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Activism 1998

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Background: Ehud Olmert, later to become a failed Prime Minister, had earlier been a failed mayor of Jerusalem:

 

January 30, 1998

Mr. Tolerance

 

We in Bat Shalom are not aware of any positive contribution by Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem to coexistence between Jews and Arabs in this city.  We were thus dumbfounded to read that the mayor, together with 2 other Israeli mayors, will be lecturing February 12th at Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem on the subject “How I as mayor promote tolerance in my city, and what I am doing to ease the tension between various factions”.

 

Lest we forget:  It was Mayor Olmert who flaunted his domination over the non-Jews in Jerusalem by opening a tunnel near the Temple Mount that led to confrontations ending in 80 deaths  – Palestinian and Israeli.  It was Olmert who taunted Netanyahu into constructing a new settlement at Har Homa (Jabal abu Ghaneim), and sought to repeat the incident at Ras al-Amud. It is Olmert who is executing a “quiet transfer” of Palestinians out of Jerusalem by canceling their residency status.  And it is Olmert who is implementing a state policy of demolitions against Palestinian homes in Jerusalem.

 

Currently, 700 Arab homes in Jerusalem (and more outside the city) are scheduled for demolition.  Many of us fear that the demolitions will begin in earnest after the Ramadan fast ends this week, as the police have established a new 24-person squad whose only task is to carry out the demolition of Palestinian homes.  Thus, we are stepping up activities to try to prevent this.

 

Last night, we took our case to the Jerusalem city council. About 40 of us  – members of the Committee Against House Demolitions, which includes Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, Meretz, and Peace Now  – infiltrated the gallery as the municipal meeting convened.  When Mayor Olmert struck his gavel to open the session, a group stood up and unfurled banners “Stop the Demolition of Homes”.  We took everybody by surprise, and it took a while for them to understand what was happening.  One of us read out a declaration condemning the home demolitions and the policy that refuses construction permits to Palestinians.  Finally Hizzoner said, “Get those hoodlums out of here”, and the guards escorted the first wave out.  Then the next group stood up and began again.  Several waves later, all had been escorted out the door, but not before the media people had photographed the event and information flyers had been distributed to all the city councilors and guests.  The message was conveyed.

 

Please help us prevent the next batch of demolitions from happening.  Email letters of protest to the political leaders whose names appear below.

 

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear sir/madame:

 

The demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli authorities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is wrong.  It is based on a policy that denies building permits to Palestinians and then, when homes are built to relieve overcrowding, the police demolish them.

 

We note that:

 

        Demolition of a home is cruel and inhuman punishment to the   families  – most of whom are children.  It leaves behind trauma, devastation, and destitution.

 

        Demolition of Palestinian homes constitutes a gross violation of the right of all human beings to adequate housing, and contravenes major international human rights conventions   ratified by the state of Israel.

 

        Home demolition is an act of violence that undermines the desire for peace among the Palestinian population, and encourages extremist elements.

 

We demand that Israeli authorities immediately cease the demolition of Palestinian homes in the territories, and issue building permits to accommodate the natural growth and expansion of the Palestinian population.

 

*   *   *

January 31, 1998

Letter to Madeline Albright

 

Dear Ms. Albright:

 

We Palestinian and Israeli women have a vision of peace based on mutual respect for the rights of both peoples to fulfill their national aspirations.  This involves recognizing the rights of each to a state with territorial contiguity, secure borders, and full sovereignty.

 

The Israeli government treats the peace process as a zero sum game in which the occupied territories are perceived in terms of security zones and buffers.  This government is derailing the peace process with its policies to expand settlements, maintain a closure, demolish homes, hold political detainees without trial, confiscate identity cards, bar Palestinian access to Jerusalem, and refuse safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  These policies violate human and political rights, undermine the Palestinian economic, social and cultural fabric, and effectively maintain Israeli sovereignty over another people.

 

We appeal to the leaders of the United States and Europe to help enforce the peace process that is already in place; and we call upon Israeli and Palestinian political leaders to shape a peace agreement that will provide a framework for the development of genuinely peaceful relations between the two nations and ensure the security of both.  This cannot be achieved without two states for two peoples, and the city of Jerusalem serving as two capitals for these two states.

 

Ms. Albright, we are aware of your tireless efforts for peace in the Middle East, and we appreciate them deeply.  In parallel, we would like to make you aware of the tireless efforts that we are making on the grassroots level on behalf of peace.  Without devoted commitment on both levels, and on the part of our national leaders, our peoples will continue to pay the price in blood, and peace will remain an elusive dream.

 

The Jerusalem Link

 

*   *   *

 

Background:  This statement was written as U.S. President Clinton contemplated launching an all-out war on Iraq under Saddam Hussein.  How awful that millions of men, women, and children can be pushed to the brink of war by a few powerful men driven by personal gain in all its permutations.

 

February 25, 1998

War is a Crime

 

War was, is, and will continue to be a crime, no matter how many seals of approval it receives from international bodies.  No amount of rhetoric can justify the act of war – not even a war against Saddam Hussein.

 

Who makes war?

Politicians who fan and exploit fear to buttress their power;

industrialists who develop and sell weapons;

military leaders who see brute force as a means of problem-solving.

 

Who pays the price of war?

The poor, the elderly, children, young men and women in uniform – all those innocent of the decision to make war.

 

Yes, we condemn Saddam Hussein – and all industrialized countries, including the United States and Israel – who use their technological prowess to develop horrifying machines of mass destruction – biological, chemical, and nuclear.

 

Yes, we believe that countries (and individuals) must defend themselves against aggression.

 

But, we also believe that there are better means of self-defense than burying human beings under the rubble of bombed out houses.  And that bombs only delay – cruelly and counter-productively – the negotiated settlement that must take place in any case.

 

We, Israeli women for peace, demand that the leaders of both sides stop their aggressive male posturing and use their heads to pursue alternative ways of resolving the conflict.

 

Grow up.  And give our children a chance to grow up too.

 

*   *   *

February 19, 1998

Speaking Truth to Intolerance

 

We have had two important actions in recent days.  In this letter, I will tell you about one – a demonstration held by Bat Shalom to protest the discriminatory policies of Mayor Ehud Olmert against Arab Jerusalemites.

 

It began because an Israeli organization invited the mayors of Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Haifa to speak about “How I as mayor promote tolerance in my city”.  In light of what Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem does to destroy the fabric of tolerance in Jerusalem, we in Bat Shalom felt that this was an event begging for a demonstration.

 

Outside the hall, our signs greeted invited guests as they arrived: “Mr. Olmert, does tolerance = Har Homa?”, “Does tolerance = confiscation of land?”, “Does tolerance = demolition of homes?” “Does tolerance = unequal services to Arabs?”, and the like.  We also distributed a fact sheet with statistics about the discrimination against Arab residents of Jerusalem.

 

As the audience settled down for the speeches, we also took seats around the hall.  We were about 10 women in a room of several hundred, and we tried to position ourselves for maximum visibility when the moment came.  The audience was dotted with well-known liberal figures – a Supreme Court judge, senior education officials, philanthropists, retired do-gooders – but no Arabs, of course.  Everyone appeared quite self-satisfied about showing up to support tolerance.

 

The opening speeches droned on and we listened politely. Finally, our local mayor took the podium, and we geared up.  As he finished his opening salutation – “Ms. Chairwoman, honorable Justice, dear Mr. Zilkha, etc., etc., etc.”, I took a deep breath and stood up from near the back of the hall.  “Mr. Mayor,” I began, and that’s all I said before the turbulence hit.  Many began to shout that interruptions are intolerable, that this was not a political forum, not a Knesset debate, not a demonstration plaza, etc.  I stood quite still and waited for the noise to die down.  Mayor Olmert at the mike interjected several times, “Let her speak – this is a conference about tolerance.  We’ll show her what tolerance really means.”

 

Finally the room was silent and I was able to make the statement that we had agreed upon in advance:  “In light of Mayor Olmert’s discriminatory treatment of the Arab residents of Jerusalem, we feel that he has no right to teach anyone about tolerance.”  When I finished, the other women rose to their feet and unfurled signs with the same slogans as we had held outside. The audience began shouting again, but a few were clapping.  One of the ushers ran over and started to rip the signs, but Olmert told her to stop “in the name of tolerance”, and after a minute or so of standing, we walked to the aisle and left the hall quietly.

 

We heard later that Mayor Olmert used our leaving to claim that we were intolerant “extremists”, since “truly tolerant” people would have stayed in the hall to hear him out.  Several questions to the mayor pointedly repeated the themes that we had raised.  That night we were interviewed on the army radio station and the next day an item appeared in Ha’aretz newspaper, but a large picture in the conservative Jerusalem Post showed Olmert with his arm around the Haifa mayor and was captioned:  “Olmert scored points when he asked the audience to show tolerance toward a group of Bat Shalom demonstrators who disrupted proceedings just after he rose to speak.  After the demonstrators left, Olmert said he wished they had the patience and tolerance to hear him out.”

 

That’s classic Olmert with his demagoguery.  But our voice did come across.  I also wrote an op ed piece for the Post, though I’m still awaiting its publication.  “It has only local significance,” said the editor when I called.  “What happens to Arabs in Jerusalem is of local interest only?”  Editors can stifle some channels of communication, but speaking the truth will inevitably be heard.

––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

The unpublished op-ed piece:

 

Mr. Tolerance?

 

Friday’s edition of the Jerusalem Post carried a large photograph of Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert with his arm around Haifa Mayor Amram Mitzna, captioned “Talking Tolerance”.  The text criticized Bat Shalom demonstrators for “intolerance” – our unwillingness to hear out Mayor Olmert’s views at Thursday’s conference on “Tolerance”.

 

The theme of the conference, sponsored by the organization Sovlanut [“tolerance”], was “How I as mayor promote tolerance in my city and reduce tension between groups in conflict”.  Had the Jerusalem Post reporter given a more complete report, he would have noted that the Bat Shalom representative stated clearly that “In light of Mayor Olmert’s discriminatory treatment of the Arab residents of Jerusalem, we feel that he has no right to teach anyone about tolerance.”  We stand by that statement.

 

The city of Jerusalem does run several token coexistence programs for Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem, but on the basic issues of municipal obligations to its residents, Mayor Olmert demonstrates blatant discrimination against Arab Jerusalemites:

 

(1) Unequal service provision to the Jewish and Arab sectors of the city:  While Arabs comprise 30% of the population of Jerusalem, they benefit from only 5% of the city budget.  This glaring discrepancy is evident in poorly paved streets, garbage collection in very few neighborhoods, insufficient classrooms, no preschool programs whatsoever, and neglect in many other areas.

