Jewish and Arab Women in Israel Reaffirm Pledge for Peace as Temple Mount Crisis Rages

'In the midst of all this blood, I am here with my Jewish sisters to put an end to this killing,' says one Muslim attendee at Women Make Peace event

Dr. Rihab Abd Al-Halim, an Arab Israeli educator, addressing a rally organized by the Israeli Women Wage Peace grass-roots movement at Kfar Hahoresh, July 23, 2017.
Arab Israeli educator Rihab Abd Al-Halim, at the Women Wage Peace rally. “We must never touch al-Aqsa, it is too holy. But neither can it ever justify murder, on either side."

For Nadia Yunis, it was rage that brought her to the rally of the Women Wage Peace group Sunday night.

“I am very, very angry at Israel for what it is doing at the Noble Sanctuary,” Yunis, 66, a retired Ministry of Education employee from the Arab town of Kfar Arara in the Galilee, told Haaretz.

Referring to the holy site in Jerusalem's Old City that Jews call the Temple Mount, and wearing the head covering and dress of a devout Muslim, she continued, “In the midst of all this blood, because of the pain, I am here with my Jewish sisters to put an end to this killing. If I didn’t come, I would just be stuck in my anger, and anger can only lead to more killing.”

Embracing Yunis tightly, Leah, a 34-year-old teacher from the Galilee, agreed.

“I am so despondent, frightened and angry because of the killings and murders,” said Leah, who asked to not to give her full name because, she said, her family objects to her activism. “Being here, with Arab and Jewish women who feel the same things, actually makes me happy. Meeting like this puts the despair aside for a few moments.”

Yunis and Leah did not know each other before the event on Sunday, organized by the Israeli Women Wage Peace grass-roots movement at Kfar Hahoresh in central Israel. This was the first such public gathering between Jewish and Arab Israelis since violence erupted in the wake of the killings on July 14 of Israeli Border Policemen and Palestinians on the Temple Mount – site of the al-Aqsa mosque compound – and the murder Friday night of three members of a Jewish family celebrating Shabbat in their home in Halamish, a settlement in the West Bank.

Although the Jewish women on hand mostly emphasized their despair and anger over that terror attack while the Arab women spoke about what they saw as Israel’s moves to wrest control over the al-Aqsa mosque, all agreed that attending the rally, and continuing their activism through Women Wage Peace, was deeply significant to them.

Dr. Rihab Abd Al-Halim, an Arab Israeli educator who has been awarded several prestigious prizes for her work, said, “We must never touch al-Aqsa, it is too holy, too sacred. But neither can it ever justify murder, on either side. As women, it is our responsibility to make sure we do not hate, that we share belonging, responsibility and commitment.”

Leah added, “I will never justify the murder of innocent people in their homes. Or how a mother can praise her murderous son. But retaliating just leads to more violence. Coming here can lead to something better. I’m not sure what – I don’t have concrete answers. But I know that I had to be here, because women can create something different.”

Yunis nodded in enthusiastic agreement.

Indeed, at the hall at Kfar Hahoresh, which the kibbutz had donated without cost for the event, the atmosphere was upbeat, at times even giddy. Most of the women wore white clothing and the organization’s trademark turquoise scarf, and, like Yunis and Leah, greeted each other with hugs.

Judging by appearances, the crowd was overwhelmingly Jewish and secular, but there were a few Jewish and several dozen Muslim women wearing traditional religious head coverings.

Nadia Murad, Yazidi activist and the UN Goodwill Ambassador, at the women's rally. "We women know that we cannot count on men anywhere to make peace," she said.

“I’ve hurt enough. I’ve sacrificed enough,” said Anat Ben-David, 57, a homeopathic therapist from Jerusalem. “I refuse to be in a position where all I can do is react. I demand to be proactive, because that’s the only way forward. Being here is my proactive response.”

'An inspiration'

The Women Wage Peace event was actually scheduled weeks ago as a meeting with Yazidi human rights activist Nadia Murad, the United Nations' first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

In August 2014, Murad was kidnapped and held as a sex slave for three months when the armies of the Islamic State captured her town in northern Iraq. She escaped after three months of torture.

Yet even Murad – visiting here under the auspices of the IsraAid humanitarian group and lobbying in support of a bill calling for Israel to recognize the ISIS genocide of the Yazidis – chose to speak at the rally about current events.

Fragile and almost waif-like, Murad, now 22, dressed completely in black, with a heavy black sweater despite the heat, spoke in Arabic, with simultaneous translation.

In a monotonic tone, she spoke only briefly and without any details about her own experiences as a sex slave. “The rape of Yazidi women wasn’t a crime of passion. It was a basic strategy, because ISIS knows that rape and enslavement not only hurts the women, but destroys our entire community,” she said.

Singers Muriam Toucan, left, and Yael Dekelbaum, whose “Prayer of the Mothers” has become an anthem for Women Wage Peace group.Credit: Rami Shllush

Praising Women Wage Peace, she continued, “Those of us who have escaped, are beginning, in the smallest steps, to make ourselves whole again. I see you women, sitting next to each other. Despite the violence, you are here, embracing each other. You are an inspiration. All over the world, I speak to male leaders and politicians. They listen, they even applaud when I speak – but they do nothing. We women know that we cannot count on men anywhere to make peace. We must do it.”

Emotionally, some in tears, the audience responded with a long standing ovation.

The evening ended with a performance of several songs by singers Yael Dekelbaum and Muriam Toucan, whose “Prayer of the Mothers,” has become an anthem for the women’s group. Many of the women held hands and swayed with the music as they sang.

One woman stood in her seat, as if transfixed, her arms held up toward the ceiling. Giving her name only as Meital, she said, “Maybe I sound crazy, but right now, I am overwhelmed with hope that women can make a change. It’s the only hope we have.”

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