By Irit Hakim, Israel Correspondent for Safe World for Women
In March 2013, a multi-cultural group of women - 'Connecting Daughters,' traveled together from the south of Jordan into Palestine and Israel, being hosted along the way by women working for peace: Palestinians, Israelis, and Bedouins.
The journey is a call for peace and is feminine in essence, 'beyond politics and prejudice'. Traveling by foot, camel, bus, horse, and truck, they followed ancient routes, carrying as little with them as possible, honoring Mother Earth in “a green pilgrimage.”
The women believe that It is only through balancing the feminine and masculine energies that true change is possible.
They are supported by men, who help to focus energies on achieving their shared purpose. Two Dutch men accompanied them on their travels, filming and documenting the story.
They journeyed from Petra and Wadi Rum in Jordan and came to Israel, to many places – villages and mountains, Jewish and Arabic, from south to north and back to Jerusalem, via Neve Shalom / Wāħat as-Salām.
Women from different religious backgrounds, sharing a desire for peace, as well as carrying pain from generations.
They engaged in activities that women have practiced since the beginning of time: storytelling, pottery making, cooking, and planting.
Together they were weaving a new story by working together on a large embroidered rug that reflected their prayers and powers. The Peace Rug was carried on the journey, to be placed on the ground in East Jerusalem as a symbol of unity.
I met up with the group when they arrived at Neve Shalom / Wāħat as-Salām - which means Oasis of Peace.
It is an Arab/Jewish community, set up over forty years ago, and dedicated to coexistence.
The event at the centre was instigated by acclaimed Israeli singer, musician and peace activist, Ronit Shefi.
Ronit uses her music for healing and transformation.
Outside, on the floor, is the Peace Rug.
Jordanian member of Connecting Sisters, Lana, with a special stick in her hand, is making a purifying ritual. She circles us several times, in dancing-like movements – walking across the Peace Rug, tying the ends of long string, moving from one woven ball to another.
Then she lights a scented candle, holding the tongues of fire, taking it with her bare hands until the fire dies, while Ronit hums all along.
We pick up the Peace Rug, taking it into the room, while Ronit is singing.
The atmosphere is electrifying!
We are sitting on mattresses around the large room, above us is the beautiful ceiling with two shallow domes - which give me the feeling of the sky and space.
Ronit is singing, we joining her.
“Home is where the heart is...
My heart is with you.”
The feel is of togetherness, the warmth of sisterhood. Smiles and glances are sent around.
We are curious to hear the Walkers’ stories.
Marjon Bovens, from the Netherlands, is the founder of Connecting Sisters. She is a social connecter and always searching for possibilities to bring people together who normally wouldn’t meet. She has been building bridges between people and groups with different points of view for many years.
Five years ago, Majion started travelling. She came to Israel and to Palestine, and felt at home.
Majion tells about a dream she had, a vision...
Peace is possible. Women can bring peace. Men should support them, emulate and follow them.
Everything started with a dream, now it is becoming reality.
Joining Marjon in her mission is Lana Nasser from Jordan, a writer and performing artist who has been leading women’s groups for several years.
Lana describes the Walk’s process, about the feminine and masculine energies which are out of balance in our world.
She says this is reflected in people's relationships to each other and their relationship to Mother Earth.
For Lana, the journey is about restoring the balance, inside and outside, of dryness and water. It is a meditation on peace and a prayer.
She finds Neve Shalom a very unique place, symbolic - being in most beautiful natural surroundings.
Ora (aka Gina), from Israel, says that she did not find her voice in the usual activism for peace. She operates at the level of relations between people.
Last July, Lana shared with Ora about the Walk, which she found attractive, inspiring and challenging.
Ora tells of the dilemma she had as to whether to be identified as Israeli when meeting with Arabs.
At the beginning, she hid the Star of David that she always wears.
Then she decided to be honest with everyone she meets, and since then, she presents herself as an Israeli.
She finds that the personal contacts are the right way for activism.
Irma, from the Netherlands, tells us that her life was centred around her family, her music and theatre, until she met Maijon.