 

(2) Expropriation of Arab lands for Jewish residents:  More than a third of the land once owned by Arabs in Jerusalem was forcibly expropriated for the construction of 39,000 housing units on them – every single one of them for Jews.  Is this tolerance?  New housing for Arabs is still woefully inadequate – density is twice as high for Arab than Jewish residents of Jerusalem.

 

(3) Insufficient construction permits for Arab residences:  When Arab Jerusalemites apply for permits to expand their living quarters or construct new homes, their requests are invariably denied or reduced to minimal amounts, while Jewish applications are judged by objective criteria.  As a result, Arabs build homes without permits, and then the city demolishes these homes under the guise of “illegal construction”.

 

(4) Stripping Arab Jerusalemites of residency permits:  In what has been termed “silent transfer” by local and international human rights observers, the Interior Ministry in cooperation with the Jerusalem municipality has revoked the residency status of Arab residents in an attempt to reduce the number of Arab residents of Jerusalem.  It is estimated (Ha’aretz, 12 February 1998) that several thousand Arab Jerusalemites have been forced to leave their homes as a result of this policy.

 

“Tolerance” is more than just politely listening to another point of view.  Tolerance means no discrimination and no political chicanery to deprive others of their fundamental rights. Tolerance means not building Jewish settlements in Har Homa and Ras al-Amud.  Tolerance means celebrating, not seeking to destroy, the rich ethnic and religious fabric of this city.

 

When the mayor of Jerusalem begins to practice what he preaches, Bat Shalom and others will be happy to remain in the hall and learn from his lessons on tolerance.

 

#   #   #

 March 11, 1998

Resuming Peace Activities

 

Now that the immediate threat of war against Iraq seems to have passed, we are wondering what excuse Netanyahu will be using to avoid peace negotiations with the Palestinians.  Lately Netanyahu seems to be pursuing peace with Lebanon (via Syria).  This peace, if he could achieve it, would give him a place in history, but also allow Israel to stall on the Palestinian track.  Lebanon is an attractive objective because peace could be made there without having to return any divinely promised territory.  (Fortunately for us, Jehovah in His Wisdom seems to have detoured around south Lebanon.)  Peace with Lebanon, reasons Netanyahu, would place him in the pantheon with Menachem Begin, another bellicose right-winger, whose peace treaty with Egypt earned him a Nobel Peace Prize and an undeserved reputation for greatness.  Syria, however, is unlikely to succumb to Netanyahu’s charms without getting the Golan Heights in return, and that is definitely not on Netanyahu’s agenda.  Well, we were hoping...

 

A report about a few matters related to Israeli women’s peace work:

 

Women In Black

On Friday March 6, 150 Israeli women marked the 10th anniversary of Women in Black with a vigil in Jerusalem.  It was a somber event.  As noted by Hagar Roublev, the “high priestess” of Women in Black in Israel, “We hope we won’t be here commemorating our 20th anniversary.”  Sumaya Farhat-Naser, director of the Jerusalem Center for Women (the Palestinian side of The Jerusalem Link), spoke about the solidarity of peace work by Israeli and Palestinian women, noting that “We cannot afford the luxury of hopelessness.”  Other moving speeches were made by Israeli activist Yvonne Deutsch and Luisa Morgantini, head of the Italian Association for Peace, who has been a loyal ally for women making peace in this region for years.

 

International Women’s Day

Bat Shalom marked International Women’s Day on March 8th with a showing of the film “Nana” at the Jerusalem Cinematheque and addresses by two courageous feminist peacemakers.  Dr. Nadera Shalhoub Kevorkian, professor at Hebrew University (in 3 disciplines - law, criminology, and social work) and activist for Palestinian women’s rights, talked about the politicization of the woman’s body – the effect of the political conflict on Palestinian women’s health and very life.  Nadera gave several poignant examples, such as health services denied Palestinian women who refused to pay discriminatory city taxes, or the proposed pardon of men convicted of sexual crimes when political considerations outweigh the well-being of women.  Attorney Leah Zemel – a human rights advocate who has defended Palestinians for years regardless of how hopeless the case or whether they can pay – spoke of the difficulty of true solidarity between Israelis and Palestinians in light of the power imbalance, and the self-centered, unsacrificing nature of peace activism for most Israelis.  She also praised the few “flowers” in the peace movement, mentioning Women in Black and the Israeli mother of the teenage girl who was killed by a terrorist bomb, but who still found the strength to publicly affirm her commitment to peace and place the blame where it belonged – on Israel’s failure to offer a fair accommodation to the Palestinian people.  The film “Nana” was then shown – a moving documentary co-produced by four young women directors – Israeli, Palestinian, French, and British – offering windows of insight into the lives of the directors’ grandmothers.  We were fortunate to have Suheir Isma’il, the Palestinian director, in the audience, who spoke extemporaneously, making a plea for “real peace, not just words”.

 

Visit To Hebron

This was a solidarity visit on February 17th that I haven’t had a chance yet to report.  A group of about 10 Bat Shalom women, including Knesset Member Anat Ma’or, visited the home of a Palestinian women who has been harassed by Israeli soldiers stationed on her roof.  Over a period of weeks, several soldiers, intrusively posted on the roof overhanging the balcony of her home, used abusive language, made sexual threats, urinated into the family water supply, and indecently exposed themselves to this religious woman.  Two of these soldiers were finally arrested and convicted, serving a 2-week sentence all told.  The women of Bat Shalom sat on the balcony with the woman and expressed our anger and sympathy.  We left her copies of a letter in Arabic that we asked her to share with her neighbors.  The letter read in part:

 

“We condemn the abuse and humiliation of the Palestinian residents of Hebron, which is a direct outcome of the Israeli occupation and the presence of fanatic Jewish settlers in the city.  We believe that the only way to end this injustice is establishment of a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel, in which Hebron will be under Palestinian sovereignty.  We affirm our commitment to work tirelessly to bring about a peace between equals.”

 

The Jahalin Bedouin

The tribe of Bedouin known as the Jahalin had once lived in what was called southern Palestine.  When the state of Israel was created, the tribe moved (not clear if this was voluntary or forced) to an area outside Israel’s borders.  After the 1967 war, the Jahalin again found themselves under Israeli rule, and now Israel is demanding that they evacuate their lands.  Why?  To enable expansion of the Jewish settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim.

 

Many of the Jahalin have already been evicted and forcibly transferred, their belongings turned into garbage by Israeli army bulldozers.  A group of 17 families returned to their homes, however, pending a court ruling.  The Jahalin are willing to relocate, but only if a suitable site is found, and certainly not to the site they were given, which is in close proximity to a garbage dumping site and with insufficient pasture for their flocks.

 

Bat Shalom, together with Rabbis for Human Rights, has been organizing emergency aid to the Jahalin.  If you live in Israel and can contribute blankets, warm clothes, or kitchen utensils, please deliver them to the Bat Shalom office.  If you’d like to send a check, you can mail that to the office.  We’ll keep you informed.

 

Home Demolitions

Finally, and sadly, home demolitions have been resumed at an increased pace in February and March.  In recent weeks, 21 Palestinian homes were destroyed in the West Bank and Jerusalem areas.  This makes a total of 560 Palestinian homes destroyed since the signing of the Oslo Accord in 1993, leaving thousands of individuals homeless.

 

Please take a moment to email or fax a letter to any or all of the authorities specified below.

 

*   *   *

March 18, 1998

Thank you, Robin Cook

 

Europe took a courageous moral stand yesterday when Britain’s Foreign Minister Robin Cook strode away from the Israeli who was officially briefing him on Jabel Abu Ghneim (Har Homa) to shake the hand of Salah Tamari, a Palestinian who has led the battle against the new Israeli settlement on this land.

 

Bat Shalom had a contingent of 8 women who joined other Israeli peace organizations on the mountain to applaud Cook’s efforts, but our voices were drowned out by the din of Israeli right-wingers shouting “Anti-Semite”, “Jerusalem Forever” and other angry slogans against the European rebuke.

 

But Bat Shalom together with its partners, The Jerusalem Center for Women (JCW), were able to convey our message directly to Minister Cook thanks to a little help from friends of the JCW.

 

When Mr. Cook entered the school yard of the Palestinian girls college to meet with Faisal Husseini, a joint contingent of The Jerusalem Link was waiting for him.  Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser and I stepped forward, shook his hand, and introduced ourselves as the Palestinian and Israeli joint women’s peace movement.  “We welcome you to the region,” I said, and Sumaya continued, “and we encourage European involvement in advancing the peace process”.  “This is the warmest welcome I’ve had today,” responded Mr. Cook with a smile, and pushed forward through the mob of media to shake the hands of several Jerusalem Link women.

 

We handed Mr. Cook a letter, and we’d also like to share it with you:

 

Dear Mr. Cook:

 

We Palestinian and Israeli women have a vision of peace based on mutual respect for the rights of both peoples to fulfill their national aspirations.  This involves recognizing the rights of each to a state with territorial contiguity, secure borders, and full sovereignty.

 

The Israeli government is derailing the peace process with its policies to expand settlements, maintain a closure, demolish homes, hold political detainees without trial, confiscate identity cards, bar Palestinian access to Jerusalem, and refuse safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.  These policies violate human and political rights, undermine the Palestinian economic, social and cultural fabric, and effectively maintain Israeli sovereignty over another people.

 

We appeal to the leaders of Europe to help put the peace process back on track; and we call upon Israeli and Palestinian political leaders to shape a peace agreement that will ensure the security of both peoples and provide a framework for the development of genuinely peaceful relations between them.  This cannot be achieved without two states for two peoples and the city of Jerusalem serving as two capitals for these two states.

 

Mr. Cook, we are aware of the efforts made by the European Commission for peace in the Middle East, and we appreciate them deeply.  In parallel, we would like to make you aware of the tireless efforts that we are making on the grassroots level on behalf of peace. Without devoted commitment on both levels, and on the part of our national leaders, our peoples will continue to pay the price in blood, and peace will remain an elusive dream.

