Gila Svirsky: A Personal Website

Activism 2001 (January - June 14)

Home
Slideshow: Women Resist
Dispatches from the Peace Front
Women in Black: A Book
Women in Black: Conference 2005
Security Council Address
Other Stuff by Me
Stuff by Others
A Tad About Me
Links I Like
Contact Me
Search this Site!

February 5, 2001

Putting a Closure on Tel-Aviv Tonight

 

It’s 1:30 in the morning, and 17 of us just returned from the Tel-Aviv lockup, where we were under arrest since 6:00 this afternoon, when the police decided they had had enough of women taking control of the streets away from them.  It was our demonstration against the cruel ‘closure’ that Israel has imposed on the Occupied Territories.

 

The demonstration was brilliantly conceived by a mostly Tel-Aviv group of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.  About 500 women were there from all over Israel.  We dressed in black and donned black ‘sandwich boards’ with the word ‘Closure’ painted in white in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English).  We massed outside the entrance gate to Israel’s ‘pentagon’, its ‘Defense’ Ministry in Tel-Aviv.  At the signal, a group of women started to cross the street very slowly, with the intention of slowing traffic through this busy artery.  But when the spirit moves you, you respond:  A group of women suddenly sat down on the road in a line clear across the street and completely blocked all passage of cars.  Within moments, a larger group of women thickened the line, and stood with their placards facing the cars – a solid block of ‘Closure’ signs preventing the drivers from advancing.  For us, this was a small representation of what the Palestinians experience every day – being blocked entry and exit from their towns and villages.

 

The sight was so dramatic – some women were sitting across the road, others were standing behind them with arms linked, the closure signs forming a solid black message clear across the road.  We started to chant a very powerful set of slogans.  Here’s the translation, though in Hebrew it rhymes and is very strong:

 

End the closure in the territories –

Get out of their bloodstream.

End the closure in the territories –

Give jobs to the workers.

End the closure in the territories –

Give food to the children.

 

It was amazing to be part of this powerful line, and to have brought this busy road to a complete standstill.

 

Then the police drove up, shrieking with sirens.  They didn’t waste time asking for cooperation – they just plowed in and grabbed, dragging women to the sides, and wading in for more.  Some women returned to the road as soon as the police let them go, but there were car drivers who took their cues from the police, and tried to use their cars to plow us off the road.  I stood facing a car with my sign, and the driver first hit me (gently), then kept moving forward on me.  I was not violent, but I wouldn’t step to the side.  The police dragged some of us off the street many times, but we returned again and again until they suddenly realized this, and began to throw us into paddy wagons.  All this was done with, shall I say, excessive force.  My body feels bruised all over, and I’m not the only one.

 

After the police had taken away two carloads, women returned to the road and again sat down and blocked traffic.  It was wonderful how they were not intimidated by the previous brutality.  They continued for quite a long time, until an hour or so had been spent illustrating for Tel-Aviv drivers the tip of the iceberg of what it means to have a closure imposed on you.  We did not, of course, demonstrate how it feels to be cut off from access to medical care, jobs, schools, and family.  That they will have to imagine.

 

At the police station, we were first 12 women and 4 men, who came to the demonstration.  Then they arrested the lawyer who showed up to represent us!  The interrogations were civil, though they charged us with everything they could think of – participating in an illegal demonstration, disturbing the peace, blocking traffic, resisting arrest, attacking a police officer, and even (in my case) attacking a car (poor car!).  Two of us (including me) admitted to the acts of civil disobedience (though not to the accusations of violence), and the rest took advantage of their right to remain silent.  Gradually, until about 1 a.m., they released everybody after bail was posted.  Many, many thanks to our sister demonstrators who waited for us the whole time at the station, drove to the airport to find an open post office to post bail, and met us with food and soft drinks when we came out.  And thanks to tireless Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, who came to the station for a solidarity visit.  And big, big thanks to Leah Zemel, human rights lawyer extraordinaire, who stayed with us to the bitter end negotiating with the police for our release, brought enough cash to front bail for everyone, and gave her professional services completely pro bono as her contribution to the cause.

 

I’m not sure how much will be in the media tomorrow.  There were TV cameras from French and Belgian stations, and lots of still photographers.  We had excellent coverage on the radio, with an accurate explanation of who we were and why we were doing it.  We think the Israeli newspapers tomorrow will have some coverage.  I hope so.  The Israeli media have a terrible track record of covering women’s peace actions, even though the women’s actions are much more dramatic, progressive, and even larger than the mixed-gender demonstrations.  Could it have something to do with the fact that we are, after all, only women?

 

I don’t think we stopped the closure tonight, but we did let Tel-Aviv know what we think about it.  The only way to maintain a brutal occupation is by brutally suppressing awareness of it, and criticism.  We must not let that succeed.

 

*   *   *

February 13, 2001

The Death of Hilmi Revisited

 

Over 4 years ago, in November 1996, a Palestinian boy named Hilmi was killed.  He was 10 years old at the time, and he was killed because he and a couple friends were out on the road throwing stones at a car that drove by.  It was Hilmi’s bad fortune that the car they chose to stone was driven by a settler named Nahum Korman, who decided to show these Palestinians that they couldn’t get away with throwing stones at him.  He chased the boys up the hillside and finally caught up with Hilmi, the slowest.  Using the butt of his gun and well-aimed kicks, Korman beat the boy into unconsciousness and then death.

 

I remember the condolence call to the home of Hilmi’s family, together with a group of Israeli peace activists.  After sipping the traditional bitter coffee outdoors, the women were led indoors and upstairs to a room where a large photo of Hilmi had been hung on the wall.  The photo showed a boy of slight build, small brown eyes staring out, not comprehending the sudden turn of events or the room full of women milling around awaiting his mother’s appearance.  She entered the room also looking bewildered, with red eyes and a very used tissue in her fist.  She said nothing, knowing no Hebrew.  We all stood there for a long moment, knowing no Arabic, wondering how to express ourselves to her.  Suddenly, one of the women approached her, took her hand, and kissed her on both cheeks.  Then each woman walked over to her, some embraced her, some kissed her, some grasped her hands and stared intently into her eyes.

 

Afterwards, we sat down on the plastic stools in the room and listened to her as she spoke in Arabic describing the terrible tragedy.  A family member interpreted for us.  As she spoke, a young girl, a toddler, perhaps 3 years old then, would not leave her side or her lap.  This is the sick child, explained the cousin – the one who needs the bone marrow transplant – and Hilmi was the only match that was found.  Oh my god, we gasped.  Never mind, said the cousin in that way that ‘never mind’ is used to understate enormous woe in the Middle East.  The doctors can still use the bone marrow from Hilmi’s body.  ‘Thank god’ seemed wanting.

 

Today, 4 years after this brutal killing, the protracted court proceedings of Nahum Korman finally came to an end.  It took years not because the case was so complex, but because the court found Korman not guilty, for insufficient evidence.  Not that Korman denied kicking and striking the boy with his gun, but that the judge felt that the coroner had not proved beyond a doubt that Hilmi had died from the blows, and not from a prior, unknown condition.  This shocked the legal community sufficiently so that the case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ultimately did find Korman guilty.  The problem is, the Supreme Court returned the case to the lower court for sentencing.  Same courtroom, same judge – Ruth Orr.  And suddenly a plea bargain was struck (why was a plea bargain necessary at all?) and the sentence agreed upon was 6 months of community service and $17,000 in ‘damages’ to be paid to Hilmi’s parents.  Six months and $17,000.  Is this the price of a Palestinian boy’s life?

 

A group of us – organized by Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, the Committee Against Torture, and Defence for Children International (Israel chapter) – protested outside the court today, holding signs that decried the discrimination of the system.  Some of us entered the courtroom to hear the final stage of this sentence – where the ‘community service’ would be done.  As the judge ended the hearing, two of our group unfurled pictures of Hilmi and held them up for Korman to see.  He didn’t look, and the police quickly confiscated the pictures.  I shouted ‘How does it feel to kill a child?’ to Korman, but he didn’t look at me either.  And then I shouted ‘Great judging, your honor’ to the judge, and was ushered out.

 

The Israeli court system has an abysmal record on prosecuting Israeli settlers who harm Palestinians in the territories.  To quote a B’Tselem report about this very subject, ‘The [Israeli] authorities have adopted an undeclared policy of absolution, compromise, and mitigation for Israeli civilians who harm Palestinians.’  Recent settler violence, unpunished, is a violent reminder that this is true.

 

Tonight, the man who killed Hilmi is sleeping soundly in his own home.  Hilmi’s parents are not sleeping as well.  And should Judge Orr have a fitful night of sleep herself, I encourage her to open her bible to Exodus 16:19-20 and ponder the words ‘You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality...  Justice, and only justice, shall you pursue.’  And these words end ‘that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you.’ That connection is worth thinking about.

 

*   *   *

March 21, 2001

Stop Weapons Sales to Israel

 

URGENT:  We need your help right now to prevent the sale of 9 Apache attack helicopters to Israel.

 

However you feel about the situation in the Middle East, one thing is clear:

We do not need more weapons.

 

I am not opposed to foreign aid; on the contrary, I think the United States should share its wealth with peoples throughout the world.  What it should not be doing, however, is exporting more instruments of war.

 

Apache attack helicopters were used by the Israeli government to assassinate Palestinians, to shell Gaza city, Ramallah, Bir Zeit, and other locations.

 

Please, please, please:

The last thing that we in Israel and Palestine need is more ways to kill each other.

 

*   *   *

February 25, 2001

Protesting the Closure Today

 

Today felt like another good demonstration against the ‘closure’ of the occupied territories.  About 300 Israelis, mostly women but with a growing contingent of men, showed up at the Jerusalem-Bethlehem border-crossing.

