It’s Time: The Israeli Event to Revive the Peace Movement

By Naomi Paiss


On Monday night, thousands of activists and ordinary people converged on a sports arena in Tel Aviv to reconsecrate their liberal, democratic values. Jews and Palestinians, secular and religious, old and young streamed through the doors as supporters of two dozen organizations working for peace and equality in Israel, including Peace Now.

There were no speeches by professional NGO directors nor were there long policy prescriptions. There were few specific references even to the current government, or to the latest controversies about drafting the ultra-Orthodox or plans for new West Bank settlements.

Instead, with the exception of some professional musicians (god bless Noa and Mira Awad!), it was mostly ordinary people with a personal stake in Israel’s dreadful present who spoke with sorrow but hope about the future. Early on, nine people lined up on stage: one survived October 7 but lost his parents and uncle. A Palestinian’s mother is trapped in Gaza. A hostage who returned in November. Six more who have suffered terror and loss and fear for their closest relatives. They ended their segment with a prayer, blessed be he who redeems and bypasses revenge.

The wrenching descriptions of loss and hope continued. One brave woman, a Palestinian who returned from a safe life in Germany to Ramallah, explicitly called for equal national and individual rights from the Jordan to the sea – holding hands with a Jewish woman whose brother had been killed in an earlier Gaza operation. A group of young activists, including a religious former soldier who had served enforcing the occupation in Hebron, talked about what it means to be this generation, at this time and place, concluding with the observation of a young religious woman that “the land does not belong to us. We belong to the land.”

Prayers in Hebrew and Arabic representing the three Abrahamic religions were said, perhaps unusual for a movement that traditionally identifies as secular. Hadash party chair Ayman Odeh spoke with passion and conviction about the time when peace seemed imminent, and about what must be done to bring that back.

It took a realistic social scientist to synopsize the trends against the peace movement, and to offer hope anyway.  “The bitter truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that each side fears the other is trying to annihilate it, and both sides are right,” historian Yuval Noah Harari said.

“It’s true, we have tried to make peace in the past, and we weren’t good at it. So what? We also haven’t been very successful in making war, which doesn’t prevent us from trying again and again. All these wars have led us into an abyss. The time has come to make peace.”