She says that sometimes something comes in your life, something so strong that you cannot say NO to it; Marjon's dream was that ‘something’, and is now reality for her.
Taking part in this trip, she tries to make people aware of the fact that people, together, can make a difference.
Tali is an Israeli, now living in Canada.
She had grown up in Israel, in the Aravah – a section of the Jordan Rift Valley, and had a good relationship with the local Bedouins.
However, for Tali, this journey stirs painful childhood memories.
Tali tells us about her brother who was killed in a suicide bomber attacl. How she herself couldn’t make it on time for his funeral, and how the first person she met to comfort her was the Bedouin mother of the neighbour’s family, of whom one member had been murdered because his father was said to be a spy.
All this brought her to the understanding that in the current situation between Israel and Palestine – all sides are suffering.
About the journey, she says that each time we walk the path, we have an opportunity to rewrite, to recreate a new, hopeful story for all.
Diana (Israeli Palestinian Arab) and Dafna (Israeli Jew) are our hostesses from Neve Shaom / Wāħat as-Salām.
They tell us about the place where Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs live together out of their own choice.
They speak about the need for personal change – to get out of the mindset that people are in now.
To change the self, in order to change the surroundings.
Cees Rullens is a documentary-maker and director from the Netherlands.
He has been a theater director for more than 25 years, and is always looking for ways that can make a difference. His projects of the last few years have been about women. He is now working on a new play about Jesus and the women in Jesus's life.
Visiting Israel and Palestine in 2008, he became caught between stone-throwing youths and soldiers with machine guns rattling, and saw from a very close range the hate he never knew.
At the same time, he says, he experienced an intensity of life that also was new to him.
He finds this journey so inspiring: the pilgrimage, the content, the women who are doing this, the wonderful people they met during their exploration expeditions in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, the emotions that they experience when they respond, and the cooperation of many people who seem to understand the feminine approach to a peaceful existence – that glimmer of hope and the sharing of a dream.
He feels it is a rare opportunity and an honour to be allowed to take part of it.
Kristof Persyn is a photographer, also from the Netherlands. He says that looking through the camera lens, one sees more – and differently.
His role in the journey is to catch special moments, so actually he does not directly take part in the group.
He feels he learns a lot about women, and from them. He sees the Walking Women as icons of womanhood; as a powerful Mojo [a magical charm] on the forefront of peacekeeping - connecting, and nurturing in cultures and communities.
In times of uproar, he says, women are often effective in keeping confrontations harmonious; this is a quality we have to recognize. In his case, it's been women who told him the stories that gave meaning to his life.
He’d like to see a world where there is more cooperation between women and men. The men’s world is very boring, he says; he ends his story with a smile.
The storytelling ended, and we took part in decorating the Peace Rug by sewing and tying on strings and cards.
Time for hugs and good-byes. Women exchanged addresses, with invitations for personal meetings.
We each parted with a very special feeling.
On the 21st of March - the beginning of Springtime, the group walked around the old city of Jerusalem, starting at the Damascus Gate and ending at the New Gate, with the rug on their shoulders all the way.
They placed the Peace Rug on the ground next to the New Gate, and held a ceremony. People gathered from the street to watch and to appreciate.
Neve Shalom / Wāħat as-Salām is a cooperative community, founded in 1970 by Father Bruno Hussar - an Egyptian-born son of Jewish parents. He was an ordained Dominican priest and spent his life working to improve understanding among Israelis and Palestinians. He served as an advisor to the Israeli delegation to the United Nations after the 1967 Egypt-Israeli war.
Bruno Hussar set up the Oasis of Peace as a rural community outside Jerusalem where Jewish and Arab high school students could go for weekends and summer camp to try to work out mutual hatreds, suspicion and fear. Hussar was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
'WE are a group of women from different paths, we come from Jordan. the Netherlands, Palestine and Israel. On these lands we walk our journey, in the spring of this year.
WE meet more women on our travels in their communities, we sit together, make food or tea, work together, share stories and dances ...'