When Men Can’t.
I found the volunteering of Israeli and Palestinian women to make a stance against war together, magnetic, ironic, inspiring and even prophetic. At the same time serving as a mercy to silly men in suits who make decisions, offering them a final chance to listen to the earth’s cries before it consumes us all. As men have continuously failed at this ego-free opportunity to relieve the planet, I wanted to talk with a more reasonable group.
Yael Treidel is an active member of Women Wage Peace. W.W.P. are a collective of Israeli women who decided to unite in an effort to stop the warring in the wider region. On October the 4th 2016, WWP set off on a two-week march to Jerusalem.
It seems that Sunday, anywhere else in London, could be considered a day of rest but not in the W11 area. One phone call later, after struggling to get a peaceful place to converse in a busy venue in Notting Hill, I’ve finally managed to secure an empty office space with enough solitude to satisfy a sleepy baby. The famous Skype ring tone disturbs the rooms blissful peace and off we go.
UDL: Hi Yael, is that any better for you (the connection)?
Yael: Yes, right now it sounds much better.
UDL: Good. Did you hear any of what I said before?
Yael: Yes I heard it, I just wanted to tell you that we are definitely not the first ones to do this. The women in Liberia were the main reason and maybe the only reason why the slaughter there stopped so they are a great inspiration for us. The peace in Northern Ireland, the women were very important there too. Also, even here there was a group in the 90’s called The Four Mothers and they actually were an important cause of why we pulled out of Lebanon. So women are doing it already and have been for a while.
UDL: This is a new realisation for me, I guess I’m quite naive in respect of that but I am 100% in support of it, and that’s why I want to do whatever I can to further this cause and spread it.
Who started W.W.P. and what inspired you?
Yael: I think, well the movement started during or immediately after the last war that we had in Gaza, which was in 2014. It was a very bloody war, a lot of damage and a lot of people were hurt on both sides. We have literally, every couple of years another bloody round of violence and nothing seems to be done to prevent it. It becomes more and more violent and nobody wants to do anything other than just by force. So there were a few women that came together and thought ‘It just can’t continue like that’. Women bring children into the world and it’s our responsibility to also make sure that they lead decent lives, I mean we can’t just make life and then let other people control what’ll happen with it.
There was a lot of desperation, there was a lot of frustration and these women came together for a meeting, I think there were about forty of them, and they decided, that’s it, enough is enough, they are gonna take things into their hands and create a movement of women who just can’t take the situation anymore, that’s how it started. About a month later they did the first action which was women worldwide boarding a train that went from the town of Nahariya, in the north border with Lebanon, all the way to Sderot in the south. Sderot is a town that gets a lot of rockets from Gaza. More and more women got on the train until there were more than a thousand women wearing white on the train and they literally turned the train into a peace train.
So that’s how I actually heard about them. The war in Gaza 2014 was very traumatic for me, because I felt I just couldn’t take it anymore and I felt desperate, I felt very alone because our country had a big consensus in the media and everything about the war, I felt that it was completely wrong and I actually came to the point where I thought, that’s it, I’m leaving Israel, because I felt so helpless and when you feel this helpless it makes you depressed. You feel like a victim, in a certain way helplessness makes you feel victimised, and then I saw this action and decided to check them out.
I went to this house meeting about two months after their first meeting and when we were sitting there, the women were talking in the circle, we were saying why we came and I just heard myself and my own experience coming out of every one of these women. But then there was something different, we started to talk about it and about actually taking responsibility and making this end, making this total madness end, and I immediately felt a change within me and within the group. It went suddenly from this victimised frustrated desperate position to a position of ‘yes, we are going to do it’ and, literally for the first time in two or three months, when I was driving home, I felt energised and positive again.
UDL: I see. Obviously, I come from a place that is not war torn. We have our struggles here but it’s no way as intense as where you are from. Living in a place of such hostility how much resistance have you received towards your cause?