 

Sumaya Farhat-Naser                                    Gila Svirsky

The Jerusalem Center for Women                 Bat Shalom

 

*   *   *

May 4, 1998

Pomp and Counter Pomp

 

Israel launched its Independence Day celebrations in characteristic fashion, with all the pomp, spectacle, counter-pomp and counter-spectacle that we have learned to expect from this country.  A report of a few events:

 

Torch Lighting

The traditional torch lighting by establishment-selected individuals at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery was matched by an “alternative torch lighting” sponsored by Yesh Gvul, in which 11 peace and human rights activists lit torches and spoke.  Several hundred people came to hear speeches that sounded much different than those given at Mount Herzl.  Some highlights:

 

         Fighting ex-Knesset Member Shulamit Aloni expressed the hope that “Next year we celebrate 51 years of the state of Israel and the birthday of the Palestinian state”

         Journalist Uri Avnery spoke in memory of Yitzhak Rabin and of Issam Sartawi, a Palestinian journalist who was a pioneer of dialogue with Israel.

         Feminist activist Alice Shalvi called for independence for agunot [women refused a divorce by their husbands], battered women, and prostitutes in the sex slave trade.

         Poet Natan Zach lit his torch in honor of Mordechai Vanunu, exposer of Israel’s nuclear warfare capacity, currently serving a prison sentence for revealing “state secrets”

         Bedouin rights activist Nuri el-Uqbi called upon Israel to end the house demolitions, return land confiscated from the Bedouin, and recognize the “unrecognized” villages.

         Conscientious objectors David Enoch and Yuval Lotem called upon brave young men to refuse army service in the occupied territories.

         Gila Svirsky lit a torch in honor of the women’s peace organizations and also the gay community in Israel, who constitute a large portion of the peace camp.

         Social justice activist Shlomo Vazana called for the government to pass the public housing reform law.

         Political writer and activist Yehuda Meltzer called for a future Israel that will be more democratic, more just, and more peaceful.

         And Lea Tsemel, human rights lawyer extraordinaire, spoke just as the fireworks from Mt. Herzl began to illuminate the sky above both ceremonies.  Lea expressed the hope that the torch she kindled would light the interrogation rooms darkened with torture, and called for a Jerusalem that would turn its shining countenance upon its Palestinian inhabitants as well.

 

The voices of those who marked Independence Eve with acknowledgement of Israel’s sins, as well as hopes for its future, seemed to be a more honest and fitting tribute to Israel on its 50th anniversary than those in the state-sanctioned ceremonies.

 

Har Homa Face-Off

Independence Day saw a gathering of 10,000 right-wingers at Har Homa [Jabal abu-Ghaneim] for a day of picnicking, speeches, nationalist songs, and placement of the cornerstone for the settlement planned at the site.  This was offset – in decibels rather than quantity – by a counter-demonstration of 1,000 activists from several peace organizations (including Bat Shalom, Peace Now, and Gush Shalom).  We gathered in a wadi opposite the hill and directed our instruments of protest – sirens, horns, drums, cowbells, kazoos, trumpets, whistles, and chanting – at the spectacle opposite.  Border police kept hustling to keep the two swirling vortexes of noise at a safe distance from each other, though individuals occasionally broke through and had to be forcibly returned to their respective camps.  Under the present Israeli government, we cannot do very much, I’m afraid, but we all felt the need to raise our voices so that the settlers, the government, the outside world, our children, and heaven would know that this evil will not pass unremarked.

 

I hope that next Independence Day will be marked by peace, justice, and a sister state of Palestine beside the state of Israel.

 

#   #   #

May 17, 1998

More Death, Less Peace

 

We note with anger and grief the terrible loss of lives and the many injuries resulting from Israel’s brutal response to the Palestinian demonstrators who were marking al-Naqba (the catastrophe), the Palestinian term for Israel’s creation in 1948.  The rage and frustration expressed by the demonstrators are a clear message – the loss of hope that progress can be made for peace.

 

To our Palestinian sisters and brothers, we extend our sympathy and solidarity as these terrible events take their toll.  We appeal to you not to despair.  We pledge as Israeli peace activists that we shall not relent in our efforts until a fair and just solution, mutually agreeable to both sides, is in place.

 

Before the riots began and in commemoration of al-Naqba, a joint statement was issued by the Jerusalem Link (the coordinating body of Bat Shalom and the Jerusalem Center for Women).  The statement reads in part:

 

“The birth of Israel was inextricably bound up with tragedies for the Palestinian people – the transformation of 750,000 Palestinians into homeless refugees, separation of family members from each other, destruction of Palestinian villages and erasing all trace of their existence, the deterioration of community life, and the loss of a homeland... Peace requires a political solution that recognizes the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to exist as an independent state beside the state of Israel.  This necessitates Israeli withdrawal from the Occupied Territories... We seek a peace that permits all the peoples of the region to live in security and dignity, guided and inspired by the values of freedom, democracy, justice, and equality.”

 

#   #   #

May 21, 1998

Jerusalem Day is a Sham

 

In a few days, the government of Israel and extreme right-wing Israelis will march through the streets of Jerusalem celebrating what has become known as “Jerusalem Day”.

 

Again the media will repeat the well-worn theme of “united Jerusalem” even though everyone knows that Jerusalem is not and has never been united for even one day since 1967.  Expropriation of land by force is not unification, just as rape is not love.  Invisible walls divide east and west Jerusalem, walls of alienation and conflict, hatred and violence, and sometimes even bloodshed.

 

East Jerusalem is occupied territory - land appropriated by Israel from its Palestinian inhabitants.  Israeli efforts to rid Jerusalem of its Palestinian residents include the denial of permits to construct homes, the destruction of Palestinian homes that are built without permits, and the expulsion of Arab Jerusalemites from their native city if they work or study outside Jerusalem.  The technique is a shameful, deceitful manipulation of bureaucratic rules.  “It is all legal,” they are able to defend themselves in court.  We refuse to accept this immoral code of behavior.

 

On Jerusalem Day, as the settlers and their supporters celebrate their domination over Jerusalem in a triumphalist march through the Old City, we shall take our own stand.  We invite you to join us along the wall near Jaffa Gate and hold aloft signs that call for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and a Jerusalem that is shared by both.  We declare:

 

Jerusalem belongs to all of us - Israelis, Palestinians, and all its residents - Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Jerusalem must be a united city, open to all who enter it and belonging to all who dwell within.  Jerusalem can be united only by mutual agreement between the two nations and their two states, Israel and Palestine, with Jerusalem serving as the capital of both.

 

#   #   #

May 25, 1998

So We Won’t Die in Any More Wars

 

“This is someone from the extreme right-wing speaking.

We’re going to burn down Bat Shalom and all you left-

wingers.  Jerusalem belongs to us, period.  Here’s

hoping you burn together with all the Arabs.”

 

This was the recorded message heard by people who called Bat Shalom this Saturday to get details about our Jerusalem Day demonstration.  Someone had figured out our remote code and changed the message on the tape.  The incident was typical of the aggressiveness of the far right toward peace activists, and this was heightened on “Jerusalem Day”, the most nationalistic day of our calendar.

 

“Jerusalem Day” celebrates “unified Jerusalem”, although the city has never been more divided.  To celebrate, the government stages an annual parade with thousands of soldiers strutting their stuff around the walls of the Old City and through the center of town.  Also annually, right-wing extremists run their more defiant version, swaggering through the Palestinian parts of town.  Bat Shalom felt that the time had come to respond to that.

 

Negotiating with the police over a location for our demonstration turned into a  contentious issue.  The police sought to prevent us from being in proximity with the militant right, but Bat Shalom would not agree to being shunted away from the scene of action.  We finally agreed on a location along the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate, although other organizations (Gush Shalom and Meretz) felt the spot was too exposed and vulnerable, and withdrew sponsorship of the event.  We admit that this withdrawal from participation combined with the death threat made us uneasy.

 

Participants had to walk several kilometers to reach the site, as all roads near the Old City were closed due to the two marches.  Nevertheless a group gathered at the appointed hour, and gradually swelled as individuals made their way through the noise, crowds, and military brass to reach us.  In fact, many Gush Shalom and Meretz activists made their way there too, even though their organizations had formally dropped out.

 

We were about 70 demonstrators ultimately and we formed a long line on a hill perched above and behind the marchers below.  We held signs reading “Jerusalem: 2 capitals for 2 states”; “Jerusalem Day is a Sham”, “East Jerusalem is Occupied Territory”; and “Palestinians Also Live in Jerusalem”.  One old man had hand-lettered and pinned to himself his own long-winded message:  “Please be respectful of our Muslim neighbors as Jerusalem is also holy to them, so we won’t die in any more wars”.

 

The police were tense and alert, pouncing on anyone who looked too hard at us, and dragged away one young man who made a rush at us.  They wouldn’t let me wander away from the area, as I wore a Bat Shalom t-shirt with a prominent women’s peace symbol on it.  Many settlers eyed us angrily as they walked by, their rifles slung across their backs.  A line of sitting ducks was the image that crossed my mind and the police seemed to feel the same way.  But we all stood quietly – no speeches, no chanting, no cat-calls – watching the nationalistic fervor run its course in the streets below.

 

When the parade had dwindled down to nothing and even the spectators were packing up to go home, we rolled up our signs.  The police looked relieved.  A priest appeared out of nowhere and blessed us for what we did.  Someone helped the old man unpin his sign so he could get home safely.  As they left, participants thanked Bat Shalom for organizing it.  “This proves once again,” said one of the Meretz participants, “that women are the most courageous part of the peace movement.”  Actually there were lots of men with us today, but we were the ones who refused to back down.

 

June 3, 1998

31 Years of Occupation – Enough!

 

June 5th marks the 31st anniversary of the occupation by Israel of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.  Imagine – 31 long years!  Despite advances made by the Oslo Accords, Israel was, is, and remains an occupying power:

 

What Does Occupation Mean In Practice?

 

The Territories

 

        Israel continues to be in sole control of 73% of the West Bank and 44% of the Gaza Strip.  This is true even though Jewish settlers comprise only 7% of the population of the territories.

 

        Israel continues to confiscate thousands of acres from the Palestinians in order to expand settlements and build bypass roads to them.  Har Homa is only one such example.  Not only is this a violation of international law, but creating “facts on the ground” pre-empts any good faith negotiation with the Palestinians in the final status talks.

 

Closure [=sealing in the occupied territories]

 

        Since March 1993, closure has never fully been lifted, although there are periods during which it is eased.  Closure  plays havoc with the Palestinian economy, which is dependent upon Palestinian workers entering Israel.

 

        Approximately 29% of the Palestinian labor force in the territories is unemployed.  During closure, unemployment soars to 50% or more in the West Bank and an astounding 70% in Gaza.

