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Activism 2002

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January 18, ‏2002

A Two-Demonstration Day


The cycle has begun again.


After a month of quiet between Israel and Palestine, Prime Minister Sharon began to worry that he would have to sit down and actually negotiate with the Palestinians, so he ordered yet another assassination and then awaited the reprisals that would get him off the hook.  It didn’t take long.  It began with the shooting of Israelis in the terrrritories, and then last night’s horrifying scene – a Palestinian who emptied an M16 into an Israeli crowd celebrating a bat-mitzva.  “In response”, Israeli warplanes fired missiles into Turkarm while tanks reoccupied large parts of Ramallah.  And so it goes.  Whose turn is it?


The senseless and tragic bloodletting still fresh in everyone’s mind, it was with some trepidation that the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace came together this morning to demonstrate against the occupation.  Why trepidation?  Because Palestinian acts of terrorism somehow give legitimacy to attacks on Israeli peace activists by rightwing war-mongers. It’s a tradition that did not even begin in the Mideast.


Thus, we were surprised and pleased to have some 40 women and men, despite the tradition, who came out to demonstrate today under the banner “Money for the disabled, not for settlers”.  This is a reference to the month-long strike of the severely disabled in Israel, whose government stipend is shamefully low, keeping them in poverty.  We were even nervous about whether the disabled themselves would accept our presence near their strike location, but several approached our group and voiced support.  I think it helped that Pnina Firestone, a veteran peace activist who is severely disabled herself, was holding up one end of our banner.


After an hour in the crisp winter air of Jerusalem, we put away our signs and went indoors to talk to the strikers and express our solidarity with them.  I had a good conversation with Alex, a lovely guy who agreed that the government should help the down-and-outers, but not at the expense of the settlers.  Finally he mentioned that his son, too, lives in a settlement.  Every government since the Occupation began 34 years ago, Labor and Likud alike, has given Israelis economic incentives to move into the territories.  By now, ideology follows vested economic interests.


From the striking disabled we drove to the regular Women in Black vigil, and were about 75 today in Jerusalem.  Last week we had been joined by contingents from Michigan, France, and India.  This week we were just us. There were the usual driveby shooting-off-at-the-mouth passersby, but nothing exploded.  That is a victory of sorts.


So it was an efficient, 2-demonstration day for us, besides the other Women in Black vigils all over Israel.  I hope there will be a big turnout tomorrow for Peace Now’s demonstration called , “Sharon is Assassinating the Peace”.  What are weekends for, anyway?  Let’s hope it’s a quiet one.


*   *   *

January 25, 2002

Unprecedented Call to Refuse Army Orders


Yes, there’s definitely growing criticism inside Israel of Sharon’s policies.  More and more Israelis are beginning to say that his iron fist approach is only provoking violent responses by the Palestinians.  The buzz in Israel all week was whether or not some of Israel’s actions – the demolition of homes or assassinations, for instance – constituted war crimes or not.  This ‘war crimes’ talk, in which the Gush Shalom movement took the lead, infiltrated much of the media last week.  And this weekend’s Ha’aretz carries a report of the lost credibility of the official Israeli army spokesman.


Let me not overstate the critique, but it is beginning.  In my opinion, there are two main reasons for this.  The first was the brutal demolition of homes in the Gaza Strip, leaving hundreds of Palestinians homeless.  Israel’s claim that “no one lived in these homes” was drowned out by the photos, journalistic reports, Red Cross aid, UN statements, and reports of all the human rights agencies, including Israel’s trustworthy B’Tselem.  The second disheartening event to Israelis was an assassination of a Palestinian by the Israeli army, which shattered almost a month of ceasefire.  Whether this was a deliberate act to destroy the ceasefire (and thereby avoid negotiating for peace) or not, no one could deny that the effect was renewed terrorism inside Israel, including deadly spray-shootings on the streets of Hadera and Jerusalem.  Even our Deputy Defense Minister (Dalia Rabin Pilosoff) characterized the assassination as “bad timing”.


And so, Israeli citizens – even those who believe that an iron fist is the only way to deal with Palestinians – are beginning to wonder if Sharon has acted well or wisely to protect Israeli civilians.  In a sense, having Ariel Sharon as prime minister also has a positive aspect – it gives clarity to the issues.  Either one supports Sharon (occupation and repression), or one supports efforts to make peace.  The two are not compatible.


Many Israeli peace organizations have never stopped explaining that occupation and peace are not compatible, and have relentlessly kept up their day-to-day protests, vigils, tree-plantings, home rebuildings, checkpoint monitoring, blockade dismantling, etc., etc.  The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace has been able to create mass rallies for peace on several occasions.  But recently, we are seeing more in the media and even on the streets.  A broad spectrum of peace organizations is planning a huge rally in Tel Aviv next week, which I’ll report about another time


But I saved the most significant for last:  In today’s Ha’aretz newspaper, a large ad signed by 53 combat soldiers and officers in the Israeli army, announces, “We hereby declare that we shall continue to serve the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves the defense of the State of Israel.  The mission of occupation and repression does not serve this goal – and we refuse to participate in it.”  [Full text below.]


This is an unprecedented call by Israeli soldiers to other Israeli soldiers not to serve in the army of occupation.  It is an incredibly courageous act for soldiers to announce that they will no longer continue fighting in the territories “for the purposes of domination, expulsion, starvation, and humiliation of an entire people.”  This is a very powerful statement for soldiers still on active duty, and in the rich moral tradition of Yesh Gvul and New Profile (two organizations that have consistently advocated this position), but in unprecedented numbers.  The media have flooded them with interviews all day.  May their numbers multiply.


The full ad: 


We, combat officers and soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), raised on the values of Zionism, sacrifice, and giving to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, who have always served on the front line and were the first to fulfill every mission, regardless of how difficult, in order to defend and strengthen the State of Israel;


We, combat officers and soldiers, who serve the State of Israel for long weeks every year, despite the high personal price we pay, who have performed reserve duty throughout the territories and have been issued orders and instructions that have nothing to do with the security of our country, orders whose sole purpose was to perpetuate domination over the Palestinian people;


We, who have personally witnessed the terrible bloodshed on both sides of the conflict;


Who have seen that the orders we were issued undermine all the values we were taught in this country;


Who understand today that the price of occupation is the loss of humanity of the IDF, and corruption of Israeli society in general;


Who know that the territories are not Israel, and that ultimately the settlements will be evacuated;


We hereby declare that we will not go on fighting a war for the peace of the settlements.


We will not go on fighting beyond the “green line” for the purposes of domination, expulsion, starvation, and humiliation of an entire people.


We hereby declare that we shall continue to serve the Israel Defense Forces in any mission that serves the defense of the State of Israel.  The mission of occupation and repression does not serve this goal – and we refuse to participate in it.


[A list of the name, rank, and unit of 53 IDF soldiers]


*   *   *

February 2, ‏2002

The Widening Circle of Protest


The week has been rife with violence on both sides, leading to increased fear and anger among Israelis, who see neither peace nor security emerging from our prime minister’s aggressive policies.


The letter by 53 reserve officers and soldiers saying that they refuse to serve in the occupied territories has swung open the door to criticism – of them and of the policies that drove them to this measure, as well.  More and more Israelis are beginning to question the occupation – its viability and morality.  The shameful face of Israel’s behavior was dramatically brought home to Israelis by a long news item on TV that captured some of the inhumane behavior of our soldiers at checkpoints through which Palestinians must pass.  It was therefore not surprising that a poll commissioned by Israel’s state-sponsored radio station reports that 50% of Israelis believe that government policy in the territories is morally problematic.


Cracks in the national consensus are becoming more and more visible. Additional evidence comes from the ever-widening circles of the Israeli peace movement and its supporters: 


Refusal To Serve – Heating Up

A full week later, the soldiers who refused to serve are still all over the media in Israel, as are their admirers and detractors.  An incredible one-third of Israelis, according to the previous poll, express support for them.  Conscious of the terrible damage this is having on the will to serve in the territories, the army launched an all-out offensive – they demoted the officers, stripped them of command posts, and launched a poster and petition campaign “It’s a privilege to serve in the Israeli army”. Mofaz, the most openly right-wing chief of staff in Israel’s history, publicly accused the soldiers of being a front for a political party. This effort to smear an authentic, grassroots effort with unfounded allegations only illustrates the severity of the blow to the army, and its sense of urgency about containing the damage.


Three support groups for the soldiers have sprung up:  Disabled army veterans are organizing one.  Yesh Gvul is preparing an ad that will say, “Mofaz is soft on those who commit [war] crimes, but bullies those who protest them”.  And, finally, several “wives of reserve soldiers” have begun a petition that says in part, “We are not willing to be pawns of a government of occupation and oppression, which corrupts the values of our loved ones and our nation, while our families pay the price.”


An unexpectedly warm defense of these soldiers came last night from Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel’s Security Services (and ex-Navy admiral), who responded in an interview on the main TV news of the week, “As far as I’m concerned, too few soldiers are refusing such orders.  For example, [an order] to shoot an unarmed youth is a blatantly illegal order.  I am very worried by the number of Palestinian children shot in the past year.”


What an enormous relief to read and hear this kind of talk, after so many months of denial!  Even if the soldiers are unable to garner many more signatures for ads, their efforts have already had enormous positive impact.


Women In Black And Others

Vigils of Women in Black and others are growing all over Israel.  We had 100 at the Jerusalem vigil today, up from 60-70 in previous weeks.  Though the absolute numbers are small, this may actually reflect an across-the-board 50% increase in Israelis who are fed up with the situation.  There are now 18 regular anti-occupation vigils throughout Israel, about half of them Women in Black.


The Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem was like a carnival yesterday, with a small, but very loud, group of extreme right wingers chanting in our faces, “No Arabs, no terrorism” (i.e., get rid of the Arabs).  Just two days ago, this slogan was ruled “incitement” and therefore illegal by Israel’s Attorney General.  When we asked the police to arrest the shouters for incitement, they switched to “No left-wingers, no terrorism”, claiming this was legal.  The police behaved in their usual manner:  Afraid to deal with the out-of-control right, they told the women not to “provoke” them, which made us laugh and take over an even larger area of the vigil square, so that everybody – police, fascists, and not-so-innocent bystanders – could see our signs more clearly.


Adding to the ruckus was a religious man blowing a ram’s horn, traditional Jewish instrument for momentous events – blowing “at” us, not “with” us. But only 50 feet away the honor of Orthodox Jewry was upheld by the “Oz VeShalom/Netivot Shalom” peace movement, making their own proposal for compromise:  “We’ll give up settlements, if you give up the law of return.”  And a block away from all this was a group of university students with a simpler message:  “Get out of the territories now!!!”


Although the police threw down obstacles to prevent our mass rally from happening tonight, they will not prevent us from holding it this coming Saturday night (Feb.  9), sponsored by a wall-to-wall coalition of peace organizations.  The only major group missing is Peace Now, apparently because our statements about “war crimes” and “refusal to serve” are beyond what they are willing to say at this stage.  On Tuesday, they plan to launch their own “Leave the territories” campaign.  And none of this mentions the ongoing human rights work carried out by B’Tselem, HaMoked Hotline, Physicians for Human Rights, and some of the abovementioned organizations. And just I finished writing that sentence, I had a call from a woman in the northern Galilee area of Israel, saying a large group there wants to organize for protest; how do they begin.  The circle is widening.


The Threat Of Peace

Our government, of course, digs in even deeper when faced with the ugly threat of peace initiatives.  Just one illustration:  Permission to enter Ramallah was denied to Knesset Speaker Avrum Burg, who was planning to bring a message of peace to the Palestinian parliament.  I myself have no objection to the trip, said Mr. Sharon, but the Security Services said no.


