or cause an escalation. History shows that in cases where political leaders on both sides of a conflict chose the path of increased aggression it only led to more violence and bloodshed; loss and grief. However, when leaders chose a different path; when they reached out and shook the hand of the enemy, they changed history. The willingness to make painful concessions and let go of past grievances led to breakthroughs in the relationship between people and countries in the Middle East and around the world. Some of those leaders paid with their life for their courage; their political adversaries made their peace seeking stance look like acts of weakness. However, the images of Menachem Begin and Anwar a-Sadat, of Yitzchak Rabin and King Hussein shaking hands are engraved in our collective memory. Those images remind us that peace agreements are possible.

I was only four years old when I ran with my mother and sisters to the bomb shelter in Jerusalem during the 67 war. I was ten when we ran for shelter in 73. I was a young mother when I caressed my 18-month-old son through a plastic sleeve during the first Gulf War in 1991. I can still recall myself considering how to get home when buses exploded in Jerusalem after the collapse of the Oslo Agreement. I recall my eight-year-old daughter and me venturing to walk to the community garden after a Red Alert during the Protective Edge war in 2014. I recall looking at images of the destruction on Gaza; images of parents on both sides of the border – their hearts broken – weeping over the bodies of their dead children. I sat and wept for those children.

Motherhood is not only about giving birth or raising our own children. Motherhood – or indeed parenthood –  is an ethical and moral position of responsibility towards the world we live in and towards our fellow human beings. It is a position of self-restraint, attentiveness and inclusion. It a position of passion and love and of setting high standards of human behavior.  It is a position of compassion and dedication; of determination and resilience.

The world we live in is harsh and complicated; it contains too much injustice and violence; too much cruelty and misery. Our world needs compassion and healing; forgiveness and reconciliation. The world we live in needs that we see the person in front of us in their full humanity; it needs that we raise our voices against acts on acts against humanity.

“I see your humanity; do you see mine?” said Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Laureate in 2011 from Liberia who came to Israel for the March of Hope as a special guest of Women Wage Peace. She told us that raising hope in the hearts who have lost so much to conflict and war is a huge responsibility. “Do not get into it if you are not serious”, she said.

We are serious. As serious as the giants who paved the way for women as equal and engaged agents of change. As serious as the giants who fought for women’s voting rights; as serious as the giants who fought and are fighting for gender, social and racial justice and for human rights. As serious as the women who fought for peace in their countries.

We are serious and we will not stop until there is a peace agreement. We are serious about creating a new political discourse based on mutual recognition and care. We are serious about putting peacebuilding back at the heart of the work of our communities.

Motherhood is not only the act of baring and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations.

Women’s Knowledge

Women’s Knowledge

Perhaps I was born a woman; perhaps, as in the words of Simone de Beauvoir, I have become a woman.  In any event, being a woman is a very central part of the montage of my personal and political identities.  Womanhood is the lens through which I view myself and the world.

It may be anachronistic to write about my identity as a woman in this post-modern era – especially ever since Judith Butler disrupted our universe with her concepts of gender identity as social construction, a form of performance, rather than something that is “natural.” Indeed, it seems that in feminist discourse, identity is always perched at the top of a slippery slope, tipping towards essentialism, social construction, and the very stereotypes that we seek to escape.

Yet along these slippery slopes and within the different spaces in which I move, I demand the right to actively define my own identity as a woman.

My identity as a woman is made up of pieces of women’s continuous history; it is composed of an ongoing dynasty of witches and story-tellers; farmers, cultivators and healers, women writers and scholars; women who cook and sing; women who have held a sleeping child close to their breasts. My identity is made up of my grandmothers, may their memories be a blessing, and my mother, may she be blessed with a long life; the sisters in my own family and the sisters I have drawn in close to me through the years. It is nurtured by and develops from my daily interactions with those whom my heart loves above all.  It is made up of women I have never met and those I have met in the pages of books, pictures, and stories.  It is made up of real-life women and mythological figures.

And over the past few months, I have come to realize that my identity also draws from the courage of brave Liberian women.

About two years ago, I first encountered the film that documents the struggle of Liberian women, Muslim and Christian, to bring peace and put an end to their country’s cruel, bloody civil war.  The film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, is one in a series of documentary films about women throughout the world who have brought a peaceful conclusion to bitter, brutal conflicts.