 

        Thousands of Palestinian students cannot attend university because of Israel’s failure to comply with the Oslo agreement to provide passage between the West Bank and Gaza.

 

Other Occupational Hazards

 

        House demolitions continue to take place in the territories, sometimes as a punitive measure against the families of suspected terrorists, sometimes to pressure the inhabitants to  emigrate, and sometimes to prevent Palestinian economic development (especially in East Jerusalem).  Just yesterday (June 2), demolitions were carried out against 6 more Palestinian homes, creating more homeless families and breeding more anti-Israel  sentiment.

 

        The Oslo Agreements give Israel far-reaching control over the  autonomous areas of the Palestinian Authority – control over access by land, sea and air; veto power over bills in the Palestinian Legislative Assembly; and the right to enter any part of the autonomy at will for what Israel deems to be its security needs.

 

Occupation is wrong; it is also counterproductive.  Peace will come only when Israel recognizes the rights of the Palestinian people to their own sovereign state, and both sides sign an agreement based on justice and mutual respect.

 

What Israelis Can Do:

Many peace organizations are voicing their protest this Friday and Saturday.  If you live in Israel, join us:

 

q       Joint Vigil in Jerusalem - Bat Shalom, Women in Black, and Mothers and Women for Peace.  Men are invited, as every year, to mark the anniversary of the 1967 occupation.

 

q       Conscientious Objection to Service in the Territories - Yesh Gvul visit to the West Bank to express solidarity with Palestinians and discuss with Israeli soldiers the alternatives to service in the territories.

 

q       Lebanon - another occupied territory!  Protest together with the Movement for Leaving Lebanon and the Four Mothers Movement in front of the Tel-Aviv Museum.

 

q       A “Birthday Party for Israel’s Wars” at the Yadayim Art Gallery in Tel-Aviv.  Participants are invited to “bring a gift for the State of Israel”, which will be put on exhibit (June 6-27).  What gift would you give a state that has been at war for 50 years?

 

What Non-Israelis and Israelis Can Do:

Write an e-mail or fax to the politicians (Israeli and other). Do not write a long or eloquent letter.  Even one sentence is enough, unless you want to write more.  Just make sure that the subject line clearly and succinctly states your opinion.  That is often all they read.

 

What to say?

q       Protest Israel’s continued occupation.

q       Protest Israeli home demolitions of Arab homes.

q       Demand that Israel return occupied territories.

q       Demand an end to U.S. support for Netanyahu.

q       What else?  Say what is in your heart.

 

*   *   *

June 10, 1998

Peace and Anti-Peace

 

This past week, peace organizations marked the 31st (!) anniversary of Israel’s occupation, and the 16th (!) anniversary of the war with Lebanon.  How long can rational people keep up this irrational and self-destructive policy?  Far longer than anyone imagined, it seems.

 

Here’s a run-down of some recent peace – and anti-peace – activities in Israel.

 

Women’s Peace Vigils

Last Friday (June 5), a joint vigil of women’s peace activists dressed in black commemorated the 31st anniversary of Israel’s occupation. Women in Black, Bat Shalom, and Mothers and Women for Peace joined hands at our traditional “vigil plaza” in Jerusalem with the combined signs of our movements:  Stop the Occupation; Two States for Two Nations; Jerusalem - the Capital of Two States; and We Have No Spare Children for War.  That last one really gets me.  On Saturday (June 6), the Four Mothers movement held a mass rally in Tel-Aviv demanding that Israel withdraw from Lebanon.  Withdrawing from Lebanon will happen before the occupation is over, in my opinion.

 

Yesh Gvul

Yesh Gvul is an organization of men who refuse to do army service in the occupied territories - a powerful statement in Israel, where the army is a sacred cow.  On Friday (June 5), Yesh Gvul organized a busload of activists to visit an Israeli army base in the territories to distribute printed material noting that every individual can make a choice about army service.  They didn’t get far.  The army stopped the bus shortly after it left Jerusalem – near the Efrat settlement. Several members of the group were detained, while several border policemen boarded the bus and forced the driver to turn back to Jerusalem.  The border patrol did not have to use guns; they isolated the driver from the men in the back, and told him that he would have his driving license revoked if he disobeyed their orders.  At the Jerusalem city limits, the border patrol got off the bus, and their accompanying jeep released the men who had been detained.

 

Confiscation of Arab Homes

The pastoral Palestinian village of Silwan at the edge of Jerusalem was again the site of extremist settlers who repeated their pattern of home-grabbing.  At 3 in the morning this past Monday (June 8), a group of settlers broke down the doors of 3 more homes in this quiet village, throwing out the entire contents, and claiming the homes for their own.  The awful part is that the settlers have legal documents to protect them – documents acquired in shady deals with shady Palestinians who collude with them to swindle the owners out of their homes.  (These purchases are financed by Irving Moskowitz, who made his money from bingo parlors that milk the poor in California.)  Peace Now arrived on the scene at the crack of dawn, and women of Bat Shalom joined them later in the morning with signs saying “Brutality Sanctioned by Law” and “Netanyahu is Poisoning the Peace”.  Although the border patrol prevented us from paying a solidarity visit to the Palestinian families, the settlers entered and left at will.  It was infuriating.  Faisal Husseini, Minister for Jerusalem of the Palestinian National Authority, who had arrived at 3 in the morning, needed stitches in the head because of a rock thrown at him by settlers.  His comment:  “The real injured party here is the peace process.”

 

More Palestinian Homes Destroyed

A report from the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions:  No fewer than 17 Bedouin families were made homeless last week when Israeli authorities destroyed their property – again.  This was the second time these families had their homes destroyed.  After the first time, Palestinian authorities had provided tents and basic needs, but this time the Israeli border patrol returned and carefully bulldozed everything... taking care to get the food stores for the sheep and families and the water tanks.  Is this not a monstrous act?  How dare this country behave like this in my name!!  Or in yours, if you are Jewish.  Or human.

 

*   *   *

June 17, 1998

Violating the Peace

 

If your only source of information were Bibi Netanyahu, you might well think that Israel is eager to make peace, if only the Palestinians would keep their end of the agreements.

 

The truth is quite different.

 

Although there have been Palestinian breaches of the Oslo Peace Accords and subsequent agreements, it is Israel which has carried out the most flagrant violations of the letter and spirit of these accords.  Some examples:

 

1. Redeployment

Netanyahu’s haggling over whether or not to withdraw from 13% of the territories in what he calls “the second redeployment” obscures the fact that Netanyahu never carried out the first redeployment.  The Hebron agreement, which Netanyahu signed in January 1997, obligates Israel to three withdrawals, all of which should have been completed by now,  In point of fact, Israel has yet to do even one.

 

2.  Safe Passage

Israel promised to allow the movement of people, vehicles and goods between the various parts of the occupied territories.  This is crucial for commerce, access to hospitals, attendance of schools and universities, employment, and even contact between members of the same family.  Safe passage, however, has never actually taken place: Israel makes it even more difficult for Palestinians to pass between Gaza and the West Bank than to enter Israel!

 

3. Territorial Integrity

Oslo defines the occupied territories (the West Bank and the Gaza Strip) as a single territorial unit whose integrity will be preserved until decisions are made in the final status talks.  And yet there are gross violations of that integrity: the settlements now under construction at Har Homa, East Jerusalem, Silwan, and throughout the territories; the construction of so-called “bypass” roads to allow Israelis to move from settlement to settlement; and the ongoing expropriation of lands for these settlements.

 

4. Release Of Prisoners

One of the confidence-building measures written into the Oslo Accords was the release of Palestinian prisoners by Israel.  While many were released, Israel still has 103 Palestinians incarcerated as “administrative detainees” – a euphemism for people imprisoned for lengthy periods without trial or due process.

 

5. Human Rights

Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed to abide by internationally accepted norms of human rights and the rule of law. However, every home demolished, every acre of land expropriated, and every time someone under arrest is tortured by the so-called “security services” is a gross violation of human rights and destructive of support for peace among the Palestinians.

 

The above do not even begin to enumerate the less sweeping breaches of the accords: the Israeli civil administration in the territories was not disbanded, the main market street in Hebron was not re-opened, an Israeli military decree prohibits Palestinians from repairing homes in most sections of Jerusalem, arrangements were not made for opening an airport or seaport in Gaza, and so forth.  (See the excellent listing at the Gush Shalom web site: http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives.html)

 

Our Response

In response to the crumbling of the peace negotiations, an emergency meeting was held last Friday (June 12th) of the Jerusalem Link – the coordinating body of Bat Shalom and our Palestinian partners, the Jerusalem Center for Women.  After reviewing the severity of the situation, our joint organization decided to launch a major international campaign:

 

  • To demand implementation of the interim Oslo peace accords; and
  • To mobilize support internationally and among our peoples for an independent and viable Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel.

The women of the Jerusalem Link believe that the state of Palestine is an urgent moral and political imperative.  Without it, the Palestinians will never have justice and the Israelis will never have peace.

 

We are now laying the groundwork for this campaign, planned to culminate in May 1999 – the scheduled deadline for completion of the final status talks and the expected proclamation by Arafat of establishment of a Palestinian state.  More details soon.

 

June 25, 1998

Death by Occupation

 

One doesn’t know where to begin –

 

         the ruthless demolitions, in which entire homes and personal belongings are bulldozed into smithereens; these have been stepped up in recent weeks.

 

         the feigned democracy of Bibi Netanyahu, calling for a national referendum to “ask the people” if they want the redeployment mandated by the Oslo accords, to delay further Israeli withdrawal from occupied lands; or

 

         Netanyahu’s attempt to annex settlements in the occupied territories to Jerusalem – thereby both enlarging the Jewish population of Jerusalem (to strengthen Israel’s claim to the city) and at the same time giving these illegal settlements the protection of being considered part of municipal Jerusalem.

 

But I am writing today to tell you of a trip I made last Tuesday (June 23) to a tiny village just south of Hebron – a condolence call to the abu-Turki family.  Abdul Majid, the father of the family, was killed last week as he was walking home from his field.  He was not run over, but struck in the head from a passing car by a teenager wielding a club.  The boys in the car were from the Jewish settlement overlooking Abdul Majid’s home.  A day later, the principal of the settlers’ school called it a “prank”; I call it “death by occupation”.

