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Mothers urged to act as peace messengers

A cautious welcome has been given to the proposal to use mothers as peace envoys

(Keystone)

A former Swiss parliamentarian has launched a peace initiative - to unite Israeli and Palestinian mothers as peace envoys.

The initiative comes amid growing worldwide frustration at the escalating Middle East conflict.

Bernese ex-parliamentarian François Loeb last week called on mothers from both sides to work together as a circuit breaker to the conflict.

"The situation in the Middle East appears at the moment to be without hope," Loeb told swissinfo.

"A new way that is different to the current path must be found...and who better to initiate peace than a mother?" he said.

The notion of using mothers as peace-envoys is not new.

Success in Lebanon

Mothers issued pleas for peace during both the Lebanon war and the conflict in Chechnya conflict - both examples of how the female touch can help ease war, according to Loeb.

Loeb said the Bernese section of the Swiss-Israel Society originally proposed the initiative, which is still in its infancy.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry was informed of the proposal over Easter, and responded with support.

Ministry spokeswoman Muriel Berset Kohen described the idea as "very interesting".

But at least one Arab group expressed criticism of the proposal.

Patronising proposal ?

Saïda Keller-Messahli, deputy head of the Swiss-Palestinian Association condemned it as "a pure sham, a sanctimonious show of pseudo humanitarianism".

Keller-Messahli said reality was much harsher. The conflict is not between two equals - but between an invader and the oppressed, she said.

Only political pressure on Israel would work as a foil to the ongoing fighting.

"Israel has to be forced into recognising the UN resolution [for a withdrawal of forces from Palestinian territories]. Only then can such initiatives be launched," Keller-Messahli said.

Widening the call

But despite the criticism, Loeb said he would seek support for the proposal from other areas including from within the Middle East itself.

Evi Guggenheim, a resident of Neve Shalom - an Israeli city regarded as a model of Jewish and Arab harmony - expressed cautious support about the proposal.

"It will take a lot of time to find mothers and convince them of the idea," she said.

"Everyone is depressed, but many mothers are against the war."

Guggenheim said the war had also made contact between Israeli-Palestinian groups almost impossible.

Better than nothing

Loeb admitted the proposal's success was far from certain.
"But we must, at the very least, try to do something for peace", Loeb said.

He also hoped to mobilise support from the International Committee of the Red Cross and other international human rights organisations, along with Foreign Minister Joseph Deiss.

By Carole Gürtler translated by Jacob Greber


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