“Motherhood is not limited to the act of bearing and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations”.
I spoke these words at an event that Women Wage Peace held in the Baptism site north of Jericho on October 19th, 2016, as part of the movement’s March of Hope.
It was an historical event; for the first in a very long time, Jewish and Palestinian women from Israel and the Palestinian Authority met and marched together for a peace agreement in our region.
It as a political event; a clear and resounding statement by women who are tired of war and bloodshed; who have had enough of being excluded from discourse and action for peace and security.
It was a formative event for me, personally; an opportunity to reflect on my own actions and leadership.
As we were getting ready to march to the sounds of drums and joint singing, I shed sweet tears of excitement and joy. Months and weeks of preparations and hard work culminated in this watershed moment. Holding and being held by other women; supporting and supported, I marched knowing that we are going to get far, together.
My face was beaming with tears and laughter; it reflected deep feelings of gratitude and determination. I knew there and then the mental and physical sensation of being in the presence of collective greatness.
As we took the stage, Huda Abu alarquob and I, to MC the ceremony, the collective greatness embraced and inspired us. “Women of the world, today is our day!” I heard Huda’s voice resonating in the desert. Her voice empowered mine. The blazing sun and the beaming faces of the women sitting in front of us shed their lights on us both.
I continue to cherish these moments as I return to my daily routine. Thoughts of womanhood and leadership linger in my mind; thoughts of all that I am learning from my many partners to the March of Hope and the journey towards social change.
I am a feminist activist and professional; I am well aware that the discourse on the qualities of motherhood is a slippery slope towards essentialism; towards the quicksand of social constructs of “femininity” and “masculinity” that do injustice to all genders. Yet, I am compelled to make motherhood – as position of moral leadership – present in the political discourse on peace and security.
Society tends to perceive motherhood as a personal and intimate position that belongs in the private realm of the family. The tender care and containment that are essential to raising children are appropriate for “feminine” caring professions but less so executive positions of management and leadership that require firmness, decisiveness and determination. These “soft” qualities and skills that are vital for raising families and managing relationships are often shunned as unwelcome or irrelevant guests in the boardroom. The qualities that are the life line of human existence and perceived as signs of weakness at the negotiations table.
We tend to think it is so; especially in our region where the conflicts dictates a language of zero sum game.
In every human encounter; personal, professional or political a rainbow of emotions comes into play. Each situation triggers us and pushes unconscious buttons. Minor and major crisis erupt when we act out of blindness, vanity or aggression. In times of crisis, our own responses can calm things down or cause an escalation. History shows that in cases where political leaders on both sides of a conflict chose the path of increased aggression it only led to more violence and bloodshed; loss and grief. However, when leaders chose a different path; when they reached out and shook the hand of the enemy, they changed history. The willingness to make painful concessions and let go of past grievances led to breakthroughs in the relationship between people and countries in the Middle East and around the world. Some of those leaders paid with their life for their courage; their political adversaries made their peace seeking stance look like acts of weakness. However, the images of Menachem Begin and Anwar a-Sadat, of Yitzchak Rabin and King Hussein shaking hands are engraved in our collective memory. Those images remind us that peace agreements are possible.
I was only four years old when I ran with my mother and sisters to the bomb shelter in Jerusalem during the 67 war. I was ten when we ran for shelter in 73. I was a young mother when I caressed my 18-month-old son through a plastic sleeve during the first Gulf War in 1991. I can still recall myself considering how to get home when buses exploded in Jerusalem after the collapse of the Oslo Agreement. I recall my eight-year-old daughter and me venturing to walk to the community garden after a Red Alert during the Protective Edge war in 2014. I recall looking at images of the destruction on Gaza; images of parents on both sides of the border – their hearts broken – weeping over the bodies of their dead children. I sat and wept for those children.
Motherhood is not only about giving birth or raising our own children. Motherhood – or indeed parenthood – is an ethical and moral position of responsibility towards the world we live in and towards our fellow human beings. It is a position of self-restraint, attentiveness and inclusion. It a position of passion and love and of setting high standards of human behavior. It is a position of compassion and dedication; of determination and resilience.
The world we live in is harsh and complicated; it contains too much injustice and violence; too much cruelty and misery. Our world needs compassion and healing; forgiveness and reconciliation. The world we live in needs that we see the person in front of us in their full humanity; it needs that we raise our voices against acts on acts against humanity.
“I see your humanity; do you see mine?” said Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Prize Laureate in 2011 from Liberia who came to Israel for the March of Hope as a special guest of Women Wage Peace. She told us that raising hope in the hearts who have lost so much to conflict and war is a huge responsibility. “Do not get into it if you are not serious”, she said.
We are serious. As serious as the giants who paved the way for women as equal and engaged agents of change. As serious as the giants who fought for women’s voting rights; as serious as the giants who fought and are fighting for gender, social and racial justice and for human rights. As serious as the women who fought for peace in their countries.
We are serious and we will not stop until there is a peace agreement. We are serious about creating a new political discourse based on mutual recognition and care. We are serious about putting peacebuilding back at the heart of the work of our communities.
Motherhood is not only the act of baring and rearing our own children. Motherhood is a spiritual and ethical position of responsibility for the world and for future generations.