 

‘Closure’ is sometimes called a ‘blockade’ or ‘siege’, because the Israeli army actually encircles Palestinian towns and prevents residents from freely leaving or entering.  Imagine how frustrating it must feel to have your freedom of movement obstructed – picture yourself prevented from leaving your own city because foreign soldiers have bulldozed the roads and set down concrete slabs.  But beyond the insult, there are serious problems – access to medical care, food and supplies, education, and jobs.  Several sick Palestinians who were held up at these barriers, pending a decision by the young Israeli soldiers on duty about letting them through, actually died as a result of the delay, including a baby.  It is also shocking for me as an Israeli to realize that the closure provides virtually no security dividend to Israel; it is simply a deliberate act of intimidation.

 

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace held its first ‘closure’ protest opposite the Defense Ministry in Tel-Aviv three weeks ago (ending in police violence, the arrest of 17, and practically no media exposure).  Today’s event was fairly quiet, no one was arrested, but the Israeli media announced that we ‘tried to force our way through the barriers’.  Well, not quite.

 

It was a sunny day, and many Israelis had come from Tel-Aviv and other cities.  Soon after the demonstration began, both sides of the road were already lined with demonstrators carrying or wearing signs ‘Closure kills’, ‘Closure starves’, ‘Closure creates enemies’, and the usual ‘Stop the Occupation’.  Our presence, of course, caused the quick mobilization of a larger contingent of soldiers, who now manned the barrier.  At the signal, the protesters stepped off the sidewalk and filled the road, marching quietly toward the checkpoint.  We walked slowly and in a dignified manner.  The soldiers began to scramble to prevent our getting through.  At the checkpoint, they formed a cordon across the road, and our forward movement was stopped.  We stood there facing them and began to chant the powerful, rhythmic slogan, which rhymes in Hebrew:

 

End the closure in the territories -

Get out of their bloodstream.

End the closure in the territories -

Give jobs to the workers.

End the closure in the territories -

Give food to the children.

 

We continued chanting while journalists from Israel, Europe, and the US had some good photo opportunities of this confrontation.  One young man in our group was forcefully shoved to the ground by a soldier, but after we pointed out to the soldier that he was on candid camera, he controlled himself much better.  Other than that, it was a completely nonviolent action, and therefore powerful.  From there, the entire group walked 100 meters back to hold up our signs to the drivers headed to the ‘bypass roads’, which lead to the settlements.

 

Our demonstration today was scheduled to take place simultaneously with a parallel demonstration on the Palestinian side of the border, but there was deep concern that Palestinians demonstrating at this location would provide a pretext for army violence, regardless of how quiet and dignified they were.  Nevertheless, 50 or so brave ‘internationals’ who were visiting Israel and Palestine for the Sabeel ‘peace and justice’ conference did manage to come through the border from Bethlehem and join us.  They told us that the Palestinians knew of our demonstration, and expressed their solidarity.  A day earlier, these internationals had joined us on a Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem, bringing our a total yesterday to about 200.

 

On the way to the event today, a friend of mine complained that no one had called her about the demonstration, but she had fortunately read about it in the newspaper ad.  ‘You’re making a revolution,’ she said, ‘and I don’t want to be left out.’

 

The news this evening had good shots of the confrontation.  The soldiers were armed with their M16s and we were armed with our signs and determination.  In the long run, it’s not much of a contest.  The subjugation of a people is always doomed to failure – sic transit tyrannis.  Ultimately the closure and all the apparatus of occupation will be dismantled.  It’s only a matter of time...  and of how many more people will have to suffer first.

 

*   *   *

March 23, 2001

Not Cooperating With Evil

 

I wish I had not just gotten the phone call I just did, and this story would have had a better ending.

 

As you probably know, the Israeli army has laid siege to many cities, towns, and villages in the occupied territories.  One way they do this is by digging trenches across the roads leading in or out, making them unpassable by cars.  Where, once, soldiers merely patrolled these exits and granted permission to enter or leave, today the trenches prevent all access by vehicle.  This serves no security function whatsoever – it prevents Palestinians from having access to each other, not to Israel – but is a cruel and arbitrary way to assert power and control.

 

For some time, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace has been demonstrating to lift this siege (referred to benignly as ‘closure’ by Israel).  Six weeks ago, we ourselves ‘lay siege’ to the Defense Ministry of Tel-Aviv (blocking the entrance with our bodies), and three weeks ago we marched on the military blockade of Bethlehem.

 

Today’s action was the next level of resistance, and the Coalition of Women worked hand in hand with three other organizations: Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, and the Committee Against House Demolitions.  The idea was to come to a village under siege and physically fill in the trench, thereby making the road passable.  The army was clearly intent on preventing that from happening.

 

We chose to lift the siege on Rantis, a peaceful town of 3,000.  Rantis has no doctor and no employment opportunities; under siege, there is no access to medical care and almost total unemployment.  One woman already gave birth at the trench when she was unable to get out for medical attention, and seven students have lost a semester of university studies.

 

Together we were about 300 activists who set out on buses this morning.  Most of us were Israelis, but there was a significant presence of internationals, too, including the undauntable CPT-ers (Christian Peacemakers Team) who work in Hebron.  On each bus, one person led a discussion about the strategy of nonviolent direct action, the importance of not provoking soldiers, and the commitment to breaking the law openly and nonviolently.  We talked about rights under arrest and interrogation, and our responsibility for the safety and well-being of each other.  On our bus, I shared the words of Gandhi, ‘Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty.’

 

When we reached the perimeter of the village, we began to march with our shovels and hoes toward the trench, now being blocked by a line of soldiers.  But we were many more activists than soldiers, they didn’t open fire, and we easily passed through.  As soon as we reached the trench, we swarmed all over, shoveling rocks and dirt into it, trying to fill it up.  It seemed an impossible task, as we had few tools and the trench gouged out the road quite deeply from one side to the other.  What’s worse, the ground was very hard, studded with rocks, and it was very difficult to loosen earth for use as fill.

 

Soon after we began work, someone found a second trench about 50 meters (roughly 160 feet) further along.  Half the group broke away to work on filling up that trench, and we realized it would be twice the work to break the siege on Rantis.  But then, suddenly, soldiers swooped down on those of us holding tools, and grabbed them out of our hands.  We began to chant ‘Dai LaKibbush’, which means ‘End the Occupation’.  Some struggled not to release their shovels, others less.  Soon, the soldiers had confiscated every single tool we had brought, and arrested 4 of us.

 

In my recollection, there was no pause at that point and no discussion about what to do.  We just all got down and with our bare hands began to scratch out handfuls of dirt and rocks, and throw them into the trenches.  Some of us used rocks to loosen the ground, others tried sticks.  Some held posters (that read ‘Dismantle the Settlements’) on the ground like big dustpans, and others pushed pebbles and dirt onto them, for transfer into the trench.  Some of the children from Rantis came out and joined us, and we worked together like that in the hot sun for over 2 hours.  And when it was over, everyone was amazed to see that we had actually filled in both trenches, and made the road passable.

 

We did a little speechmaking on top of what had once been a trench, and vowed to continue to subvert the mechanisms of occupation.  We admired our persistence and cooperative spirit.  We laughed at how covered with dirt and mud we were.  And we started to plan the release of our partners sitting in the army van nearby, just as the army actually let them go, seeing we were finished with our work and on our way out.  They even returned our tools when we boarded the buses.

 

And now at home, freshly showered and sitting down to tell you about this small victory, I get a call from Dina, who made friends with one of the villagers.  The army returned, the Palestinian had told her, and used their heavy machinery to dig out fresh trenches.  We expected that.  And now, he said, they also placed large concrete slabs in front of the trenches, which could never be moved by bare hands and grit alone.  And the truck that had brought these slabs had driven off the road, deliberately destroying crops in the fields.  And one villager had been beaten and his car window smashed.

 

These are more than just reprisals against the Palestinians.  They are a message from the army to us: This will happen everytime you do something like this.

 

Tomorrow, five of us will go to Rantis to document the new damage and talk to the villagers.  We’ll also be thinking about how to continue to subvert the oppression without jeopardizing the Palestinians themselves.  It won’t be easy or simple, but, as Israelis, we’ve got to figure out a way to stop cooperating with evil.

 

*   *   *

 

Background:  The Israeli newspapers recently announced that famed author Susan Sontag will be coming to Israel to accept the Jerusalem Prize for Literature.  This is a letter that the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace faxed to Ms. Sontag.

 

April 1, 2001

Letter to Susan Sontag

 

Dear Professor Sontag:

 

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace represents 9 Jewish and Palestinian women’s organizations in Israel, which have joined together to work for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Our principles, reprinted in full below, call for an end to the occupation and a just peace with the Palestinians, as well as the full participation of women in the peace negotiations.

 

Over the years, many of us have followed your struggle for human and women’s rights.  We have considered ourselves your disciples in feminist theory and practice, and have eagerly read your literary works, regarding you as a leader and mentor.  For this reason, we were surprised and disappointed to learn that you have agreed to accept the Jerusalem Prize for Literature, to be awarded by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.

 

This prize recognizes not only your outstanding literary achievements but also your activities on behalf of human rights.  You may not be aware that Israel is engaged in a wholesale violation ofthe most basic human rights (freedom of speech, movement, employment, education, health, and housing) in the West Bank and Gaza.  You may not know that both Mr. Peres and Mr. Olmert have been, and continue to be involved in major breaches of human rights whether at the policy level or on the ground.  For instance, Mr. Olmert has instituted a policy of home demolitions in Jerusalem and has developed the practice of revoking citizenship from Palestinian residents of the city, which in turn denies them the right to health, education and other basic services.  He plans to build yet another Jewish settlement in the heart of the Palestinian village of Abu Dis.  Such a settlement will serve no purpose other than to try Palestinian patience and expropriate more Palestinian land and water.  These abuses and violations are documented by Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and have been the subject of ongoing protest.

