Palestinian and Israeli women march for peace

By Marta Abascal Centenera

Over 30,000 Palestinian and Israeli women came together during late September and into early October as they marched across the desert to protest violence and urgently call for a “bilaterally acceptable political agreement” on the Israel-Gaza conflict. The conflict has taken the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 70 Israelis since 2014. The movement has also demanded women be granted an equal role to that of men in peace negotiations.

Dressed in white, thousands of women: Israeli and Palestinian; Muslim, Jewish and Christian; began their march on September 24th, starting in the south of Israel, and culminating on October 8th upon their arrival at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence. Here they set up a “tent of reconciliation”, in which women and children created signs that read “peace be upon you” in Arabic and Hebrew.

Along the way, these determined activists toured Israeli cities, settlements in Palestinian territory, Palestinian and Bedouin villages, and met with various organizations and government officials.

The organizer of the movement is the grassroots group Women Wage Peace, created in 2014 after the Gaza War. The group has more than 24,000 members in Israel and Palestine and significant support on social networks.

Marilyn Smadja, one of the founders, made the following statement about their crusade: “We are women from the right, the left, Jews and Arabs, from the cities and the periphery and we have decided that we will stop the next war.”

This language is quite reminiscent of that used in Greek playwright Aristophanes’s Lysistrata, in which the women of Athens come together in an extraordinary mission to put an end to the Peloponnesian War that the men are waging.

Another example of a chant often heard on the Women Wage Peace demonstrations is: “We give life, you give us peace”, which is also one of the central and recurrent arguments in the 411BC play by Aristophanes.

The similarities between the diegesis of the 2,500 year old fictional play and the statu quo on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict goes to show that the issues concerning both gender and war policy are still very much relevant today. In fact, war policy is one of the institutional matters that most notoriously perpetuates gender inequality by not giving women a fair part, responsibility and voice in all bellicose affairs.

Much like in Lysistrata, the 30,000 women that protested this last month are indeed wagingfor peace, and we should listen to them.