Finally, a word about Wafa Idris, the 28 year-old woman who exploded herself and more than a hundred Israelis on the main street of Jerusalem this week.  Just before she detonated the bomb, Wafa entered a shoe store, looked around, motioned away a saleslady, walked out of the store, and then…boom.  Why didn’t she do it in the store?  Did she decide that too few people were inside to make it worthwhile?  Or was she unable to pull the cord, having met the eye of another human being?  All killing is horrifying, terrorism even more appalling.  The question we should be asking is:  Why would anyone become a terrorist, especially a woman, a paramedic, trained to save lives?  What could drive such a person to extremes?  Appalling and unjustified as her behavior was, the question has an answer, and we must face it.


Addendum:  Since sending out “The Widening Circle of Protest”, many other peace actions have happened in Israel today.  Peace Now held two large protests this evening, one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv.  Below you can read about the dramatic action by Ta’ayush today in Ramallah.  And some Israelis made home-made “End the Occupation” signs and went to stand along a highway near their home…and people actually stopped to join them.  Something good is happening in Israel, at last.


*   *   *

February 10, 2002

Imagine All the People


We knew there would be a big turnout for the peace demonstration last night just from the deluge of pro-peace ads in Ha’aretz the day before – page after page of statements and petitions, all critical of the occupation.  Some excerpts: 


        There is a choice!”An expanded new list of 200 combat officers and soldiers who refuse to serve in the army of occupation.

        “There’s a limit!”  Support for the new soldiers, and the names of others who have consistently refused to serve, placed by Yesh Gvul.

        “We support the soldiers who refuse to serve the occupation” – a petition placed by civilian supporters.

        “Peres, you are a collaborator in war-crimes!” placed by Gush Shalom.

        “Do not say ‘we did not see, we did not know’ – the price of keeping the territories” – placed by the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions.

        “A Recipe for National Suicide” – placed by a private citizen.


And a huge, blood-red ad, “The Occupation is Killing Us All”, signed by the 28 organizations that came together to hold last night’s impressive rally in Tel-Aviv (full list below).


This was the largest pro-peace rally since this Intifada began in September 2000, with an estimated 10,000 participants – Jews and Arabs from all over Israel filling the large Tel-Aviv Museum plaza.  The mood is clearly swinging in Israel, and the homemade signs of people who had not attended a demonstration for years reflected the new thinking – “Stop Sharon before he kills us all”, “More conscientious objectors!”, “Occupation itself is a war crime”, and all permutations of “Share Jerusalem”, “Dismantle Settlements”, and “Bring our soldiers home”.


By the time veteran peace activist Yehudit Harel opened the ceremony, the crowd was a mass of people amazed and buoyed by each other’s presence, with a great deal of hugging by people glad to be sharing the moment.  And then Yehudit’s opening words in fluent Hebrew and Arabic set the tone for the entire evening – we Israeli Jews and Arabs together will no longer abide the crimes that the Israeli government is carrying out.  “There is only one flag held aloft here today,” said Yehudit, “and it is the black flag of pain, mourning, death, bereavement, and the immorality of war crimes that are being committed in our name.”  At her words, hundreds of black flags were raised high by the crowd, symbolizing the statement made years ago by an Israeli court that if a military order has “a black flag of immorality” hanging over it, the order must be refused.


This was a rally in which the young men who refused to serve in the army of occupation were the heroes of the evening, receiving ovation after ovation at every mention.  “I once disagreed with refusal to serve in the army,” said Uri Avnery to the crowd, “but today I salute those who will not serve.  Refusal is the beginning of the end of the occupation.”  Some of these brave young men have been stripped of their command, demoted, and face court martial, but continue to answer to their conscience.  “How can we serve in an army that kills children?” asked Yishai Rosen-Zvi, an Orthodox tank corps sergeant in the reserves, “How can we serve an army that demolishes homes, does not allow the sick to get medical attention, seeks to humiliate an entire population, and reduces them to hunger and poverty?”


Between speakers and sometimes during them, the crowd broke into chanting of familiar slogans:  “Fuad, Fuad, Minister of Defense, How many kids did you kill today?”  “Occupation, No!  Peace, Yes!”, “Money for the poor, not for settlers!”


It was a rally in which the stage was shared by Arabs and Jews, women and men, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, young and old, religious and secular.  Distinguished elderly author Sammy Michael pointed out the futility of the ongoing occupation:  “Death is not a threat to people who willingly give their lives for a cause.”  And Shulamit Aloni, former government minister and perennial conscience of Israel, called out her message of hope, “All of you here today are the harbingers of a mass movement that already has begun.  You will be the teachers of democracy to this government.  You will set an example of morality.  We shall clean out the crimes of this country and fill it with peace!”


There were many moments that brought tears to my eyes last night.  I will tell you of two:  Famed singer Ahinoam Nini (known as “Noa”, I believe, to her American fans) took the risk of alienating her Israeli right-wing fans, and sang to the crowd a Hebrew, Arabic, and English version of “Imagine” by the Beatles:  “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one; I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”


And the other was the transformation of a beloved Zionist song “Ein li eretz aheret”.  Reciting this song in two languages, Hebrew and Arabic, suddenly infused it with new meaning:  “I have no other country to go to.  And even if the land is burning under my feet, this is my home.”  For the Arabs in the crowd, the song suddenly became theirs, too, and for the Jews, it meant a land we both love deeply.


I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.


Sponsoring organizations:

Association of Arab University Students / Baladna / BANKI / Bat Shalom / Coalition of Women for a Just Peace / Druse Initiative Committee / Du Siach / Gush Shalom / HaCampus Lo Shotek, Tel-Aviv University / Hadash Youth / Israeli Committtee Against House Demolitions / Kol Aher BaGalil / Kvisa Sh’hora:  Lesbians and Gay Men Against the Occupation / Left Forum, Haifa University / MachsomWatch / Meretz Youth / Monitoring Committee of the Arab Population in Israel / NELED / Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam / New Profile / Noga / TANDI / Ta’ayush:  Arab-Jewish Partnership / Tajamu Youth / WILPF / Women and Mothers for Peace (formerly Four Mothers) / Women in Black / Yesh Gvul


*   *   *

March 3, ‏2002

About Moral Backbone


So who’s winning?  It’s been a blood-soaked weekend:  Since Thursday, Israeli army killed 26 Palestinians in refugee camps (and 230 wounded), and Palestinian extremists killed 20 Israelis (and dozens wounded).  Add that together and you have a staggering amount of heartache, on either side.  Everybody’s losing.


Children on both sides, needless to say, were also killed.  A light has gone out, permanently, for these families.


As I watched the ultra-Orthodox walk around the area of the bomb in Jerusalem scraping stray bits of flesh off the sidewalk for later burial, two Israeli commentators explained that this bomb was revenge for the attack on the refugee camps.  This morning’s radio news, however, carried only the government spin:  The Palestinian bombing in Jerusalem last night would have taken place whether or not the Israeli army had invaded the refugee camps.  What are they saying?  Answer:  That our killing has no relationship whatsoever with their killing.  A theory of cause and no effect.


Do Sharon and his government actually believe that brutality will convince the Palestinians to give up?  Do the Palestinian extremists actually believe that suicide bombings will convince Israelis to leave the region?  There is little evidence to support the unusual theory of human nature held by either side.


Meanwhile, on the Israeli side, more and more people have begun to despair of the deepening sea of blood:


* Sharon’s popularity rating, as measured by the polls, has dipped under 50% for the first time since his election.  Smelling opportunity, a group of powerful businessmen and semi-political academics are brewing a new political party, intended to present a liberal alternative to the current Likud-Labor regime (liberal in the original sense – capitalist, pro-peace – it’s good for business – and quasi-democratic, meaning that women, Mizrahim, and minorities are excluded so far – to be welcomed by tokens when the electoral blunder is brought to their attention).


* The Saudi Arabian peace initiative is a wonderful opportunity.  Although Sharon will easily sidestep it politically, my hope is that his determination to brush it off will expose him to more Israelis as “not a partner for peace” – unwilling to negotiate territorial compromise of significance, even in exchange for Israel’s lifelong dream:  peace with all its neighbors.


* Israeli peace organizations and human rights movements have intensified their activity – marches, vigils, ads in papers, public campaigns.  A peace march last night organized by Peace Now, but attended by members of many other peace organizations, continued its rally, despite the bodies exploding a few streets away, the speakers stating boldly and courageously, in the Israeli reality, that the root of the violence is the brutal Israeli occupation.  In a few hours, another rally with the same message will take place in Tel Aviv.


* The number of Israeli combat officers and soldiers who refuse to serve the occupation has risen above 300, and continues to shake the foundations of belief that Israel has been engaged in an “enlightened occupation”.  The army has launched a campaign to delegitimize them, so far jailing two, but voices in support have also been sounded.


I’ll close with one such voice – an excerpt from an op-ed in today’s Ha’aretz written by Michael Ben-Yair, Israel’s Attorney General from 1993 to 1996, on the subject of occupation and whether or not the soldiers who refuse to serve in the army are indeed lawbreakers:


“…This is a harsh reality that is causing us to lose the moral base of our existence as a free, just society and to jeopardize Israel’s long-range survival.  Israel’s security cannot be based only on the sword; it must rather be based on our principles of moral justice and on peace with our neighbors – those living next door and those living a little further away.  An occupation regime undermines those principles of moral justice and prevents the attainment of peace.  Thus, that regime endangers Israel’s existence.


…It is against this background that one must view the refusal of IDF reservist officers and soldiers to serve in the territories.  In their eyes, the occupation regime is evil and military service in the occupied territories is evil.  In their eyes, military service in the occupied territories, which places soldiers in situations forcing them to commit immoral acts, is evil, and, according to their conscience, they cannot be party to such acts.  Thus, their refusal to serve is an act of conscience that is justified and recognized in every democratic regime.  History’s verdict will be that their refusal was the act that restored our moral backbone.”


May it restore our moral backbone, amen.


*   *   *

March 14, ‏2002

Time to Help


Israel is my country, but I do not recognize it these days.  Here is an email that just arrived from Zahira Kamal, a Palestinian woman who is truly committed to a peaceful future between our peoples: 


Dear friends, I am calling all of you for an urgent action to stop the Israeli attack against our people and to allow us to evacuate Palestinian injured people who are bleeding in the streets of Ramallah to the hospitals.  The Israeli army is not allowing doctors and the ambulances to move and give the needed medical aid to them.  Please do something, you might give them the chance to live.  Looking for your immediate support, Zahira


This is just one of many desperate appeals that have come across the channels all day, together with reports of other inhumane acts carried out by the Israeli army.  These acts only feed hatred, extremism, and subsequent retaliation.


Israeli peace and human rights activists have been working at a frenzied pace at every level – trying to extend specific aid where needed, while trying to get the Israeli public to understand that violence is only the symptom, but the underlying disease is ‘occupation’.  It’s very hard to think about the disease when the symptoms – bloodshed, death of loved ones, constant fear – are so palpable.


On the positive side are today’s UN Security Council Resolution calling for a 2-state solution and Kofi Annan’s calling the occupation “illegal”.  Most important, Israeli public opinion is slowly changing.  For details, see


Here are a few ideas about how to help: 


1.      Tell your government leaders to intervene to end the bloodbath at once, and then to work on bringing the occupation to an end.  If you’re a Jewish American, say so.  The US Consul General in Jerusalem told a group of us last Friday that US Jews are key to the shaping of US policy in the Middle East.  If you are silent, then AIPAC is speaking in your name.


Call:  George W.  Bush (202) 456-1414. Colin Powell (202) 647-6575. To call your congressperson through the Capitol switchboard, call (202) 224-3121.


2.      Write a letter to the editor of the newspaper you read and express your views.


3.      Spread information about the situation to sympathetic friends, and ask them to speak up.


4.      Support organizations that are working to turn the situation around:  For humanitarian aid, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society or Physicians for Human Rights – Israel  To support work inside Israel to change people’s minds:  Many organizations are doing important work now; find a longer list at


The situation is shocking.  We need help to bring this horror to an end.


*   *   *

Background:  I returned to Israel in the wake of a bloodbath of Palestinian terrorism inside Israel followed by a bloodbath of Israeli military terrorism inside the West Bank.  Jenin became the most famous, but killing was horrific throughout the territories.