 

We would like to draw your attention to the fact that your acceptance of the prize, and your presence in Jerusalem at the ceremony, is a tacit legitimization of the occupation, and of Mr. Olmert’s brutal policies against Palestinian residents of this city.  You would also be causing a serious setback to the feminist movement and to the Israeli civil rights movement as a whole, which is fighting an uphill battle to expose the suffering and despair of the Palestinian people under the occupation and is trying to galvanize Israeli public opinion on the side of reason and humanity.

 

Professor Sontag, we would like to take the liberty of suggesting that you not come to Jerusalem and publicly explain that you cannot, in the circumstances, accept this prize.  We have already seen a slight easing of some of the collective punishments against the Palestinians as a result of the protests of the European Community and the US State Department.  Many Israelis were also affected by the refusal of the renowned soprano, Emma Kirkby, to carry out a planned concert tour here, a refusal accompanied by a declaration of opposition to the continuing occupation.  Alternatively, may we suggest that you use the podium of receipt of the prize to express your condemnation of the ongoing occupation and human rights violations by Israel of Palestinian land and its residents.

 

The role of artists and intellectuals as leaders and shapers of public opinion can be of inestimable value not only in the short term, but also in a historical perspective.  We hope and trust that your voice too will be raised in protest against a cruel and unjust occupation.

 

Cordially,

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace

 

*   *   *

 

Background:  My first encounter with Neta Golan was a phone call in which she asked me to publicize her invitation to join her as a human shield – living in a Palestinian village to reduce (but not eliminate) the risk of the IDF shooting into the village.  Neta continued in many subsequent acts of heroism.  I know of only a few.

 

April 2, 2001

Protecting the Olive Trees

 

Yesterday two massive bulldozers arrived at the Palestinian village of Dir Istya to knock down 1,500 olive trees that provide a livelihood for many of these villagers.  The army used the excuse of ‘security’ – preventing stone-throwing from the cover of the trees – although these were young trees and could hardly provide cover.  While court appeals had been filed in previous weeks to prevent this destruction, all appeals were dismissed and the villagers knew their orchard was threatened.  When a settler was recently injured badly by a rock thrown nearby, a decision was made to demolish the trees at once, as a kind of collective retribution against the entire village.  Yesterday the bulldozers came and began their work.

 

Not far from here, however, is another Palestinian village where Neta Golan, 29, spends considerable energy monitoring army and settler abuse of the local Palestinian villages, and intervening whenever possible.  Neta is an Israeli Jewish woman who is part of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, and she is often a one-woman show, calling out to the Israeli soldiers from inside the Palestinian village to stop them from shooting in.  This has worked a couple of times, perhaps because the soldiers were shocked to hear a fellow-Israeli speaking Hebrew to them from inside the firing zone.

 

When Neta heard that the bulldozers arrived, she ran to the site together with two other young women – Zipporah Ryter, 28, an American, and Yasmine Jayal, 22, a German-Palestinian.  The villagers were already there, and together they all walked in front of one bulldozer and sat down.  It stopped in its tracks.  After some negotiations, threats, and determined responses by those resisting, one of the soldiers approached the Palestinians and explained that the army would not bulldoze any more, but the Palestinians had to move so the bulldozer could turn around.  As soon as the Palestinians gave the bulldozer room to maneuver, it promptly drove through and mauled another tree.  The Palestinians and the women returned to block the bulldozers.

 

Soon army reinforcements arrived and out-numbered the Palestinians and women.  They forcibly arrested the three women, who refused to move of their own accord, and also one Palestinian man who had been photographing them.  As a result of their action, ‘only’ 150 trees had been bulldozed.  And meanwhile, the legal department of the local Quaker center managed to get a temporary injunction to prevent the further destruction of the orchard, pending more legal activity.

 

Late last night, the three women were released on bail.  Now the legal work has to run its course, and the resistance is prepared in case that fails.

 

*   *   *

April 4, 2001

Chapter 2: The Olive Trees

 

This story began two days ago, when two massive bulldozers arrived at the Palestinian village of Dir Istya to knock down 1,500 olive trees that provide a livelihood for many of these villagers.  Through the brave efforts of three young women and the villagers themselves, who sat down in front of the bulldozers, the Israeli army was able to destroy ‘only’ 150 trees before a Quaker legal center managed to get a court order to temporarily halt the destruction.

 

Tomorrow, Thursday, April 5, the Supreme Court will hear the case.  Chances are that the Court will deny the appeal of the villagers, and sanction the destruction of the trees, under the pretext of ‘security’.

 

We need four kinds of help:

 

1) If you cannot go to the village of Dir Istya, then try to get to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem at 9:00 for the hearing.

 

2) If you are up to it, join Neta Golan and others at Dir Istya, who will be chaining themselves to the trees.  Go even if you are just willing to protest, and not face the bulldozers.

 

4) Fax or call your government leaders and tell them what you think.

 

P.S. Yes, activists in Israel will have to choose from a menu of activities tomorrow – rebuilding the Shawamreh home, going to Court, or chaining themselves to a tree.  Do you think you could take the time to print out a letter and fax it out? Many thanks.

 

*   *   *

April 4, 2001

Press Release

 

‘House of Peace’ Demolished for Third Time

 

The re-built home of the Shawamreh family in Anata was demolished for the third time this morning by bulldozers of Israel’s Civil Administration in the Occupied Territories.  Although two Israeli peace activists, Jeff Halper of the Committee Against House Demolitions and Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, parked their car in the path of destruction and sat down in front of the bulldozers, the army removed them forcibly, moved the car, and then plowed through the home, garden, and water tanks, plowing up the foundations as well, to ensure that the home could not be rebuilt yet again.  Rabbi Asherman was arrested.

 

This demolition was the fourth of the morning in the town of Anata – three Bedouin houses were bulldozed into rubble prior to the Shawamreh home – and the driver reported they were on their way to demolish two more homes in the town of Issawiye.  Both Palestinian towns are in close proximity to Jerusalem.  The stepping up of demolitions by the Civil Administration – 11 homes were destroyed in the past 2 days – suggests the determination of the authorities to assert absolute control over life in the territories through intimidation of the Palestinian residents, in addition to escalating the warfare.

 

The Shawamreh home had become the ‘poster child’ of the movement to end demolitions, due to speaking tours in North America by Jeff Halper with Salim Shawamreh, the owner, in which they advocated an end to the violence and a peaceful resolution of the conflict.  Extensive circulation of the story ‘Lena Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’, about the teenage daughter who witnessed her home being destroyed had also publicized the severity of the issue.

 

The Shawamreh home has been repeatedly destroyed by the army and rebuilt by a coalition of Israeli, Palestinian, and international peace activists.  The first demolition, witnessed by activists, took place in July 1998.  Within two months the home was rebuilt, but the authorities demolished it the day after the construction was complete, in August 1998.  It took time for the family to find the strength to rebuild their home yet again and risk another demolition, but finally they agreed and, at the second rebuilding, completed in July 1999, the house was dedicated ‘House of Peace’ in Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

 

After the demolition today, nothing was left of the ‘House of Peace’ sign that had been hanging on the front door.

 

*   *   *

April 4, 2001

Rebuilding the Shawamreh ‘House of Peace’

 

I didn’t see the TV news this evening, but according to Israel radio news, no fewer than 17 Palestinian homes were destroyed today.  No fewer than 17 families were invited to hate Israel even more than they already do.  In allusion to the beautiful Shawamreh home, the newscaster said, ‘Among the buildings destroyed were four shacks in the town of Anata.’  Is this a deliberate lie to minimize the evil?  Or is ‘shack’ the arrogant, disdainful word for any home owned by a Palestinian?  Or perhaps this was merely the carelessness of a journalist when reporting damage done to ‘the enemy’...

 

We, all of us, with the help of many friends abroad, had practically brought home demolitions to an end under the Barak administration.  Now, under Sharon, the demolitions have returned with a vengeance, though the sound of a beautiful home being turned into rubble is barely audible under the thunder of cannons, gunships, tanks, and stun grenades.

 

But we do hear it, we do care, and we will not stand by passively.

 

Tomorrow, together with the courageous and determined Shawamreh family, we shall begin the rebuilding of their home.  No amount of bulldozers will prevent this home from being rededicated as the House of Peace someday, just as no amount of brutality will prevent this occupation from ultimately coming to an end.  Tyranny inevitably loses.  It’s just a matter of time.

 

Please come tomorrow, if you can, to help clear away the rubble.  If you can’t, there will be other opportunities.  Bring work gloves, if you have.

 

*   *   *

April 6, 2001

Four Arrests and a Tree

 

Brief Recap:

Two days ago, Israeli army bulldozers arrived to knock down the olive tree grove that belongs to the Palestinian residents of Dir Istya.  The army claims that villagers hide behind the trees and throw stones at passing vehicles.  Some 150 trees were already mauled before peace activists in the vicinity managed to arrive and sit down in front of the bulldozers, preventing the destruction of the entire grove of 1,500.  A subsequent Supreme Court appeal was denied, although the Court limited the size of the area that the army could legally clear, and the peace activists camped out and waited for the bulldozers to return.

 

Update:

At about noon today, the bulldozers returned, but two young women, Neta Golan (29), an Israeli Jew, and Yasmine Jayal (22), a German-Palestinian now living in Ramallah, were waiting for them.  Neta and Yasmine had wrapped chains around their bodies and chained themselves to olive trees in the path of the bulldozer.  The soldiers demanded that they leave, but the women refused.  The soldiers went off to find tools to break the chains.  Villagers watching the confrontation knelt down in prayer.  Upon their return, the soldiers managed fairly quickly to break through the chains, ‘liberate’ the trees, and arrest both Neta and Yasmine.  Two other young Israeli peace activists who had just arrived on the scene, Sheli Nativ and Eyal Oron, were arrested with them.

