About two dozen women carrying banners and singing protest songs made their way down Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard Tuesday evening in the first leg of a journey that will bring them to Jerusalem on Wednesday, where they hope to join thousands of others in calling on Israeli leaders to revive peace talks with the Palestinians.
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The women are all activists in a recently-launched grassroots organization called Women Wage Peace, which has 7,000 registered members. Their plan is to surround the Knesset at noon on Wednesday, where they will deliver what they describe as “alternative” speeches to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress.
The beginning of the journey was timed to coincide with Netanyahu’s controversial speech.
“He is talking in Washington in English, and we have chosen to speak in Jerusalem in Hebrew and Arabic,” said Michal Shamir, a founding member of the organization and the director of the School of Art, Social Studies and Culture at Sapir Academic College in the southern town of Sderot.
The group from Tel Aviv began its rally with a symbolic walk from Independence Hall, the site of the signing of Israel’s declaration of independence, to Derech Hashalom, a main exit to the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. In English, Derech Hashalom translates into Peace Way.
The choice of this endpoint on the first leg of the journey was not coincidental, according to Shamir. “If there is no way, there is no peace,” she said.
Women Wage Peace activists march opposite Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2015.
At other locations across Israel, organization activists were setting out at the same time on their own marches ahead of Wednesday’s large gathering in Jerusalem. Cars and buses will be lined up at different intersections tomorrow morning carrying the women from all these various points around the country to their final destination. In Jerusalem, they plan to convene near the Central Bus Station and make their way by foot from their to the Knesset.
Attending the rally outside the Knesset will be women from kibbutzim as well as West Bank settlements, a large contingency of Russian immigrants and even Palestinians women from Hebron and Bethlehem, said Shamir. Anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 women are expected to participate in the ring around the Knesset.
Women Wage Peace was launched last November before the March 17 elections were called. “We are very political, but at the same time, non-partisan,” said Yael Elad, who handles press relations for the organization. For that reason, she noted, the organization has not endorsed any particular political parties and has refrained from attacking Netanyahu directly.
Women Wage Peace activists in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2015.
Since it was launched, organization activists have convened every Friday afternoon at major intersections around the country, handing out blue ribbons and pamphlets. In addition, the organization holds on average about 20 parlor meetings every week at locations around Israel. Aside from urging Israeli leaders to resume political negotiations with the Palestinians, Women Wage Peace has also made its mission to push women to the forefront of any peacemaking initiatives.
“We’re not about white flowing dresses and tree hugging,” said Shamir. “In fact, most of us are way too old to be hippies. We’re about doing practical things.”