“Women are crying out, in the name of the One and Only God: lay down your arms and undertake the path of dialogue. No more deaths! We were not created to give death but to give life.” Lia Beltrami, founder of the Festival of Interreligious Dialogue “Religion Today” is not alone. She voices the cries of a multitude, she communicates the appeal for peace that springs form the heart of other women: Jewish, Christian and Muslim women. Most of them live in Middle Eastern countries. They came together from the Middle East to join the international network “Women of Faith for Peace”. After having being conferred the prestigious Golden Lion Prize in Venice, they will be in Italy next week for a “tour” with a stopover in Rome. In their capacity as witnesses of interreligious dialogue in conflict zones they will take part in a round table organized at Luiss University in Rome (April 16 at 17:00), and in a meeting promoted by the Italian Bishops’ Office for Ecumenism and Dialogue at PISAI (Pontifical Institute for Arab and Islamic Studies) titled “Faiths in the Middle East 800 years since the meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and al-Malik al Kamil. A female perspective”, held the following day. This independent group of women leaders representing religious faiths present in the Holy Land, was created in 2009. “It was a process that gradually led us from being enemies to being friends and sisters”; said Lia Beltrami. “It’s an inspiring group, it encourages and gives support.”
They all have a history of engagement and action for peace. Adina bar-Shalom is a member of the group. Her brother is the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem. She is a teacher, columnist and activist in Israel. She founded the first Haredi university in Jerusalem and has a long-standing commitment to overcome gender discrimination, especially within Jewish Orthodox Communities. She is the promoter of a course on conflict-resolution and human rights. She works to bring together ultra-orthodox Jewish women with Palestinian and Christian women, promoting initiatives for mutual understanding. She was awarded the Israel Prize for her “lifetime achievement and exceptional contribution to the nation.” Faten Zenaty is an Arab Muslim. She runs the “Lod Community Centre”, a social centre open to Jewish and Muslim youths in one of the hottest spots in the Country. The group of women includes, inter alia, Hedva Goldschmidt, among the most important distributors of Israeli films (go2films) and Evelyn Anita Stokes-Hayfor, Protestant Christian, for years Ambassador of Ghana in different countries. Today she works in the furthering of faith-based dialogue platforms with other young women. Finally, Nuha Farran, Christian lawyer, is active in the defence of human rights. She served as chair of Jerusalem’s YMCA, one of the most important cultural centres in the city. But her commitment exposed her to serious threats that forced her to leave Jerusalem and move to Haifa. Her story – Beltrami pointed out – shows that
“these women sometimes pay a heavy price for their commitment in the furthering of dialogue and peace.”
They come from areas where centuries-long conflicts and division have left indelible marks of hatred and revenge. “Mothers go through the difficulty of bearing a child and thus they are the most credible testimonies to say today and always: NO to death, No to war in any shape and form.” Beltrami remembered when two years ago a Muslim 14-year-old boy from the Faten community stabbed a Jewish 15-year-old peer in front of Hedva’s home. The police killed the Muslim boy. The incident sparked off an escalation of violence. When that happened the two women were in the Italian city of Trent: they released a photo of them together with an appeal to peace. “That post was shared by a million people”, Lia recalled. “I don’t think it was the only message that contributed to fan the flames, but it certainly had an impact.”
Women peace-building efforts start inside the family. “When you nurse your child – Beltrami said -, you are communicating words of love and life. That’s when you lay the grounds of the future, when you communicate the value of free bestowal, of openness, when your teach your child that he will be happy if also his sibling is happy. Owing to their anthropological nature women are also mediators. Women are caring, protective; women cherish and educate. This very role, this vocation to life, present in all religions, is still being crushed in many situations, and it must emerge.”
War enters the household. It divides. It destroys. It kills. And behind every dead man, woman and child there is always a weeping mother. Little matters if she is Christian or Muslim. If she is Israeli or Palestinian. Tears have the same bitter taste of inevitability, of a life that will never return. After Rome, the “Women of Faith for Peace” group will be in Rovereto where they will come together in prayer at the toll of the Bell of the Fallen. “Father Paolo Dall’Olio –Lia remembers– used to implore Heads of State worldwide to undertake diplomatic action for Syria. He believed that the war in Syria would have inflamed the whole world. His voice did not remain unheard. In his name we appeal to lay down all weapons and initiate a serious path of dialogue wherever peace is being threatened.” With war everything is lost; peace is the only way towards the future.