On Oct. 4, 2023, some 1,500 Israeli and Palestinian women descended on Jerusalem and the shores of the Dead Sea. Wielding blue and yellow flags representing two different grassroots peace organizations, they gathered to demand an end to the “cycle of bloodshed” consuming their communities and for their respective leaders to return to the negotiating table to secure a nonviolent resolution to their decades-long conflict. “This is a historic partnership of two women’s movements,” said Yael Admi, a co-founder and leader of the Israeli movement Women Wage Peace. She referred to the alliance with the Palestinian organization Women of the Sun, whose founder and director Reem Hajajreh added, “We started out as a movement with a few lone women and now we are thousands. We no longer take the back seat.”

It was a jubilant affair, the event organizers say, with attendees brimming with optimism over what both groups of women could achieve. But the joy didn’t last long. Just three days later, Hamas militants unleashed their Oct. 7 massacre, killing some 1,200 people in Israel. Three members of Women Wage Peace, including co-founder Vivian Silver, were killed that day.

Hajajreh says the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza had long been untenable. But since Oct. 7, the situation has become markedly worse in both the West Bank, where settler violence has surged, and Gaza, where Israel’s retaliatory strikes and invasion have killed more than 29,000 people. At the start of the war, Women of the Sun counted some 2,500 members in the West Bank, where it is headquartered, and roughly 300 members in Gaza, at least 27 of whom have now been killed.

What would peace look like? The two-state solution envisioned by the 1993 Oslo Accords was in tatters long before Oct. 7. Since then, polls have shown that majorities in both communities no longer consider it feasible, let alone desirable. Most outside observers share their pessimism.

While neither Women Wage Peace nor Women of the Sun advocates a particular political solution, both organizations believe that a mutually agreed-upon, nonviolent resolution is vital—and that its absence means Israeli and Palestinian women and their children will continue to pay the price. “We said all the time that we have to solve this conflict as soon as possible because it’s a ticking bomb—it will kill all of us,” Admi, 66, tells TIME. “Now when you see the crisis, this terrible war, how can we suffer it and continue on this path?”

Even now, Admi and Hajajreh say they have no intention of letting despair stymie their efforts—perhaps because it was despair that brought them to this work in the first place. For Admi, the death of her eldest brother Ishai Ron in 1969 during fighting between Egypt and Israel, when she was just 12 years old, spurred a lifetime of peace activism. It ultimately inspired her to co-found Women Wage Peace in 2014, after another “horrible cycle of war” in Gaza. Now in its 10th year, the group claims some 50,000 members across the country who are committed to its nonpartisan call for peace.

Hajajreh turned to activism out of fear that her children, growing up under the shadow of Israel’s punishing military occupation in the West Bank, could end up being imprisoned, wounded, or worse. In founding Women of the Sun in 2021, she hoped to empower Palestinian women—who remain largely absent from the male-dominated public arena—to have greater political awareness. “We believe women are strong and when you put [a woman] in the right place and you educate her and work on it, she will be powerful.”

While each organization focuses on its respective community, they also dedicate time to working with each other—a prerequisite, as they see it, for asking their leaders to do the same. Their principal achievement is the Mothers’ Call, a joint declaration in 2022 setting out their shared desire for a peaceful resolution. Underpinning the call is a belief that women’s participation can only strengthen efforts—a credo supported by research in former conflict zones that shows that peace negotiations involving women tend to be stronger and more durable.

Despite—or perhaps because of—the war, their cause is gaining momentum. In December, the two organizations were jointly nominated for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize. A month later, they were invited by a French women’s movement to speak at the French Parliament, where they urged the world to encourage Israeli and Palestinian leaders to return “to a path of negotiations and political agreements—immediately.”

“In a very tragic way we became very famous because these days people are looking for hope,” Admi says. Her wish is that this crisis will open up a new path to peace. “I’m very optimistic because I feel these awful days are a great opportunity for all of us,” she says. “We just have to do everything to not miss it.”

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Write to Yasmeen Serhan at yasmeen.serhan@time.com.