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Women Wage Peace inspired following trip to South Africa

“It was a trip filled with hope, inspiration and enlightenment.” These were the words of Women Wage Peace activist Hyam Tannous, who was part of a delegation of four women from the organization that visited South Africa last week.

According to the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, which invited the four delegates – two of whom are Jewish, one Christian and one Muslim – all were united in bringing their important message of peace to South Africa.

In a statement to The Jerusalem Post, the SAJBD said that the aim of the trip “was to show the desire for peace among ordinary Israelis, despite the problems the country faces.”

“Each of the four women have their own unique stories, challenges and reason for being part of the organization,” it said. “All, however, are united in the conviction that, as women, they have a responsibility to influence the Israeli government towards returning to the negotiating table and bringing about a peaceful political solution.

“It was this narrative we believed was important for South Africans to hear,” the Jewish organization said.

Tannous, an Arab Christian woman with a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Haifa, said there was “mutual enlightenment” between the delegation and the South Africans they met during the trip. “They learned about our conflict and we learned from them,” she told the Post. “If Madiba – Nelson Mandela – could come to a place of peace after so much bloodshed, then we can, too.”

Tannous said that during the trip, they met with all streams of the “rainbow nation,” which too was enlightening for her. She got involved in peace activism between Palestinians and Israelis because of her love, belief and concern both for the Palestinians and Jews in the State of Israel.

This caused her to become active in promoting dialogues between the Jewish and Palestinian people, including Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority, and she has been involved in numerous projects doing so.

“Pain is everywhere,” she stressed, “There is conflict and suffering, but it depends on the individual to heal the circle of hatred. We have to look at the other as an opportunity, not as the enemy.” She said that peace was found in South Africa – and that was with 11 different cultures and languages, while “in Israel there are two,” she said.

For Tannous, the biggest lesson she learned from the trip is that peace is a process that takes time.

“There are two narratives in Israel – the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative,” she explained. “Everyone thinks they are right, but 70 years down the line we still have war and conflict – there is still fear and distrust. We need to have trust to be able to go back to the negotiating table.

“We need to talk, negotiate and listen to each other… we need to listen to all solutions and find a solution that respects both sides,” Tannous said. “I also learned from Madiba’s quotes… about justice, equality, fairness, humanity, dignity and respect – he is their spiritual father, he is always in their hearts and minds.

“Maybe we need a Nelson Mandela here,” she added. “I pray to God every day that we will have a Nelson Mandela here.”

She said that part of the trip also focused on women’s empowerment, and that they met incredible women who are taking their place in South African society, “and we saw how women there are part of the decision-making, they want to hear the voice of every woman there, which is important.”

This is also something that Women Wage Peace is working hard to do for Israeli and Palestinian women, she said, referring to the initiative to have more women in the cabinet by 2025. She called on women to join the negotiating process between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Women here are taking their place, and we want more women to be there especially when there is [talk of] war, because we want to find alternatives, we don’t want war, we want our sons to live – we women bring life and we preserve life,” she said, making it clear that this is Women Wage Peace’s focus.

Her biggest highlight of the trip was attending a church service in central Johannesburg where she addressed over 4,000 congregants.

“There was beautiful African traditional dancing… and everyone was standing up together and praying together,” she said. “This was very moving and emotional.”

The SAJBD added that there was not a dry eye in sight after she addressed the congregation.

Another delegate, Manar Abu Dahal, who is a Muslim Bedouin woman living in Lod, said that she realized during the trip “that everywhere in the world, there is one conflict or another.”

“The challenge lies in the hands of the citizens, who need to unite together and overcome the pain and difficulty that remain as long as there is a conflict affecting both sides,” she stressed.

Abu Dahal described South Africans as “life-loving, calm people who love music and dance,” adding that “there is joy in this country despite the great pain.”

“South Africa allowed me to see my world in a greater resolution – for example, the impact of integration on decision-making centers, poverty and crime phenomena, mixed marriage phenomenon and more,” she told the Post. “I learned the power of women – to empower, to support and encourage one another to build an influential female force and advance the country.”

She also noted that there “are more women of senior rank in South Africa, which shows that the status of women is important,” adding that she was amazed that there “is a woman’s month in South Africa, which honors the wife, mother and daughter.”

Despite the hardships still faced today in South Africa, the country has “a belief in life,” she added. “It continues to be alive, to thrive, despite the disparities between the different populations.”

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