Thousands of women marched through Jerusalem on Sunday evening, demanding the resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in an event that pitted the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) against the Hamas terrorist group, amid reconciliation efforts between the rival Palestinian factions.
The PLO’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, formed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, had sent out invitations to the Women Wage Peace (WWP) march, drawing criticism from some Palestinian groups.
The march was denounced by Hamas in an official statement, as well as by the Palestinian branch of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, both of which accused Palestinians participating in the initiative of “normalizing” relations with Israel.
The culmination of the two-week march throughout portions of Israel and the West Bank took place in Jerusalem on Sunday, with a walk that began outside Israel’s Supreme Court and concluded in Independence Park with a rally and speakers from the Jewish and Israeli Arab communities. Organizers claimed some 30,000 took part in the events in Jerusalem, though eyewitness estimates placed the figure at several thousand.
‘An offense against the history of our people’
Dr. Ziad Darwish of PLO’s Committee For Interaction with Israeli Society said that the women’s peace march had the full support of the PLO and PA. Speaking to The Times of Israel by phone on Sunday afternoon, he said that more than 20 buses of Palestinian women had been sent to participate in the West Bank march.
“We are participating,” he said.
The march and rally were strongly opposed by Hamas, which Israel considers a terror organization, and which is currently in negotiations to relinquish its control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. The movement published an official statement opposing the march, saying it considered the invitation from the PLO’s Committee For Interaction with Israeli Society “a departure from the national consensus and an offense against the history of our people.”
Hamas further called on Palestinians to “confront” the march and “isolate those who set it up.”
Abbas, meanwhile, sent the marchers a personal letter, in which he called for the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.
The march was also condemned, however, by the Palestinian National Committee of the international BDS campaign. In an Arabic release, the committee denounced the “feminist normalization march” and called for a boycott and “peaceful sabotage” of the initiative. The term normalization is used by Palestinians to refer to any initiative that is perceived to legitimize the Israeli military presence in the West Bank.
“Normalization is an Israeli weapon designed not only to colonize our minds but also to undermine the BDS movement as it grows steadily and achieves successes in isolating Israel academically, culturally and to a lesser degree economically,” the release said. The document accused the march — and similar coexistence initiatives — of being “not only an illusion and a deception but a first way to enable the occupation to penetrate our society and distort national consciousness.”
Darwish rejected this accusation and said that “the ongoing reconciliation effort between Ramallah and Gaza will not affect PLO efforts to reach out to Israeli society.”
Earlier Sunday morning, 8,000 people — Israeli and Palestinian — marched north of the Dead Sea in the West Bank. The marchers – mostly women – assembled in a communal “reconciliation tent” and erected a 60-meter (nearly 197 feet) dress, billed as the largest ever, created in 2007 by Israeli artist and activist Adi Yekutieli.
Many of the Israeli marchers were also present in the evening march, when buses from all over Israel converged on Jerusalem.
March organizers Anat Negev and Donna Kirshbaum said WWP does not advocate a specific peace initiative, but rather stresses a shared sense of urgency around new negotiations to unify Israelis and Palestinians.
“We are looking for these things that we have in common,” said Negev. “One basic thing that everybody wants is… a safe future for themselves and their children.”
Negev and Kirshbaum both said the march intends to send a signal to those in power – in Israel and the West Bank – that there is a strong desire for peace on both sides.
The march also served as a feminist platform, “demanding that women are equally represented in all aspects of decision-making related to negotiations, as mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1325, to which Israel was one of the first signatories,” said march organizer Donna Kirshbaum in an email.
Supporters of the initiative – while predominantly from secular Israeli backgrounds – reached across the political spectrum.
“We must come together to be able to reach the peace that we all want,” said Michal Froman, a religious Jewish settler who was stabbed by a Palestinian in January 2016, while she was pregnant, speaking to AFP last week.
“As a religious woman, I say that not to believe in peace is to not believe in God,” Froman said.
March organizer Huda Abuarquob is Palestinian, from the city of Hebron in the West Bank, one of the most tense areas of conflict.
“This march is not just another protest, but a way of saying that we want peace, and together we can obtain it,” she said
“We must come together to be able to reach the peace that we all want,” she said.
Speakers at the Jerusalem rally included religious and secular Jews – including settlers, and members of the Israeli Arab community. One speakers was former MK Shakib Shannan, whose son Kamil Shanan was killed in the July 14 attack on the Temple Mount, when two Israeli police officers were killed by three gunmen from the Israeli Arab city of Umm al-Fahm.
“We the Arab Israelis feel a lot of despair,” said Jaffa resident Amal Rihan, 41, lecturer of Arabic at the Open University and mother of four.
“We’ve been talking about it [peace] for 70 years and nothing has happened yet,” she said.
Zemer resident Amira Ziedan, 42, works in high-tech.
“I believe in peace,” the Women Wage Peace member said.
“Together, Palestinian and Israeli women can be stronger,” she said. “We can tell our leaders: stop the war and think together about a political agreement,” she added.
Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.