Sderot teacher Michal Shamir speaks to a group of women in London.

Sderot teacher Michal Shamir speaks to a group of women in London.

A teacher from Sderot who leads 15,000 Israeli women who campaign for a political agreement with the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank has told a London audience that Israel cannot rely on military power alone, but must use “wisdom” to find a solution, writes Stephen Oryszczuk

Michal Shamir, 57, who teaches students less than three miles from the Gaza border, was in the capital last week to update women from the British Jewish community about the situation, a year on from the latest war.

Her group, called ‘Women Wage Peace,’ was formed last year after Israelis lost patience with the status quo following Operation Protective Edge. She urged her British peers to take a greater interest in the conflict. “The involvement of more women would help to broaden the political outlook in the British community,” she said.

Having lost family members to the conflict, which left “a black shadow always in the room,” Shamir acknowledged that mutual hatred meant the group’s members were pragmatic. “We’re no flower kids,” she said, after describing life under falling rockets. However, the group’s leader reminded the audience that life was “much more horrifying” for the women and children in Gaza, who have no warning system, no shelters and no safe places when Israeli forces hit back. She told how the community of Sderot was now “always connected”, on-alert through SMS/text messages and the WhatsApp internet-based messaging system, but it was on the lack of new ideas following last year’s war in Gaza that she was scathing.

“Every time, they say this war was really bad, but now we will have quiet. Fine, but we had this three times in six years now, so it doesn’t. Even force has its limits. The army is good, but you need politics and wisdom. We used to have wisdom, we used to be good at thinking something else should be done.”

After last year’s ceasefire, she described how she vented her frustration online, and immediately found hundreds of women who shared her view. They quickly formed a group, with the added bonus that “everyone cooks really good”.

From home gatherings they went on to stage public demonstrations against the Netanyahu government, with thousands forming a human ring around the Knesset, protesting a lack of ideas and willingness to engage Palestinian counterparts.

“We’re not a left or right-wing movement – our opinions come from across the political spectrum. Many members from Sderot hate Arabs. Many right-wing Russian-speakers joined too, also settlers, religious women. “They came from everywhere, because they want discourse and they want new ideas from our leaders.”