April 9, ‏2002

After the Outrage and Tears


I just returned to Israel from 2 weeks abroad, and took 2 more days to get a perspective on what I see and hear, which I would now like to share with you: 


First, the overwhelming picture before us is of death and destruction wrought by the Israeli army in the Palestinian cities, Jenin above all.  In addition to the hundreds killed and thousands wounded, we have irrefutable evidence that the Israeli army has barred ambulances from evacuating the dead and wounded, has bulldozed homes in large numbers (sometimes with the families still inside), and has withheld access to water, electricity, and phone communication for periods of a week and more.  Can you imagine life with no water, while men, women, and children are bleeding to death around you?  And finally having to bury the corpses in an empty lot nearby, after days of keeping them at home?


These go well beyond the ongoing acts of brutality, mass arrests, vandalism, theft, and humiliations, which are also rampant.  A senior officer was quoted in Ha’aretz today as saying, “When the world sees pictures of what we have done there, it will cause enormous damage to us.”It’s no wonder that the media are not given access.  Listening to the report from the field at the emergency board meeting of B’Tselem last night, I was not the only one with tears in my eyes.


This is no time for analysis, although I have much to say:  About the complicity of Peres, about the appalling anti-Semitism unleashed internationally by legitimate anger at Israeli, and about how horrifying terrorism in Israel and the so-called “war against terrorism” in the US have given license to what is happening.  Introduce Bush-Cheney-Rice-Sharon-Mofaz, and the recipe for Violence-Begets-More-Violence is complete.  Today’s killing of 13 Israeli soldiers in Jenin only drives home the tragic futility of Israel’s military might.


Rather than analyze, this is a time to act.  Here in Israel, the peace and human rights movement is working tirelessly on every imaginable front.  Soldiers who refuse to serve the occupation are going to jail; convoys of food and medical supplies hastily collected have been distributed and more are being collected; human rights workers are risking their lives to monitor action; peace activists have braved hailstorms of teargas and stun grenades in facing army checkpoints; foreign activists have served as human shields throughout the territories.  In my history of activism, I recall no parallel sense of urgency, in which lives and daily bread are being set aside to pursue a cause.  But I also recall no parallel feeling that a calamity of our own making is unfolding before our eyes.


I implore you to take action of your own.  Contact relevant officials.  If you’re Jewish, make a point of saying that.  Tell them: 


1) International monitors must be dispatched to the region at once to end the terrible violence.

2) The root cause of the conflict is the Israeli occupation of the territories.  This must come to an end.


Other things you can do, even if you have limited time: 


         If you have just 1 minute to give, forward this letter to others on your list.

         If you have 10 minutes to spare, write a check to the organization of your choice (see the links at for a few suggestions).

         If you have 20 minutes, call, fax or write (make it brief!) any of the officials below.

         If you have an hour, write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper (brief and from the heart).

         If you have more time, get involved.  See “Get Involved – Find an Organization Near You” at for some suggestions. If you’re an American Jew, join the Tikkun Community ( or the newly formed Brit Tzedek v’Shalom – Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace (


Whatever you can do is valuable.


Finally, I can’t help but note that Israel marked Holocaust Memorial Day today.  When will we finally extricate ourselves from this trauma and apply ourselves to instilling its true lesson, that of tolerance?


*   *   *

April 15, ‏2002

Adding Cruelty to Injury


I have wanted to write this story to you since Saturday, but it’s not yet over.


On Saturday, a large group of us (at least 5,000 though the Israeli media reported 3,000) joined a convoy organized by “Ta’ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership” to bring humanitarian aid to the devastated town of Jenin.  People poured out their hearts and pockets, and an amazing 31 truckloads of water, food, medicines, blankets, and clothes were collected.  Thanks to the generosity of the Urgent Action Fund, we in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace were also able to purchase and add a very large quantity of sanitary napkins, diapers, and wet wipes.


We were a mixed group of Arabs and Jews, women and men, from a dozen or so Israeli peace organizations, and we gathered at a highway junction in the Jezreel Valley of Israel.  It was a hot Saturday, but we loaded the trucks and walked the final 2 miles to the border where the Jenin checkpoint is located.  This was quite an impressive array of peace activists, carrying signs and chanting slogans as we walked along the pastoral country road.  The loudest chants came when we passed a military camp.  As soldiers came to the fence to watch the “parade”, marchers began to chant at them “The occupation is terrorism; refuseniks are heroes”.  It rhymes in Hebrew, but could not have been amusing for them to hear.


When we reached the checkpoint, Ta’ayush representatives negotiated with the Israeli army to allow the goods to enter.  The presence of thousands of us right there was a good source of pressure on the army, and finally the last of the trucks passed through and were met by our Palestinian colleagues.  Our job done, we all went home.


Then the news began to arrive:  The Israeli army did allow the trucks to pass through, but were keeping them at the checkpoint.  Thus, despite the critical situation inside Jenin, the Palestinians were not allowed to bring in these desperately needed supplies of food and water.  Ta’ayush lawyers and activists did everything in their power, and finally the army announced that it would allow UN trucks to move the goods.  The UN was contacted, and they allocated 2 trucks to the task.  The problem is, 2 trucks can remove only 30 tons a day, and 300 tons await transport.  (This includes an additional 10 truckloads from a previous convoy, also held up.)  At this rate, it would take 10 days…and untold further suffering.


We’re still working on increasing the transport capacity.  Meanwhile, on this evening’s state-sponsored TV program, an Israeli army spokesman, when asked about the distress of the Jenin residents, said that the army is “making every effort” to allow in humanitarian aid.  To illustrate, he showed a film clip of our march on Saturday and a soldier “directing” the transfer of goods through the checkpoint.


This is the face of cruelty, and its cover-up.


*   *   *

Background:  A gay journal asked me to write something about this subject, though I have no idea where (if at all) it was published.


April 24, ‏2002

Lesbians and the Israeli Peace Movement


I feel proud as a woman and a lesbian to be part of peace and human rights activism in Israel.  In fact, women in general, and lesbians in particular, have been at the forefront of this work.  Israeli women not only comprise the largest part of the peace movement here, but the message of Israeli women’s peace organizations has always been more progressive.  The earliest joint political agreements between Israelis and Palestinians were hammered out between women on both sides.  The mixed gender movements caught up much later.  The actions of Israeli women’s peace organizations have always been varied, creative, and often daring – involving high-risk actions and sometimes civil disobedience, in defiance of laws we consider unjust and oppressive.


Lesbians are very visible in this movement.  The two founders of the Coalition of Women for Peace, composed of 9 women’s peace organizations, are lesbians, as are many of the activists.  Lesbians are highly visible in Women in Black.  The executive director of Bat Shalom is a lesbian.  And if you look around at any organizing meetings of any of these organizations, lesbians provide a strong, central voice of leadership.


Last year, a group of Israeli lesbians founded Kveesa Shchora [black laundry]:  Lesbians and Homosexuals Against the Occupation.  In their first action, this group marched in last June’s gay pride parade dressed in black and carrying signs “No Pride in Occupation”.  They also carried signs saying “Dyke LaKibbush”, a play on words of “Dai LaKibbush”, which means “End the Occupation”.  In recent days, this group also staged a brave effort from within Palestinian homes in Jerusalem to prevent the Israeli army from destroying them, although they were forcibly evicted and the homes destroyed.


While there has been horrible violence on both sides in this region, and none of it is acceptable, we must address the root cause of this violence, and that is the Israeli occupation.  The oppression of the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation is untenable.  As lesbians and women, we have a special sensitivity to oppression, and therefore place ourselves at the heart of the movement to end the occupation.


*   *   *

April 28, ‏2002

Sharon and the 1/4 Cup Full


Sharon seems to be our worst nightmare come true, but he’s not nearly finished.  Since this Intifada erupted, over 1,700 Palestinians and over 400 Israelis have been killed, with some 35,000 Palestinians and 4,000 Israelis wounded.  So far.  The terrorist attacks in Israel are horrible, but they have been used by Sharon to carry out deeds far in excess of “destroying the terrorist infrastructure”.  The Israeli army deliberately trashed the inside of every Palestinian institution that it did not entirely destroy – schools, charities, health organizations, banks, radio and TV stations, even a puppet theater…in addition to all the records of every government ministry.  In a few locations, Israeli tanks even rolled over mosques and cemetaries.  How many new terrorists did the army create as it “destroyed their infrastructure”?


The damage to Israeli society is another part of the nightmare:  the unapologetic racism (expelling Palestinians – the avowed plan of several cabinet members), the heightened militarization of our children (encouraged by schools to write thank-you letters and send packages to our soldiers), the deliberate lies in the media (humanitarian aid given to the refugees, when it wasn’t), the clampdown on criticism (an evening in honor of a famous, older singer cancelled because she supported the military refuseniks), and the ongoing portrayal of foreign protest against Israel as anti-Semitic.  And these are but single examples when many more could be given.


While all wars are violent and brutal, this war – compared with the others through which I have lived in Israel (Six Day, Yom Kippur, Lebanon) and the ‘first’ Intifada – has seen more brutal attacks on civilian targets, more flouting of international law, more looting by soldiers, more destruction of non-military property and goods, more humiliation of the other, and more deliberate cover-up – denial of access to journalists, human rights workers, and relief organizations; and opposition to the UN investigative commission – than any other.


It worries me terribly.  And Sharon has not said ‘no’ to the question of whether or not Gaza is next on his hit list.


And now, the quarter glass that is full: 

The peace march was called for 7 p.m. last night, and only a few hundred people had shown up by that hour.  It didn’t surprise me:  In the morning, a large peace demonstration had been held in Nazareth, and in the afternoon refuseniks had held a vigil opposite Prison 6 to support those brave men who were inside for having refused to serve in the army of occupation.  Who would have the energy for yet another big march and rally in the evening?


10,000 people, apparently, had the energy.  The slow march through Tel-Aviv streets was impressive, led by big banners proclaiming “The Occupation is Killing us All”.  Many loud contingents marched, and the presence of many Palestinian citizens of Israel could be heard in the mix of Hebrew and Arabic slogans.  The prize for most dramatic went to “Kveesa Shchora [black laundry]:  Lesbians and Gay Men for Peace”, who wore pink scarves over black clothes and walked chained to each other and with their eyes blindfolded, carrying placards “The media are keeping us in the dark”.


The crowd filled the Museum Plaza, and speaker after speaker – Jewish, Palestinian, women, men – gave impassioned pleas for ending the occupation and negotiating a just peace.  A particularly dramatic moment was hearing the voice of Dr. Moustafa Barghouti, president of the Union of Palestinian Medical Relief Committees (UPMRC), who spoke from Ramallah by cell-phone pressed up against the mike.  He received an ovation when he said emotionally, “Sharon has destroyed our homes, our schools, our shops, our hospitals, but he has not succeeded in destroying our unrelenting hope for a just peace, the state of Palestine side by side with the state of Israel.”  Rela Mazali struck a chord by declaring that women also refuse – to raise our children to fight in war, to live in a military-state, to support our partners or children who serve in the army.  In a country where the army is sacred, these blasphemous thoughts are a breath of fresh air.  Refusenik Idan Landau reported that 45 men are sitting in prison right now – an unparalleled number in this country – for refusing to serve in the occupation, with hundreds waiting to fill up more jails if necessary.  Idan said that the Israeli media do not tell the full story, and that if we ever saw the reality of what the army has done, “we would not have one moment of serenity”.


It was a moment of respite from the endless chainsaw of anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, anti-European propaganda that grinds out at us all day long, not just from politicians, but from hairdressers, teachers, talk-show hosts and callers, taxi-drivers (I’m off buses for the duration), neighbors, and…well, even some of my best friends.


So, it’s back to our separate peace actions tomorrow: vigils, aid convoys, checkpoint monitoring, guarding homes about to be demolished (until they are demolished), relief work, leafletting, petitions, newspaper ads, and our many individual acts of refusal – refusal to serve in the army, refusal to support violence as a way to solve problems, refusal to be enemies.  And if all we accomplished tonight was to remind each other that we are not alone, that too was important.


