Vardit Kaplanand and Dr Rahab Abd Halim are two valiant Israeli women who are leading the 'Women Wage Peace' movement which has over 20,000 members associated with it. The movement was set up in the wake of the 2014 Gaza war. The women ~ mothers, grandmothers, sisters and daughters ~ are striving for a new approach towards finding peace in the conflict zone. The group members come from all walks of life and consist of both Jewish and Arab women. The movement's leaders have been recognised at major global platforms, they tell Debdeep Mukherjee in an interview. Excerpts:
Tell us about how this peace movement was founded and how you two got involved.
Halim: After the pillar of defence operation took a toll on lives in 2014, the mothers of the soldiers felt anxious because of the war and came together to demand peace. I was known for my school for children with special needs which I started in the 1980s. After the war ended in 2014, consultations began to start this 'Women Wage Peace' movement. Once I was sure this group was serious about peace and cared about women on all sides, I joined this movement and was sure that together we can promote civil dialogue. We wanted to work for a better horizon for our children.
Kaplan:There was huge anxiety in the 2014 war period. During my mandatory service in the Israeli Defense Force, I hoped that when my children grew up, there would be peace. In 2014, a family I know lost their groom just two hours before the wedding. This incident moved me deeply. Then I decided 'Enough is Enough'. I thought "As a mom, I must ensure that these don't get repeated again and again". Women Wage Peace's uniqueness is that it's a grassroots movement. Ordinary women, irrespective of religion and political inclinations, came together and joined the movement.
How did you strategise to reach your goals?
Kaplan: We fasted for 50 days in 2015 to remember the gruesome memories of the 50-day war in 2014. We organised marches all over the country. We invited political leaders to address our rallies irrespective of which parties they came from. We also interacted with Palestinian women near the Dead Sea and prayed for peace together. We believe that by listening to each other, a common path can be reached.
The movement has two main principles.One is to push for peace at the negotiation table.The other is to enforce UN resolution 1325 which reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, which got seconded in 2006 in Israeli Parliament. We emphasised the need for women's voices being heard in conflict resolution.
Halim:The movement, spread all over Israel, generates activities every day. We screen an inspiring movie on Liberia in high schools and colleges, then conduct a dialogue on the role of women in conflict and peace. There was a project to make quilts for peace. We encourage people to come together and suggest ideas. We don't say this is right and that is wrong. We are not an organisation, we are a movement.The movement was started by mothers, though now it has young women too.
How did you try to bring a change?
Halim: We address colleges and schools. Education starts from homes by influencing the mothers about peace. The mothers go back and teach the benefits of peace to their husbands and sons. In this way, the message gets implemented effectively. As Mother Teresa said: "Love begins from home and a man craves for love more than food."Our movement aims to spread peace and love. Margaret Thatcher once said: "If you want to talk politics, go to men but if you want to do peace, go to women."
Kaplan: A research in Israel showed 60- 70 per cent in Israel want peace. We are trying to create dialogue because the moment a dialogue takes place, a window for a better future is created. To overcome years of hatred, we need to work hard.
Do you think there should be greater efforts to promote tourism between India and Israel?
Halim: I love Indians and I am very glad to be finally here. I have always been fond of Indian movies. Shah Rukh, Salman have been my favourites. In my childhood I used to go watch Bollywood movies every Friday. Mahatma Gandhi has been an icon for his message of non-violence, and he is my personal role model.
Kaplan: Tourism is a bridge between cultures.Since coming to India for the first time last year, I have already visited the country thrice and I love India. For both nations, there are many things in common. Indians are so creative and warm that we feel as though we are in our own country.
We have historical and archaeological linkages. We can work together in agriculture, IT and other businesses together. I have noticed that Indians love Israelis and know more about us than Americans.