Earthly women

Building friendship and cooperation between Jewish and Arab women, at a one-day 'peace-fest.'

Activities to bring participants closer to nature and get more in tune with themselves included creating a mandala of flowers (photo credit: NOREEN SADIK)
Activities to bring participants closer to nature and get more in tune with themselves included creating a mandala of flowers
(photo credit: NOREEN SADIK)
Hanan Abu Mokh and Arava Gerzon Raz stood at the edge of the stage smiling as the attendees were being welcomed and the festival was being introduced. Drum beats and laughter filled the air as women held hands, and danced, first in pairs, and then as a group, singing in unison to the songs of a make-believe Arab wedding.
In spite of the rain and the cool temperature, women of all ages from all over the country came. A total of 750 women, to be exact.
Held at the Abu Jameel Farm in Baka al-Gharbiya near Haifa in recognition of International Women’s Day, Women of the Earth, a one-day peace-fest for Arab and Jewish women, was the first of its kind in an Arab city.
With the farm as a backdrop, the goal of the festival, inspired by a love of the land and a desire for peace between Israeli-Jewish and Arab women, was to create a connection between women, a bond with nature and a return to the basics.
Built in 2007, the farm, owned by Atif and Hanan Abu Mokh, is spread out over three hectares. Covered in the large white rock familiar to the local landscape, 1,000 olive trees and a large variety of herbs and plants, it has an old olive press, a water wheel and a replica of an old Palestinian home.
Abu Mokh, the mother of four children, feels as if the farm is her fifth child. And she has plans for it.
Her blue eyes light up when she says, “I don’t believe in dreams, but I believe in goals and I suit my goal to where I am.”
She explains, “We Palestinians forget ourselves, and we must protect our culture.”
With this as her goal, she has set up the farm to be a place that educates schoolchildren about traditions that are quickly fading, such as making olive oil and bread from scratch.
Her more ambitious goal was to work with women from the surrounding towns and villages; with housewives who feel that they can no longer advance in their lives, and women who are financially insecure.
For four years, through the farm’s programs, and using its produce, 30 women have learned ways to improve their lives through traditional handicrafts such as soap making, honey making, embroidery, basket weaving and the making of herbal medicine and lotions.
“The goal is not money. We encourage the women to get out of their homes and to depend on themselves. It makes them feel rested, and they have the opportunity to earn some money,” she says, with enthusiasm. “It affects the next generation. I want to change the mother so that she can help her daughter.”
But this was not enough for her. She wanted to do something even bigger but she needed a female partner, someone who understood her completely.
Abu Mokh and Gerzon Raz, a manager of a social network, a blogger and an activist, were brought together by a mutual friend.
“From the first minute that Arava walked onto the farm she recognized its potential and told me that something has to be done here,” says Abu Mokh, smiling at Gerzon Raz. “I felt that I had known her for a long time. She encouraged me, and opened the door.”
Amazingly, both of them had the same idea and desire to bring women from both sides together. And thus the Women of the Earth festival was born.
For the next four months they worked to make it a reality.
Activities to bring the women closer to nature, and to encourage them to be more in tune with themselves, were planned: A mandala that would be created from flowers by the women, basketry, reflexology, body and soul sessions, beadwork, laughter yoga, and what is a festival without food? “We chose the name ‘Women of the Earth’ because everything on the farm is tied to nature. We give to the land, and it gives back. It is a place that both Arabs and Jews can respect,” Abu Mokh says.
With the recent deterioration in relations between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, the festival couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I don’t want this to be an event just for left wing women. I want right-wing women to come here and be welcome,” Gerzon Raz says. “Many Orthodox [Jewish] women don’t know Arab women so they generalize about them. When they come here and have fun in the wedding and henna party that is hosted by Jewish and Arab women, then they can’t continue the generalization.”
She continues, “Women have issues that men don’t have. Women in Israel are not safe, not just on a political spectrum. There is violence against women, honor killings, and some women even have to ask permission to come to the festival.
“To bring Arab and Jewish women together to speak about peace is wrong when we have 100 other things to talk about,” she says. “It’s better to speak about the issues when you are friends because then you can be real and say what’s on your mind.”
She believes, “There should be more encounters that are not peace based but are based on the human level. We all have something to celebrate. Even though there is a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding, I believe that on the basic level, both people want peace, want to raise their children in peace and want a good livelihood.”
Shanna, who is originally from Canada, believes that the land is as much for her people as it is for the Palestinians.
“I can’t feel comfortable living here if I don’t recognize this,” she explains.
The festival gave her a renewed sense of hope. She says that there is a lot of tension in Tekoa, where she lives, and walls being built all over the land. The festival proves that people are breaking down the walls of their hearts.
Her sentiments were echoed by Mozaya from Tira, an Arab city in the Center. She came to the festival with a group of retired women.
“The situation in Israel is not comfortable at all,” she says. “It’s nice to see people wanting peace.”
Mili, a Jewish woman from Haifa, was sitting talking to an Arab woman. She believes that the festival is “a step for people to know each other.”
Even though she lives in a mixed Arab and Jewish city, she says, “It’s a pity when people don’t feel united. I feel pain when I hear the situation of the Arab people.”
“My biggest hope is for friendship and cooperation. If we can have encounters of equals, where we can do things together, I know things will come out of it. Maybe not immediately but in the long term. To have friends from the other side is important,” Gerzon Raz optimistically says. “I hope that the women who come here come with the mind-set of an open heart, and with the willingness to know someone from the other side, a different culture, the desire to make new friends and to collaborate on things together.”
Abu Mokh says, “This festival is the highlight of the last seven years.”
With the success of the festival, she reached her goal.