And a word of deep gratitude for all the hard work for peace that you do from outside the region.  We know that it comes from a place of caring.  Together, we shall overcome.


*   *   *

May 12, 2002

Tipping Point?


This week had its measure of horrors – Palestinian bombs in Rishon Letsiyon and Beersheba, the Israeli army re-invading Tulkarm and enforcing cruel curfews elsewhere – but the potentially worst scenario seems to have been averted – an Israeli invasion of Gaza.  The results of an attack on the Gaza Strip – one of the most densely populated regions in the world, with abysmal poverty and already unbearable living conditions – would have dwarfed the tragedy of Jenin.


What stopped Sharon from this invasion?  Commentators in Israel say that details of the action leaked by some generals and politicians gave the terrorists a chance to hide and/or booby trap the path of the army.  Or that Sharon didn’t want to anger the world again, having squandered some international sympathy by blocking the entrance into Jenin of the UN investigative team.  So instead of the attack and world censure, Sharon was granted $200 million more of US taxpayers’ hard-earned money.


Peace Activism

The week was also filled with activity from the Israeli peace movement.  Members of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace held a quiet but powerful conference, bringing together 200 leaders of peace and social justice organizations in Israel for strategy talks about the link between the occupation and poverty here.  As Israel pours money into settlements and “security”, the Israeli economy is plunged into deep recession, 10% unemployment, and the widest gap between rich and poor than any other developed country.  Several actions have already resulted (and others are being planned) under the general theme “money for the poor, not for occupation”.


The ranks of the refuseniks – soldiers who refuse to serve the occupation – are growing.  To date, over 450 have signed this statement, and hundreds more have joined Yesh Gvul.  Some have been jailed (including my daughter’s close friend – we’re proud of you, Amichai!) and then released.  The Israeli media now refrain from giving this phenomenon any publicity, as part of its policy of acting as cheerleaders for the government, rather than reporters of Israeli current events.


The Ta’ayush organization continued its cutting edge solidarity work, planning visits to a military camp deep in the desert where several thousand Palestinians are being held in “administrative detention” – no trial, no due process, no exposure of the evidence – under the accusation of being terrorists.  As the invasion of Gaza became imminent, Ta’ayush regrouped and went to Gaza in an effort to thwart that attack. Elsewhere, a brave group of Gush Shalom activists entered Ramalla to defend against attempts to expel Arafat, as rumors to that effect reached the public.


Peace Now

But by far the most encouraging event of the week was Peace Now’s rally last night in Tel-Aviv, as some 100,000 Israelis turned out to demand, “Get Out of the Territories Now!”  This was the largest rally since the al-Aqsa Intifada began 20 months ago.  (In fact, by the end of the rally, Peace Now announced that 150,000 were in attendance.)


The media have already begun to minimize it – saying there were ‘only’ 60,000 or that many people showed up, but were not enthusiastic.  This is not true.  Those of us who attended can celebrate what we saw with our own eyes – Rabin Square, that huge plaza in Tel Aviv where Rabin spoke his final public words before being assassinated – was filled to overflowing with people from all corners of Israel who came to shout “Enough!” about where the Sharon-Peres leadership is taking us – deeper into tragedy and further than ever from peace.


One political highlight from last night:  Key speakers, including Labor party stalwarts, expressed their revulsion at the presence of the Labor Party in the government, and called for formation of a “peace party” – a social democratic party that would replace Labor in the next election.  I believe we will see this emerging in the coming months.


And several emotional highlights (at least for me):  Yaffa Yarkoni, the singer roundly condemned by the media and others for criticizing the army’s behavior and supporting the refuseniks, received an ovation when she appeared and sang.  In another, much different moment, the mother of a soldier killed two months ago declared that not a single settlement is worth one drop of blood of our children.  And, last, Yossi Beilin declared, “They are trying to kill Rabin twice.  Once we were unable to protect him, right here in this square.  But the current attempt to kill him, we will not allow to happen.”


Last night’s demonstration was critical in terms of affecting a broad swath of public opinion.  This effort must be reinforced by actions throughout the world, as well as locally, by Israeli and Palestinian allies of peace.  The occupation can – and will – be stopped.


*   *   *

May 28, ‏2002

The Price of 35 Years of Occupation


In a week, we mark 35 years to the Israeli occupation of “the territories” – the West Bank, Gaza Strip, east Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.


Volumes and volumes have already been written about the price paid by Palestinians under occupation – the death of loved ones, lifelong injuries, irreplaceable property loss, traumatized youngsters, and so much heartache that will not be expunged for generations after the occupation (inevitably) comes to an end.


But the occupation has been destructive to Israeli society as well, and not only in terms of the tragedy of lives lost through terrorism or military service.  “Occupation corrupts”, we say in Israel, with reference to the moral deterioration of our society as a result of being the oppressor of others.  But there are additional ways that the occupation has taken its toll in Israel: 


      The troubled economy:  Israel is currently in a grave economic crisis – deep recession, severe unemployment (currently 10%), increasing poverty, widening socio-economic gaps;


      Under-funded social and environmental programs:  Cutbacks in the education of our children, healthcare, the special needs of the elderly and disabled, rational planning for water use, development of public transportation;


      Threats to democratic norms and values:  The abrogation of freedom of speech, media censorship and self-censorship, open expressions of racism against Arabs, dehumanization of the other; and


      The spillover of violence into Israeli society – the high rate of violence among schoolchildren, increased crimes of violence, and violence directed against women.


This list could easily be expanded:  What about the unbearable ease of pulling a trigger?  Last week, a security guard at the door to a Tel-Aviv disco who discerned a car being driven erratically toward him pulled his revolver and shot the driver dead before he could plow into the club with a cargo of explosive devices.  Clearly the guard is a hero.  But what if that driver had simply been drunk?


The next day, a soldier shot (but fortunately did not kill) a retarded man (Israeli) who looked like he may have been wearing an explosive belt under his unseasonably heavy coat and did not understand the demand to undo the buttons.  And a mother and her 12-year old daughter (Palestinian) were shot dead last week because they were running away from an exploding device, and therefore assumed (incorrectly) to have placed it.


In the coming weeks, Israeli peace and human rights organizations will be marking this sad anniversary – 35 years to occupation – with a plethora of protest and demonstration.  Some will raise their voices about the social and economic burdens of occupation resulting from the massive hemmorhage of Israeli resources and energy.  Others will count the thousands dead, the tens of thousands maimed, the hundreds of thousands with hearts frozen by trauma and hatred.


The many prices of occupation are unbearable, and increasingly so.  Anyone who cherishes Israel or Palestine, or the innocent children who are growing up here, will do their utmost to bring this tragedy to an end.


*   *   *

June 9, ‏2002

Occupation and Social (In)justice


Yesterday I was particularly proud of being a member of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.  The movement did what was right, and said what should have been said.  Some 1,500 Israeli peace activists were enticed to hear a rather difficult message on a searing hot day – 99 degrees F. (37C)!


Yesterday’s demonstration marking 35 years of occupation focused not on the bloodshed or the rights of the Palestinians – though these points were also made – but on the price paid inside Israel for a costly and internally destructive military occupation.  In particular, the speakers, most social justice activists in Israel, pointed out that the Israeli peace movement, heavily Ashkenazi, had failed until now to address the other burning issues in Israeli society.


“You are always asking ‘Where are the Mizrahim in the peace movement’?” said Vered Madar, an activist in Ahoti [my sister], which seeks to empower working women at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.  “In fact, we have been asking, ‘Where are the Ashkenazim in the social justice movement?’”


More than a demonstration

The Coalition events began with a conference in early May examining the link between occupation and social justice issues.  It went into full swing last week with a media campaign in every local newspaper in Israel as well as the national press, calling upon Israelis to notice the internal damage wrought by the absence of peace with the Palestinians.  “The occupation is hurting us all,” said the text, “draining billions of shekel from us, forcing cutbacks in social and educational programs.”  What’s more, said these ads (and flyers and posters distributed in the thousands), the occupation inculcates the belief that “violence is the only way to solve problems”, and “allows militarism to run rampant in our lives”.


Yesterday began with buses and cars decorated with signs “End the Occupation” and “The Occupation is Hurting Us All” starting out in 4 locations throughout Israel, and slowing wending their way to Jerusalem, finally entering the city together.  (The Haifa group claims honors for best decorated bus, but we are not judging…)  Those already at the demonstration site cheered as the buses drove right up to the speaker’s stand and emptied their passengers.


We filled the street opposite the Prime Minister’s residence, and compelled the police to stop traffic there, although the commander threatened to “disperse us with force” if we did so.  Most women came dressed as Women in Black, but it was a colorful crowd, with many posters left over from Jerusalem’s first gay pride day, held the day before, and bearing provocative anti-occupation slogans such as “Free condoms, Free Palestine”, “Transgender, not Transfer”, and the simple “Dykes and Fags Against the Occupation”.  Bless Kvisa Shchora [black laundry] for their ever-imaginative and defiant resistance to the combined oppressions of occupation, social injustice, and homophobia.


Four of the planned speakers were women in their 20s, and all are grassroots activists – Nabeha Morkus, a veteran Palestinian activist from a village near Acre; Vered Madar, a young feminist-Mizrahi activist in Ahoti; Ruth Elbilia, whose parents from Morocco were shunted to the slums of Beit Shean; Clarina Spitz, who grew up in a poor neighborhood of Jerusalem to immigrants from the Caucasus and recently finished the army; Daphna Strumza, a third year medical student and activist in Kvisa Shchora; and Yana Knopova, a Russian immigrant now here 6 years and a Haifa University student.  “It’s a shame,” said Yana, “that Russian immigrants from a totalitarian society fall into the arms of a militaristic society, reinforcing those values.  And it’s a shame that all Russian immigrants are assumed to be right-wingers.”


The crowd included many internationals who had come to express solidarity, and were invited to speak – representatives from peace organizations in France, Belgium, Japan, and elsewhere.  Perhaps most moving was a man from Algeria, who spoke in both French and Arabic, and compared the liberation movements in Algeria and Palestine.


The sounds of silence

The moderator, Edna Toledano Zaretzki, a Coalition activist from the north of Israel, made space for everyone.  The feeling in the crowd was that this was a different kind of demonstration, one in which the people were speaking and saying what hurt them, and where we could work together on behalf of each other’s needs.  “We have had 35 years of occupation,” said Vered, “but 54 years of neglecting the social issues within Israel.”  This was also the first demonstration in Israel where someone signed for the deaf throughout the program, which sends another important message, especially at a time when the deaf are striking for their rights in Israel.


The price of occupation within Israel was also cited in the closing moments, when a Coalition member noted that the Israeli government is demanding “democratic reform” of the Palestinian Authority, while our own democracy has been severely eroded.  Three women, she said, turned down our offer to speak about how their jobs were in jeopardy because of their political views.  They were afraid that appearing at this demonstration would lead to being fired from their jobs.  And, last, a choir of Jewish and Palestinian children was scheduled to end the demonstration with peace songs in Hebrew and Arabic.  The conductor, however, decided not to have them appear – not because they disagreed with the message, but because they feared a loss of government support.  Meanwhile, the children of settlements have been bused to right-wing demonstrations in school groups and during school hours.


“Therefore, to end the rally about the price of occupation, we shall have the sounds of silence of the children’s choir that will not be singing here today.”


It was a somber demonstration, but a meaningful and poignant one, and one that set several important precedents.  Thank you to the four Knesset members who attended even though they knew they would not be asked to speak – Tamar Gozansky, Naomi Chazan, Anat Maor, and Roman Bronfman.  And thank you to the women who stood on stage and shared a small part of what is in their hearts.


*   *   *

June 15, 2002

Wanted:  Living Rooms to Ransack


Last Friday, while standing on the weekly vigil of Women in Black, I noticed a young man get out of the car and stand near us for a while, then chat with Ruth Elraz, one of the veterans of the movement.  A few minutes later, Ruth came over to me and asked me quietly if I wouldn’t mind having my living room ransacked.  I looked at her, and she handed me a paper that he had given her.  This is what it said: 


“Dear people of peace, My name is Ron ________ [withheld], and I am a fourth year student in the Department of Visual Communication at Bezalel.