 

After fairly brief interrogations, Sheli and Eyal were released, but they remained on site to support Neta and Yasmine.  Neta and Yasmine refused to sign the terms of release – that they would not enter any ‘closed military zones’.  So now, 12 hours later, they remain under arrest and are currently being moved to Kishon jail near Haifa, where there are ‘cells for women’.

 

If you live near Kishon, you would be performing a patriotic deed by going there right now and welcoming Neta and Yasmine with a voice of solidarity.  They will undoubtedly spend the Passover seder not at home.

 

P.S.  After all that, a loss of only one tree was reported, as the army bulldozer backed into it while trying to turn around.  But it's not over yet.

 

*   *   *

April 12, 2001

Subverting the Occupation

 

Three young Israelis were arrested this evening for driving a car through Tel-Aviv as they broadcast through a loudspeaker, ‘A curfew has been imposed on Tel-Aviv.  Residents must enter their homes.  People seen on the streets after 7:30 p.m. risk the usual response from the authorities.’  A second car with the same message made a successful getaway.

 

Police arrested the three (two young women and one young man – names still withheld) and have so far refused to allow them to meet with their lawyer.  The charge against them is ‘terrorizing the public’.

 

One wishes that politicians and generals could be similarly charged for making the same statements in Hebron and other Palestinian cities.

 

In that same satirical vein, another group of young people plan to ‘lay siege’ to Kokhav Ya’ir tomorrow, the up-scale Israeli community where many Israeli generals reside.  The announcement of the action reads:

 

‘Kokhav Ya’ir is inhabited by several army generals who endanger both our security and the security of the entire region.  Therefore, for security reasons, tomorrow, April 11, we will lay siege here to prevent these dangerous people from going about their harmful affairs.  Needed: people, vehicles and tools.  Those interested in participating please contact us as soon as possible..  Moran and Noam’

 

A few weeks ago, another group staged a march with signs calling ‘Restore the British Mandate!’  Perhaps they confused some onlookers, but the message was clear:  British colonial rule of Palestine was in many ways more benign than the Israeli occupation.

 

This defiance of the Israeli occupation by the young – often daring, often with humor – helps expose the absurdities of the occupation and subvert the self-righteousness of its perpetrators.

 

And the most optimistic news lately is the growing reluctance of Israeli men to show up for army reserve duty.  While not generally motivated by ideological reasons, this very absence of ideology is what is so encouraging.

 

Post-ideology would be such a relief.

 

*   *   *

April 13, 2001

Upcoming Events

 

Today’s demonstration in Tel-Aviv was wonderful.  We were roughly 200, mostly women.  We wore black and banged vigorously on our pots and pans in time to the slogans led by Dalit, Iris, and others.  An especially nice touch was the black, helium-filled balloons with the message printed on it ‘End the Occupation, End the Closure – Coalition of Women for a Just Peace’.

 

Sample slogans (they rhyme in Hebrew):

1-2-3-4: Get out of Kiryat Arba.

1-2 and also Beit El, Netzarim, and Ariel.

Fuad, Fuad, Minister of Defense, How many children have you killed today?

End the closure in the territories; get out of their bloodstream.

Bring the soldiers home, get rid of the checkpoints.

 

Reporters and TV cameras were there, but I didn’t see if anything made it to the local or international news yet.

 

Every day this week was filled with actions sponsored by the Human Rights Tent in Tel-Aviv.  The schedule for the next few days (sponsored by a mix of organizations):

 

Friday, 13 April:  Continue rebuilding the Shawamreh home in Anata.  Women in Black regular weekly vigil in six locations.

 

Saturday, 14 April:  Joint Palestinian-Israeli demonstration at Bethlehem checkpoint.

 

Sunday, 15 April:  Demonstration at um-Tuba to prevent 7 homes from being demolished.

 

Monday, 16 April:  Removal of roadblocks creating a siege of the village of Atara, near Ramallah.

 

Tuesday, 17 April:  Day off.  Catch up on work, sleep, errands, chores, relationships...

 

Wednesday 18 April:  Removal of the Halhul roadblock at 10:00, which obstructs travel south to Hebron.

 

Anyone still holding a job after this period will have to answer to a higher authority.

 

*   *   *

April 14, 2001

Breaking Barriers for Peace: Bethlehem

 

Today was a great day for peace in the Middle East.  Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists for peace managed to break through the barriers separating us, push through cordon after cordon of Israeli soldiers, and meet together to pledge ourselves to end the occupation and make a just peace between our peoples.

 

The event was initiated and sponsored by the Centre for Rapprochement, a Palestinian peace organization based in the town of Beit Sahour not far from Bethlehem.  On the Israeli side, the sponsors were the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, Gush Shalom, Rapprochement, and the Committee Against House Demolitions.  The internationals – split between both sides – included people from Italy, Germany, the U.S., England, France, and probably other countries.  We were about 200 on each side.

 

As agreed, the Palestinians started out from the Hotel Paradise in Bethlehem, which has suffered severe shelling in recent weeks.  Israelis started out from the Mar Elias Monastery on the Israeli side.  At the pre-arranged time, both groups walked simultaneously toward the checkpoint separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem, the barrier between Israel and Palestine-to-Be.  Many of our signs said ‘End the Occupation’ and ‘Stop the Siege of Palestinian Towns’, but primarily our message was the medium – the meeting of Palestinian and Israeli allies for peace.  We had not expected to actually get closer than waving distance, and that’s how it started.

 

Soldiers prevented the Palestinians from continuing along the main road, but they took side streets and were finally brought to a halt about 100 meters (yards) from the checkpoint.  The Israelis took the main road and walked right up to the checkpoint, where the soldiers formed a cordon to block us from going through.  They presented an order that the area was a ‘closed military zone’.  After some negotiation, they agreed to allow in a ‘small delegation’.  Our ‘small delegation’ turned into 30, as more and more people slipped through the soldiers and became delegates.  The delegation walked down the road and we could see the Palestinians at the other end waiting for us, and we began to chant, ‘Peace – Yes!  Occupation – No!’.  When we reached the Palestinians, we fell into each other’s arms, embraced, and kissed, even though most of us barely knew each other.

 

Moved by the moment, the group spontaneously turned to walk together to the checkpoint, even though the soldiers now formed a solid wall of armed men to block us.  We interlocked arms and walked right up to them and began to push through.  They fortunately did not draw their weapons, but locked their arms against us.  But how could they possibly win, with no moral strength on their side?  And we were infused with a burning sense of doing the right thing.  We pushed and they pushed back, and there seemed to be a standoff, and the soldier pushing me said, ‘You don’t have a chance against us,’ and I heard myself say, ‘You have no idea how powerful moral purpose can be,’ and one of us was apparently right, because soon I felt them giving way, and our group was pushing them backwards, and we were moving forward.  They dropped back and regrouped, and again we had our pushing game, and this went on for nearly half an hour, until they could not contain this powerful group, and we pushed through their entire cordon and broke through to the group of Israelis cheering us on and waiting at the checkpoint.

 

The meeting of both groups was as inspired a moment as can be.  People were clapping and whistling and hugging and shaking each other’s hands and slapping backs.  There were meetings of old friends, and making of new friends.  The moment felt so sweet.  Suddenly I noticed a ‘spare’ stepladder, which I handed over the crowd, and a few of us spoke standing on it – Ghassan Andoni from the Centre for Rapprochement, Uri Avnery from Gush Shalom, Luisa Morgantini from the European Parliament, and me, from the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.  It was not easy to be heard, but who cares what we said.  The very fact of our presence together, united in our yearning for peace, for justice, for a state of Palestine side by side with a state of Israel, was all that really mattered.

 

Thank you to our Palestinian friends for this alliance for peace and justice, much needed by all.

*   *   *

April 18, 2001

 

Press release

 

16 Peace Activists Under Arrest for Dismantling

Roadblocks Outside Palestinian Villages

 

Following a nonviolent act of resistance today in which Israelis, Palestinians and internationals worked to dismantle a roadblock outside the Palestinian villages of Bidiya and Maskha, Israeli soldiers forcibly dragged away and arrested 15 of the activists, who are currently being held in the police station of the Ariel settlement.

 

The large roadblocks were set down by the Israeli army to prevent the residents from leaving or entering their villages.  Working only with hand tools and their bare hands, the activists managed to move huge boulders and clear away some of the blockade, when army reinforcements arrived and demanded that they leave.  The activists initially ignored the army orders, when the soldiers began to physically restrain them.  At that point, the activists sat down on the road and linked arms, but the soldiers dragged them away, threw them into paddy wagons, and brought them to the nearby settlement, where they are currently being interrogated.  Two Israeli women were wounded during the forced evacuation.

 

Those arrested include 6 Israelis, 2 Palestinians, and nationals from Italy, France, Sweden, Canada, and the United States.  Luisa Morgantini, a member of the European Parliament who was participating in the action, was not arrested.

 

After the arrests, the army used tear gas to disperse the villagers and others on the site.

 

‘Israeli policies in the territory are brutal and are being done in our name,’ said Gila Svirsky from the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.’It is our moral obligation as Israelis to not cooperate with this inhumanity, and we will continue to do so.’

 

The action was co-sponsored by Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations, including Rabbis for Human Rights, Gush Shalom, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, and the Palestinian Center for Rapprochement.

*   *   *

April 18, 2001

Press release

 

Peace Activists Shot from Israeli Settlement;

One Hospitalized, One Escaped Injury

 

A round of automatic gunfire from the Israeli settlement of Brukhim riddled the car in which two peace activists were sitting following a peace action nearby, completely wrecking the vehicle and injuring the occupants.  The man, Muhammed Asi, an Israeli-Palestinian, was taken to the hospital with light injuries on his hand and suffering from shock.  The woman, Yasmin Khayal, 22, a German-Palestinian, avoided injury by remaining crouched in the car.

 

Both had earlier participated in the joint Israeli-Palestinian-International action to dismantle a roadblock outside the West Bank Palestinian villages of Bidiya and Maskha, and were in the car awaiting the release of their fellow-activists from jail.

