Yael Deckelbaum is using her musical talents and connections to help Israelis and Palestinians press for peace. (photo from Yael Deckelbaum)
Yael Deckelbaum is using her musical talents and connections to help lead thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women to peacefully press for the end of the fighting between their two peoples via March for Hope.
Deckelbaum’s celebrity status in Israel and around the world – through performances with known local artists and bands such as Shlomo Artzi and Machinah, as well as her career with Habanot Nechama and solo albums – helps draw a crowd. Her involvement in the cause began when she joined forces with Daphni Leef, an Israeli activist for social justice.
“I’d sit with her and tell her she’s a better person than I am,” said Deckelbaum. “She was always talking about how we have to change things in Israel – going around in many places in Israel, meeting people, listening to them and trying to learn … what’s wrong and trying to fix things. I decided to take a caravan, go through Israel, sell CDs, maybe bring a sound system, perform … see people from a different angle. Daphni decided to join me. From this idea, it became 20 people, two caravans … a journey we did for 45 days in 40 different places across Israel.”
They met many Israelis from various cities and villages, and Deckelbaum gained a new perspective. Everywhere they went, she would sing and Leef would speak to the people after every show.
“That’s when I decided I would dedicate myself, using music as an instrument, toward change … not just be an instrument for supporting my existence … but to spread a message and how I believe this world should be. [It] was a big turning point in my path,” Deckelbaum told the Independent.
A year later, one of Deckelbaum’s friends shared an email about Women Wage Peace.
“A lot of times, us musicians, we get invited, we go, sing and leave,” said Deckelbaum. “We feel good about it. But, this time, I felt like I had to meet them. A few days later, I was sitting at a table with women from Women Wage Peace. They told me about this march they were planning – a group of mothers who, in the period of military operation, were experiencing terror at home, fear … mothers sitting at home, knowing their sons are somewhere and not knowing if they’d come home from war.
“One of the founders told me she said to herself that she would never forget this feeling of terror, that she can’t sit anymore and do nothing about it. She urged us to do something radical, extreme, because something had to change. She couldn’t live with the feeling of helplessness anymore.”
At one point, Women Wage Peace fasted for 50 days outside the prime minister’s house, demanding a mutual agreement between Israel and Palestine be made.
“They told me they were already connected with Palestinian women who feel the same,” said Deckelbaum. “And then, on Oct. 19, 2016, 1,000 Palestinian women marched with us together in the Dead Sea [area] – the lowest place of the earth. I started to cry, as it touched me in a deep place.
“Many years ago, I had this vision of women marching together … not something I can explain…. Then, I met these women [who] told me about this, and it was coming true. And, it has an energetic meaning that it happened in the lowest place on the earth – women marching to the belly of the earth. So, I cried and offered to give my music to the cause.”
Deckelbaum invited more artists to join and sing, and became the march’s artistic director. She began with songs like “Give Peace a Chance” and “Hallelujah,” and then wrote originals herself. “The melody and the lyrics just came,” she said. “And the ‘Prayer of the Mothers’ was born, directed by Astar Elkayam.”
Deckelbaum was inspired by a message that had been sent to march organizers by Leymah Gbowee. Gbowee is a Liberian woman who led a women’s peace movement, which helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003, after 13 years of fighting.
“I felt something very real is happening, that I have a chance to do this,” said Deckelbaum. “I put it into the song clip, so you can hear her speaking. And she sang, ‘As the world we live in, peace is possible / Only when women of integrity and faith stand up for the future of their children.’”
This year, Women Wage Peace planned a second march, dubbed, “The Journey to Peace,” which started in the south of Israel near the Gaza border on Sept. 24 and ended in Jerusalem. Other events have followed, and will continue, throughout Israel. The peak of it was on Oct. 6 in Jaffa/Tel Aviv, with a march that Deckelbaum helped organize, “colourful with dancers, musicians, and drummers – happy and hopeful,” she said.
On Oct. 8, there was an event in the desert with Palestinian women. The previous year, 1,000 Palestinian women came. This year, there was twice that number, and the hope is that, each year, it will grow.
“These are the miracles we’re all waiting for – peace between Israel and Palestine, and between and within ourselves and amongst us as people,” said Deckelbaum. “Women Wage Peace isn’t only about making peace with Palestinian women. It’s about making peace between all kinds of women in our society and different places.”
Deckelbaum learned there is a global women’s revolution. She heard of a march in Washington, D.C., in which she participated, and another in Zurich, at which she was invited to sing.
After the video of “Prayer of the Mothers” was released, more marchers all over the world were set into motion. Deckelbaum is now working on a project called Women of the World Unite.
“I believe that women from all over the world are sharing this message, a hope for peace – a message that’s inclusive of all human beings,” she said. “We need women to be more involved in managing the ways of the world – not only by raising children, but also by engaging in the system and how things will work.”
The Jewish Independent spoke over the phone with Deckelbaum when she was in Switzerland doing concerts with an ensemble of religious and secular Jewish, Muslim and Christian women called Prayer of the Mothers Ensemble. It involves 14 women, carrying the message of female empowerment, revolution, evolution and peace.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.