As part of my final project, I am looking at the issue of the occupation, and using the living rooms of Israeli citizens as a central motif.  I turn the living room into an arena where I demonstrate what takes place during a typical search by the Israeli army – I overturn the bookcases and shelves, dump everything onto the floor, overturn all the furniture, and create disorder.  I also tie up the residents of the home in the usual army way, all for purposes of the filming (which takes about an hour).”


I looked across at Ron, handsome and hip looking in jeans, a tight black t-shirt, and shaved skull, but looking shy and embarrassed about this odd request.  I continued reading: 


“The final projects in Bezalel will be seen by the public at large and covered in all the media.  I see this as a way to demonstrate the injustice of the occupation.  For the peace movement, this is a golden opportunity to present our views, views that are considered anti-patriotic during these militant times, and do not get into the media…


“Respectfully, with blessings for peace now, Ron”


More shocking than Ron’s idea is the shocking reality in which it is rooted – this kind of search and destroy mission is carried out on a daily basis in many homes throughout the occupied territories.  Ron will not (I imagine) demonstrate the beatings that accompany the visits, when someone has the courage to protest them, nor the occasional tear gas.  These events are not recorded, except in the collective memory of the victims and in human rights publications; no one hears of them who relies on the Israeli or international media for information.


The Israeli army now enters at will every major city, every tiny village, in the occupied territories, ransacking homes and terrorizing families.  It can do this because it has tanks and troops surrounding each of the 8 enclaves into which it has split up the West Bank.  This system keeps the population of each area under siege, and prevents the free passage of Palestinians from one area to another.  This, as you can imagine, destroys all semblance of normal life – preventing access to medical attention, schools, jobs, and loved ones, unless these happen to be inside your home area.  Some Palestinians can obtain permits to move back and forth, but these must be arranged in advance and are short-term.  They do not allow for either routine movement or emergency needs.


It may be startling to hear, if all you do is rely on Israeli media or government sources, but did you know that 91 Palestinians were killed by Israelis in the last 40 days alone?  Yes, some of these died in combat with Israeli soldiers, but how about the 18 children under the age of 10?  the 5 who died at military ‘checkpoints’ trying to get access to medical attention?  or the 55 year-old man who was just trying to stop the soldiers from ransacking his home?


For me as an Israeli, both are awful – the ongoing terrorization of a civilian population and the dehumanization of us as a people by authorizing this behavior in our name…and then averting our eyes from the awful scenes.


I came home from the vigil yesterday and proposed to my family that we participate.  “Anyway we’ll soon be starting the expansion,” (our flat is now a tiny 45 sq.m.), “so everything will be disrupted anyway.  “Nobody said ‘no’, but that evening I looked around the living room and saw the books, the photos, the fruit bowl from my daughter, the bird sculpture from my parents, now dead.  As careful as Ron would be, these felt like too much to risk.


The Palestinians don’t have the choice.


Write to me if you live in Israel and feel you can participate, and I’ll send you Ron’s phone number.  And then, pick up the phone and tell your representative in the Knesset, Congress, or Parliament that you’re sick and tired of your government averting its eyes from what the Israeli army is doing in the territories.  Because it’s bad for Palestine, and terrible for Israel, too.


*   *   *

July 4, 2002

Spreading the Secret


One of the best kept secrets in Israel is that most Israelis are fed up with the occupation, and just want to get out.


According to June’s findings by Mina Zemach, Israel’s foremost pollster, 63% of Israelis are in favor of “unilateral withdrawal”.  In fact, 69% call for the evacuation of “all” or “most of” the settlements.


Mina’s numbers are corroborated by everybody else:  The Peace Index of Tel-Aviv University’s Tami Steinmetz Center found that 65% of Israelis “are prepared to evacuate the settlements under a unilateral separation program”.


A poll commissioned by Peace Now a month earlier revealed that 59% of Israelis support immediate evacuation of most settlements, followed by a unilateral withdrawal of the army from the occupied territories.


Here’s another “secret” revealed by Mina Zemach:  60% of Israelis believe that Israel should agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state as part of a peace agreement.


Is this too much good news all at once?  To temper it, here are a few more findings by Mina Zemach:  74% of Israelis say that Sharon is doing a good job and 60% believe that the Israeli army should be allowed to attack the refugee camps in Gaza.


To quote Mina Zemach’s closing remarks (at a lecture I heard her give in Tel Aviv yesterday, sponsored by the New Israel Fund), “Similar trends appear on the Palestinian side in surveys conducted by my Palestinian colleagues.  Both sides want their leaders to be very aggressive, but most are willing to have a peaceful, two-state solution.”


Mis-perceptions and Manipulations

The findings alone are impressively pro-peace, but there are two more amazing aspects, in my opinion.  The first is that most Israelis are not aware that the majority want the occupation to go away.  To illustrate, I report an informal experiment conducted by peace activist Ron HaCohen in his Tel-Aviv University class.  When asked what opinion the students believed was most common among Israelis, they guessed “dismantle most” or “dismantle only a few” of the settlements.  Little did they suspect that the category “dismantle ALL the settlements” was the one most commonly chosen.  Ron’s students guessed that the Israeli public was much more pro-settlement than it actually is.  Most people, I believe, feel this way.


The second amazing aspect relates to the fact that the government can get away with ignoring this information.  To quote columnist Hannah Kim in yesterday’s Ha’aretz, “This has been and still is one of the great mysteries:  How is it that there is no political expression of the fact that most of the Israeli public is in favor of evacuating the settlements?”  For months, I have been asking people their thoughts about this.  The following answers seem to sum up the views I heard: 


(1) First, Mark Mellman, one of the top political consultants in Washington, was not surprised.  He said that it’s not unusual for policymakers to ignore majority views, and that it’s our job to get them to sit up and notice.


(2) Ron HaCohen said, “Our main source of information about what people think, feel or believe is the mass media.  The media portray the Israeli people as much more pro-settlements than they really are.”


(3) Hanna Kim suggests that the power of the settlements is a combination of their integration into the Israeli economy [Boycott settler goods! – GS] and the effectiveness of their Knesset lobby.  This fits into what is generally known about the power of small, but determined lobbies…on many issues and in many countries.


To all the above, I would add the determination of the Sharon government to play deaf to this view.  When asked about abandoning even remote, isolated settlements, Sharon sidesteps the question.  When pressed, he recently responded that Netzarim – the Gaza settlement that everyone loves to hate – is as dear to his heart as Tel Aviv.  In other words, not a single settlement is negotiable.


I was privileged to hear a great panel discussion this evening, sponsored by Bat Shalom, on the subject of the “fence” that Israel has begun to erect between Israel and Palestine.  All the panelists (five Israeli and Palestinian women professors who are also peace activists) felt that the fence would conceal the real issue – the Palestinian suffering on the other side as a result of the occupation – and would replace a negotiated peace agreement.  Galia Golan also pointed out that the fence was being used to grab more land, as it was not being built on the Green Line, and that it ultimately would provide little protection, as mortars and rockets could go right over it.  Other speakers were Rima Hamami, Inas Haj, Naomi Chazan, and Tanya Reinhart.


The most impassioned plea of the evening came from Tanya, who begged the audience to listen to the polls and trust that people mean what they are saying.  “Now is the time to call for leaving the territories immediately, unilaterally,” said Tanya, “just as we did in Lebanon.”


I think she’s right.


*   *   *

July 16, ‏2002

Jenin Convoy


Perhaps some of you do not know that a convoy of supplies for women (sanitary napkins, diapers, and wet-wipes) went to women of the Jenin refugee camp recently, thanks to the efforts of several Coalition women from Bat Shalom – North.  They included Samira Khoury, Lily Traubmann, Yehudit Zeidenberg, Jessica Weinberg, and others (sorry I don’t know who else).


Below is part of the report I wrote to the Urgent Action Fund, which gave the money that made this possible.


Getting the Supplies to Jenin – and its Obstacles


It took almost two months for the full amount of supplies we purchased to actually enter Jenin!


The day we received word that our grant request was approved, we sought to purchase the supplies, only to discover that the wholesaler used for the convoys did not carry large quantities of sanitary napkins.  This was a Friday, which means in Israel a full day of rest for Muslims and half day for Jews, making it impossible to access other suppliers.  We decided to purchase and deliver as much as we could at once, and provide the remainder during the course of the week. A small amount was purchased and added to the convoy, scheduled to leave the following morning. It was important to us to send over even a small initial amount, to tell the women that we had not forgotten them and their needs, and that more would be coming.


The following day (Saturday, April 12th), women of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace co-sponsored a convoy to Jenin togethr with Ta’ayush. A total of 31 fully-packed trucks made their way to Jenin, most filled with water, food, medicines, blankets and clothes, and these were escorted by approximately 5,000 Israeli peace activists.  After long negotiation, the Israeli army allowed the trucks to pass through the checkpoint, where they were met by Palestinians prepared to accept them.  It was only later that evening that we learned that the army refused to allow the Palestinians to unload the trucks, but demanded that a UN vehicle move the supplies into Jenin.  Only two UN trucks were assigned to the detail, extending the time of supply to over a week.


Following the large convoy of April 12th, representatives of the Coalition identified a different supplier for the balance of the goods and made contact with women’s organizations in Jenin, with whom we had not been in touch since the violence had escalated in September 2000.  Making this contact was difficult due to the emergency situation in Jenin and breakdown of normal life – mass destruction and rubble, ongoing siege of the town, ongoing curfew confining people indoors, limited communications, and unwillingness of the Israeli army to allow our supplies to pass through the heavily guarded checkpoint.  After two months of delay, we finally coordinated our entry into Jenin on Friday, June 14.  The delay actually made it possible to have a more organized shipment of the goods into the area, as women’s organizations by then had resumed functioning.


The meeting was a very emotional one between the heads of Jenin’s women’s organizations and Coalition members.  It was held on the Jenin side of the checkpoint, at a gas station where previous meetings had been held, before the violence erupted in September 2000.  Our delegation – two carloads of women – was composed of both Jewish and Arab Israelis.  Their delegation – six Palestinian women and a baby – had to reach the site on foot, a walk of over an hour on the hot and dusty roads. The group talked for over an hour in a mix of Arabic, Hebrew, and English.  Here are excerpts from the report written by Yehudit Zeidenberg, one of the participants: 


“Last Friday, after many delays due to the closure, the army activity in Jenin, etc., we were finally able to meet.  A truck loaded up with sanitary napkins and disposable diapers, and we, Palestinian and Israeli women (who came in two carloads), passed through the Jalameh checkpoint in a convoy, after advance coordination with the soldiers there.  We drove to the gas station at the entrance to Jenin, where 6 women were waiting for us from various women’s organizations in the region. We greeted each other with hugs and kisses and tears in our eyes.


“We quickly found a few chairs and sat together. They thanked us for the contribution and asked that we convey to the others that the supplies are in very good hands. The sanitary napkins will be distributed to women in the refugee camps of Jenin, Nablus, and elsewhere. We told them about the work of the Coalition on behalf of peace, and they told us stories of survival and the struggle to exist.  They spoke in a rush of words, and their testimonies were painful to hear.  They said that they had heard about our resistance and our actions against the occupation and the cruelty.


“And there we sat in the abandoned gas station – listening to these brave women and hearing their clear, strong voices – they want to continue to meet with us, they want peace and still believe in it.  We heard stories of survival and courage of women in the Jenin refugee camp, they told us about children who still suffer from terrible trauma, about their efforts to support people who were left with nothing, about sharing and solidarity and much more.


“It felt so surrealistic sitting in that gas station, the stillness surrounding us, to recall that only a few years ago, at exactly this place, we had sat together, Israeli and Palestinian women in a large joint event, talking about our common plans and future.”  End Yehudit’s report.


When the trucks finished unloading their goods, the women embraced and parted.  It is not clear when we can meet again, although only a few miles separate us.  In terms of daily realities, the populations live on two distant planets.