 

All 16 activists who had been arrested for participating in dismantling the roadblock were released several hours later after refusing to sign a statement promising not to return to the area.  One woman who participated in this action, Hava Keller, 72, was hospitalized from injuries sustained as the police forcibly removed her and others from the area.

 

*   *   *

April 22, 2001

How the IDF Responds to Nonviolence

 

In the action a few days ago to dismantle the blockade at Bidiya and Maskha, 16 activists were arrested and two were injured: Hava Keller, a 72 year-old woman, was hurt in the leg by a tear-gas grenade thrown toward her which exploded at her feet.  She was released from the hospital after emergency room treatment.  And a rabbinical student from the University of Judaism in Los Angeles (at Schechter Institute in Jerusalem for the year), was struck by a stun grenade, which then exploded beside her.  The fact that two grenades fell among the activists appears to be intentional, as they were thrown from a short distance.  It is also quite likely that the army would have opened fire at the activists, despite the nonviolent nature of the demonstration, had it not been for the presence of internationals and Israelis.

 

Here is an account of the Israeli army’s response to a different nonviolent action this past Saturday.  This comes from the Israeli organization Ta’ayush, Arab-Jewish Partnership, which sought to bring food and supplies to Palestinian villages under closure.  Clearly, the IDF was becoming more violent toward our demonstrators.

 

“Yesterday, 21 April, some 70 members of Ta’ayush: the Arab-Jewish Partnership took 20 private cars and two loaded trucks of staples and food (estimated value 50,000 shekel = approx. $12,500) to the Occupied Territories, intending to unload them in two villages under closure, as a gesture of solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people.  The convoy was detained and harassed several times along the way by Israeli police, and, after allowing the group into the first village (Yassouf), the IDF declared the area a ‘closed military zone’ and employed force against the activists, attempting to interrupt the unloading of the food.  The activists non-violently opposed the interruption and clarified that since the convoy was peaceful and had been coordinated in advance, their presence there was legal, while the entry into the village of IDF and Border Police was provocative.  One truck of food was successfully unloaded, and the activists marched with the Palestinian residents to the entrance to the village, where the police arrested 8 activists (one for allegedly attacking a policeman, and 7 for sitting on the ground in protest against this arrest).  The detainees were taken to a police station in the nearby Jewish settlement of Ariel, and the other activists waited at the station until all 8 were released with no charges.”  Report by Ta’ayush.

 

And on another day of a Palestinian bomb in Israel (Kfar Saba) with the loss of life and 50 people injured, this violence must also be censured and brought to a halt.

 

*   *   *

April 25, 2001

Israeli Independence/Memorial Days

 

Today is Memorial Day in Israel, and this year Israel marks the death of 19,312 Israelis killed in wars with our neighbors.  I imagine that a similar, if not larger, number of Arabs have been killed in these same wars.  The suffering compounded across families and loved ones defies comprehension.

 

Tonight we mark Independence Day in Israel, simultaneous with the Palestinian commemoration of the Naqba, their marking of the same event, but in terms of the tragedy of their own lost lands and lives.

 

Would that we are able someday soon, in our lifetimes, to jointly mark Memorial Day for those killed on both sides, and celebrate Independence Day together, commemorating not only two sovereign states living peacefully side by side, but our common liberation from war.

 

“If you will it, it is no legend” – Theodore Herzl.

 

*   *   *

April 26, 2001

Alternative Torch Lighting Last Night

 

Last night, several hundred of us celebrated Israel’s Independence Day by attending the ‘Alternative Torch Lighting’ ceremony sponsored by Yesh Gvul, the organization that encourages young Israelis not to do army service in the Occupied Territories.  This ceremony stands in stark contrast to the government’s torch-lighting ceremony held at the Mt. Herzl military cemetery not far away.  Ours is also held in Jerusalem, in a garden named for Emil Gruenzweig, an Israeli killed in 1983 during a Peace Now demonstration by a grenade thrown by another Israeli who disagreed with Emil’s views.

 

This is an event that deeply moves me every year it has been held.  Listening to the words of 12 women and men, honored for their struggle on behalf of a vision of a better Israel, is a glowing ember of hope in the midst of some very dark days.

 

Here is the list of those honored, followed by the words of one of them:

 

Salim Jubran – Palestinian-Israeli poet and writer (text below).

Anat Biletzki – Philosophy professor at Tel-Aviv University, active in ‘HaCampus Lo Shotek’ – ‘the campus will not be silent’ in the face of the evils of occupation.

Neta Golan – Activist in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, often arrested for blocking bulldozers or chaining herself to trees to protect Palestinian homes and property.

Yoav Hass – Yesh Gvul activist who has been jailed for refusing to serve in the territories, and activist on behalf of the rights of Ethiopian Jewish immigrants in Israel.

Khulood Badawi – Palestinian-Israeli, head of the Arab Student Union, Haifa University.

Noam Kuzar – 19-year old army conscript recently jailed for refusing to serve in the occupied territories.

Haya Shalom – Founder of CLAF – Community of Feminist Lesbians and active on behalf of gay/les/bi/transsexual rights.

Dalia Kirsten – Director of HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, providing legal and other aid to Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Reuven Abergil – A founding member of the ‘Black Panthers’ social protest movement of Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews.

Dan Yakir – Veteran legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and long-time advocate for a range of civil and human rights.

Moshe Negbi – Legal commentator and advocate for equality before the law, recently fired for insisting upon journalistic independence in the face of a newspaper’s self-interest.

Ilan Gilon – Knesset Member from Meretz, active in legislation for the handicapped.

 

The words of Palestinian-Israeli poet and writer Salim Jubran, prior to lighting the torch:

 

I, Salim Jubran, son of Hazneh and Yousuf Jubran, and son also of this land, sacred and anguished, hereby light this torch in honor of courage.

 

      The courage to seek out the truth and to fight in its defense, under trying circumstances.

      The courage to long for justice and to take action to realize it.

      The courage to take a stand like a dam against murky waters, and to refuse to become one of the herd.

      The courage to struggle within one’s home and within one’s circles, narrow and wide, to end the violence against children, women, minorities, and foreigners.

      The courage to wage unceasing battle against prejudice and racism in all forms.

      The courage to struggle for the victory of sanity over populist and nationalist madness.

      The courage not to justify, under any circumstances, explicitly or by intimation, the basing of one’s existence upon the ruins of the existence of the other.

      The courage to respect that which is different, to accept diversity – not out of formal politeness, not for lack of choice, not by coercion, but out of understanding and love of the beauty and richness inherent in pluralism – human, linguistic, national, religious, cultural, and political.

 

I light this torch in honor of the many, many people in our country, Jews and Arabs, women and men, secular and religious, for whom retreat from doing the right thing is unthinkable, and for whom the sanctity of human life, dignity, and freedom are not lifeless concepts in the law or books, but a worldview and way of life, a struggle that suffuses their lives.

 

I light this torch in honor of an Israel that does not conquer, and a Palestine that is not conquered, and for the glory of independence, freedom, prosperity, and the safe existence of both nations, the Jewish-Israeli and the Arab-Palestinian.

 

Salim Jubran, April 25, 2001

 

*   *   *

May 13, 2001

Chapter 3: The Olive Trees of Dir Istya

 

Do you remember Dir Istya, where Neta and Yasmin chained themselves to trees and faced down the bulldozer?  Do you remember that the army told the court that they wanted to build a road there, but that Palestinians were throwing stones from behind the trees so they had to destroy the orchard?

 

Well, here’s what happened:  No road and no truth.  Instead, settlers have now placed 4 caravans on that tract of land, as the beginning of a new settlement.  And the army has placed a military post on the land to ‘secure’ the caravans.

 

Therefore, Neta and others issued an urgent call to action for internationals and Israelis to join the Palestinians of Dir Istya in a march of solidarity.  Hundreds turned out and were met with a terrible barrage of tear gas, stun grenades, and brute force.  Here’s an excerpt from a report that Neta wrote about it on behalf of the International Solidarity Movement, which she had co-founded not long before:

 

“The villagers gathered in the town square and began a 3-kilometer march towards the site of the caravans.  The town mayor, Dr. Nafez Mansour carried a message that the demonstrators sought to deliver to the Israeli Army and the settlers: ‘No Peace with Settlements’ and ‘Equality and Justice for All’.

 

“Approximately 2 km into the march the demonstrators were confronted with a barrage of tear gas from the Israeli military and were prevented from proceeding to the site of the caravans.  Despite pleas from the demonstrators that they were unarmed and were coming in peace, the Israeli military chose to bombard them with tear gas.  Their requests in English and Hebrew for dialogue were met with repeated rounds of tear gas that caused a number of fires in the surrounding area.  Sound grenades and rubber bullets were also used by the Israeli military.  One journalist was lightly injured when he was shot in the foot.  This method of dealing with the demonstrators is in sharp contrast to the means by which the Israeli Army deals with settler demonstrations.  Israeli settlers frequently raid Palestinian villages and terrorize the Palestinian residents, with the knowledge and under the protection of the Israeli military.  Needless to say, they have never been tear-gassed.  On the part of the villagers, the demonstration remained completely non-violent.  When it was obvious that the soldiers refused any kind of dialogue, the villagers conducted their Friday prayers on the site where the procession was stopped before quietly retreating to their village.”

 

Women In Black Solidarity Vigils

To mark the 34th anniversary of the 1967 war, women and men of conscience throughout the world will be holding Women in Black vigils on or about June 8th.  Please think about holding a vigil in your own city – all it takes is a couple people and a strong desire for peace in the Middle East.  We already have confirmed participation from 10 US cities (Abilene TX, Albuquerque NM, Ann Arbor MI, Boston MA, Chicago IL, Los Angeles CA, New York NY, San Francisco CA, Seattle WA, and Washington DC), as well as Melbourne, Mexico City, Montreal, Rennes, The Hague, Toronto, and a ‘peace ship’ in the Pacific – for a total of 17 locations..  Positive responses come in daily.

