Nearly 60 women from the Women Wage Peace movement held a Kabbalat Shabbat ceremony Friday night outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, as part of a 50-day fast to mark the anniversary of last summer’s Gaza war.
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The fast vigil started last Wednesday, and calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the government to advance peace talks with the Palestinians.
The movement was founded last year in the wake of Operation Protective Edge and was formally established as a nonprofit organization this April. Loosely organized, primarily through social media, the group has more than 12,000 “Likes” on its Facebook page.
According to retired judge Saviona Rotlevi – an internationally regarded expert on children’s and women’s rights, and one of the group’s founders – it is nonpartisan and includes Jews and Arabs, religious and secular women, and is funded by small kind donations.
“We have no intent to form a party or topple the government,” Rotlevi said at the fast. “Our only objective is to convince people there is no alternative to a peace agreement.”
More than two dozen women have already fasted. According to the plan, several women will start to fast every day, for between 24 and 50 hours, drinking only water while sitting under an open tent and engaging passersby in discussions regarding their demand for peace initiatives. The vigil is set to continue until August 26. Due to municipal regulations, the organization is not allowed to maintain its presence after 11 P.M. or over the Sabbath.
As part of the campaign, Women Wage Peace sent a letter to Netanyahu. “In the next few days we will become neighbors,” the letter stated. “You will see us each and every time you leave your home or return, sitting on the corner, day and night We call on you to return to negotiations and reach a political solution, in order to prevent the next war.”
A similar letter has been sent to all Knesset members. The organizers also tried to deliver a letter to the prime minister’s wife, Sara, along with flowers for the Sabbath, but were rebuffed by guards at the entrance to the compound.
The women have chosen to fast, Rotlevi explained, because “fasting is meaningful in every culture, and is specifically important to both Jews and Arabs. Fasting is a deep, emotional statement of self-restraint, determination and introspection. It is a sign of strength, a reminder of what is truly necessary.”
Most of the women wore the organization’s white T-shirts with the distinctive turquoise and black “Women Wage Peace” logo in Hebrew, English and Arabic. The fasting women wore small, turquoise signs around their necks.
Said Yael Admi is a 57-year-old software engineer from Even Yehuda. “I fasted because it’s a meaningful way to show restraint and strength, and that’s how the State of Israel should be conducting itself,” she said. “My brother was killed in the military 45 years ago. I promised my parents that I would bring many children into the world, and would do all I could so children would not die in unnecessary wars.”
Friday’s brief ceremony included the traditional blessings of candles, wine and challah, plus singing. Tzippi Levin-Biran, who described herself as a secular rabbi, gave a discourse on the portion of the week, Parashat Pinchas (Numbers 25:10-30:1), which describes both acts of zealotry and the dignified request by the five daughters of Zelophehad to be granted rights of inheritance.
“This portion challenges us to find ourselves between extremism, zealotry and ways of peace,” said Levin-Biran, from central Israel. “Is violence really the only way? Must we always draw our swords? The portion teaches us we have enough inner strength to restrain ourselves and to engage in dialogue without fear of losing ourselves.”
As the ceremony ended, Ruthie Bar Sinai, a 64-year-old education professional from Jerusalem, sipped a glass of water and nibbled a piece of challah to break her 40-hour fast. “I’m not fooling myself that we’ll have peace tomorrow,” she said. “But we have to try – even if we can’t see any solution right now. By talking, by pushing and restraining ourselves – we will find a solution.”
Rotlevi added that Women Wage Peace “seeks to harness the special strengths that women bring. Women bring a voice that is different from men and speak in a less militaristic discourse. Women know how to work in circles, without hierarchies, and so they can find solutions that men sometimes cannot see.”
Rotlevi acknowledged that, as a former judge, the transition to public activity has been difficult for her. “But I realized I cannot sit at home. For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I must do everything I can to prevent the next war. I will not accept that, as women, our sole role is to bring children into the world but then have nothing to say about their lives.”
The organizers were careful to end their activities by 6 P.M., in compliance with municipal regulations. They also informed participants and passersby that they will be returning on Sunday morning. On Monday evening they will screen “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a film about the women’s peace movement in Liberia.
“All over the world, women have found solutions to problems that men could not solve,” concluded Admi. “We, Arab and Jewish women, can do it, too. I know it doesn’t seem like there’s a solution now – but there’s always a solution, if we’re willing to search for it.”