Amazingly, these women of Jenin still believe in peace, despite the terrible things that have happened to them in recent months.  Some of this is due to solidarity efforts of many Israelis.  We profoundly thank the Urgent Action Fund for making possible this important action.


The following letter in Arabic was presented to the women who accepted the supplies:  


May 1, 2002

Dear sisters in Jenin,


The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace represents nine different women’s organizations in Israel that call for an end to the occupation, and a just peace with Palestine. We are Jewish and Palestinian women, all citizens of Israel, and we are engaged in an ongoing struggle on behalf of an independent state of Palestine side-by-side with the state of Israel.  We look forward to the day when the citizens of both countries will live in good neighborly relations with each other.


We in the Coalition have been horrified to hear of the recent actions of the Israeli army throughout the territories, particularly in Jenin.  With the help of an American foundation, the Urgent Action Fund, we have been able to purchase for you these supplies for women and infants, and we hope that this will be helpful to you.


We extend to you our solidarity.  We also pledge to continue our efforts until the occupation ends, and both nations live in peace with each other.


In solidarity, The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace


*   *   *

August 6, ‏2002

From the Peace Front in Israel


On the one hand…

On the one hand, things have gone from bad to worse:  On the Israeli side, we have terrorism that spreads tragedy from house to house, family to family, striking at random and eating away the desire of many to make peace with the Palestinians.  And on the Palestinian side, we have a level of persecution that replaces normal life with tanks pointed at doors, preventing innocent people from getting to jobs, schools, doctors, food.  A quarter of the Palestinian children in the territories are malnourished, according to figures just released by the US Agency for International Development.  And if you need dialysis, chemotherapy, a baby delivered by Cesarian, or just treatment of a toothache – curfews and closures make all that impossible.


To add to the bad news, we have the unholy syzygy of George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon in simultaneous office, both spinning their brutal deeds as a ‘war against terrorism’.  Will striking back at the terrorists lead them to set down their arms and apologize?  It amazes me that Israelis don’t yet see the futility and counter-productivity of our invasions, sieges, and curfews.  Fear and revenge draw a veil over our vision.


On the other hand…

The Israeli peace movement plods on, knowing full well that we can only chip away at the edges, not get to peace, so long as Sharon remains in office.  Here are a few nuggets of news from a busy summer: 


Refusal Movement:  Army officers and soldiers continue their refusal to serve in the occupied territories, and pay the price of imprisonment and public censure.  The Supreme Court is still weighing the request of David Zonshein (co-founder of the ‘Courage to Refuse’ movement) for a full court martial, in which he wants to put the occupation on trial to justify his decision not to serve.  Meanwhile, a prestigious rabbi in the settlers’ movement publicly declared that such refusers are worthy of death, thereby declaring open season on them by any self-appointed implementer of God’s will.


War Crimes:  On Sunday, the Israeli army disclosed the fact that letters had been received by several senior army officers, sent by the Gush Shalom peace movement, telling them that some of the military exploits they had bragged about in the media are war crimes and punishable by international law.  The army was incensed and the media were vicious.  Interviewers called them “informers” and one compared them to those who had turned in fellow Jews during “dark moments in history”.  Sharon instructed the Attorney General to investigate the legality of threats that seek to deter officers from performing their duty.  Bravo, Gush Shalom!  If only this does deter some from performing their duty!  May these letters instill the fear of prosecution for war crimes into the hearts of Israeli soldiers!


Settlers – no longer an obstacle to peace:  Peace Now has published a very important survey revealing that almost 80% of the settlers moved to the territories for economic reasons, not ideology or religion.  Most said, in fact, that they would return to Israel if compensated for their loss of property.  This survey completely confounds the right-wing threat that evacuating the settlers would lead to civil war in Israel.  Only 3% said they would take up arms to avoid leaving.  It is crucial to spread this information.


Women’s peace movement:  Women peace activists have had a very busy summer, highlighted by the Women Refuse campaign.  This subversive movement, launched by New Profile, calls upon women to stop cooperating with militaristic solutions, and to oppose the participation of their loved ones in military actions.  “We refuse to be part of the machine that promotes war and sustains occupation…We refuse to be enemies.”  Machsom Watch women are monitoring checkpoints at the crack of dawn, and deterring soldiers from brazen acts of humiliation.  And the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace held 2 days of seminar to a packed house, where many political analysts predicted elections next spring, half a year earlier than planned, as the Sharon government flounders on its handling of Israel’s economic crisis.  Now the object is to create a decent – and electable – alternative.


Humanitarian aid:  Many peace and human rights movements have joined together to rebuild demolished homes, bring water to the Negev Bedouin, refurbish a school in the unrecognized Arab village of Ein Hud, provide support for a summer camp in Jenin, and prevent the passage of some particularly anti-democratic bills in the Knesset.  Speaking of humanitarian needs, many Palestinian homes in Hebron have not had water in their faucets for months…though the settlers still enjoy their watered lawns and swimming pools nearby.


Finally, a troubling story from B’Tselem:  A fieldworker of 10 months in this prestigious human rights organization was arrested by the Palestinian Authority and charged with collaboration with the Israeli Shin Bet (secret services).  After prodigious efforts, B’Tselem managed to meet privately with him in jail, where he admitted the charges.  B’Tselem issued a statement saying that if the charges are true, the use of human rights activists by the Shin Bet “is very grave and could endanger both the work of B’Tselem and the lives of its investigators”.  It also demanded that he be given a full and fair trial by the Palestinian Authority.  One wonders:  Did the Israeli Shin Bet deliberately seek to harm B’Tselem’s good name by recruiting one of its workers?  Did the man really collaborate?  Or was he persuaded to “confess” as part of a plea bargain, lacking hope that he would get a fair trial?  One thing is certain:  Once a confession is made, this man is no longer safe, perhaps not for the rest of his life.  Mercy on his soul.


*   *   *

August 10, 2002

From Jerusalem to Bethlehem Today


Most of us who marched toward Bethlehem today came back home in wet clothes and disappointed at not having entered this Palestinian city.  And yet, to quote Tamar Gozansky – the only Knesset Member at the event – as we were starting out, “Events like this make you feel good about getting up in the morning.”


Activists came in chartered buses from all over Israel, but mostly from Jerusalem, as our cities are separated by only a few open fields…and a built-up checkpoint [=border crossing] manned by Israeli soldiers.  We were about 700 activists from Israel, Jewish and Palestinian, and a handful of internationals.  The organizers from Ta’ayush carefully briefed everyone about the importance of maintaining non-violence, even in the face of provocations.  The briefing was necessary:  At a previous checkpoint event, army resistance to our presence was brutal, landing over 20 activists in hospital afterwards.


The army knew we were coming, and had prepared themselves in large numbers.  A water-truck was also waiting, its turret directed right at us.  As we approached the line of border police who were blocking our advance with their bodies, they began to get very rough.  Several used excessive force, hurling activists back even though we used no force to get past them.  Suddenly the water truck opened fire and drenched most of the demonstrators.  I ducked behind a police car and avoided the dousing, though the car got well washed.


When the water did not dampen our spirits or forward drive, a much more lethal weapon emerged.  Suddenly horses with helmeted riders charged in from behind us and plunged directly into the crowd, the riders flailing at demonstrators with their whips, and driving the horses directly onto us.  It was terrifying to be charged by horses, and this did stop our further progress.  Several demonstrators were hurt, but none seriously, I believe.  One woman was taken to the emergency room and others sat down to tend their wounds.  It was infuriating to see this violent police response to our peaceful action (never used at right-wing demonstrations, by the way).  Finally, when the melee died down, we all sat down on the road and blocked the entry of more army vehicles to the site.


The next hour was one of waiting while appointed activists tried to negotiate our passage.  Meanwhile, one local and several international TV stations interviewed participants.  One “activist” grabbed the camera’s attention and shouted crazily that we were the beginning of a left-wing underground and that our next step was to assassinate the political leadership of this country.  The organizers quickly announced that these are not the views of Ta’ayush, which believes in democratic action and nonviolent methods.  The police hauled the guy off soon after.  I did a small investigation, and no one there knew who he was.  Which strongly suggests that he was a provocateur, planted by someone (the right? the Shin Bet?) to discredit this peace group.  Or simply deranged.


After about an hour of sitting on the hot asphalt in the August sun, we regrouped and began to walk arm in arm toward the main checkpoint into Bethlehem, where the border patrol and soldiers now awaited us in full force, plus water truck, and now four horses.  With the checkpoint in full view, we still could not get there, despite our steady chanting of “Peace – yes!  Occupation – no!” and other slogans.  We were stopped right there, and chanted endlessly while our negotiators talked to the army and police.


One of those chants was a rhymed version (in Hebrew) of “Our partners for peace are on the other side of that checkpoint”.  Did I mention that a crowd of Palestinians was waiting for us for hours on the other side, in the plaza of the Church of the Nativity?  This was meant to be a joint Israeli-Palestinian event, held with several Palestinian peace and political organizations.  The intent was to meet in Bethlehem and declare our joint commitment to a just peace between our peoples.


We could not get in and, needless to say, there had never been any hope of their getting out to us.  Too much closure.  But the mobile phones did get through, and soon we had speeches directly into the mike by two senior Palestinian officials on the other side: Muhammad al-Madani, the governor of Bethlehem, and Suliman al-Himri, a Fatah-Tanzim activist.  What they said was pretty similar: 


“Waiting for you here in Bethlehem are hundreds of Palestinians, some of whom have had their homes destroyed and their relatives killed.  And yet all of us have gathered to express our appreciation for your efforts to reach us, and our desire to end the bloodshed and reach a peaceful agreement between our two nations.”  And on their side, a speech prepared by the Ta’ayush group was read out loud in Arabic.  Probably with similar sentiments.


It was a very encouraging day.  Yet we had to close it with a moment of silence for Dafna Shpruch, veteran peace activist and Jerusalem Woman in Black, who had been seriously injured in the Hebrew University terrorist bombing two weeks ago, and died as we were on the way to the action today.


Said the moderator from Ta’ayush before we dispersed, “This call for peace – it will not be stopped.”


*   *   *

September 7, 2002

Update: Jerusalem Women in Black


For years, right-wing extremists have harrassed Women in Black at vigils throughout Israel, shouting racist and fascist slogans.  Although Women in Black in Jerusalem have consistently out-numbered those who come to harrass us, the right is particularly violent in this city, and therefore the Jerusalem police recently caved in to them and proposed a Solomonic course of action:  that we each demonstrate at Hagar Square on alternate Fridays.  Women in Black immediately rejected this proposal.  The right – represented by a man who has frequently been arrested for assault of Arabs and us – accepted at once.


The following week, thanks to an amazing response from supporters in Jerusalem, we were 160 women and men at the Jerusalem Women in Black.  As a result, the police declared that Women in Black could have the vigil that Friday, but that the right would have it the following week.


Jerusalem Women in Black met a few days later and decided the following:  We will continue to hold our vigil at Hagar Square every Friday.  Until further notice, however, the Jerusalem vigil would be held at 12:00 noon – one hour earlier than usual – thereby leaving the right without any reason for demonstrating – we would be gone.


In parallel, and after consulting with human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, we faxed a letter to the Jerusalem police with the following message (in Hebrew):  “Your proposal is totally unacceptable to us.  It is inconceivable that the Israel Police would forego protection of our right to express our views.”  We asked for a meeting with the police to resolve this matter ‘in good spirit’.


Yesterday, we held the vigil at noon, one hour earlier than usual.  Despite the change of hour and the fact that it was the eve of Rosh Hashana, almost 100 people showed up.  Several policemen present asked us if we had changed the hour.  We said that we had not, but that we were demonstrating at noon that day to show the police that we do not want confrontation with the right.  Nevertheless, we demand to continue at Hagar Square every Friday at 1 pm, as we have had for 14.5 years.


