the International Human Rights March of Women has finally come to an end, and it was much harder and more successful than any of us had hoped for.

This was a 3-week march (from December 20 through January 10) through Israel and Palestine, and 100-150 women came from overseas to participate, in addition to the locals -- Palestinians and Israelis -- who joined intermittently.  Women marched in all the major cities of Palestine (with the exception of Nablus, then under curfew) and Israel (with the exception of Haifa).  Along the way, the women witnessed and often experienced the brutal heart of the occupation -- checkpoints, curfews, closures, demolished homes, the 'security' wall, refugee camps, and -- on the Israeli side -- sites of terrible suicide bombings.

It was a kind of reverse VIP tour:  Instead of meeting with official dignitaries, participants met mainly with people on the ground: Palestinian and Israeli families, representatives of grassroots organizations, Israeli soldiers manning checkpoints, Palestinians trying to get through.  The Palestinian side arranged for a meeting with Arafat; on the Israeli side, we were turned down for meetings by a long list of officials (Sharon, among others) on the pretext of insufficient advance notice, though Knesset Member Issam Makhoul (from the left-wing Hadash Party) did find time to meet.  On both sides, the group met with a rainbow of progressive organizations -- peace, human rights, social justice, and women's issues -- learning about the nexus for both populations of occupation-inequality-poverty.  And women spent unforgettable nights with families in Palestine and Bedouin families in the desert region of Israel.

The march itself took place for an hour or so each day, as a single file of silent women walked through city streets or well-travelled roads, holding banners that called for an end to occupation and the protection of human rights.  Many stopped to stare and accepted flyers that explained who we are.  Although silent marches are not a common format in the Middle East, we too began to appreciate their power, radiating dignity and steadfastness as we walked through harsh weather.

But these women from Europe, North America, and Australia were all experienced activists -- who else would undertake such a journey? -- and they soon added an intense activist component to their presence. 

A few highlights:

The march was intense and exhausting, and we all came away from it with a chronic cough brought on by hours of marching in cold, sometimes rainy, weather and coming back to inadequately heated rooms, tepid showers, and never enough sleep.

But we all came away with something more:  150 smart and committed women from all over the globe now know more about the Middle East conflict than all the politicians who sit in plush offices around the world.  They have seen the occupation with their own eyes, and no one can tell them that it has anything to do with security for Israel.

The women met an old man in Palestine, 107 years old, he said, whose grandson was killed in the conflict.  "You will leave and I will remain, and nothing will change," he told the women.  I don't think there was a single woman in the group who did not resolve to prevent this bitter statement from coming true.

On behalf of the March Organizing Committee of the Coalition of Women for Peace -- the Israeli side of this march -- we are grateful to all those who invested their time, money, and energy and braved a trip to our troubled part of the world in order to share our struggle to reach a just peace between our peoples.  We remain your committed partners in activism.

Shalom, peace with justice, from Israel,
Omaima abu-Ras, Nicole Cohen-Addad, Rachel Amram, Yvonne Deutsch, Pnina Firestone, Yana Knopova, Gili Pliskin, Michal Pundak, Taghrid Shbeita, Aliyah Strauss, Gila Svirsky, and Alix Weizmann

Candlelight march in Jenin Photo: Niels Eriksson
Olive Tree Planting Photo: Niels Eriksson
Demonstration at Qalandia Photo: Rachel Amram

Coalition of Women for Peace:

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