 

A video camera for Neta

Finally, a thank you to everybody for your words of support and your contributions of money and used video cameras for Neta and others to document the oppression and the resistance.  Sufficient money has now come in, and a new digital video will be purchased this week, while the used cameras will be used by other peace activists in the territories and as backup for Neta.

 

*   *   *

May 13, 2001

A Critical Mass

 

The situation here is bad, worse than ever:  In the past week alone, 11 Palestinians were killed, dozens were wounded, 60 of their homes were demolished, and we cannot even quantify the ongoing abusive behavior by settlers and soldiers, the closure-related upheavals, and trauma.  And on the Israeli side, there was the grisly bludgeoning of the two young settler boys and bombs that did not explode, thank goodness.

 

In light of the unprecedented level of violence, the relative powerlessness of the Palestinian community, and ministers within the very government of Israel calling upon the army to ‘finish the job properly’, there is no humane or moral alternative but to call upon the international community to do everything in its power to protect the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories from further brutality.  Those of us who have visited the territories of late are sickened by the sights.  I can only urge all of you to convey this demand to your representatives.

 

Local Efforts

On the ground, efforts continue to awaken Israeli and international opinion.  What follows is a quick mention of several recent actions for peace that you did not hear about in the media.  More took place, but I wanted to get at least this report out before I leave for 2 weeks:

 

Nonviolent Direct Action: Breaking The Closure

This is spreading on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides.  In Israel, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace benefited from an excellent workshop given one week ago by 3 members of the Michigan Peace Team – Charlotte Whitney, Peter Dougherty, and Bill Thomson.

 

Yesterday we were able to put it into practice what we learned in an action co-sponsored by the Coalition of Women, but brilliantly orchestrated by members of Ta’ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership.  In a convoy of 60 cars and trucks, 240 Israelis drove across the Green Line and into two Palestinian villages under siege, bringing food, clothing, and children’s toys.  The army did not impede our progress, knowing that it would only magnify the injustice of the closure to those watching.

 

We were greeted with great warmth and hospitality by the Palestinians.  This was an important action – it was both humanitarian and made a vivid political statement.

 

 *   *   *

June 1, 2001

Chapter 4 of the Dir Istya Saga

 

The residents of the Palestinian village of Dir Istya have conducted another courageous act of nonviolent resistance together with Israeli and international allies in the face of ongoing provocations by the Israeli army and settlers.

 

Dir Istya is a small village surrounded by four Israeli settlements (Yakir, Emanuel, Nofim and Barqan).  While farming is the main source of livelihood, this has become increasingly difficult due to recent appropriations of land, the bulldozing of olive-tree orchards, and the proximity of settlers, who impede access to the remaining fields and orchards.

 

Within the past two months, Dir Istya has been the scene of several acts of nonviolent resistance in an effort to protect the orchards and prevent an incipient new settlement (4 caravans so far) from taking root.  In April, two young women – Neta Golan (a Jewish Israeli) and Yasmin Khayal (a Palestinian-German) – chained themselves to olive trees in an effort to prevent the trees from being bulldozed.  And in early May, several hundred peace activists protested peacefully there, to which the Israeli army replied with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-coated bullets, ending in the wounding of one journalist and several fields catching fire.

 

Today’s action was sponsored by the Palestinian residents of Hares and Dir Istya in coordination with the International Solidarity Movement, Reut-Sadaka (Jewish-Arab Youth Movement), Rabbis for Human Rights, CPT, and the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.

 

About one hundred participants gathered inside the village this morning, roughly half Palestinian residents and the other half mixed Israelis and internationals.  As the activists headed out of the village toward the caravans to protest their presence, the Israeli army blocked their progress, announcing that the area was now a “closed military zone”, and demanded that the activists return to the village.  Settlers who stood near the soldiers were not asked to leave the closed military zone.  In the best nonviolent tradition, the peace activists refused to turn back and peacefully tried to proceed, now with linked arms and chanting.  The soldiers tried to prevent their progress and forced some of them to the ground.  The activists responded by remaining seated on the ground, which the army also could not abide.  Power, after all, demands to be expressed.  After further scuffling, soldiers plunged into the group and began to haul off those they believed to be ringleaders.

 

Twelve activists were brought to the police station in Ariel, a site that has become familiar to many.  This group included three Palestinians from Dir Istya – Dr.  Nafez Mansour, who is mayor of the village, Suleiman Mahmoud Shimlawi, and Ahmad Tayil Faris, a student at an-Najah University.  The other nine included five Israeli Jews – Liad Kantorowicz (23), Sheli Nativ (28), Dorit Tadir (19), Arik Ascherman, and Micky Fischer – and one Palestinian citizen of Israel – Jamal Attamneh (29), who is the director of Re’ut-Sadaka.  Also arrested were Bob from CPT-Hebron and two German internationals.

 

At the police station, the three Palestinians from the territories were separated from the others and booked on criminal charges.  The others were interrogated and told to sign release orders and leave.  They refused to sign the papers unless the Palestinians would also be released.  The police threatened to evict them forcibly, and did drag Liad out of the station.  Eventually, though, the police released all 12, who by now are on their way home.

 

One more point.  After the 12 were arrested, someone opened fire on the activists who remained behind and an 18 year-old Palestinian boy was shot.  We are trying to ascertain his condition, and initial reports are that the injury is not serious.  The shot, by the way, may have been fired by a settler, a policeman, or a soldier, but we will never know who.  This is not the sort of thing that the Israeli authorities bother to investigate when the injured party is a Palestinian.

 

Thank you, attorney Yossi Wolfson, for your efforts on everyone’s behalf.

 

Information about the aftermath of the Dir Istya action just came in:

After the Israeli soldiers and police arrested the peace activists and left the area, Israeli settlers actually entered the village of Dir Istya and began to provoke the residents.  Some say the settlers fired off their guns, but this is not confirmed.  It’s bad enough that they actually entered the village, armed to the teeth.  (Palestinians are barred from entering Israeli settlements unless they have a work permit there, often as cleaners or gardners.)  Several unarmed Palestinian youth began to throw stones at the settlers.  The army heard or heard about the ruckus, raced back to the village, and opened fire on the Palestinian young men who had been throwing stones.  (This, Neta Golan reports, is the usual MO of the settlers: Provoke the nearby villages until they get a reaction, and then the soldiers respond with firepower.)

 

As a result, one 18 year-old Palestinian young man was shot, probably by a soldier.  The bullet damaged his spinal cord.  In all likelihood, he will remain paralyzed for the rest of his life.  He is currently undergoing surgery in Ramallah.

 

*   *   *

June 4, 2001

Struggling for Peace Amidst the Ruins

 

The news from the Middle East seems to go from bad to worse over the past 7 months.  The recent terrorist bomb that took the lives of 20 Israeli teenagers and injured over 100 must be condemned in the strongest terms by all people of conscience.  We are all still in shock over this terrible loss.

 

On the political side, Israeli sentiment shifts to the right again as a result of the violence.  I respect the decision of Peace Now to cancel its rally scheduled for Saturday evening – to set aside political debate during the period of mourning.  Others, including the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, felt that we could not abide the right-wing takeover of the streets with its call for revenge (and attacks on Jaffa Arabs), and we demonstrated with the Ta’ayush movement that afternoon under signs saying “The Occupation is killing us all”, “End the violence”, etc.  Needless to say, we were met by a torrent of abuse by extremists on the street.

 

I have heard political pundits, both Israeli and Palestinian, say that Israel will not compromise until Israelis have suffered sufficiently.  I take my response from Gandhi, who said that the end will be only as good as the means we use to achieve it.  Violence begets violence.  By the same token, retaliation by either side serves no purpose other than to fan the flames.  Again to quote Gandhi: If we all believed in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, we’d all be walking around blind and toothless.

 

Friday’s Women in Black Vigils

We now know of vigils planned in 120 different locations in the world, on or about this coming Friday – June 8 – to mark and protest the ‘anniversary’ of the occupation.

 

In Israel, we decided to begin Friday’s noon vigil with an all-night, torchlight vigil that will begin the previous evening (Thursday at 6 pm Israel time).  During the night vigil, we plan to read and discuss feminist texts concerning peace, war, racism, homophobia, sisterhood, and whatever women feel is relevant or relates to the current reality.  We are calling this a “Feminist Night Vigil”.  We’d like to invite any and all of you to “join” us that night by sending (this week) texts or poems or even thoughts that we can read out loud (in any language).  After the event, we’ll post these on our website.  Thanks to Hannah Safran, who teaches Women’s Studies at Haifa University, for this great idea and for coordinating the event, and to Donna Spiegelman in Boston for the idea of inviting contributions from all over the world.

 

Nobel Peace Prize

Perhaps you have heard by now that the movement of Women in Black, represented by the Israeli (where it began) and Serbian groups, was nominated for this prize.  We have no idea if this is a realistic possibility, but we are encouraged by the nomination, and hope it will strengthen our call for peace.  As a result, a few women have been invited for token radio and TV interviews here in Israel, and we hope that the very nomination will give our view greater legitimacy.

 

Death of Faisal Husseini

Finally, we grieve over the loss of Faisal Husseini, a dear friend of peace and of the Israeli peace movement for many years.  He was one of the only Palestinian leaders who rejected the Palestinian injunction against “normalizing” relations with Israelis, and continued to cooperate with Israeli peace activists.  The ad placed by the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace in the Arabic newspaper al-Quds read:  “We mourn the loss of Faisal Husseini, a true friend of peace.”

 

Last November (11/25/2000), in the midst of some of the worst violence, Faisal met with a large group of Israeli activists, outlined a reasonable and pragmatic solution, and made the following statement, with which I close during these difficult days:  “We are at the last 100 meters of the climb of Everest.  At this point it is so cold, so difficult, so vague – but we can see the target.  Together we can cross the last 100 meters.”