 

We were 35 people who set off in 7 cars from Jerusalem early in the morning, a mix of several peace movements – Bat Shalom, Peace Now, Gush Shalom, and Ra’ash (a new university-based group).  We used the expensive new bypass highways (“anti-intifada roads”) designed to circumvent Palestinian villages.  The one we traveled – with 2 heavy concrete tunnels gouged out of the softly terraced hills – is off-limits to Palestinians who do not have an Israeli license plate.  An apartheid road – a chilling new way to oppress another people.

 

Our first stop was in the Hebron office of Abbas Zakki, minister for Hebron affairs in the Palestinian Legislative Council.  Though crowded, everyone had a comfortable and air-conditioned seat for the extended welcome, translated from Arabic into English, with occasional corrections of the translator by Mr. Zakki himself.  I studied the large portrait of Yasser Arafat hanging behind Mr. Zakki, other prominent PLO leaders orbiting like satellites on other walls, and a small photo of Gamel Abdul Nasser on the desk where one might see a wife or children.  The eagle symbol of Palestinian sovereignty, now making more frequent appearances throughout the territories, also glared at us from a wall as Mr. Zakki praised our visit and spoke of “the Israeli leaders who only understand the language of violence”.  I responded for the group by speaking of “the peace treaty that is already signed and sealed between people of both nations who are seekers of peace”.  Formalities over, we boarded the cars together with a contingent of Mr. Zakki’s assistants and headed to the home of the abu-Turki family.

 

Adjoining the abu-Turki home is the settlement of Beit Haggai built on lands confiscated from the abu-Turki family and other neighbors.  Directly across the road are the remains of the Attrash family house, which has now been destroyed by bulldozers three times.  It’s no wonder the army is determined to prevent them from rebuilding – it would hinder expansion of the Beit Haggai settlement, and, worse, set an example to other Palestinian families.  Indeed, three other Palestinian families with homes recently demolished have begun to lay stone upon stone in the painstaking effort of reconstruction.

 

Beit Haggai, with its pretty orange-shingled homes and fancy gardens, is one planet (and a chain-link fence and army) removed from the impoverished Arab homes below.  In a useless gesture when he made his condolence call a day before, Israeli welfare minister Yishai promised to connect the Arab hamlet to the water system.  In context, it didn’t mean much.  While Beit Haggai busses in teenagers from Israel to the modern boarding school on its premises, the Palestinians still study in a shack.

 

It was one of those boarding school teens who leaned out of a car window last week and aimed his club at the head of the Arab man walking along the road.  “We were only playing,” he later told police.  The car never stopped when the skull cracked, the man went down and lay bleeding along the side of the road.  The boys returned to school.  Not one of the six in the car picked up the phone to report an injured man.  Perhaps his life would have been saved.

 

The 35 of us crowded into the bare entrance room to the simple family home and sat on plastic stools.  At one end sat Abdel Majid’s father, mother, wife, brothers, cousins, uncles, and many children – I didn’t know which were his six girls and six boys.  Perhaps the ones crying. Two young men squeezed past the stools and poured a thimbleful of bitter Arab coffee for every guest.  Then many activists made speeches.  Yohanan Peres of Peace Now asked for forgiveness in the name of all Israelis and spoke of how this killing was the result of the political climate and its miseducation of our children.  Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom demanded the ouster of every last settler from Palestinian  land.  The assistants to the minister for Hebron spoke of the ongoing crimes against Palestinian homes and land.  There were many long speeches. Then Nur, which means “light” in both Arabic and Hebrew, entered the room, the 12-year old daughter of the abu-Turki family.  The crowd showed deference, recognizing her face from the media interviews, and the family gave her the floor, as she had already proven her oratory skills.  She posed a series of questions.

 

“Who will now feed and clothe our family?” she wailed, her arms outstretched.  No answer.  “If a Palestinian had killed an Israeli, he would be put in jail for years.  When an Israeli kills a Palestinian, he is called insane and goes free.  Why?”  This is in fact what has happened time and again, and the crowd murmured its assent.  And her closing question, “Why do the settlers have a school, but our school cannot be built?”  Too many questions without answers.

 

Nur turned to leave, but I asked to speak to her publicly, and she kindly consented.  I addressed her directly, quietly.  “I agree with the many political words that have been said here today, but I would like to say something else.”  I took off the pin on my lapel and asked if I could put it on her.  “This is the dove of the women’s peace movement in Israel.  When you look at it, I hope you will remember that there are many, many Israelis who feel terrible remorse that your father has been killed.  We are Israelis who would like to see peace between our peoples.”  The seven women from Bat Shalom took off their doves and pinned them on the women and girls around us.

 

“May Allah be with you,” we said as we took leave, some of us kissing  the mother and the grandmother.  Outside in the broiling sun, we got into our cars.  I noticed Nur standing on the side surrounded by a group of girls studying the dove on her lapel.  I wonder if that pin can pierce the pain and bitterness.  Time will tell.

 

#   #   #

 

Background:  Of all the emails I ever wrote, I think this one was most circulated, reprinted, and translated into other languages.  Many people have told me that it woke them up to the tragedy of the Palestinian people and induced others to join us in our efforts.

 

July 10, 1998

Lena Doesn’t Live Here Anymore

 

Yesterday was a day I won’t ever forget.  Neither will Salim and Arabiyeh Shawamreh, their daughter Lena, or their five other children.

 

Bat Shalom, a feminist peace organization that works toward a just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, was part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian protest against the demolition of Palestinian homes.  The idea was to set up a protest tent on the site of a demolition to offer solidarity, document the destruction, and provide compassionate listening to family members. We planned to move this tent from site to site, wherever the Israeli army used its bulldozers. That day we planned to inaugurate the tent opposite the so-called “civil administration” headquarters – the nerve center of Israel’s control of the occupied territories – those who actually do the dirty work of demolishing people’s homes and other acts of oppression.

 

Our bus from Jerusalem held activists from several Israeli peace movements, all partners in a coalition called the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and our demonstration was to be held jointly with several Palestinian human rights organizations.

 

Through the bus microphone, we heard Meir Margalit describe one chilling scenario: “If the soldiers try to prevent us from holding the demonstration, proceed in an orderly manner to the planned alternative site. There must not be violence on our side, but if the army engages in violence, do not separate from the Palestinians. The army will be more brutal to the Palestinians if the soldiers manage to separate us.”

 

It was a sobering thought as we drove into the Occupied Territories and toward the protest tent. Suddenly a call came across a mobile phone and Meir took the mike again.  “We have just had word that a demolition is taking place at this very moment not far from here.”  It’s a rare occurrence to catch a demolition in progress, no less with a group of peace activists; most demolitions take place with virtually no warning, and hence no time to protest. We turned toward Anata, a town on the edge of Jerusalem composed almost entirely of Palestinian refugees who had fled there from the Old City of Jerusalem in the 1967 war.

 

After what seemed an interminable drive through the narrow streets of Anata, we finally located the area and parked as close as possible. We still had to walk 10 minutes down narrow, zig-zagging dirt roads between crowded homes until we came to the outskirts of Anata. There we practically ran toward the edge of the hill and looked below – a beautiful home set into a pastoral valley with one of its walls now crumpled into rubble by a roaring bulldozer; a family and neighbors sobbing nearby; and a unit of Israeli soldiers preventing anyone else from approaching the scene.

 

The scene was horrific. Our small group surged down the hill until soldiers blocked our progress with their guns and bodies. There were scuffles trying to get past them, but more soldiers joined the barricade. One member of our group, Israeli parliament member Naomi Chazan, demanded to see the order proclaiming the site a “closed military zone”, and after several long minutes the officer complied. No one knows if the order was genuine or invented at the last minute. But the guns were real.

 

So there we stood on the side of the hill, watching with an unbearable sense of helplessness as the “civil” administration’s bulldozer took the house apart wall by wall. The driver plowed through the front garden with a profusion of flowers and a lemon tree and slammed the front door as if he were God Almighty.  Backing away, he slammed again until the entire front was shattered and dangling from metal rods. Then he came from every side, crashing his shovel against the walls. Finally he lifted off the roof, barely suspended, and sent it crashing below.  When that was done, the bulldozer went around the back of the house and crashed through all the fruit trees, including a small olive stand. He saw a water tank on a platform and knocked that over, the tank tumbling down and a cascade of water drenching the trees now uprooted and broken.  He saw two more tanks nearby and knocked those over as well. I have never seen anyone in the Middle East deliberately waste so much water. The he noticed a shack in the corner of the yard and he churned over to that, his cleated treads grinding and squealing over the rubble he had to traverse.  The shack was an easy swipe for his shovel, and we were surprised to see two doves fly out, one white and one black, frightened out of their wits. They flapped their wings briefly and landed not far from their former home.

 

All the while, a crowd of Palestinian neighbors were gathering behind us on the mountain crest, cat-calling and jeering. From our Israeli group, many engaged the soldiers in challenges: “How can you sleep at night?”; “Is this what is meant by defending Israel?”; “Don’t you understand the immorality of this action?”  Every single soldier, from the commander to the lowest GI, responded the same way:  “This is legal; we’re only following orders.”  One woman tried to yell at the bulldozer driver every time there was a lull in the din. But nothing we could think to say stopped the roar of devastation.

 

By then I had managed to slip past the soldiers to move down the hill to stand with the family outside their former home. One woman was sobbing and I put my arms around her. When I began to cry too, she put her arms around me. A weeping girl joined us and we both encircled her with our arms. I later learned that this was 14-year-old Lena and this house had once been hers.

 

Suddenly gunshots rang out. Some of the young Palestinians had begun throwing stones – from a very great distance, I note – and Israeli soldiers retaliated by opening fire, and running up the hill after them, setting off their guns like the wild west.  I told the commander that this was a clear violation of the “open fire regulations” of the Israeli army, which stipulate that a soldier’s life must be in danger before he opens fire. I demanded repeatedly that he order the soldiers to stop. The commander shrugged and didn’t bother answering.

 

The shooting stopped after 10 minutes or so. Amazingly, no “stray” bullets hit any of our group, although the Palestinians, as usual, were not as lucky. A man approached the crowd of neighbors, said a few words, and instantly two women let out piercing shrieks and tore up the hill at top speed. A bullet had hit one of their sons. I don’t know his  condition, but already in the hospital was Arabiyeh, the mother of the family, who had been violently struck by soldiers when she tried to prevent them from destroying her home.

