A march that began two weeks ago as a minor event in Rosh Hanikra ended in Jerusalem on Wednesday night as a mass rally, when thousands of Jewish and Arab women from all over the country gathered outside the Prime Minister’s Residence to urge his government to make peace with the Palestinians.
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The prime minister’s security was so heavily deployed it was impossible to see what was happening outside his house on Balfour Street. But the presence of thousands of women in downtown Jerusalem was evident.
The so-called March of Hope was organized by Women Wage Peace, a group founded after the end of the 2014 war in Gaza. At a time when the peace process has been relegated to the bottom of the public agenda, it was surprising to see the march sweep up thousands, most of the participants dressed in white.
In addition to marching through Israel, they marchers entered the West Bank near Jericho Wednesday morning. Tens of thousands of people participated in the two-week event, organizers said.
The guest of honor at the march and Wednesday's rally was Leymah Gbowee, one of three Liberian women to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for heading a women’s group that helped end their country’s civil war and oust its dictator, Charles Taylor.
Gbowee said the two days she spent marching with Israeli and Palestinian women were days of hope and of looking toward the future, and they had convinced her that peace was possible. She also discussed the establishment of the women’s movement in Liberia, comprised primarily of women who had been raped or wounded at war.
Hadassah Froman, widow of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman of the settlement of Tekoa, also won a lengthy applause when she addressed the crowd, as did her daughter-in-law, Michal Froman, who was wounded in a stabbing attack at her home in Tekoa in January.
The younger Froman, who ascended the dais along with a four-month-old baby she had been pregnant with when the attack occurred, told the crowd that while she was en route to the hospital that day, she decided that God had been “addressing me and trying to wake me up.”
“To choose life is to choose to see the complexity of the situation here,” she said. “To learn, of necessity, to defend one’s life, but also to see the distress and extend a helping hand. Someone who is dead no longer feels. I chose to feel and to give space to the full range of feelings inside me – to the pain and the anger, but also to mercy and love.
“Death is separation,” she continued. “Life is an encounter, life is peace. Life here will be possible only if we stop blaming each other and stop being victims. We all need to overcome and to take responsibility and start working hard for the sake of life here.”
Huda Abu Arqoub, a political activist from Hebron, won rousing applause when she said, in English, that she was there as a free woman, and that the time had come for women to speak their piece and to work for peace, security for everyone and mutual recognition. She ended her speech by declaring that there is a partner for peace.
Singer Yael Deckelbaum, who performed at the rally, spoke about the women’s prayer service she had attended Wednesday morning at Qasr al-Yahud, near Jericho.
“We were 4,000 women, half of them Palestinians,” she said. “They told me there was nobody to make peace with. Today, we proved that wrong.”