More than a dozen female ambassadors and chargés d’affaires heading foreign diplomatic missions in Israel, on Wednesday pledged their support to Women Wage Peace, a grassroots apolitical movement of Israeli and Palestinian women who are working together toward peace, reconciliation and coexistence.
The diplomats announced their support at the residence in Tel Aviv of Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons who hosted an International Women’s Day reception for scores of Jewish, Christian and Muslim Women, including MKs, whose goal is to make peace not war.
Hailing the diversity of women from so many backgrounds who are working for peace, Lyons said, “Women do not share one brain. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we support each other.”
Speaking in French and English, she explained that the initiative was started by a core group of ambassadors of which she was one together with Irish Ambassador Allison Kelly, Slovenian Ambassador Barbara Susnik and Finnish Ambassador Anu Saarela.
Women are working hard on every level of society, said Lyons, but taking into account the fragility and increasing conflict in the world, those working the hardest are the women who are focusing on peace. “The critical role of women in the peace process cannot be underestimated,” she said. “Their involvement makes peace more inclusive, more durable and longer lasting.”
Lyons noted that while some countries have made “fantastic progress” in their treatment of women, there are still many places where women are not protected from violence and also suffer economic hardship.
Quoting from Valerie Hudson’s best-selling book Sex and World Peace, Lyons said: “The evidence is clear. The best predictor of a state’s stability is how its women are treated. The very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, ethno religious identity or level of democracy, but how the state treats and engages women. The greater the gender gap, the more likely for a state to be involved in violence.”
Kelly, who first encountered Women Wage Peace in May 2015, said that she was proud to be associated with the group. Having lived through the Troubles that spilled over to Ireland from Northern Ireland, she said, she could see the contribution that women make to peace, and affirmation and recognition of this is essential to the momentum of such efforts, she said.
She credited two women, Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown who in 1976 created the movement Women for Peace, “for taking the first courageous step on the road to peace.” They were subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As a result of their initiative, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition was established.
Up until then, there had been very limited involvement of women in politics in Ireland, said Kelly, adding that women felt disenfranchised. The inclusion of women in the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue that was set up in 1996, said Kelly, brought about the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. After the general election in Northern Ireland this month, 30% of the members in the assembly are women, which is a record, said Kelly, but of even greater significance is the fact that out of the five parties that were elected, three are headed by women.
Pascale Assouline Chen, the coordinator of the Women Wage Peace partnership team, grew up in France in a family that believed that Israel was a miracle.
Now living for several years in Tel Aviv, she became concerned during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge because she had the feeling that Israel was no longer a miracle but simply living from one military operation to another, and this was not the future that she wanted for herself or her son. She had never been an activist or a political militant, she said, but when she heard about Women Wage Peace, she thought that this was an answer to her worries. She became involved and found her work with the group to be meaningful, particularly now that her son is a soldier.
The role of women in peace-making is recognized as a positive influence in peace agreements, she said. “If women on both sides take an active role, the peace process has a better chance of succeeding.” Chen said that every woman, whatever her nationality or place in society, “wants to prevent the next war.”
She and her colleagues want Women Wage Peace to become a huge movement that will influence both the government and the Knesset, and will promote any solution to the conflict that is agreed upon by Israel and the Palestinians.
They intend to monitor politicians from all parties and to ask them regularly: “What have you done to prevent the next war?”
Lauding the initiative of the ambassadors, Chen said that this will ensure that “our voice will be heard around the world.”
A video was shown of last year’s joint Israeli-Palestinian March of Hope in which thousands of women participated. The sound track was the song “Prayer of the Mothers,” written and composed by Israeli-Canadian singer, songwriter and peace activist Yael Deckelbaum. The lyrics are in Hebrew, Arabic and English, and as the sound track was played the women who were gathered in Lyons’s home spontaneously raised their voices to join in.
The song has become the anthem of Women Wage Peace.
Recalling how before the march, the Israeli women had been uncertain as to whether the Palestinian women would be able to come, they were delighted as more and more busloads of Palestinian women arrived at the starting point in Rosh Hanikra on October 4 to begin the 14-day march to Jerusalem. “They sang and danced with us, and it was clear to me that we have partners,” said Chen.
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