Activism in the “Women Wage Peace” movement has brought me the opportunity to see the film again and again in screenings throughout the country.  Each time I see the movie, I see another detail; another sentence engraved into my memory; another scene troubles my sleep. Yet each viewing also restores my belief in the human spirit and its capacity for great compassion, deep wisdom and emotional resilience in the face of unutterable cruelty.

After each screening, we conduct a discussion with the audience.  Each discussion is different and special, and each one brings new insights and different understandings.

On a cold Jerusalem night several weeks ago, I returned home from a screening that had taken place in the small, cozy shelter of the Mashu Mashu Theater for Social Change.  Moved by my experiences, I sat down to write.  About knowledge.  Women’s knowledge.

I found myself playing with the deconstruction and reconstruction of the binary oppositions that we have learned to accept as “proper”:  masculinity as the opposite of femininity; intellect as contrasted with emotion; rationality as compared to impulsivity; activism versus passivity; physical power as different than gentleness.  I played with the words, as I have learned to do, with great effort, from Jacques Derrida, who would deconstruct binary oppositions until the terms melded into each other.

The women of Liberia sang and cried, danced and embraced all the way to a peace agreement and the establishment of a democratically-elected government.  They stood in the scorching sun and in the rain; they sat and refused to budge; behind the scenes they mediated between the antagonists when they thought that these efforts weren’t enough. They worked with the children-soldiers to bring about disarmament and acted as inspirational political community workers. And at key moments, they knew how to enlist the terror of the curse…

Patiently, with great wisdom, the women of Liberia showed just how pathetic cruelty is and exposed the limits of thieving, raping, plundering power. They revealed the greed, avarice and lust for power and control that were behind the fighting groups’ rhetoric.  They fought to bring back to the sons and daughters of Liberia the childhood that had been stolen from them.

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For me, the women of Liberia distilled the essence of a very important insight:  Emotion is a form of knowledge.  The ability to yield and to compromise for the greater good is a form of knowledge.  The capacity to put differences and arguments aside is a form of knowledge.  The skill required leading a wounded, torn; bleeding community over the long, winding road towards healing is a form of knowledge.  The ability to forgive those who have committed the most heinous crimes against humanity is a form of sublime knowledge.  The ability to enlist religious beliefs in the service of peacemaking is a form of knowledge.

And knowledge is power.  Power can be gentle, flexible, all-encompassing, and aware of its own limits.  Power can be something that we choose to share, thus making it even stronger.

The discourse about security, war and the possibility of peace must include this knowledge.  Security is not the province of men or warriors alone.  In fact, the very opposite is true:  Each and every one of us possesses knowledge about security – personal, physical, economic, gendered, social and cultural.

A discourse that seeks to make peace must encompass all of these forms of knowledge

I feel very grateful to all the women in my life who have taught me these lessons.

And I invite you all to see the film.

Follow this link to the film’s website: http://www.forkfilms.net/pray-the-devil-back-to-hell/

For a list of screenings throughout Israel, please visit the “Women Wage Peace” facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/WomenWagePeace/events

Or visit our website at:

http://womenwagepeace.org.il/category/%D7%90%D7%99%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A2%D7%99%D7%9D/%D7%90%D7%99%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%A2%D7%99%D7%9D-%D7%A7%D7%A8%D7%95%D7%91%D7%99%D7%9D/

English translation: Etta Prince Gibson

 

The Importance of Being Hopeful: Women Wage Peace

The importance of being hopeful

A year has passed since the terrible war of last summer, and we were beginning to hope that this summer – aside from the infernal heat – would be more peaceful. But then came the stabbing hate crime at the Jerusalem Pride Parade and the murder of 16 year old Shira Banki, and the terror attack on the home of the Dawabshe family in the village of Duma near Nablus, which has taken the lives of 18 months old Ali Dawabshe, and of his father Sa’ed. The vicious circle of hate and terror and revenge continues, demanding its pound of flesh, there is no respite, and compassion still conceals its face.

Shortly after the horrendous hate crimes, come the wave of condemnations – the genuine ones, as well as those paying lip service – as well as grief and indignation, and the urge to meet and dialogue. And of course there are the politicians who insist on arguing for moral superiority in the face of atrocity, in this aching and bleeding region, which years for a little less of that, and a little more compassion and a little integrity.

