‘There are a lot of things about us women that sadden me, considering how men see us as rascals,” sighs Lysistrata, at the beginning of the play that bears her name.
Jesus would not be born for another four centuries, Athens was battling Sparta, and the golden age of Greece was about to come crumbling down. Women were fed up; their men had been fighting the Peloponnesian War for far too long. Lysistrata was one strong Greek mama, and enough dying is enough. She co-opted a Spartan lady as a partner for peace, and together they spread the word: No more sex for any soldiers till they lay down their arms and lie back in the loving arms of their women.
The play, written by Aristophanes in the fifth century BCE, takes a sly look at gender relations and power, as well as unpicking the age-old question of what women really want. Peace, it seems, is way at the top of the list. And if crying and pleading with their men won’t stop the war, a sex embargo might just do the trick. (It does. Desperately frustrated fighters race through peace talks and sign a deal.)
Women in Israel and the West Bank have not, so far, issued a no-action decree until all military action is suspended, but many, many of them have had enough of war.
In the summer of 2014, as yet another bloody round of the conflict raged between Israel and the Palestinians, Lily Weisberger, art therapist and visual artist, whose son was in Gaza, could not breathe.
“I have to do something to change things,” she vowed.
Bombs were falling everywhere, including Tel Aviv; the war hammered on for over 50 days. Women, with a new understanding of how life under constant threat felt on their skin, spontaneously converged on long-suffering Sderot to show solidarity. And women began to wage peace in the Middle East.
“This last war really broke us,” says Vivian Silver, a longtime immigrant from Canada, who lives on a kibbutz bordering Gaza. “As usual our sons and husbands and brothers were on the front, but we began to wonder how, if no war had ever brought lasting peace, why this one would be different.”
Some Israelis, according to Silver, cynically likened dealing with Gaza to “mowing the lawn”; every now and then, steps are needed to keep the garden tidy for another short period. But a growing group of women – secular and religious, Arab and Jewish, left-wing and right, settlers and bereaved moms, Palestinian and Israeli – have a different mind-set. They want to give peace a chance.
So what’s the plan? Ah, the plan.
Women Wage Peace recognizes that therein lies the rub. A plan entails politics: giving up the West Bank or not giving up the West Bank; a right of return or no right of return; territorial compromises or no compromises at all. And WWP does not want to get political.
“We realize that for many people no clear plan of action is a stumbling block,” says Ariella Giniger, a member of the steering committee. “But we see it as our strength. We don’t believe that peace belongs to the Left, and security to the Right. We believe that everyone aims for peace, and political biases only obscure this. We want the two sides to talk. We know there’s no consensus, and this will take time; we are like midwives who say: ‘Breathe and push.’ A plan will be formulated if we all want one.”
WWP has only two demands: (1) Israeli and Palestinian leaders sit together to reach a diplomatic agreement to end the conflict, and (2) women are included in negotiations. UN Resolution 1325, passed almost 20 years ago, mandated that women should participate in solving regional conflicts. In 2005 Israel was the first country in the world to adopt 1325 and make it a law: Women from all spheres of life should be included in core-issue decisions.
But there is a distance between passing laws and implementing them.
“Women have been the key in solving conflicts in Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Guatemala, Colombia and Liberia,” claims Etti Livne, a former member of Knesset and an activist for WWP. “Today our members visit the Knesset every week and lobby for peace talks; we are sure we will get there in the end.”
To be effective, lobbies need to be powerful. WWP today numbers over 31,000 members. They include Leora Zahav from a settlement in the West Bank and Suzanna Abdel Kaba from Taiba, and Ya’aloma Zakut from Ofakim, a retired air force officer. Huda Alaraqoub, from Hebron, though not a member of the all-Israeli WWP, works tirelessly with Palestinian women to prove there is a partner for peace.
Sometimes, it turns out, working for peace can be contentious. Members of the movement are often attacked by Left and Right. But they are not giving up.
It’s weird to think women would attack women who believe in dialogue. But life is weird. Last week, having my nails done, I attempted to sign up my manicurist. A waiting client, whose husband was once a Likud MK, became enraged.
“Do you think our prime minister needs women to tell him how to run the country?” she sneered, launching into a tirade against reporters who broke the Yair Netanyahu tapes scandal.
Lysistrata too, had her female foes. Greek and Spartan women alike pushed back against the sex strike, claiming it was not wives’ brief to determine the course of wars or peace. And yes, WWP has a way to go. The aim is to sign up 100,000 women by the end of the year; there’s still work to be done.
Meanwhile, on a shoestring budget, the movement (run almost exclusively by volunteers) organizes major marches to raise awareness and campaigns for more members at speaking engagements throughout the country.
Aristotle, that paragon of philosophers, believed that “as regards the sexes, the male is by nature superior and the female inferior, the male ruler and the female subject.” Another glittering proclamation has “that the courage of a man lies in commanding, a woman’s lies in obeying... a female is an incomplete male or, as it were, a deformity.” And, he continued, members of the female sex are more prone to despondency and less hopeful than their masters, as well as being more void of shame or self-respect than their husbands.
But what did Aristotle know?
Melinda Gates, in her recent Time magazine article “From Mad Men to Marching Women,” claims that “under the radar, grassroots organizations led by women are quietly changing the world.”
She is proud that she and Bill are committed to partner with some of these movements to move the world forward. As for me, I’m tired of complaining that the situation is dire; I like the feeling of being part of the push for change, too. I’ve signed up. How about you? For more information: womenwagepeace.org.il
The writer lectures at Beit Berl College and Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. email@example.com