Four Mothers Against War

As the current Israel-Hezbollah (an Islamic organization and political party in Lebanon, comprising a military and a civilian arm) battle rages, there is widespread anger on Israeli streets. Some of it is directed at all adversaries Israel has had, and some of it is directed at Four Mothers - the peace movement instrumental in 2000 pullout of the Israeli army from Southern Lebanon. It is even being called the 'Four Mothers War'.

Probably the most influential protest movement in Israeli history, Four Mothers was founded immediately after the collision of two Air Force helicopters carrying soldiers to Lebanon in 1997, killing 74 soldiers. The four women - Miri Sela, Ronit Nahmias, Yafa Arbel and Rachel Ben-Dor - who initiated the movement were mothers of soldiers who served in Lebanon. If these are the results of war, there is something wrong with the means itself, the Four Mothers reasoned.

The four friends got together to set up the Four Mothers as an NGO based in Tel Aviv. They raised awareness by demonstrating on the streets and using the Press. They lobbied with journalists and Parliament members for a pullout from Lebanon. They protested against the resignation with which Israeli mothers had to accept that, at a certain age, their sons unquestioningly became soldiers. They called the Israeli government to retreat from the war. The movement was a phenomenon. It was the first time that women influenced military decisions - traditionally, male territory. In the three years since it began, the movement created enough public opinion to bring about Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000.

After the pullout, the NGO was disbanded and the members went their separate ways. The members continued to work as peace activists, calling for peaceful negotiations with Palestine.

However, six years later, the women who founded the organization have come in for a lot of flak. Yona Rochlin, a former Four Mothers activist, says, "We are called all sorts of names - 'whores of Nassrallah' (Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah), 'four ragged women' or 'four traitors'. Someone even suggested that the present war be called the 'Four Mothers' War' to indicate that this war is our fault. Our critics say that we destroyed the Israel Defence Forces, demoralized the Israelis and corrupted the youth by inciting them against the army. These claims are both stupid and untruthful."

Danny Reshef, also a former Four Mothers activist, says these expressions of hate are a part of the struggle. "Earlier, they accused Four Mothers for the uprisings in Gaza, for the 2000 Intifada and for the Gaza pullout. Now, they accuse us of having brought about the current war. It is because of the extreme policy adopted by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the new president of Iran who calls for annihilation of Israel - that there is a rise in hostile activities by the Hezbollah."
Rochlin is also disappointed with their reaction. "During my work with Four Mothers, I contacted many of them. After the assassination of Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese people took to the streets in demonstrations against Syria. I call them now to get out on the streets again, this time against the Hezbollah."

"Part of the problem is that Israelis identify Four Mothers with a movement of extreme Leftists. But this is not true. We have never objected to our own kids serving in the army. We never asked them to refuse service. In fact, we believe that Israel's pullout from Lebanon grants international legitimacy to military actions against the Hezbollah today, " explains Rochlin.

Rachel Ben-dor, Founder of Four Mothers, is also offended by the accusations against the movement. "In 2000, there was general consensus among Israelis - the people, government and the army - on withdrawal from Lebanon. The problem is that the expectations that accompanied the withdrawal have not been fulfilled. The UN had resolved that the Lebanese government would assume responsibility for the border and disarm the Hezbollah. Israel, Lebanon, the UN and the international community saw Hezbollah building up its military power. Why were no actions taken to enforce the UN decision? Together, we all created a vacuum and Hezbollah filled it."

Ben-dor, however, staunchly stands by her belief in peaceful alternatives. "It is easier to fight than to find tough diplomatic, social and political solutions. We are using outmoded military methods that work for old paradigms. As long as we continue to use military might to solve political and social problems, we are going to continue to experience defeat. In the process of weakening our enemy, we are weakening ourselves. Not only does this weakening pave the way for an even stronger adversary, it also complicates and cripples the possibilities of stability and long-term resolution of disputes."  


More by :  Anat Cohen

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