 

*   *   *

June 6, 2001

Women in Black Vigils: A Momentous Gathering

 

The international movement for a just peace in the Middle East is clearly gaining momentum.  The response internationally and regionally to our call for Women in Black vigils this Friday has exceeded the expectations of even the most wildly optimistic among us.  Thank you everybody for organizing in your corner of the world.

 

International Vigils

As of this writing, we know of vigils planned in 142 different world locations.  Every continent but Antarctica has a vigil.  And in every one of these vigils, signs will be held aloft that say, “End the Israeli occupation”.  This is a powerful, multinational message to Israel and world leaders.

 

To mention some vigil locations: Cairo (Egypt); Sao Paolo (Brazil); the Canary Islands (Spain); Ankara (Turkey); a “Peace Boat” off the Maldive Islands; 19 cities in Italy; 6 locations each in Spain, Canada, and France; 5 each in Australia and Germany; 4 in Switzerland; 2 in Sweden; and 57 cities in the US, from Abilene (Texas) to Woodstock (New York).  This Friday, these vigils are open to men wearing black as well.

 

All-Night Torchlight Vigil

All the events in this region will be marked by the solidarity of Palestinian and Israeli women for peace.  On Thursday evening at 18:00, the first torch will be lit and held on the vigil plaza by a Palestinian woman – Sumaya Farhat-Naser, professor of botany at Bir Zeit University in the Occupied Territories, and Gila Svirsky, Israeli peace activist.  The signs beside them will read, “End the Occupation” and “We Refuse to be Enemies”.  The torch will change hands all night and through the next day through the mass vigil, which begins at noon.

 

Feminist Study Vigil

All through the night at the vigil plaza, a “Tikkun Olam Feministi” will be held, when women will read and discuss feminist texts concerning peace, war, racism, homophobia, sisterhood, and whatever women feel is relevant to the current reality.  Many women from other countries have faxed and e-mailed their writing to share.  Thanks to Hannah Safran for this idea and coordinating the event, and to Donna Spiegelman (Boston) for the idea of inviting contributions from all over the world.

 

Friday’s Vigil and Speakers

The vigil on Friday has now become huge, and will include Israelis (Jewish and Palestinian), internationals, and Palestinians from across the Green Line, who will make every effort to join us, despite the stringent closure now imposed.  It will begin at 12:00 noon at Hagar Square (opposite Terra Sancta in Jerusalem).  At approximately 1:45 p.m., presentations will begin with a minute of silence in memory of all those on both sides who were killed as a result of the ongoing occupation.

 

The speakers include Israeli, Palestinian, and international women who have shown a commitment to peace and justice in this region.  While the three distinguished Palestinian women from the Occupied Territories may be prevented by the Israeli army from joining us, the very fact of their acceptance sends a message of Palestinian-Israeli women’s solidarity for a just peace.  We are pleased to announce the following speakers.

 

Ruthie Gur – Coordinator of Programs at Isha L’Isha – Haifa Feminist Center, and a longtime Mizrahi activist in poor neighborhoods.

Khulood Badawi – Chairperson of the Association of Arab University Students of Israel.

Dalia Ravikowitz – This eminent Israeli poet has had to cancel, but will send a poem to be read.

Luisa Morgantini – Member of the European Parliament from Italy, and long-time ally of the Palestinian-Israeli women’s peace movement.

Zahira Kamal – General Director of Gender Planning and Development, Palestinian Ministry of Planning, and also a leading spokesperson for Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories.

Claudia dela Setta – Israeli performing artist.

Rana Nashashibi – Director, Palestinian Counseling Center, and Professor of Community Mental Health at Bir Zeit University, Occupied Territories.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan – Lecturer in Language Education, Hebrew University; outspoken and eloquent peace activist, whose daughter Smadar was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem on September 4, 1997.

Rawda Suliman –Palestinian performing artist.

Hanan Ashrawi – A leading human rights spokesperson in the Palestinian Authority; founder and Executive Director of MIFTAH: the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, Occupied Territories.

Shulamith Aloni – A leading human rights spokesperson in Israel; former Minister of Communications and the Arts, Science and Technology.

 

The program will be moderated by Olivia Attrash (from Acre) and Dalit Baum (from Tel-Aviv).

 

Permits and Media
The entire event has a permit, and it is hoped that the Jerusalem police will manage to keep counter-demonstrators away from the Women in Black vigil.

 

A professional unit will be filming the event for a documentary they are making about events in the region.

 

In Costa Rica, a “webcast vigil” will be held this Friday at noon, 6 p.m.and 10 p.m.(local time) by Feminista International Radio Endeavour (FIRE).  Vigil participants from all over the world can send in statements to be read on the air, and, that evening, can give live reports about how their vigils went.

 

Finally, about the Israeli media: Until this morning, and with the exception of one TV spot, Israeli media have refused to report this momentous gathering of vigils throughout the world or even the nomination of Women in Black for the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize, despite the best efforts of our professional PR person.  Ha’aretz newspaper told us yesterday, “This is not the time to be talking about Women in Black and its views.”

 

We do not agree.  We believe that this is exactly the time to be talking about Women in Black and our views.  We invite all those who agree with us to join us.  We want to make it impossible for the media, or our governments, to ignore us.

 

Coalition of Women for a Just Peace

Just as this is being prepared for mailing, we had a call from Ma’ariv, Israel’s second largest newspaper, that they plan to do a major feature about the Coalition for their weekend edition.  Are things changing?

 

*   *   *

June 9, 2001

International Solidarity for Peace

 

Yesterday we had an amazing vigil in Israel and so did many places in the world.  Reports and photos have started to arrive from the more than 150 locations worldwide where vigils were held, and we’ll be posting these on the web site.  We’ll also issue a summary report after we hear from most places.

 

The vigil in Jerusalem brought together 3,000 women and men, both Israeli and Palestinian (and not 300, as reported on CNN).  It was the largest single vigil that had ever been held of Women in Black, and, combined with all our allies overseas, we imagine that many thousands participated in this international day of protest.

 

If you had the good fortune to be in Jerusalem on this beautiful spring day, you would have seen a sea of black at Hagar Plaza, mostly women but a great many men too.  In addition to Jews and Palestinians from all over Israel, many Palestinians also came from the Occupied Territories – some from East Jerusalem, who could enter without facing roadblocks, and others who defied the closure to get in.  The large number of Palestinians in traditional headdress – women in scarves, men in kafeeyas – was an important physical reminder that this is a common struggle for peace, though organized in Israel.

 

Dalit Baum and Olivia Attrash, our two moderators – one Jewish and the other Palestinian, both Israelis – did a wonderful job, with their remarks given in both Hebrew and Arabic, strengthening the message of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity for peace.  They told of the all-night vigil in Jerusalem that began at 6 p.m.the evening before, with one Israeli and one Palestinian woman together holding a torch alight through the night, until the mass rally at noon on Friday.  Then they opened the presentations with a poignant minute of silence for all the victims of this occupation, both Israeli and Palestinian.

 

Despite the tragic context of this day – marking 34 years of occupation, 8 months of intifada, and one week since the bomb that slew 20 Israeli teens – the excitement and hope were palpable at this demonstration.  Before the speeches began, 1,000 black, helium-filled balloons scattered throughout the crowd were simultaneously released.  The sight was amazing – a brilliant blue sky suddenly splattered with a thousand black stains, “End the Occupation / End the Closure” written on them, lifting slowly into oblivion.

 

The speakers alternated, Israeli/Palestinian, some with harsh words, but each giving a message of peace and solidarity.  All spoke of the need to end the occupation and create two states side by side, Israel and Palestine, both sovereign and both safe, with a shared destiny.  In the words of Hanan Ashrawi (that were read out loud, in her absence), “The June 4, 1967 boundaries should mark the boundaries of our two states, to enable us to disengage from this fatal proximity of occupier/occupied, and to re-engage as good neighbors”.  Khulood Badawi, chair of the Association of Arab University Students of Israel, noted that “..  this event is living proof that Palestinians and Israelis can live and flourish together.” And the words of Nurit Peled-Elhanan, whose daughter was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem three years ago, left few eyes dry: “Last week we saw many pictures of dead children.  Children who went out to have a good time, who barely had a chance to figure out the complexity of living in this country, and one child who killed all of them and himself as well..  .  Save the children; don’t let the merchants of blood continue to trade in them, because they will never be sated.”

 

Other impressive speakers were Shulamit Aloni, considered by many to be the mother of the civil rights movement in Israel, Zahira Kamal, a leading spokeswoman for Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories, Ruth Gur, an Israeli activist in poor neighborhoods, and Luisa Morgantini, a member of the European Parliament from Italy and long-time ally of the Palestinian-Israeli women’s peace movement, who spoke as members of the Italian delegation stood beside her.  An original poem written for the occasion by eminent Israeli poet Dalia Ravikowitz, was read out loud.

 

And if these words were not enough in the ocean of resolve to end the wars that divide us, greetings in Arabic were read out loud from the Women’s Association in the Occupied Syrian Golan: In this, our first message from Syrian women in the Golan, they write, “We join our voices to yours in your efforts to end the violence – the destruction of people’s lives, homes, and fields..  Together we will succeed in ending the occupation in Palestine and areas of Syria and Lebanon.”

 

Following the speeches, the locations of the 150 vigils throughout the world were read out loud by me, and swelled the sense of hopefulness of the moment.  Messages of solidarity had arrived from dozens of vigils and individuals abroad, but we couldn’t read them all from the stage.  We read only the one from the Boston-Cambridge vigils, because it was sent to us in both Hebrew and Arabic.  The message: “You inspire us! Your call for justice for Palestinians – the only basis for a lasting peace – is being echoed around the world today.  We are proud to be participating in this historic event.  Let us go on building – from strength to strength – our international movement to End the Occupation! In solidarity and with much love, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel and Palestine.”

