Give Peace a Chance: Why All of Us Must Be Part of the Process
To choose life is to choose to see the complexity of the situation here. To learn, of necessity, to defend one’s life, but also to see the distress and extend a helping hand... Life here will be possible only if we stop blaming each other and stop being victims. We all need to overcome and to take responsibility and start working hard for the sake of life here.
Michal Froman, “March of Hope” rally, Jerusalem, October 19, 2016
During Sukkot, Tami and I decided to join the culminating segment of the “March of Hope,” a two-week series of local marches around the country, sponsored by a grassroots organization that sprang up after the 2014 Gaza war, Women Wage Peace. The chartered bus we joined from our county joined dozens of others; 20,000 marchers converged on Jerusalem, including a group that had participated earlier in the day in a march in the West Bank, with Palestinian women.
It was a beautiful fall day. Like all the other mass protest marches I have experienced, this one was a festive affair, a chance to feel solidarity and optimism and to bump into long-lost friends. We followed a route past the Knesset and the president’s residence, ending up in front of the prime minister’s residence for the concluding rally. The lineup included a popular singer and a chorus of the Black Hebrews of Dimona; the Arab and Jewish organizers of the march; a Palestinian peace activist; and Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate credited with bringing the Liberian civil war to an end. Refreshingly, there were no politicians except a couple of small town mayors – no pandering.
For me, the fun and festivity were tempered by a certain pessimism: Do such protests really accomplish anything other than pumping up the solidarity of the participants? Does anyone really care that 20,000 starry-eyed idealists – mostly women – sang peace songs in front of the prime minister’s house? Indeed, given that my memory of protest marches goes back to anti-war protests in the 60s and 70s in New York and Washington, D.C., it felt somehow weird and dissonant to be singing “We Shall Overcome” and “Give Peace a Chance” in the streets of Jerusalem. Our situation is so much more complicated and daunting, or so it seems. There were no counterdemonstrators; if there had been, they would have labeled us as soft-minded, naïve, out-of-touch (or defeatist traitors). Had the prime minister come out to address us, he would have assured us that he is working harder than anyone for peace, but that it takes two to tango… And so I was thinking, What is the point, really? What do we even want?
And then a young Orthodox woman took the stage. Michal Froman, daughter-in-law of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman, who was a well-known activist for interfaith dialogue, was stabbed by a Palestinian teenager in her local grocery store in January, when she was six months pregnant with the baby she held as she came on stage. Her words, quoted in part above, put everything in perspective. Clamoring for our political leaders to sign a peace agreement is a cop-out. There can be no such treaty before a lot of work is done on “hearts and minds,” work that is the responsibility of all citizens, not only elected leaders. The pessimism that sees us as eternal victims of forces beyond our control, powerless to change our situation, is self-fulfilling, feeding on itself. Of course, the process is Sisyphean and frustrating, but if we are to survive here, then at a time when democracies around the world are being bruised or shredded by identity politics, we have to be the “light unto the nations,” the one place where that is not allowed to happen.
So we have to march, and sing, and support grassroots efforts at cooperation and mutual understanding – and give people like Michal Froman the opportunity to be heard. Zionism was supposed to be about the Jewish emergence from powerlessness; we dare not let ourselves drift back into it.