The vigil dispersed early, as planned, just as carloads of police arrived to handle the anticipated battle between Women in Black and the right.  The patrolmen looked surprised to see us leaving.  I sat in my car at some distance and watched as 7 right-wing demonstrators showed up at 1:00 p.m.; I counted more police than demonstrators.  I don’t know how long the right remained, but they must have felt bereft without us.


The coming vigil is planned for Friday at 12:00, even though the police ‘allow’ us to use the square at 1 p.m.  A small group of Women in Black will meet with the police this week to demand our rights.  If the right shows up at noon, that will strengthen our case they their only raison d’etre is our presence, and the police should protect our right to demonstrate at 1 pm.


Meanwhile, we ask women and men to join us this coming Friday, in black, at noon.

We ask veterans of the movement to call (or e-mail) Judy Blanc or me to prepare affidavits that we will need for the anticipated legal battle.


*   *   *

September 24, 2002

Solidarity with Victims of Sabra and Shatilla


I’d like to draw your attention to an article in today’s British newspaper The Independent.  The Coalition did not consider our act extraordinary at all, as it has been part of our ongoing work.  But somebody finally noticed.


Below is an introduction by Rela Mazali of the New Profile movement, and then the article itself, followed by our not-so-unusual statement that made the headlines.  The Israeli authorities have always kept close surveillance of us; we’ll see what they do now.


I’d like to thank our tireless friend and supporter, Ronit Lentin, for forwarding the following report.  Below, Robert Fisk reports on a letter from the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace to the survivors of the massacres of Sabra and Shatilla in Lebanon, on the 20th anniversary of the event.  The Coalition condemns the Israeli leaders who must be held accountable for these war crimes, first and foremost among them, Ariel Sharon.  Fisk calls the letter ‘astonishing’ and quotes reactions describing it as unprecendented in brave solidarity for the survivors.


As many of you may know, Fisk is a leading reporter on the Middle East, and one of a handful who refuses to toe the administration(s’) line. What you might be less aware of is the constant uphill struggle of the peace movement in Israel, and particularly the feminist part of it, to achieve visibility and turn its work into effective public knowledge.  For those of us who have been working for a real and just peace since before, and right through, the present Intifada, there is no doubt that the women’s peace movement has proved to be the leading, and steadily largest body doing and guiding this work.  When reports from both Israel and abroad repeatedly state that ‘there is no Israeli peace movement’, they not only erase us as individuals and organizations, and not only dismiss our difficult day-to-day efforts, they also actively detract from the potential effectiveness of our work.


We are fully and painfully aware that our action has not deterred Israel’s legally elected government(s) and its military from increasingly inhuman suppression of the Palestinian nation.  But it is precisely their interests that are served when our work is altogether obliterated, and Jewish Israeli society portrayed as unanimously supportive of government policy.  The existence of a stubbornly dissenting opposition, even if it is a largely extra-parliamentary one, is at least some grounds for holding onto hope, on either side and from afar.  The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace has taken numerous strongly non-consensual steps since the outbreak of the Intifada.  Its recognition by a journalist of the stature of Robert Fisk is a meaningful and precious asset towards achieving greater effectiveness.


Rela Mazali



Prosecute Sharon for war crimes, Israeli women say

By Robert Fisk in Beirut

24 September 2002


In an astonishing letter to the Palestinian survivors of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila camps massacres, nine Israeli women’s peace groups have told Palestinians in Beirut that they support their efforts to indict the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, for “war crimes’’ committed against them almost exactly 20 years ago.


The women’s letter, which was sent via the United States, has amazed the Lebanese lawyer representing the survivors of the massacre, for which Mr Sharon was held “personally responsible’’ by an Israeli inquiry. “It is a wonderful gesture,’’ Chibli Mallat said yesterday. “It is a wonderful message to receive in these very dangerous and violent times.’’


The letter, from the Coalition of Women for A Just Peace in Israel, speaks movingly of the suffering of the Palestinians in 1982. “Our hearts ache to recall the terrible massacre that took place in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps 20 years ago, which Israeli leaders allowed to take place,’’ it says. “We condemn the brutal murderers of your loved ones and we condemn the leaders who must be held accountable for these war crimes, Ariel Sharon above all.’’


A Belgian court ruled earlier this year that it could not indict Mr Sharon for the killings, but more than 20 survivors of the massacre, whose lawyers include Mr Mallat, are now appealing against this decision.


Up to 1,700 Palestinians were butchered in the massacre by Lebanese militiamen allied to the Israelis. Israeli troops surrounded the camps as the killings went on, but were told by their commanders not to interfere. Mr Sharon was Israeli Minister of Defence at the time and was forced to resign after the Israeli Kahane Commission condemned him and several senior Israeli officers for not preventing the slaughter.


The women’s letter recalls how the Palestinians were forced to flee their homes in 1948. “ We join you in mourning for those who were killed and maimed [in 1982] and we condemn those who are responsible,’’ it says. “We hope you will accept the sincerity of our words and allow us to stand in solidarity with you as we strive to build peace with justice between Israel and Palestine.’’


Mohamed abu Rudeina, who as a seven-year-old boy saw his father and other relatives murdered 20 years ago, described the Israeli women’s letter as a “moving act’’ that would greatly encourage other Palestinian survivors who are seeking justice for the deaths of their loved ones.


The specific mention of Mr Sharon’s name is likely to cause considerable discomfort to the Israeli Prime Minister, who hired lawyers to defend him in Brussels and who has not previously experienced any attempt by Israelis to indict him.


Mr Mallat said it was the first gesture of solidarity to the camp survivors from Israelis, 20 years after a lone Israeli, Emile Grunzweig, was killed by a hand grenade thrown into a crowd of protesters in Tel Aviv. “We regard Mr Grunzweig as an Israeli who died for Sabra and Shatila,’’ Mr Mallat said. “Now at last, we seem to have got support from Israelis about the terrible crimes against humanity which occurred in Beirut two decades ago.’’  


The letter we sent:


To the Palestinian community in Lebanon:


We, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace in Israel, write to you on the occasion of the twentieth year commemoration of the massacre that took place in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps. Our group is comprised of nine women’s peace organizations, whose members are actively working on behalf of peace with justice between Israel and Palestine.


We know that you have suffered greatly as a result of the war with Israel and ensuing occupation: You and your families were forced to flee during the 1948 war, and then, for generations, you have been consigned to live as refugees in other countries. In particular, our hearts ache to recall the terrible massacre that took place in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps twenty years ago, which Israeli leaders allowed to take place. We condemn the brutal murderers of your loved ones and we condemn the leaders who must be held accountable for these war crimes, Ariel Sharon above all.


We join you in mourning those who were killed and maimed, and we condemn those who are responsible. We hope that you will accept the sincerity of our words and allow us to stand in solidarity with you as we strive to build peace with justice between Israel and Palestine.


The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, Israel


*   *   *

October 4, 2002

Olive Picking for Peace


If your only sources of information about the Middle East conflict are media reports, you would undoubtedly never hear about the important work for peace that goes on here.


Despite the discouraging times, Israeli activists continue to struggle on many fronts.  I report here on just a few:


Women in Black continue the vigils throughout Israel – one hour every week, dressed in black and carrying signs ‘End the Occupation’.  It’s hard to imagine that we have been standing for almost 15 years, but we really have (my two daughters who vigiled with me as children are now grown women).  In fact, our numbers have increased in recent months, in response to organized assaults by extreme right-wingers in Jerusalem.  In testimony to the import of this international movement, an Israeli representative of Women in Black was invited to address the UN Security Council in a few weeks.


Ta’ayush: Arab-Jewish Partnership organized a major rally last Saturday to protest the growing racism and discrimination inside Israel against Arab citizens of the state.  This is critical, especially when our Minister of Education orders all schools to devote one hour of class time to studying the ‘legacy’ of assassinated politician Rehavam Ze’evi – a racist legacy that advocated the forcible expulsion of Israeli Arabs from Israel.  It’s no wonder that activists from both Ta’ayush and the Coalition of Women for Peace have engaged in artistic midnight forays to counteract a wave of racist graffiti.


Gush Shalom brought dozens of Israelis to the courtroom yesterday for the show trial of Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, demanding that Barghouti be brought to the negotiating table, not put on trial.  This courageous group continues to be threatened and harassed by Israeli political leaders, such as Knesset Member Michael Kleiner who called them “anti-Semites who are a cancer in the heart of the nation”.


There is a growing alliance of Palestinians and Israelis for a shared peace.  The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace just received a communication from the Palestinian Committee for Inter-Communication in Gaza, saying, “We convey to you our desire for peace and co-existence.”  And in tomorrow’s Arabic newspapers in the occupied territories, the Coalition is publishing an ad that says, “We extend our heartfelt solidarity during this difficult period.  We pledge to continue to educate our children and leaders that the Occupation and all violence must end, and that a just peace is the key to the well-being of both nations.”


It would not be hard to continue with reports from New Profile, Bat Shalom, Machsom Watch, Courage to Refuse, Peace Now, and many others, but I will just add the translation of a report by Yaakov Manor about yesterday’s (3 October) peace action in Kfar Yassuf:



Picking Olives for Peace

By Yaakov Manor


In the wake of ongoing attacks by settlers from Tapuah against the residents of the nearby Palestine village of Kfar Yassuf, and following several recent shooting incidents and the theft of olives, we decided to quickly organize help with the olive harvest.


This action was called by Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israel Committee Against Home Demolitions, but activists from many organizations joined in...


The first thing we saw at the entrance to the village were three mounds of dirt and boulders blocking the road – preventing vehicles from entering, and thereby forcing villagers to walk several hundred meters from the road to their homes, often carrying heavy packages.  The next thing was graffiti: “Death to Arabs”, presumably painted by the Kahanist settlers of Tapuah.


At the entrance to the village, hundreds of residents met and welcomed us, and many more joined as we walked through the village.  We quickly went to the olive orchard near the Tapuah settlement where the olive groves had been raided by settlers.  Palestinian villagers and Israeli peace activists set to work at once with great energy, out of fear, soon confirmed, that we would soon be interrupted by settlers and security forces.


At first, about 15 soldiers and police stood on the hill between us and the settlement, and allowed us to continue the harvest.  A short while later, some 20 settlers gathered above us, some of them armed.  The settlers began to advance toward us shouting and cursing.  At that point, the senior officer approached and requested that we leave the hillside to avoid clashes.  Since we had almost completed the harvest in that location, we complied.  A short while later, the district army commander arrived and demanded that we entirely evacuate the area on the grounds that it was a ‘closed military zone’… After discussing this with the villagers, we agreed to leave out of concern for their welfare.


Our request that the security forces disperse the settlers and allow the villagers to complete their harvest was jeeringly denied…  “Let them harvest their olives when there’s a Palestinian state”, said the commander.


Documenting this event were a Canadian TV crew and a reporter from [the Israeli newspaper] Yediot Aharonot.  An Italian TV crew arrived late, but interviewed the village residents and peace activists…The action was reported on the radio, and participants were interviewed on [Israel’s popular] midday radio news magazine.


We subsequently learned that the village has another large orchard to which they do not have access.  We decided to consider holding another action, and we discussed what to do in the event of attacks by settlers or reactions by the Israeli army.


We also decided to lobby Knesset members to use their good offices to enable Palestinians to harvest their olives in locations where they are threatened by settlers.

Yaakov Manor


The above report is a perfect example of how a small group of Israeli peace activists can act effectively to bridge the divide with Palestinians, and also work to change Israeli public opinion and affect policymakers.  All these groups deserve your support.


Despite these difficult times, more and more people on both sides have come to understand that violence is not a solution.  And it is important to keep the vision in mind:  Like every occupation in history, the Israeli occupation too is doomed to failure, and will come to an end sooner or later.  And at the end of that occupation, two vibrant states – safe, secure, independent of each other, and cooperative for the benefit of all – will inevitably emerge.


*   *   *

October 14, 2002

Olives – We Need Your Help!


Amidst all the killing, destruction, and wanton brutality, we would like to ask for your help with regard to the olive harvest – a tragedy-in-the-making for large numbers of people, which can be averted if we act immediately.