 

By then there was nothing to do but sift through the rubble. I picked through the rocks with Jeff Halper, who is organizing the program to “adopt” Palestinian families whose homes are slated for demolition. Jeff had sat in the living room of this home the previous week, now a pile of jagged concrete slabs, hearing Salim and Arabiyeh agonize about the problem of Palestinians not being issued construction permits. “Just last night,” Salim had told Jeff during the demolition, “friends and family had sat in this home watching the World Cup soccer game”.  Now Lena and her five siblings are without TV, toys, books, diapers, bottles, or a place to lay their heads. Instead, they remain with the trauma of the Israeli bulldozer turning their home and security into a bottomless pit of hatred for this occupation and the people who carry it out.

 

For the first time, I also noticed the scenery around us. On a nearby hill were the classrooms of the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University. Had they looked out their classroom window, the students studying ethics and justice could have had a clear view of the scene of brute power and the trampling of this family’s lives. And everywhere on the surrounding hills were the bright orange rooftops of the homes of Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories. The settlers have no problem whatsoever in getting construction permits. No one would dare uproot their olive trees, waste their water, harm their homes, or turn their children out into the streets.

 

Our group – and more, I hope – will return to rebuild this home and carry on a new tradition of non-violent resistance that is gaining momentum. The Palestinians rebuild, the Israeli army demolishes, the Palestinians rebuild again. As one of the neighbors said, “We’ll see who lasts longer.”

 

Many of us picked up olive branches from the yard as we walked back to the buses.  Most of the branches, like mine, were crushed by the treads of power run amuck.

 

#   #   #

August 2, 1998

Lena’s Home Destroyed…Again

 

You may recall that, 2 weeks ago, the Israeli authorities demolished the beautiful home of 14 year-old Lena with its lemon trees and rose bushes.  This is part of the government policy to prevent Palestinians from building in areas that Israel hopes will become part of the Israeli state at the conclusion of the peace process.  Thus, Lena and her family have become part of the statistic of more than 1,800 (sic!) Palestinian homes bulldozed into the ground since 1967 by a drive to expand the borders of Israel.

 

Many of us witnessed that traumatic moment of destruction, and were determined to help the family.  Thus, a large group of people spent three days last week first clearing the rubble and then placing stone upon stone to rebuild the home.  It was a labor of love and a privilege for all who participated – the Palestinian neighbors of the family side-by-side with Israeli and Palestinian peace and human rights activists.  And many friends from abroad, whom Lena and her family have never met, mailed in checks to support the effort.

 

With incredible motivation, we got the walls up by the end of the third day, and when the glow of headlights appeared over the hill of the trucks carrying cement for the roof, Lena’s father broke down and cried.  By late at night, the home had a roof, and the smell of fresh concrete sweetened the cool night air for those resting from their efforts.

 

Sunday was Tisha B’Av in Israel, the holiday commemorating the destruction of the ancient Temples of the Israelites.  Jews throughout the world fast and pray on this day, asking God never to visit such destruction upon our people again.

 

It was thus ironic and tragic when the Israeli administration waited until the end of this fast day to engage in its own act of destruction.  The bulldozer appeared at Lena’s brand new home at 5:30 this morning.  It took less than half an hour to do the job, and this time they also knocked over the tent in which Lena’s father had slept.  By the time most of us arrived,  there was nothing to do but sit among the ruins in anger and disbelief.

 

Lena was not here to witness the second destruction of her home, I’m relieved to report.  She, her mother and five siblings have gone to stay with relatives in Jordan until they have a home to live in.  Her father, Salim, has been “at home” the entire time, however, alternating between defiance and despair.  On Sunday he had replanted some of the flowers in his garden.  These are now “pressed flowers” – in the bulldozer’s treads.

 

Many of us in the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps are trying to help Lena’s family and at the same time overturn the entire policy of home demolitions by the Israeli government.  Thanks to inside sources, we know that both the US State Department and senior Israeli officials have been flooded with your emails and faxes, and have made note of the public outcry.  “Your voice is being heard dramatically, I assure you,” we were told by a friend in the State Department.  This pressure is imperative and must not abate.

 

Salim and his family say they will persist – rebuild and rebuild and rebuild – until they have a home to live in.  We support them in this struggle, and are trying to leverage it to prevent other families from undergoing this trauma.  Please join us in this campaign.  Every home demolition is not only immoral and inhuman, but drives a wedge of anger and hostility between our two peoples, distancing us even further from peace.

 

#   #   #

September 16, 1998

Rosh Hashana 1998

 

While this has been a hard and discouraging year in Israel, there’s more to the story.  There is no need to recite here the litany of the trampling of peace and human rights.  There’s no need to compare the corrupt and violent actions of  Israeli and Palestinian leaders (and followers).

 

But that is not all that has happened.  This year has also witnessed a broad array of actions of those pursuing peace, advancing justice, speaking truth to brute power.  For every home demolished, there have been scores of good people – Israelis, Palestinians, and others – to help rebuild it.  For every bomb exploded, there have been courageous Palestinians to condemn it.  For every act of collective punishment, there have been brave Israelis who defy its enforcement.

 

Let there be no doubt:  Peace is inevitable.  There are powerful and caring people on both sides who are demanding an end to war.  These people light the path.

 

A happy and peaceful Jewish New Year to everyone.

 

*

Background:  All emails of the left in Israel are read by the Israeli authorities, therefore we sometimes do not announce the specific nature of the activity or the meeting point.  I have deleted phone numbers.

 

For those in Israel, a partial listing of events in the coming days:

 

18 September: Committee Against House Demolitions (Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, Peace Now) Solidarity visit to the Jabber family near Hebron.

 

18-24 September: The Israeli Committee for Mordechai Vanunu and for a Middle East Free of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Weapons – a week of international protest.

 

18 & 20 September: Yesh Gvul - conscientious objection to service in the occupied territories – dissemination of informational flyers in Jerusalem.

 

22 September: Hebron Solidarity Committee Vigil against apartheid policies in Hebron – action in Hebron.

 

25 September: Committee Against House Demolitions (Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, Peace Now) – action at the Jabber home near Hebron.

 

27 September: Mothers and Women for Peace – seminar at Kibbutz Ha’Ogen.

 

6 October: Yesh Gvul - conscientious objection to service in the occupied territories – travel to settlements to distribute information and flyers.

 

6-8 October: Bat Shalom – north branch (Megiddo, Nazareth, and the Jezreel Valley region) Succat Shalom. A daily demonstration to protest the occupation followed by panel discussions featuring prominent Israeli Arab and Jewish women and an arts program.

 

16 October: The Rapprochement Dialogue Center with the Nablus-West Jerusalem Dialogue for Peace Picking Olives for Peace – Travel to Nablus to pick olives in the surrounding villages, followed by a joint picnic.  Israeli and Palestinian families together; children over 4 warmly invited.

 

*   *   *

October 20, 1998

Back to Zero Sum Games

 

The great change since Netanyahu has assumed leadership in Israel is that he has transformed the dynamic of politics with the Palestinians from a process of reconciliation to one of confrontation.  Like the bad old days.  With Netanyahu, we have returned to the zero sum game – the more they get, the more we lose.  How painfully obvious at the Wye Plantation these past few days.  What a loss for both our peoples.

 

This past week, two joint Israeli-Palestinian activities were cancelled – both were planned for sharing the work and pleasure of the olive picking harvest in two Palestinian villages.  These were pure co-existence activities, attempts to find our way back to each other, despite the political conflict around us.  A day or two prior to the events, the Israelis were called by the Palestinians and told, with apologies, not to come.  I believe that the reason we were disinvited was Hamas threats against those Palestinians who cooperate with Israelis.  This is a direct product of the stalemate in the peace process.  Palestinians who want to cooperate with Israelis now find it hard to justify the dialogue, not just to Hamas, but to moderate Palestinians as well.  And the extremist Palestinians, with their bombs and grenades, gain in sympathy and support.

 

This past week also saw settlers squatting in more buildings in East Jerusalem (the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood).  They took over a building they claimed was once a synagogue, and refused to leave.  Peace Now called for a demonstration, and all the peace groups joined them, including Bat Shalom.  The settlers moved into a building in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, flew big Israeli flags from the roof, and say they will stay forever.  They were led by Knesset Member Benny Elon of the Moledet Party, a rabidly racist party.  They have the protection of the Israeli Border Patrol.  There were scuffles with Palestinians and peace protesters who tried to get them to leave, but the upshot, under this regime, is that they have political priority.  Yesterday they staged a religious festival at the site to nail down the arrogant point they were making.  We believe that until Jerusalem is shared – the sovereign capital of both Israel and Palestine – we will never have peace in this city.

 

One final discouraging word.  Two weeks ago, several women from Mothers and Women for Peace were attacked for carrying signs that said, “We have no spare children for wars.”  Their assailants were men who emerged from the Heikhal Shlomo Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.  One woman had her nose and a tooth broken, and required stitches on several areas of her face.  One of the chief rabbis who passed by the scene walked right on. Nor did he relate to the violence in any subsequent sermons.  Women from Bat Shalom and Women from Black will be joining them in a solidarity demonstration this Friday.

 

If you live in this country, come to the following activities.  We cannot afford the luxury of hopelessness, as my esteemed Palestinian colleague, Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser, always says.

 

Olive Picking Saturday, October 24

Come olive-picking at Mu’awiyyeh Village near Wadi ‘Ara on Saturday, the 24th of October.  This is being organized by a group of independent Jewish and Palestinian peace activists, all Israelis.

 

The Mu'awiyyeh Village is one of the villages in which the Israeli government is attempting to confiscate  1,250 acres (5,000 dunam), in addition to the almost 9,000 acres (35,000 dunam) that have already been confiscated over the years.

 

This was the point of origin of the terrible events of 2 weeks ago that moved into Umm al-Fahim, in which hundreds of Arabs were wounded during the protest, and the police assaulted a school full of children.  Come express your solidarity and lend a hand.

 

Mothers & Women For Peace Friday, 23 October

Join this organization this Friday to protest the violence against them and join their demand to prevent the next war from happening. Meet at Women in Black Square (Paris Square), beside Terra Sancta (how ironic), in Jerusalem.

 

*   *   *

October 30, 1998

Looking the Sacred Cow in the Eye

 

“Had we had an army then, my family would not have burned in Auschwitz.”

 

It was a day of  powerful statements, and this was the one that greeted us as we arrived in Kibbutz HaOgen for the first Israeli conference about conscientious objection to or non-participation in army service.   In a country where the army is regarded as not only an existential necessity but a revered sacred cow, it is no wonder that a group of 10 kibbutz members refused to allow us to meet on their premises.

