Holding onto our Shared Humanity in Israel and Palestine

Pain was a red-orange flame threatening to split Fatima’s* hips in half. Stress and trauma were ushering Fatima’s baby into the world before the baby was ready. Fatima fought for her about-to-be-born child’s life while bombs rained down on North Gaza. Under the explosions and her own grunts of pain, Fatima heard an eerie silence. Where were the cries of her newborn, making friends with life? The baby’s death certificate was issued before their birth certificate.

Mobilizing for Mothers in North Gaza

Hundreds of pregnant Palestinian women in north Gaza share Fatima’s reality. With their families killed and their homes pulverized by airstrikes, pregnant women are forced to flee to shelters ill-equipped to meet maternity needs. Thanks to our community of peacebuilders, we’re responding on the ground in North Gaza. 

A collage of our relief work in Palestine and North Gaza. Photos by our local partners.

Working with a local partner, we’re providing medical supplies, assistive devices, dignity and hygiene kits, and psychosocial support to 12 shelters housing thousands of people. We’re distributing food vouchers to support the elderly and training volunteers to offer psychosocial support to children who have lost their parents or other family members. Our partner is one of the few organizations providing medical and health services to mothers, children, and the elderly in North Gaza.

Finding Common Ground in Jerusalem

At a cafe table in a Jerusalem hotel, Ghadir watched as the woman stood over their table and raged. “Seeing an Arab in a hijab in their place of safety was like being spit in the eye,” the woman shouted. Her lung capacity was formidable. If their country weren’t at the peak of war, the scene might have been funny. Only when one of Ghadir’s colleagues began to cry did the shouting woman pause, slightly in surprise. Ghadir seized the opportunity.

“Why don’t you and I go over there and talk?” Ghadir invited. 

The woman side-eyed Ghadir’s brick-red hijab but followed Ghadir away from the table and off to the side of the hotel lobby as she resumed shouting. What were they doing here? Didn’t they realize that the hotel was for people like her, Jewish people who the war in the south of Israel had displaced? She and 200,000 people like her had to be relocated while the Israel Gaza War raged on.

As Ghadir listened to the woman, her heart swelled with empathy. She could feel the blood, rage, fear, and terror fueling the woman’s loud words because those emotions surged through Ghadir’s body, too. As a Palestinian citizen of Israel, Ghadir knew firsthand how much pain a human heart can hold. All around her, people were losing their humanity, but she knew that only by holding onto our humanity could we find a way forward. Ghadir extended her arm and wrapped it around the woman’s shoulder. They hugged.

“Every mother, Jewish and Arab, gives birth to her children to see them grow and flourish and not to bury them. That’s why, even today, amid the pain and the feeling that the belief in peace has collapsed, we extend a hand in peace to all mothers.”

Naomi*,  an Israeli participant in Women Lead Together

The woman’s shouting gradually subsided as she and Ghadir spoke. They both agreed that everyone deserves to live in safety so their children can flourish. When they finished their conversation, they hugged again and rejoined Ghadir’s colleagues. The woman who had been shouting embraced our colleague who had been crying. 

Women Lead Together in Israel and Palestine

Ghadir is part of Women Lead Together, an initiative we started in 2021 to empower women peacebuilders in Jerusalem. In Women Lead Together, Search facilitates connection and dialogue between Palestinian and Israeli women, as women’s participation and leadership have been largely absent in peace efforts between Palestine and Israel.  Naomi*, an Israeli participant, reflected, “Every mother, Jewish and Arab, gives birth to her children to see them grow and flourish and not to bury them. That’s why, even today, amid the pain and the feeling that the belief in peace has collapsed, we extend a hand in peace to all mothers.”

Women Lead Together participants come together to receive training and coaching in topics such as peacebuilding, social cohesion, conflict transformation, and economic empowerment. Capacity-building support focuses on how to start a business, how to respond to and mitigate domestic violence, and how to play an active role in peace processes.

Besides doing the long-term work of peacebuilding, Women Lead Together is mobilizing to support those in need of emergency relief. Thanks to peacebuilders like you, we’re bringing winter clothes, food vouchers, and school supplies to a Palestinian community in Ramallah. 

After performing a conflict scan, we identified ten schools to support. Twenty students from each school will receive school supplies, food vouchers, each of which feeds a family of seven, and winter clothes through three distribution phases. Thanks to our community’s generosity, 1,400 people are receiving much-needed food relief, and 200 students will have the school supplies they need to maximize their learning.

Dialogues for Action in Israel

Like Women Lead Together, our initiative Religious Community Action, gathers religious Jewish and Muslim women in closed-door sessions. Through discussions, women build trust and friendship based on their faiths through sharing their religious beliefs and experiences. Working in interreligious pairs, they take their new-found knowledge “on the road”  to increase public awareness about both faiths in their communities. Together, one Jewish woman and one Muslim woman meet with local government officials or speak in schools and other institutions about both faiths’ religious traditions to foster a culture of tolerance. We organize this initiative, and Ghadir’s friend Noa is one of our peacebuilders implementing it.

Noa, a Jewish Israeli woman, lives in Lod, a mixed Israeli city near Jerusalem. A mixed city is a city where Jews and Arabs live side by side instead of in separate communities. In 2021, clashes between Israeli police and Muslim worshipers at the nearby Al Aqsa mosque triggered widespread violence in Israel’s mixed cities. There were riots, murders, destruction of houses of worship, and looting.

Following this eruption of violence, we prioritized reconciliation and violence prevention, specifically in mixed cities. We focused our programming initiatives in Lod because it had experienced the worst violence. In one of our projects to promote cross-faith understanding, students, religious leaders, diplomats, educators, activists, and civic leaders visited historical sites and places of worship with our religious leader participants from both faiths.

Our hard work is paying off. After the October 7th attack, intercommunal violence between Jews and Arabs could have exploded again in Lod, but it hasn’t. We continue to find new ways to build community trust. Noa recently established a neighborhood watch with Muslim and Jewish participants to prevent violence from erupting both online and physically, earning the support of the local mayor and the police. 

As we bear witness to this heartbreaking moment and the ongoing extreme violence – the primary victims of which continue to be civilians – retaining any faith in peacebuilding is near-impossible, but peacebuilding works when we hold onto our shared humanity, whether we’re delivering medical supplies to shelters-turned-maternity wards, meeting in a hotel lobby, delivering emergency relief, building interreligious tolerance, running a neighborhood watch, or laying the groundwork for a robust and relentless peace process that must begin as soon as the guns fall silent.

Peacebuilding requires tenacity, especially when violence tears communities apart. It doesn’t draw attention to itself in our look-at-me times. It’s not glamorous, but it is necessary. Peacebuilders such as Naomi, Ghadir, Noa, and our partners are working to break cycles of violence by putting people first so that in the future, every Israeli and Palestinian will lead a safe and dignified life. Let our community of peacebuilders know that you see them, you honor them, and you support them by giving now.

*Not her real name.

Put People First