 

It was not surprising that people only slowly dispersed from the plaza when it was over, unwilling to return to the grim reality of radio and TV news.  Some teens from the Hashomer Hatza’ir youth movement stayed behind and began to sing songs of peace.  These are the children who will be called upon to kill and be killed in a year or two.  The only way to prevent this is through a global network, in solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian advocates of peace, to demand a just peace.

 

And even the media could not ignore a global effort of this magnitude.  All the Israeli news media sent representatives: We saw ourselves on TV and expect to read the stories in the Sunday papers.  Special features about Women in Black and its nomination for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize are expected in next weekend’s Ma’ariv and Ha’aretz.  In addition, 40-50 foreign media were represented, including CNN, the BBC, AP, Reuters, and TV stations from many countries in Europe, the US and South America.  We saw ourselves several times on CNN, and ask that you let us know if you see or saw us elsewhere.

 

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank all those hard-working and dedicated people everywhere, of every religion, race and nationality, who cared enough about peace in this region to pause for a moment in their busy lives and join hands with us in solidarity and goodwill.  And we thank the organizers of all these vigils for their days and weeks of planning, organizing, and making it happen.  With your help, there can be no doubt: Peace is inevitable.

 

*   *   *

June 11, 2001

This is what I did about it…

 

Yes, you’re right, you who called or wrote to say that there were a few things I left out of my report about the Jerusalem vigil last Friday (June 8).  I did so because the report was already so long, but since you ask that I add them, here they are:

 

All-Night Vigil

We began at 6 in the evening, dusk in Jerusalem, in a solemn and dignified ceremony.  Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser, a Palestinian from Bir Zeit University in the occupied territories, and I, a Jewish Israeli, stood in the center of the vigil plaza and held one torch aloft between us, with two signs at our sides: “End the Occupation” and “We Refuse to be Enemies”.  People were beginning to gather at the plaza, and most just stood back and watched this powerful still-life in silence.

 

After about an hour, members of the extremist right-wing group Kach arrived and began to mingle among us.  Organizers approached the two policemen on duty and asked them to have the Kach members separated from our group, just as we are separated at our regular weekly vigil.  The police refused, on the grounds that people are free to stand where they want.  More Kach members arrived and began to taunt us and jump onto the raised area where Sumaya and I stood.  Women in Black and some men supporters immediately surrounded Sumaya and me, holding their “End the Occupation” signs in front of them.  More Kach members arrived, and activists redoubled their efforts to get the police to intervene, with no success.  One Kach member is a known thug, with a long history of arrests for violent behavior against Arabs, Women in Black, and others.  By now, we were about 50 and they were 15, but some of them carried loaded guns in their belts.  At about 7:00, the expected brawl began.  Now the police intervened, but not before some severe blows, in which one of our supporters – Dr.  Eric Jacobson from Free University of Berlin, who was in Israel to lecture about “militarization” on behalf of New Profile – had his eyeglasses smashed, his nose broken, and other bruises.

 

More police arrived, but Kach was never removed from the vigil plaza.  Until about 2 in the morning, they continued to shout racist slogans, attempt to set our banners on fire with cigarette lighters, destroy signs that were not protected, and prevent us from conducting our All-night Feminist Vigil, where we had planned to read and discuss some of the wonderful texts that had been sent from all over the world.

 

When the Kach members finally tired and the last of them left, we were too exhausted to focus on any readings.  Most of us sat quietly together, huddled against the growing night cold, and talked.  But through it all, right through the long night, two vigilers stood in the center and held the torch aloft.

 

At about 5 in the morning, the sun began to rise over Jerusalem, and seven of us were still there with our torch and our message.  All of us now grabbed signs, lit a second torch, and jumped up on the wall around the plaza, facing the rising sun and the cars now in growing numbers.  We felt euphoric that we had made it through the night, and the torches were held high.  Drivers passed, some of them cursing, others incredulous, and one man on his way to work watched for a few minutes and then joined us for a while.  At 7, someone brought us coffee.  By 8, we were joined by enough new vigilers that we felt we could go home, have a shower and breakfast, and put on fresh black clothes and return.

 

No, the Kach member who attacked Eric was never arrested, though Eric is pressing charges.  Attorney Lea Zemel is handling the case pro bono.

 

Later the Same Day…

For the mass vigil between noon and 3 p.m., the police kept a small group of Kach members separated from the crowd.  By the last of the speeches, however, some had managed to get past the barriers and approach the podium, where they released a hailstorm of rocks, which struck vigilers standing closest to the podium.  No one was hurt.  Three Kach members were arrested and released…later the same day.

 

Post-Vigil Activities

Following the vigil, some members of Women in Black went to visit the family of Faisal Husseini and extend their condolences.

 

Gush Shalom activists also didn’t go right back home.  A busload went to demonstrate at al-Khader near Bethlehem, where settlers from Efrat are again encroaching on Palestinian land.  Several demonstrations in the past (including one that ended in shooting at and arrests of the demonstrators) had prevented this from happening under Rabin, but under Sharon the settlers are trying again.  Gush Shalom plans to continue its organizing to stop this settlement expansion, most of which is disregarded by the media.

 

Invaluable Material Support

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to those individuals who sent contributions to make this work possible, and also to three generous foundations: Samuel Rubin Foundation, Max and Anna Levinson Foundation, New Israel Fund, and the Sister Fund.

 

Grace Paley

Finally, I would like to close with words sent to us by Grace Paley, not only a renowned author, but a long time activist for peace and justice, and a Woman in Black from New York.  In these few words, Grace talks about all of us on vigils or who otherwise act on our beliefs:

 

“We live in this world which takes our children and sets terrible barriers before them: war – a new one just for their generation; drugs; narrow nationalisms of hatred, poverty, absurdity.  Our bodies live in this world and are picked up, shaken, and what is natural becomes difficult.  What is difficult becomes painful and hopeless...

 

“Still, I must remind myself, having said all this, that there is now a women’s community, women’s communities where women stand still, almost breathless to talk to one another, or gather at home or in meeting places..  to listen, to say: This is where my trouble is; this is where it hurts.  And then someone answers: Me too.  And listen.  This is what I did about it.”

 

*   *   *

June 14, 2001

Nurit’s Words to Women in Black

 

This is a translation into English (by the author herself) of Dr. Nurit Peled-Elhanan’s speech to the mass rally of Women in Black on June 8.  Nurit is the mother of Smadar Elhanan, 13 years old when she was killed by a suicide bomber in Jerusalem in September 1997.  We thank Nurit for her words and her permission to forward them freely.

 

A Speech to Women in Black

 

Over the last week we have seen many photographs of dead children.  These children were out to have a god time, unaware of the problems surrounding their existence in this land.  And another child, who took his own life along with theirs, as though he was Samson declaring, let me die with the Philistines.

 

But neither they nor he were Philistines.  The Philistines are those who – for more than 40 years – have been sending children to their death.  Children in uniform and children without uniform, children with guns and children with Molotov cocktails, children of Israeli commandos, and children of Palestinian guerrilla.  And all this to satisfy the murderous ambitions of the Philistines and their greed for land that is not theirs.

 

The Philistines are those who leave mothers like myself bereaved, in the useless wars that our children are forced to fight for them.  Wars that are waged supposedly for the love of the country, the love of God, and the good of the nation.  But the truth is that these wars are waged for no other reason than the insanity and megalomania of the so-called leaders and heads of state.  For them children are no more than abstract notions: You kill one of mine, I will kill 300 of yours and the account is settled.

 

But I, who lost my only daughter, know that the death of any child means the death of the whole world.”  Satan has not yet devised a Vengeance for the death of a young child,” said the Jewish poet Bialik, and that is not because Satan has no means to do so, but because after the death of a child there is no more death for there is no more life.  The child takes the war and the future of the war into his little grave to rest with his little bones.

 

When my little girl was killed, a reporter asked me how I was willing to accept condolences from the other side.  I replied without hesitation that I refused it:  When representatives of Netanyahu’s government came to offer their condolences I took my leave and would not sit with them.  For me, the other side, the enemy, is not the Palestinian people.  For me the struggle is not between Palestinians and Israelis, nor between Jews and Arabs.  The fight is between those who seek peace and those who seek war.  My people are those who seek peace.  My sisters are the bereaved mothers, Israeli and Palestinian, who live in Israel and in Gaza and in the refugee camps.  My brothers are the fathers who try to defend their children from the cruel occupation, and are, as I was, unsuccessful in doing so.  Although we were born into a different history and speak different tongues there is more that unites us than that which divides us.

 

I wish to revive two slogans that were misused by the Israeli right wing and have not been heard since the present government came to power.  The first is that “Brothers are not to be forsaken”.  Our brothers and sisters in the refugee camps and under occupation, who are deprived of food and livelihood and of all their human rights, should not be forsaken now.

 

The other slogan is, “The uprooting of settlements tears the nation apart”.  Uprooting of olive groves and vineyards, the demolition of houses and confiscation of land will tear apart our already endangered species of peace-seeking people and will bring it to extinction.  And when this species no longer exists, there will be nothing left to write, nothing left to read, nothing left to say except for the muted story of slain youth.

 

Today, when there is almost no opposition to the atrocities of the Israeli government, when the Israeli peace camp has evaporated into thin air, a cry must rise, a cry that is as ancient as man and woman, a cry that is beyond all differences of race or religion or language, The cry of motherhood: Save our children.

 

Nurit Peled-Elhanan 

closure_feb2001ravnery_liter.jpg
Putting a closure on Tel Aviv (Marcia Freedman, closest, being grabbed by cop). Photo: Rachel Avnery
march_against_closure_april2001yael_korin.jpg
Marching against the closure (Tamar Gozansky & Debby Lerman holding banner). Photo:Yael Korin

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.