 

The group of kibbutzniks, some – but not all – aging Holocaust survivors, stalked the hall with its rows of chairs yet unclaimed, and shouted their pain as we trickled in:  “How dare you hold this discussion in our hall”; “Your sons are not more precious than ours”; “You are trying to turn cowardice into ideology”; and, like a basso continuo, “My whole family burned in Auschwitz”.   In Israel, probably like elsewhere, one doesn’t argue with Holocaust survivors.  Although the powers-that-be at the kibbutz had agreed to rent us the hall months ago, we had no thought of defying this angry minority.

 

This was the apt beginning to a day of strong feelings and efforts to rethink – to get past the veils of convention and myth –the issues of militarism in Israeli society and service in the army.  The conference was organized by a group of courageous independent women, some of whom were veterans of the peace movement and others for whom the road to this conference was paved by a year’s participation in a women’s consciousness-raising group.   For some, the inspiration for asking these forbidden questions was their sons’ impending conscription into the army…and the next war.

 

The conference left the kibbutz and reorganized itself into the backyard of one of the organizers where 150 of us sat on plastic chairs and strained to hear the unamplified voices of speakers competing with the nearby whizzing of cars and helicopters.  The effort made us focus very well, I think.  But the material was also engrossing.

 

The day opened with testimonies of young men discharged from the army on grounds of “unfitness”.  These monologues, read by women, presented the reality of non-participation in military service as an act of conscious choice, often grounded in ideological objections to the current role of the Israeli army.  As there is no legal provision for conscientious objection in Israel, this is often the only way open for those who object on ideological grounds – to allow themselves to be declared “unfit”, with all the negative repercussions this may later have on jobs and lives.

 

Four young men and a woman then presented in person the stories of the roads they had traveled to and through their ordeal of refusing to serve.  Fahed Mu’adi, a Druze university student, described how he had offered the army two reasons for not serving: pacifism and a refusal as a Palestinian to fight his brother Arabs.  “Inappropriate for army duty” read his exemption when it finally arrived, after he had already served time for his convictions, “which is what I had been telling them all along”, said Fahed.  The Druze have the reputation of being loyal and fierce fighters in Israel’s army, but Fahed reported that over 50% now refuse to serve, and the number is growing.  Fahed brought greetings from the Druze women of the Galilee, especially from his mother, he said, who had instantly responded “Well done!” when he had first called to say he was in jail.  Said Fahed, “I got my mother’s spirit and I hope I will pass it on to my children.”

 

Eli Gozansky, son of the much respected Tamar Gozansky, woman Knesset Member from the Hadash Party, opened by complimenting the women’s peace movement for being able to do what the men in this country never manage to.  Eli noted that he is not a pacifist, but a “selective refuser” – refusing to engage in any act that preserves the Occupation.  This is the position of the Yesh Gvul movement in which Eli and several of those present are active.  Eli believes that such selective refusal is much more difficult to engage in – but ultimately more effective – than general refusal to serve in the army.  Selective refusal, explained Eli, is a powerful combination of conscience with a political message.  The message, according to Eli: There is a limit to obedience, and every soldier must set this limit for him/herself.

 

“I refuse to harm any living creature”, said animal rights activist Ori Stav, explaining his decision not to serve.  When confronted with war, he notes, “The very least we can do is refuse to participate.”  Ori is one of only two men that we are aware of who have actually been discharged on the grounds of conscientious objection.

 

Orna Cohen, the woman in the group, described her vacillations and ultimate decision.  Although the law does allow women not to serve for reasons of conscience, Orna was discharged as “unfit”, although she made her case clearly.  Hardly “unfit”, Orna today serves as a lawyer with Adala, the Association for Palestinian Civil Rights in Israel.

 

Finally, Yuval Lotem described his selective refusal when he found the unit – in which he was an officer – deep in Lebanon and on the outskirts of Beirut.  For Yuval, it was his understanding of the Holocaust that led to his desire to set himself apart from collective behavior that is patently unacceptable.

 

The audience was a portrait in attentiveness while these quiet, soft-spoken young people described the thought process, the jail terms, the rejection – or support – of families.  No one said it, but I recalled the words of critics of such behavior:  Sensitive young people are needed inside the army to restrain the others, not removing themselves from the arena of action.  And the words of Mohatma Gandhi in reply:  Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty.

 

After lunch, the audience broke up into small discussion groups.  My group was heavy with stories of broken lives after the death of a loved one in army service.  It opened with the bitter monologue of a woman in her fifties whose brother, her only sibling, was killed in the army when she was 14.  “He died in the attack on Green Island [part of Egypt]”, she said.  “Six boys killed, for what?  For nothing.  Today Green Island is a tourist center where Israelis go diving.  Grief and failure” she said, “that’s what my family’s life has been like every since.  Grief and failure.”  She described the special status and indulgence granted families of dead soldiers to say what they really feel. “Don't wait to earn that special status,” she warned.

 

Haya told the story of her two brothers killed in the Independence War and Ednna told of her son who had committed suicide in the army.  This is what motivated them to attend the conference, they said.  What did these women and their families go through?  I could not begin to imagine.

 

Some of us who know Hava Keller, veteran activist, asked her to tell the story of her son Adam, who had a personal history of civil disobedience from the moment he realized that he had a problem with army service.  In one of his early acts of protest as a soldier on a tank base, Adam went out one night and painted “IDF Soldiers: Refuse to be occupiers and oppressors!” on 150 tanks and the officers’ latrine.  He also pasted “Down with the occupation!” stickers on the tanks and posted a leaflet about the future Palestinian state on the base bulletin board.  Needless to say, Adam spent a long time in prison for this and other good deeds.  (“The army has no sense of humor”, commented Hava.)  Two years later, Adam resigned from the army altogether in a letter to the prime minister.  His resignation, as you might have guessed, was not accepted, but the army psychologist wanted to be helpful and sought some evidence of irrationality to justify early release.  “Do you hear voices?” he prompted, to which Adam brightly replied, “Yes, I hear the voice of history.”

 

The plenary after lunch brought fascinating presentations moderated by the ever-patient Edna Toledano-Zaretzky. The topics:

 

    The frightening aspects of engaging in activism that questions myths about the army (Tamar Hager);

    The thin line between sedition and advocating conscientious objection (Debbi Birenbaum);

    How Israeli society educates for militarism and a power ethos – in schools,  religious holidays, youth groups (Haggith Gor-Ziv and Vered Shomron);

    Israel’s history of war resisters (Amos Gveertz);

    The legal mechanics of getting out of army service (Yevgeni Davidov);

    A mother’s view (Michal Hazan); and

    The successful experience of South African whites in protesting apartheid by means of challenging conscription laws and conscientious objection (Rela Mazali).

 

Bat Shalom agreed to publish the proceedings of this revolutionary conference, to distribute them as widely as possible, and to keep addressing this issue in our groups and organizations throughout Israel.

 

Finally, I offer three general observations from this conference:

 

1. We are surrounded by bold, articulate, and courageous women and men who inspire by words and deed.

 

2. We are beginning to notice the deeper picture – militarism and how it permeates every aspect of our lives.  So hard to see when it is so close!

 

3. This conference marks a new stage of development for the women’s peace movement in Israel.  We are no longer in need of educating ourselves about the evils of oppressing another people.  We are now talking about a new strategy: the refusal to cooperate with evil.  Some will embark upon this scary new path, and others will not.  But none of us anymore will regard conscientious objection as an act of betrayal.

 

It was a privilege to have been there.

 

#   #   #

November 27, 1998

Lebanon and Rubber Bullets

 

The overall political picture in this corner of the world sees Netanyahu grudgingly implementing the Wye Agreements, with as much foot dragging as you would expect from this dangerous little boy. Yes, he has begun withdrawal from the region promised to the Palestinians – and this is an important about-face for the Israeli right wing – but he is also confiscating more Palestinian property in the remaining territory, which he plans to criss-cross with “bypass roads” (roads that steer clear of Palestinian towns, of course), which will make creation of a viable and contiguous Palestinian state much more difficult.

 

I was in the Palestinian city of Ramallah yesterday (for a wonderful meeting of Israeli and Palestinian women arranged by Na’amat and the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center), and was again witness to the deep desire and willingness of real people to make peace.  We Israelis and Palestinians – both sides – are being led into recurring acts of violence by political leaders who foment hatred of each other in order to keep themselves in power.  We must make it clear to them that we do not buy into their games of power and war, but demand leaders who make peace.

 

Some recent peace movement activities:

 

Lebanon

This issue is most salient in the minds of the Israeli peace movement these days, with the ongoing war in Lebanon resulting from the Israeli occupation of its southern region.  More and more soldiers (Israeli and Lebanese) are being killed.   If you live in Israel, you can:

 

This Sunday (29/11): Join the Four Mothers protest outside the Prime Minister’s Office.

 

This Monday (30/11): Join the studio audience at Telad Studios (behind the Jerusalem Theater) when Atalia, the mother demanding that her son not be required to serve in Lebanon, will be interviewed. Studio audience reaction is critical in these shows.

 

This Tuesday (1/12): Come to the Bat Shalom offices and help us plan a major, multi-movement demonstration demanding that Israel Leave Lebanon Now.

 

The Roslan Family

The Roslan family, an extended Palestinian family of 28 living in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem, is being threatened with eviction by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), which claims that it owns the house.  The JNF, once a beautiful tree-planting organization, has in recent years engaged in more political kinds of activity, and this is one example. If you are a donor to JNF, tell them to stop trying to evict this Palestinian family, who legally purchased the house in 1966.  Rumor is that the JNF wants to vacate the house for Jewish settlers to move in. Peace Now has done enormously important work trying to protect this family by providing a lawyer and holding ongoing vigils at the home. We in Bat Shalom joined them last Tuesday, when an extension on the eviction notice was given until the end of December.  Be prepared to join us at the Roslan home when the vigil is resumed, if settlement is not reached.

 

So-Called ‘Rubber Bullets’

The B’Tselem Human Rights organizations has recently announced that at least 57 people were killed – and hundreds wounded, blinded, permanently maimed – by “rubber bullets” used by the Israeli army to disperse Palestinian demonstrators.  These are actually metal bullets covered by rubber, and they have been a deadly weapon in the hands of the army.   Bat Shalom, Gush Shalom, and others have staged recent demonstrations to halt the use of these weapons to disperse demonstrators.

