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'It's time for healing': Grassroots women's movement aims to pressure Israel to reach peace deal

At rallies across Israel this autumn, tens of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women have marched, danced, sung and advocated for peace as part of a grassroots effort to pressure the Israeli government to reach a political agreement with the Palestinians by 2018.

Tens of thousands have joined rallies this fall calling for end to protracted Mideast conflict

Tens of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women have been gathering together at rallies across Israel this autumn in an effort to bring an end to the Mideast conflict.

The women marched, danced, sang, talked and listened to each other — including at one huge rally in the desert near the Dead Sea.

(Irris Makler)

The rallies, organized by Women Wage Peace, took place all over the country. In Jaffa, part of the seaside town of Tel Aviv, 3,000 women took part.

Women Wage Peace is an Israeli grassroots peace movement that seeks to appeal to all women — Palestinian and Israeli, old and young, Muslim, Christian and Jewish, and also left and right on the political spectrum.

The poster below reads: "Right, centre and left demand a political agreement."

(Irris Makler)

Canadian-Israeli musician and activist Yael Deckelbaum was at the rallies in Jaffa and near the Dead Sea. She is the founder of the Prayer of the Mothers Ensemble, a musical group that includes Arab and Israeli women.

The group's name is taken from the song Prayer of the Mothers, which Deckelbaum wrote for the Women Wage Peace movement.

As they marched, the women sang the song in Arabic, Hebrew and English. It has become the anthem of Women Wage Peace and the music video for the song has gone viral, with more than four million views on YouTube.

(Irris Makler)

Women Wage Peace was founded after the 2014 war in Gaza by Israeli mothers and now has more than 25,000 members, about 20 per cent of whom are men. The movement's main goal is to pressure the Israeli government to reach a political agreement to end the conflict with the Palestinians by 2018.

"It's time for healing," said Lili Weisberger, one of the organizers. "That's the reason that, after 4,000 years, we are saying enough is enough. Now is the time for peace and reconciliation. It's time to create a new story."

The marchers, with guitars, drums and flutes, invited women to dance, sing and ponder the group's political message. 

(Irris Makler)

The energy of the rallies is infectious.

For Palestinian women, joining the movement is a challenge. They can't easily come from the West Bank to participate. One of the only places Israelis and Palestinians can meet without permits is in a part of the West Bank known as Area C.

That's where Women Wage Peace held its main rally, in a stretch of desert near the Dead Sea. About 10,000 Israeli and Palestinian women marched there together through the desert.

"The message is enough violence, enough with hatred, enough with blood, enough with war," said Lama Abu Arqoub, a teacher and mother of five from Hebron, in the West Bank. "We need to work for peace."

Abu Arqoub says she has to keep her participation in the rallies from some of the people she knows and works with in Hebron because some Hebron residents condemn any joint activities with Israelis and accuse the movement of "beautifying Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories."

Despite this, Abu Arqoub remains optimistic.

(Irris Makler)

"I am optimistic because, if we're not, it means we get frustrated, and frustration leads to dangerous consequences. Women can, and women will make the difference," she says as she marches.

She and other women say it's a wonderful feeling to mingle freely with one another.

Their destination is a tent named for Hagar and Sarah, the biblical mothers of the Muslim and Jewish peoples. There, they meet up with old friends and make new ones.

(Irris Makler)

Critics say this is idealistic, not realistic. But women involved in the movement say it can lead to real results that will benefit both sides. Their challenge, they say, will be channeling the groundswell of hope into tangible political change.

(Irris Makler)

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