But within a few days, public life resume their course, and the grieving families are left alone with the loss; left alone to pick up the pieces of life shattered by hatred.  Daily routine settles in, and the plethora of Neshama candles of condolences from strangers gradually disappear. The Israeli Hebrew press is more interested in the Obama-Netanyahu feud and their battle of the hearts and support of Jewish Institutional leaders, then in those who insist on creating islands of sanity, of human encounters, of listening, of mutual respect.

It is scary to see how quickly the dust of everyday life covers the fresh wounds.

נרות נשמה

That is why I keep going back to the “Protective Fast” tent in Jerusalem, camped across from the Prime Minister’s residence. This campaign of 50 days of fast, marking the 50 days of Protective Edge War, was initiated by Women Wage Peace, a movement I joined since its inception as a member of its steering committee. I keep going back to the tent because there I find the compassion, the human capacity to forgive and fight hatred; I find the ability to have a conversation without storming out, to sing together songs of peace and hope without a shred of cynicism and with great intent.

I am 52 years old, not a girl anymore; I have a very healthy sense of humor, a capacity for sarcasm, and just the right amount of harmless nastiness. And of course, I know that a group of women huddled together and chanting will not bring peace, not on our own, anyway. But, this is a beginning, and it is a persistent and inspiring resistance to despair, to indifference, to inaction, to denial. And as Margaret Mead said, this is the only thing that ever made a difference in this world.

People call us names; naïve, stupid, pathetic, menopausal and deprived of sexual satisfaction. All has been said about women determined to wage peace and then some. But I am 52 and I really don’t mind being called pathetic, naïve, touchy-feely or sticky, oh, and I have earned my approaching menopause fair and square. But as a mother, I wish for a better life for my children, for all children. As I woman, I know that indifference is not more sophisticated than compassion, despair is not wiser than hope, and cynicism doesn’t know anything that faith in the human capacity to heal doesn’t.

In addition, people tell us to go to Ghaza and to Ramallah; they tell us we are barking up the wrong tree. “We” want peace; it is “them” who do not want it. This is a valid argument that merits an honest answer. What I have learned through life, and through our conversations with Jewish and Palestinian women and men who came to tent to support us, to have an open conversation, is not a new thing, but it is important nevertheless. What I have learned is that most people on both sides want to reach a political agreement that will end the violent conflict. There are inspiring people on both sides who suffered terrible losses and grief, yet have found a way to forgive, to reach out and seek like-minded partners.  And on both sides there are those who benefit from the status-quo, from the political power they draw from the standstill in the negotiations and the escalation in violence. There is fear and distrust on both sides; real fear, justified fear, anchored in an impossible reality of violence and revenge.

In addition, there is criticism from the left, as well. Mostly because we attempt to create a movement that reaches out to women from the center and the right (well, soft right); because we strive to be political, but not another anti-occupation movement. Our critics ask: “How can you be political and no talk about the occupation?”. Personally, I agree. I want to talk about the occupation; I want a lively public discourse about the occupation. Yet, I have never demanded nor made my membership in the movement conditional, and I agree that avoiding the issue of the occupation and avoiding laying blame on Israel (or Palestine for that matter) was a wise strategic choice. Women like me, who oppose the occupation, have space where we can be active and vocal. In Women Wage Peace we seek to create a more pluralistic and inclusive space, for women who may not be comfortable with anti-occupation discourse, but who still believe that the only way to achieve sustainable peace is through a mutual and respectful process of negotiations that will lead to a lasting agreement. These women – with whom I may disagree on a host of political issues – are my allies and partners.

It does not mean I am always comfortable with this type of discourse, but them stepping outside of our comfort zone rarely feels comfortable… Nevertheless, being part of a movement means I embrace the fact that it does not represent me 100% all the time. However, I can represent me; I have my own voice, and the capacity and privilege to make my voice heard. Being part of a movement means to discover the benefit – as well as the discomfort – in listening to a woman holding a view different from my own.  Being part of a movement is to understand that the only thing that has ever made a difference in this world are shared actions of people with a shared vision. Being part of a movement is to listen to the woman next to me, recognize that her words are different from mine, and appreciate that the power of movement is in its diversity.

DAVID BROZA“Good will come some day”. Musician and singer David Broza at the Protective Fast Tent.

They say “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”; in the Protective Fast tent, in our movement, I find beauty and compassion that give me the strength to keep waging peace.

Dedicated to the memory of:

Ali and Sa’ed Dawabshe, son and father

Shira Banki

Victims of hate crimes and terror. May their memory, their lives and loves be a blessing.