Why I Joined “Women Wage Peace”, Saviona Rotlevy , Judge (retired)

Saviona Rotlevy

Saviona Rotlevy, Why I Joined “Women Wage Peace”

For thirty years I sat on the bench as a judge, not allowed to take part in political life as other Israeli citizens do – a constraint that ensures separation between the judicial branch and other branches of government, and maintains its independence. I was only allowed to react to social injustices and hardships as I saw them within the limits of the cases that I presided over.

Retirement from the bench has given me the opportunity to be involved in public affairs.

Over the past year in Israel we have faced a growing number of human rights’ violations, manifestations of hatred against “the other” or against those who expressed opinions not considered to be the “consensus”, and a growing perception that “we” (i.e., Israelis) are the only and ultimate victims in the region. In view of this and in the context of the recent Gaza war, I feel it is my duty to speak out.

Wars do not only claim lives and bring destruction. They also open wounds that continuously bleed at many levels of Israel’s society – its identity, the status of women, and the education of generations to primarily respect the power of the sword. Wars prevent us from devoting much needed resources to tend to essential social needs, and they contribute to increased social gaps between the haves and the have-nots.

During the last war, as a woman, a mother, a grandmother and a jurist, I felt that I could no longer ignore the militant, military discourse that dominates the public domain in Israel. This discourse reflects a fixation of thought based on the duplication of past experiences, and on perception of reality as it is experienced and preserved by a masculine world, where most men – as is the case in Israel – must regrettably serve for many years as recruits in the regular armed forces or as reservists.

During the last war a new movement of women arose independently of any political party, aiming to bring about a new discourse that promotes a peace agreement accepted by all sides in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. I joined it because I believe in the power of women to change the existing one-dimensional public discourse, which does not take into consideration the many ways by which prolonged violence impacts our lives.

I am further convinced that in Israel there is a majority of women who are no longer willing to be kept outside the most significant processes affecting our lives – war and peace. That is not only because we represent 51% of the population in Israel, but also because we bring with us different life experiences and other forms of discourse. Women will bring new points of view to the negotiations table and decision-making processes, which are not the results of narrow observations made through the barrel of a gun.

Women have been successful in their initiatives for bringing about social changes. In many places where violence was widespread, women have contributed to bringing conflicts to an end, for example in Ireland and Liberia. Based on those experiences, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325 in 2000. It states that women are key players in the advancement of durable peace processes and the ending of violent conflicts. It requires UN member-states to involve women in decision-making centers, especially on issues of peace and security.

In 2005, Israel was the first country in the world to amend the law for women’s equal rights by requiring the state to give women fair representation in every committee or entity that shape national policies on external and security issues, or that takes decisions concerning solutions to political conflicts. The law includes fair representation in negotiations for a peace agreement.

The continuation of wars will have harsh consequences for Israel’s society – not only for the victims. A society that lives by the sword teaches violence. When young men serve in the army for long periods of time, either in the regular army or as reservists, they acquire a vocabulary of violence from which they cannot free themselves. That vocabulary has taken control of our lives. Frequent recourse to arms blinds soldiers – the same soldiers who, after their military service will become citizens, fathers, partners, husbands as well as policemen, who are then trigger-happy in using Taser guns against innocent civilians.

From time to time, we are shocked by manifestations of violence among children or young people and point an accusing finger at them, not realizing that they are merely mirroring the violent, menacing and menaced society that we live in.

Mahatma Gandhi said: “An eye for an eye until everyone becomes blind.” That talk of “an eye for an eye”, which dominates the present public discourse, has only increased and strengthened the tendency to violent behavior, while concealing from us the social, economic and moral aspects of vengeance and violence.

That paradigm must change. I believe that if women unite they will be able to bring about change. We do not want to only tend to wounds. We want to take an active part in decision-making on issues of war and peace.

The article was published in Hebrew in ynet.
Translated to English by Florence Braun.