The importance of women in leadership positions in the Messianic Jewish and Christian faith communities is often undervalued However, when the voices of women are uplifted and heard, incredible strides are made towards peace and reconciliation. This is the reality these two inspiring women, Hedva Haymov and Shireen Awwad have been working diligently toward. Despite come from diverse backgrounds – Hedva, an American-born Israeli Messianic Jew, and Shireen, a Palestinian Christian living in Bethlehem – they both have found shared faith and passion for advancing peace in the Holy Land.
After making Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) and moving to Israel in 1992, Hedva was struck by the segregation in Israeli society. Seeking answers as to why, Hedva joined Musalaha, a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians based on Biblical Principles of Reconciliation. In 2011, Hedva became Musalaha’s Women’s Program Manager and since has supervised the meeting of hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian women and coordinated training in reconciliation, trauma resilience, and conflict transformation.
Based on developing relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, Musahala’s women’s programs have brought together women from different walks of life, united under a vision of hope and peace. Women are now a crucial part of the UN strategy for peace. UN Resolution 1325 states that women should be at least 50% of any negotiating team and if their participation is encouraged, it will increase the likelihood of lasting peace by 33%.
Musalaha’s programs that focus on women’s success and leadership are incredibly important as they influence every aspect of Palestinian and Israeli society with deep reaches into their communities. Hedva notes that, in general, women at Musalaha are relational, understanding that despite not being able to solve the conflict, women can still relate as mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and believe that supporting one another is crucial for the next generation. She says, “The only weapon that I know of that will solve conflict is forgiveness, and that is what [the Musalaha team] spends their time doing.”
Sharing the same passion and vision for women’s leadership, Shireen is the coordinator of Musalaha’s Women’s Ministry. Focused on local outreach, Shireen travels the West Bank and forms groups of Palestinian women that meet once a month to focus on education and training towards leadership, reconciliation, non-violence, human rights, and other issues that affect everyday Palestinians. Once a year, Musalaha hosts an annual conference, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian women in a neutral location outside of the region to create a balance of power, where they work towards forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation. Most women are married with children and have ongoing responsibilities that benefit from the training that Musalaha provides. Working amongst the underprivileged and marginalized in small Palestinian towns and cities, Shireen and Hedva strive to empower women as advocates of change.
Being mothers, Hedva and Shireen believe that the future of the children of Israel/Palestine is dependent on peace and reconciliation. As the Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible College, Shireen is passionate about working with students and educating them towards knowing their purpose in life. Hedva works with Musalaha running sleep away summer camps for roughly 120 children, bringing together Israeli and Palestinian youth to hear the other language, worship in the other language, room together, and get an understanding that they are more united in similarities than divided by what separates them.
Leaving the rhetoric of the conflict outside of the summer camp, the children become exposed to the other in a neutral environment with the hopes that they won’t be afraid to hear Arabic on the bus, and to understand that in the Kingdom of Heaven, they all are brothers and sisters. Hedva says, “None of us want our children to serve in the army or throw stones, or to have a difficult life. We all want the best for our children, and the mothers that I know are willing to do anything they can, in order that the children would have a better future. I feel very strongly that women can make this happen.”
Translating the experiences of those living out reconciliation, Shireen and Hedva are also contributing authors to the blog Another Voice, which shares the voices of women working for peace amidst the intractable conflict. Another Voice provides an outlet for those living these realities and a beacon of hope and encouragement for those who read their stories.
While advancing women’s leadership and peace in Israel/Palestine, they believe there is much work to be done in the United States as U.S. policy and foreign aid dramatically shape the realities on the ground. Shireen says, “I believe that there are many Americans who are paying taxes for the government to support Israel with weapons and things that are destructive and creating war. My calling for every American is to question whether or not what is happening around them is right, to question the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ask if the Israeli story is the only story to be heard.”
God of the Universe, we pray that you strengthen the women of Israel and Palestine as they diligently work to provide a better future for all children in the Holy Land. Uplift their voices as leaders of faith, so that they may continue to influence positive change and reconciliation. Guide us with deeper understanding so that we may support the efforts of the women who continually inspire us towards peace.
This story was written by Jessica Hill, a Regional Coordinator for Churches for Middle East Peace.
CMEP is very thankful for the writers who contribute to Prayers for Peace. However, CMEP does not necessarily agree with all the positions of our writers, and they do not speak on CMEP’s behalf.