Yael: That’s an interesting question because I can give you an example. For quite a few years, I was talking a lot and very loudly against occupation and against what we’re doing in the occupied territories, I received a lot of hostility and I lost a lot of friends who just didn’t want to hear about it anymore, and then when I came into this group we actually took another line of action.
Instead of talking against what’s wrong and against whoever is doing wrong now, we’re talking about supporting those who are making efforts to make peace, we are talking to those people who do not think that this is a possibility and we listen to them. We listen and we communicate and what we do is, instead of going one against the other on the ideological level we go to the human level and I think this is part of us being women and bringing something different.
Once at a house meeting, a woman once said something like; ‘When children fight, you send them to their room to speak about it with each other and resolve it’. We still have those who tell us that we are traitors, they say that we are why the world hates us [Israel] and whatever.
But the focus of this specific movement is that we are non-partisan we have women from the right wing, women who vote for Bibi [PM Binyamin Netanyahu] or right wing parties, we have women who are settlers from occupied territories, we have Arab women, religious women, we have secular women, because what we are doing is we basically speak one to another and we all meet in our desire for living normal peaceful lives and knowing that we can raise our children and families without being always under the threat of war, having to deal with trauma, post-trauma again and again and again. In Israel and Palestine people are not post traumatic, they are traumatic because it doesn’t end, it continues.
UDL: Yeah. What do you feel the cause of all this conflict is, of all this warring? What attitude needs to change to sustain some sort of peace?
Yael: I think there are some things. The March Of Hope addressed the fact that most people, on both sides, are completely cynical about the possibility of actually ending this conflict and I think when people are cynical they hate and they just stop caring. Nobody is interested, for example, in broadcasting things that have to do with peace.
In Israel and Palestine, there are dozens of groups of Israelis and Palestinians that are working together, talking together, trying to learn about each other, nobody in the media cares about that, as the media is also very cynical about this. So the first thing: We have to bring the hope back into people’s hearts, because when people have hope, then they are more interested in actually doing something about it.
Surveys that were taken in Israel, and also by the Palestinian authorities, show that most people want the conflict to end and want to lead a normal life. Of course, there are the extremists on both sides and they are completely crazy but they are a minority and the vast majority want to live a normal life.
The other thing is: We have been going for two years, the first year we just built ourselves, the second year we are deeply into trying to reach women and population groups that are less likely to be involved in peace activism. Let’s say that the base that we created is wider than any of the other peace movements out here now. In the third year, we will continue with what we have been doing so far but we will also work on the level of government.
Literally, we have 120 members of parliament, we will try to meet each and every one of them, sit with them and ask them again and again, what are you doing today to promote peace. How can we help you to promote peace, and so forth. Another thing that is also very important is that we are working with the Palestinians. We have a committed, very dedicated and amazing group of Palestinian women leaders that are working with us. In the March Of Hope, we had one section of the march that was in the desert, by the dead sea, and we had 1,000 Palestinian women and 3,000 women from Israel and we marched altogether. This is something, to have a thousand Palestinian women marching with Israelis is unprecedented and the reason that that happened is because of these unbelievable Palestinian women working with us that are completely dedicated to bringing peace and to bring normality to this region.
UDL: You are from Israel right?
UDL: Growing up close to my Mother I find that innately women are about keeping things alive, making things more beautiful and sustaining them. Being a man myself, I find this whole war issue really about men. Did you find you had a lot more in common with the women and maybe it was just the peripheral politics that separated you? Did you find a common thing like this with the Palestinian women?
Yael: I will say something even bigger than that. Definitely with the Palestinian women but also with women who think differently than me ‘politically’ in Israel. Because in the end, when you speak person to person, not right winger, left winger, religious person, or secular person, but woman to woman, then there is much more in common than separating and that’s the thing. This is why also this movement is focusing on two goals only: One is to reach a viable peace agreement that is respectable and acceptable to both sides. That’s one thing, and the other thing is to have women involved in the negotiations. I don’t know if you know the Security Council resolution 1325?