 

The Jahalin Bedouin

Finally, the plight of the Jahalin Bedouin, a peaceful tribe that has found itself caught in the midst of somebody else’s war.  After 1948 when the state of Israel was declared, the Jahalin left their tribal lands  to move to a more secure location – area controlled by Jordan outside the border of Israel.  Unfortunately, this land became Occupied Territory in 1967, and Israel has built a massive Jewish settlement in the region (Ma’aleh Adumim).  Now the Israeli authorities want to force them to leave.

 

After a long campaign to prevent their transfer (conducted by Bat Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, and others), we have now reached a stage of making this transfer as humane as possible. All of you can help.  Please fax or email the individuals below, note that the Jahalin’s requirements are minimal, and ask that they be met. (Sample letter below).

 

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Minister Mordechai,

 

The Jahalin Bedouin have been innocent victims of a war not theirs, and they deserve decency and compassion in arrangements made for their transfer.

 

Please ensure that

*Israel provide basic infrastructure of water, electricity and sewage;

*Each family be given a minimal plot of land.

*Building permits be issued, and construction funds made available.

*A nearby site for grazing their flocks be allocated.

 

Since winter is approaching, please allow the Jahalin to construct tin shacks until these conditions are met.

 

#   #   #

December 1, 1998

Let Our Flowers Live

 

An Israeli soldier was brutally beaten by Palestinian thugs, and Netanyahu announces that the peace process will not proceed without new and major concessions by Arafat.

 

A Palestinian man was stabbed to death by an Israeli thug, and Netanyahu has not even issued a condemnation.

 

What is wrong with this picture?

 

The violence of the past few weeks has been horrifying – in the Occupied territories, in south Lebanon, in Israel.

 

We need your presence at one or more of the following activities.  For our distant allies, stay abreast of what is happening – we will have more activities to suggest in the coming days.

 

Protest Home Demolition – Friday, 4 December

Last Monday, the home of 65-year-old Sharif Abdallah and his family was destroyed by the Israeli army in East Jerusalem.  Come protest.  At the site, we will meet briefly with the family and neighbors.  Then each person will gather a piece of rubble, and upon our return to Jerusalem we will place the ruins of this demolished home on the steps of the Jerusalem Municipality.

 

Condolence Call – Friday, 4 December

Last Tuesday, Natshe, a 45 year-old Palestinian sanitation worker from Jerusalem, was stabbed to death as he left his home for work in the early morning hours.  The police believe the killing was carried out by the same serial murderer of Arabs, who has been active in the past months.  The police describe it as a “nationally motivated” crime, but we have yet to hear our prime minister speak out against this act of terrorism.  A group of Jews will be paying a condolence call on the family.

 

Leave Lebanon Now! Rally – Friday 4 December

Seven Israeli soldiers were killed in the past 2 weeks in Lebanon – and many more wounded.  And Israel continues to occupy that country.  A large gathering of people organized by the Four Mothers Movement will demand that Israel leave Lebanon now.

 

Let Our Flowers Live! – Sunday, 6 December

Stepping up the Protest Against the Lebanon War opposite the President’s home in Jerusalem.  Representatives of 9 peace organizations will gather opposite the President’s Home in Jerusalem for a ceremony memorializing Israelis killed in the Lebanon War and demanding that the Israeli government immediately leave the so-called security zone.

 

This is a show of consensus, with most of Israel’s major peace organizations coming together at this event: Four Mothers Movement, Bat Shalom, Gush Shalom, Women in Black, the Movement to Leave Lebanon in Peace, Mothers and Women for Peace, WILPF, TANDI - Israel Movement for Democratic Women, and Religious Women for the Sanctity of Life.

 

The site of the ceremony has been the scene in recent days of an ongoing vigil by several mothers whose sons have been killed in Lebanon, and of mothers whose sons are currently serving there, in an effort to bring another form of pressure on the government to end its involvement in Lebanon.

 

As part of the ceremony, 1,251 flowers – equal to the number of young men killed as a result of the war – will be placed at the site.  Everyone who reads this is invited to visit – any day of the week, any hour of the day – and add your own flowers in solidarity with the demand to unconditionally leave Lebanon.

 

#   #   #

December 8, 1998

Welcome Bill and Hillary!

 

This will be an important weekend, with Clinton due to boost Palestinian sovereignty by his kingly presence in the Palestinian Autonomy.  We urge all women and men of good will to join us in a demonstration on Saturday night, welcoming Clinton with the following messages:

 

Yes to a Palestinian State!

We Agree with Hillary:  Two States!

Free Palestinian Political Prisoners!

 

On Sunday, we hope that Hillary Clinton will have breakfast with the following ad, to appear in Ha’aretz, English edition:

 

Good Morning, Hillary!

 

We’re delighted that you came.  In the Middle East, too, the most determined and rational voice for peace has been that of women – Palestinian and Israeli.

 

By now, we think most people understand: without the Palestinians having a state of their own, peace will never happen.  Could we also ask you to mention that Jerusalem must be a shared capital?

 

Thank you for taking the lead, as women often do, in searching for an equitable solution.

 

                The Jerusalem Link:  A Women’s Joint Venture for Peace

                Bat Shalom                              Jerusalem Center for Women

                Jerusalem, Israel                      Jerusalem, Palestine

 

And we are placing the following ad for Bill on Monday morning:

 

Good Morning, Bill

 

We know you’ll be hearing extremist voices with every cup of coffee.  We want you to keep in mind, however, that a majority of Palestinians and Israelis believe in moderation, in ending the bloodshed – indeed, in peace.

 

Our peace movement of women has consistently said:

                        Share the land – two states for our two nations; and

                        Share Jerusalem – as the capital of both states.

 

You represent our wishes when you demand an end to settlement expansion.

We also believe in freeing political prisoners as an inevitable step in reconciliation.

 

So enjoy the coffee. . . and sweeten it with the moderate majority.

 

       The Jerusalem Link: A Women’s Joint Venture for Peace

        Bat Shalom                        Jerusalem Center for Women

        Jerusalem, Israel                 Jerusalem, Palestine

 

 

#   #   #

December 26, 1998

We Want Peace!

 

December 25th – Christmas Day.  Nothing much happened in the Holy Land, except an uneventful march for peace in the Palestinian village of Beit Sahour.

 

Beit Sahur is a small town (13,000 inhabitants) about 5 kilometers south of Jerusalem, just past its more famous neighbor, the city of Bethlehem – both in areas occupied by Israel.  But Beit Sahur has its own claims to fame.  First, this is where town residents staged a courageous and long-lasting tax strike against Israel in defiance of the Israeli occupation (and paid a high price in the loss of valuable property as a result).  More recently, Beit Sahur was in the news when Abdullah Salah, a young local, was shot by Israeli soldiers near the university where he was studying.  Beit Sahur is also noteworthy because it is home to the Palestinian side of the Palestinian-Israeli organization Rapprochement, a group that for nine years has organized dialogues for peace.  It is Rapprochement that organizes the annual Christmas march for peace in Beit Sahur, a Christian town.

 

We were a busload of Israelis who arrived in the ebbing afternoon sun, and were met by Beit Sahur residents now filling up the street at the entrance to town.  There were some awkward moments with nothing more to say to each other than Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukka until the boys’ bagpipe band broke into its marching wail and the girls’ drum corps struck a smart tattoo.  Unlit torches were passed out, and when one finally ignited, we all passed around the fire to each other in what felt like an ancient fire-sharing ritual.

 

The procession fell into place behind the band, and the Palestinians led with hand-made signs that read “Freedom of Worship in Holy Places” and “We also love Jerusalem”.  The reference is to the fact that Palestinians who live outside Jerusalem in occupied areas are not allowed access to either the Temple Mount, holy to Muslims, or the Holy Sepulcher, holy to Christians, both in Jerusalem.

 

The long procession wound through the town and finally reached the Orthodox church.  We were several thousand by then, most of the town and visitors, and we crammed into the outdoor courtyard of the church where we listened to words of greetings and peace, sipped a delicious bitter coffee, and ate traditional baklava, sweetening the words of the more long-winded speakers.  By then it was nightfall and the small children were high in their parents’ arms, sticky faces in sweet dreamland upon broad shoulders.

 

The formal part of the evening over, the Israelis and Palestinians now boarded cars and the bus and drove to Bethlehem.  About a kilometer from the Israeli army checkpoint at the border of the city, we began another procession, more spontaneous, this one moving slowly and solemnly toward the symbol of this conflict, the barricade.  As we walked we linked arms, on my left to a young man from Bethlehem who had fallen in with the group, on my right to another Israeli woman, and she to a man from Beit Sahour.  We walked silently, with dignity, blocking the traffic that followed behind us, intent on reaching the blockade, this creation of governments to keep people separated from each other and to keep themselves in power.

 

When we reached the blockade, the Israeli soldiers warned us not to advance.  A spokesperson from Rapprochement declared in loud and simple words, “We are here to protest the closure that prevents Palestinians from entering Jerusalem.  We will stand here for five minutes to express our protest and then we will leave.”

 

We stood for a minute and then someone started to sing “We Shall Overcome” in English.  We sang every verse, including some that were created spontaneously, such as “We shall pray in Jerusalem”.

 

Then the Palestinians sang their anthem, and some rabbis in our group lit a Chanukah menorah and sang the Jewish prayers.  The candles kept going out in the wind, but there were enough torches around to keep relighting them.  Finally, someone said quietly “We want peace”, and it was taken up like a chant by everyone present, in a quiet, sustained refrain.

 

When five minutes had turned into thirty, we finally turned around and headed back to the buses.  We felt elated by the events.  It was dark and cold by then, and we were quite mixed up with each other and happy that we had done this together.  “We want peace!” shouted someone at a car that was unclogging itself from the unforeseen jam.  “We want pita!” shouted a young Palestinian youth, who looked as if he had already gone long enough without supper.  We all laughed.  “We want pizza!” he said, encouraged, and then everyone took up the call: “We want pita!  We want pizza!” the shouts went round, and the laughter rang out in the cold night.  And then a small voice said, “We want pee-pee,” which was almost too funny given the circumstances.  And there were variations on those themes all the way back to the bus.

 

It was a fine way to spend Christmas and Hanukka.  And Ramadan starts today.   I hope you can join us next year.

 

gila_soldier_har_homa_liter.jpg
Protesting on Har Homa

rebuilding_pal_home_j_kirshner.jpg
Rebuilding the Shawamreh home. Photo: Judy Kirshner
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2006 Gila Svirsky, Dispatches from the Peace Front available on www.gilasvirsky.com.  Please cite this full reference if you quote passages from the book.