Women and Peace Movements in Israel

I do not identify with feminism because I believe that gender equality falls under the umbrella of human rights which itself broadly explains equality between men and women as a social status. It is a method of discourse that acts as a solution to inequality and does not blame a specific gender but rather enables a platform for both men and women to work together to challenge socially constructed ideologies and ultimately enhance a pluralistic and peaceful society. While it is clear that global data shows physical violence and discrimination against women far outweighs that of men, human rights aims to educate and challenge the causal roots of gender inequality, which I believe can be caused by the ideology of masculinity that is itself a type of socially-inflicted psychological abuse used as a tool to pressure, undermine and manipulate men who then respond and react to that pressure. This can either be by tolerating or conforming to hurting themselves and others, which then leads to a chain reaction that permeates throughout the culture of a society and effects women, children and the next generation.

If gender roles are socially constructed, then one could argue that social movements in the public sphere counteract those widely accepted practices and attempt to introduce a new dialogue with the aim of challenging the prevailing discourse, to explain the possibilities that such customs and behaviours are not as widely accepted or appreciated as many think and thus educate a new worldview in the public sphere that can change those structural archetypes. In international law, “Peace… may be defined as the absence of aggression, armed conflict, or the use or threat of use of force in violation of the United Nations Charter; and as the presence of (or commitment to) conditions under which fundamental human rights: the dignity and worth of the human person, the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law, can be maintained.” [Rebecca Sims, How do we Understand International Law and Peace].

A clear definition of peace movements is still in its infancy, but one would argue that it is a social movement that counteracts the ideology of war and the violence thereof, challenging the sensitised subject through civic and democratic participation and expose their disapproval of the choices made by governments. Accordingly, “social movements are informal networks, based on shared beliefs and solidarity, which mobilize about conflictual issues, through the frequent use of various forms of protest.” [Marco Guingi, Peace Movements]. While feminism is challenging to define given the practice varies broadly, the overall aim is for women’s rights and their interests and is thus different to peace movements where the underlying struggle is war and violence. The emergence of a new peace movement characterised by an all-female profile displays a unique and an important social role that women have to nurture the idea that womanhood and motherhood contain values inherent in the behaviour of peace, which is the absence of aggression and to develop the conditions of justice and unity, all of which stands at the core of human rights and responsibilities rather than feminism.

The first intifada was a rebellion that took place in the occupied territories of Palestine, in particular the West Bank and the Gaza Strip where demonstrations and civil disobedience took place against the Israeli forces. While there is some debate about when the intifada came to an end, many would agree that the Oslo Accords in 1993 grounded a potential resolution to the deadly violence, with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and PLO’ Yaser Arafat agreeing to an interim peace arrangement. Palestinian casualties far outweighed the deaths of Israeli soldiers and civilians as shown in B’Tselem:

Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces 

Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians

Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians Israeli security forces personnel killed by Palestinians
1987 – 1993 1100 62 58 46
Of them: Minors under the age of 17 241 13 3
Total 1162 104

It was at this time that the Women in Black peace vigil occurred in Jerusalem (January 1988) where women dressed in black publicly stood on Friday during Sabbath in protest against the violence, holding placards that wrote Stop the Occupation. This movement has grown into a global anti-war phenomenon, with similar movements emerging against violence in the former Yugoslavia, Italy and even Australia. “The women’s peace movement in Israel is among the innovative forces in Israeli society, constantly striving for new ways of imagining its collective identity. It may be concluded that the exclusion of women from the political arena, heavily populated by military men, has empowered them and contributed to a different outlook on the central problems of Israel.”[Sara Helman, Peace Movements in Israel].

Over the last 25 years since the Oslo Accords were signed, Yitzak Rabin was assassinated by ultranationalist Yigar Amir where Benjamin Netanyahu rose to power and who  thoroughly opposed to a mutual comprise, leading to another second intifada bloodier than the first where both Israeli building of settlements and Palestinian responses rejecting peace that lead to the Trump administration stifling any possible resolution, the stalemate seems to be sprinkling salt on a wound that refuses to heal. The stalemate has left people feeling disillusioned enough to believe that the two-state solution is all but dead.

It is during this period that a number of women’s peace movements mobilised from a network of grassroots alliances, communicating and engaging in new ways to articulate a common voice that rejected the quiet public subservience the violence had evoked. It explained an alternative collective character that explained an alignment of a social identity and empowered the peace movement where the loudness of the stifled peace proceed had silenced citizenship and left a residue of quiet disillusionment. The movement was the emergence of a social identity, a voice that constituted a representation of a widely held opinion that counteracted the militarism and the antagonism present in the uncompromising movement to build Israeli settlements.

The Women Wage Peace movement has seen tens of thousands of women rally together – perhaps the most notable was the peace march through the Negev desert – protesting their frustrations at the political stalemate and demanding a peace agreement. The movement often finds women dressed in white symbolic of purity (of intention) and peace and to counteract the symbol of mourning. They are often accompanied alongside Palestinian women that broadly show solidarity and a capacity for peaceful ‘togetherness’ to counteract the militarised and violent assumption that Palestinians and Israelis cannot live peace. It enables a renewed hope that peace is actually possible and to soften the assumption that the opinions of extreme ultra-nationalists is something broadly held.


The emergence of a womens peace movement seeking peace offered an alternative to the continuous discourses that promoted and contextualised an exclusivity to the land and so counteracted and even disqualified ideological and uncompromising positions that has prolonged the political stalemate. The national shock following the 1997 Israeli helicopter disaster in Lebanon, for instance, enabled the emergence of the Four Mothers peace movement referring both to four Israeli women and mothers of Israeli soldiers as well as the four biblical matriarchs that offered a representation or an alternative image of a motherly authenticity in their love for country, changing the idea of what national security looked like and that eventually led to a public discourse leading to the withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon. While it is clear that peace initiatives offer an alternative mode of imagining a cohesive collective experience, the effect of these peace movements has yet to solidify any real political change but it is certainly an important feature of Israeli peace movements that have helped shape and mobilise public dialogue.