UDL: Not off the top of my head, no.
Yael: Well actually, the United Nations Security Council did research and found that in every place where women were involved in achieving peace – A, It was faster B, It was more sustainable and C, it was more equal for both sides. Basically, it says in 1325 that women should be involved in any peace negotiations or security decisions and that is because we bring another perspective to the table which is very important.
UDL: Wow! I guess it’s your nature again, to be about the preservation of life. I really feel that the absence of that in the world today is why the world is the way it is.
UDL: How many members in your organisation today, how many are you?
Yael: We are now over 10,000 and then we have many more supporters in Israel and the rest of the world.
UDL: Do you have many male supporters at all?
Yael: 15-20% of our members are male. Until now, most of the supporters were from Israel. The supporters are global but the members are from Israel. Now towards the march we actually had groups all over the world that wanted to be part of it and they created their own little groups and they had their own solidarity events with us and I’m talking like literally from Japan and Australia to America to Europe and places. They even had a solidarity march in Cornwall, your Cornwall. (laughs) We didn’t have something specific in London but probably we will have next time. So at this point women can join or can be supporters, the idea is to cooperate with other organisations, other individuals, whoever agree with our objectives, because the bigger we are the stronger we are, and the stronger we are peace will come sooner.
UDL: Are you linking up with other women’s groups with the same goals of peace?
Yael: Yes definitely, the only other thing about linking up with other women’s groups is it’s very important for us to remain non-partisan, so when it’s organisations that support specific parties it is more difficult because we don’t want anybody to feel unwelcome. With other organisations that are working for social causes or definitely for peace or women’s organisations, we definitely have a lot of co-operation already and it keeps evolving. So if you want to connect us with other organisations or women you know we’d be very happy.
UDL: I’ll do my utmost to look into some of these other groups. There is definitely a difference between some of the feminist groups that are aggressive feminist groups and the women’s groups and when you exclude somebody for gender, you create the same problem that you are trying to get away from.
Yael: In terms of nurturers for me personally and for a lot of us, it’s important to make clear that it’s not only because we are nurturers that women are involved in this movement, we are strong women who are very capable. This two-week event that we ran [the March of Hope] was unbelievably complicated and we had only maybe two people actually paid, everybody else was volunteering. These are women who understand the complexity of this. What I’m trying to say is, when we speak as mothers people listen to us more but it’s not only being a mother, it’s being completely capable and being completely right for the job because it’s about leadership.
UDL: Some months back, I spoke to a reporter from the Evening Standard about this and she was convinced that we would soon have a female Prime Minister. She mentioned Theresa May and Hillary Clinton as examples. Have you thought about this and how do you protect against the female direction remaining pure and not becoming a male agenda carried out by women?
Yael: We have some female ministers here that are not exactly going in the direction that we are talking about. So what I’m telling you now is not the movement’s but it’s my thoughts about this, also I’m coming from a feminist background. It’s not that we [women] are all angels and men are demons. It’s not like all women are good and all men are bad.
I’m not sure how it goes in terms of the balance of gender in England right now but it seems that Teresa May was the only one willing to take the hot potato after the Brexit. It’s not because she was the most qualified one it’s because she was the only one willing to do it.
She wasn’t elected or anything and that’s something that happens a lot of times, women have to clean up the mess. Because usually the men make the mess and go out and leave the women to clean it up. The other thing is, I think it’s about women coming together. Because for example in Israel, in most of the government parties, it’s a very male environment and in order for a woman to climb all the way up she has to adapt to the model of how things are going in her party, which means that they use the male model. For example, if you look at Netanyahu’s assistants and consultants all of them are male. So when you have one or two women that have gotten to the top, many times it’s because they have adapted to the male system.
Look at Angela Merkel, over the years her policy changed because she got more and more women into office and her policies are more and more prone to take in refugees and trying to be a peacemaker. By the way, I think Hillary Clinton did a lot of good things for women but I’m not getting into that because I’m not that familiar with all the leaders.
What I’m trying to say is that it is about women coming together and our structure is a non-hierarchical structure – a horizontal structure. Of course, we have some type of structure because we have to have a mechanism to make decisions. For example, when making important decisions we try to reach close to consensus because we want everyone to be behind it. Everyone’s voice can be heard, everyone can join the main teams and be active, so actually your level of activity is only dependent on how much you want and can give of your time, your energy and your skills.
UDL: Slowly I feel the world is moving towards that. What is the final objective considering all goes to plan?
Yael: The final objective is having a signed and agreed upon political agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, which is also applied. I don’t think signing it is enough, we have to make sure that it is implemented and taken all the way and having women involved in the discussions.
UDL: My goal is to set up a women’s group very similar to your own that have to be the final say in any conflict and these are the ones who talk before anybody goes to war. If that could happen within the United Nations we would definitely have a more peaceful world. I would like to get the women I know involved in your group. Now, what’s your next move?
Yael: Do you know everything that happened in the two weeks of the march?
UDL: I saw footage of it and read the article, maybe two different videos, I saw the singing and I saw a few men on the march as well.
Yael: Well, the march took place over the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, in which Jewish people build a Suka (like a hut) and invite guests in and they sit in the hut and eat together etc., so we actually used that and built a little hut in front of the Prime Ministers house and sat there for five days and invited people to speak and share their experience and so on, and by the way the walls of the hut, were made of Piece for Peace quilt (https://www.facebook.com/groups/177754549286886/).
Globally, people have been making pieces of quilt, and sending them to the WWP member who coordinates it, that is another amazing project that is happening to support our activity. So that was for five days and then, until the holiday was over, we had shifts of women dressed in white, holding signs in front of the Prime Ministers house just to make sure he knows that it wasn’t just some one-time thing we did, but it’s going to continue until the end, until they come to a resolution. Then we moved our activity to the parliament [Knesset] because they are resumed their activities [it’s the winter session], we marched from the prime minister’s house to the Knesset and had a weekly demonstration there.
The other thing is we have a whole team that will only focus on people in government and then we have teams that will continue the original amazing work of meeting more women – house meetings, and we go all over the country and we screen a documentary called Pray The Devil Back To Hell, it’s a documentary about the Liberian women. You should see it actually you would love it. It’s not easy to watch but in the end, it’s very inspiring. So we screen that and then we have a discussion with the women and they get inspired. Because what it shows is that women, when they decide to do it, nobody can stop them. For the last few days of the march, we had with us Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace Prize winner from Liberia. She came and marched with us and did speeches and she said ‘Even men with guns are not as powerful as a woman determined to bring peace’. She was really encouraging us. She was saying you must go all the way because nobody can stop you. And I believe her.
UDL: The place where you are situated, you stand as a torch for the world. If you can achieve that there, in such a dense area of constant conflict, I feel you can actually change the world.
Yael: I hope so.
UDL: Thank you so much for the time at such short notice.
It certainly appears that the time has come to action a collective, unbreakable, HUMAN BOND like we have never seen before. Women Wage Peace are not the first of their kind, but they are an essential organisation, in an essential area of conflict, at a very important time in the history of our planet.
It seems that we are heading dangerously close to extinction. It is not possible to read today’s news headlines with the perpetual daily world gore and not think that we are lobbying for our own end on this bequeathing planet. We have become too used to observing countries at war and feeling satisfied with doing little or nothing about it. Looks like this shared accommodation we call earth has just about had it with us but we have little understanding as to how the end will play out.
WWP are not just another soft cause but an awareness that we hope will spread to every man, woman and child. Maybe we should empower these women to fix the mess that little boys have created, before we regret it. The only alternative is to gamble and wait to see what happens. Me, I’m not totally convinced.