Olives are central to the lives of Palestinian families in the West Bank.  Almost half of all cultivated land is used to grow olives, and it is a critical source of income for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.


The olive crop is particularly important in a devastated economy.  Just yesterday, Major General Amos Gilad, Israel’s coordinator in the territories, conceded that 60% of all Palestinians live in poverty – on less than $2 a day! – although none, he added, are actually starving.  The US Agency for International Development tells a different story, reporting that the territories are “in the grip of a humanitarian crisis”, with a quarter of Palestinian children actually malnourished.


The olive harvest in Palestine runs from early October to late November.  In ordinary times, this is a period of bustling activity, when everyone sets aside other pursuits, returns to the family home, and works together to harvest the crop.


These days, however, the harvest cannot take place in many villages, especially those in proximity to settlements.  Beyond the deliberate destruction of trees that has happened over recent years and the ongoing constraints of closure, curfew, and gouged-out roads to prevent free movement, this year’s harvest has been marked by numerous attacks by settlers.  Shooting incidents are rife, leaving Palestinians fearful of entering their orchards.  Many have been wounded in these attacks, and one man was killed last week.  In other cases, settlers simply enter the orchards and systematically pick all the fruit from the trees.  No one stops them, not even the soldiers watching from the hilltops, whose defined job is “to protect the settlers”.


As in previous years, the Israeli peace movement has been organizing groups to join in the harvest – this weekend activists will be going to 3-4 villages in the West Bank.  But this does not even begin to meet the needs.  To really make the harvest possible for all Palestinians, pressure must be placed on the Israeli government to issue orders to the army to prevent the harassment of the Palestinian harvesters by settlers.


Will you take a moment to write?  A sample letter and addresses are given below.  If you live in Israel, join us this Saturday.


According to Maimonides, a revered Jewish philosopher of the 12th century, the very highest form of charity is making it possible for a someone to make a living.  This is an opportunity.


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October 20, 2002

Olive Picking in a Firing Range


Just a few corrections/additions to the Ha’aretz story below:


We were over 300 Israeli peace activists, not ‘dozens’, based on the number of buses that went out (amazing how many were willing to put themselves in harm’s way).  One Israeli man was slightly injured by a stone that ricocheted against him after being hit by a bullet.


The Palestinians face settler brutality on a daily basis, from shootings to inequitable water supply – 80% of the water from the aquifer in the occupied West Bank goes for Israeli use! 


Shooting continued sporadically for about an hour yesterday, just to prevent the villagers from harvesting their olives.  I cannot imagine anyone, no less whole groups of people, being that vicious.  And I cannot imagine an army that does not intervene.  It’s shameful.


Yesterday’s action was co-sponsored and co-organized by the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, the Committee Against House Demolitions, Gush Shalom, Peace Now, and Ta’ayush.



Ha’aretz, Sunday 20 October 2002


Settlers attack olive pickers

By Amos Harel and Arnon Regular


Dozens of settlers yesterday attacked West Bank villagers and prevented them from picking their olives by firing guns in the air and toward the Palestinians and dozens of peace activists who had thronged to support them.

The peace activists circumvented military roadblocks to join the Palestinians from villages south and east of Nablus, who for the past two weeks have been unable to pick their olives or till their land due to settler attacks. The activists bypassed military road barriers in private vehicles and minibuses, and arrived at Aqraba village, where settlers shot dead a Palestinian picking olives last week, and the villages Dir Elhatab, A-Asawiya, Inabus and Yasouf, near the Jewish settlements Elon Moreh, Yitzhar and Itamar.

The settlers, who saw the peace activists arriving, also headed toward the olive groves, shouting at the Palestinians to get out. The armed security officers came first, then dozens of settlers driving toward the Palestinians and activists in cars and dune buggies, followed by the women and children.

Arguments soon turned to blows and the settlers fired in the air and then aimed near the Palestinians and activists to get them to flee from the area. At least in one place, near A-Asawiya, shots fired apparently by Yitzhar settlers endangered the life of both olive pickers and activists.

Peace activists said the settlers were aiming and firing at them. Those who had fired were found and claimed they had coordinated the shooting with the army. IDF sources said the settlers’ security officer and other armed settlers were permitted to shoot in the air in two cases in the Itamar area – if the olive pickers were close to a settlement and if they wandered outside the plot the Palestinians were allowed to work in.

At no time did the activists and Palestinians approach the settlements’ borders and all the clashes took place in the Palestinian agricultural plots.

Army troops and the area’s military commanders were not prepared for the incidents and showed up at only some of them. The soldiers and policemen who did arrive were in many cases at a loss and confused. They tried in vain to separate the fighting sides and kept the Palestinians and peace activists away from the olive groves, but the violent clashes continued for several hours.

Tsali Reshef, MK (Labor) yesterday presented an urgent parliamentary question about the settlers’ violence and charged that police are deliberately failing to take action against them.

The Palestinians have had difficulty getting to their plots that are nearer to the settlements. Many are also afraid of tilling land close to their villages for fear of being assaulted or even shot.

Every day there are clashes between the settlers and Palestinians, often accompanied by gunfire and physical and verbal attacks on the Arab farmers.


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October 29, 2002

On the Streets of Israel and New York


I just returned from an intensive 4 days in New York and discovered – after catching up by phone and e-mail – that the frenetic pace of peace activism in Israel has not eased, and perhaps even increased.  Several updates:


Olive Harvest

The olive harvest, with Israeli and international solidarity, continues apace, despite ongoing settler attacks.  In response, the army first declared that the Palestinians must refrain from picking olives, then it rescinded the order, thanks to local activism combined with outraged messages from many of you.  Nevertheless, several olive-pickers were injured by settlers in recent days, and the struggle continues, much of it organized and led by Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta’ayush, and the ISM.  Activists from many organizations have pitched in, and a group accompanied the villagers of Khirbet Yanun as they returned to their homes, from which they fled last week after repeated settler attacks.  Writes Hannah Safran of the Coalition of Women for Peace, “If you’ve never been in a Jewish shtetl [Yiddish for “small town”] in Eastern Europe during a pogrom, why not try it now with home-made Cossacks.... you will never forget the event and your politics will regain its anger and zest.”


Settler violence against both Palestinians and soldiers (as the army attempted to remove new settler outposts) has had the useful by-product of again making settlers look like extremists and thugs among mainstream Israelis.  Not surprisingly, Defense Minister Fuad Ben-Eliezer finds this the propitious moment to call upon his party to vote against Sharon’s proposed new state budget on the grounds that the budget “gives too much to settlers and not enough to the poor”.  That’s certainly true, despite the demagoguery.  If the result is that the Labor party finally leaves the government coalition, we can expect elections before the scheduled date next November.  But don’t get your hopes up: The line of succession is dismal.


Other events

I missed many important actions this weekend, in addition to the olive-picking:


        An inter-organizational rally protesting the impending war on Iraq (in international solidarity).

        A Gush Shalom demonstration opposing the so-called ‘security fence’ – which grabs even more Palestinian land and seeks to further erase the border with the Occupied Territories.

        A Peace Now march marking 7 years to the assassination of Rabin, and calling for an end to the ‘government of settlements’.

        The opening of a moving exhibition of photos taken at checkpoints by Elisheva Smith, sponsored by Machsom Watch.

        The jailing of several courageous young men who refuse to serve in the territories.

        An action in the south Hebron hills region, where Ta’ayush activists walked kids home from school, kids who have not been allowed to attend during the long months of curfew.


This is a really frenzied pace for one weekend, as you can see.  Which is why the Coalition of Women for Peace took time out for a long day of strategic planning – to get perspective, prioritize our goals, and decide on the best strategies for reaching them.  I wish I could have attended.


In New York

Instead, I had the good fortune to be invited, representing Women in Black, to address the UN Security Council on the subject of women at peace negotiations.  This session was intended to spur compliance with Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates the participation of women in all decision-making, including negotiations for peace.  Also invited to speak were women peace activists from 3 other countries – Burundi, Uganda, and India – and one representative of the organizing group, a coalition called the “NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security”.  At the very last minute, the Syrian delegation, currently members of the Security Council, objected to a presentation by Israel, and others objected to a women from Gujarat, India, who (they imagined correctly) would be critical of the Indian government.  Despite two of us being ‘disinvited’, the lot of us filed into the Security Council conference room and seated ourselves opposite the 15 members (and their advisors) at the so-called “experts table”.  (It’s striking, isn’t it, that NOT shooting or throwing a bomb requires expertise.)


When Indira Kajosevic of the “NGO Working Group” delivered her remarks, she cleverly presented summaries of the talks that the Indian woman and I had prepared, so I didn’t feel altogether left out.  But as the Security Council delegates discussed the issue – oh, in complete agreement about equality for women, wouldn’t you know – I was sitting there wondering what would happen if I simply raised my hand, so I did.  Almost at once the Chair recognized me, which astonished me and nearly left me speechless.  After a fumbling beginning, I found my voice, distanced myself from the policies of the present Israeli government, talked about the accomplishments of women making peace with each other and the wisdom of including representatives of civil society (peace activists) at the negotiating table, and then said quietly that, actually, the conflict in the Middle East was not between Israelis and Palestinians.  I should have paused longer for effect right here, but I waited as long as I thought I could without closing the window of opportunity.  The conflict, I said, was actually between Israelis and Palestinians who long for peace, on one side, and Israelis and Palestinians who don’t want peace, on the other.  When I finished, the only speaker following me was the Syrian delegate, and – to tell you the truth, my heart started to pound just then so I didn’t hear a word – I was later told that my final words headed off the usual Syrian broadside against Israel.


The “NGO Working Group” had also done a great job of arranging a press conference, briefings of senior UN officials, and a public reception, so we did have opportunities to get the message across.  I also had the privilege of participating in not one, but two New York vigils of Women in Black – the so-called Wednesday and Thursday groups – and was moved to think of the large and spontaneous movement that is building across the globe.


Click here for the full text.  Many thanks to Ruth Linden for her help in polishing and paring it down to 5 short minutes.  I do think they got the message, though.


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December 27, 2002

A Protest Happening in Tel Aviv


Things are so terrible here, one could weep.  Or sit home and do nothing.  Or move to Tel-Aviv and get lost in the caf crowd – galleries, gourmet food, and a political party called Green Leaf pushing for the legalization of marijuana.  Now that’s one way to cope with reality.


So, we decided to bring reality into the heart of affluent, artsy Tel-Aviv, and to do it on their terms – using music, art, cinema, and street theater, all set into a mass Women (and Men) in Black vigil.


We were about 1,500 people from all over Israel as well as Europe and North America, most of us dressed in black and spread out on the five corners of one of the busiest intersections of Tel-Aviv.  Our twin slogans – ‘End the Occupation’ and ‘No to Racism’ – called out from every direction: white lettering on black smocks, black umbrellas, black banners, and the traditional black ‘hands’ of Women in Black.  (Thank you, Dita, for those great graphic items.)


The day was meant to convey a serious message, but the sudden bright, hot sun after a week of cold winter rains, our own need for respite from the horror, and the Tel-Aviv escapist state-of-mind all seemed to get the better of us, turning a protest demonstration into a protest happening, with action every few meters:


        Two drummers, doing Middle Eastern rhythms;


        Five “Raging Grannies” singing subversive political lyrics they had written to nursery rhymes and Zionist foot-stompers;


        A group from Portugal doing much loved peace songs with guitars and hand-clapping;


        Black Laundry: Lesbians and Homosexuals Against the Occupation with an art installation that defies simple description;


        Crates of olives and olive oil, packed into empty soda bottles, sold by peace activists that had helped in the harvest (ah, they taste best when you have picked them yourselves…)


        To counter the racist ‘Transfer = Security’ stickers that have sprouted all over the country, there were ‘Transfer = War Crime’ stickers, on the background of the yellow Jewish star that had been used by the Nazis during the Holocaust.


        The Fifth Mother Movement (carrying on the tradition of the Four Mothers Movement that got us out of Lebanon) sold shirts saying ‘War is not my language’.


But best of all was the public screening of the film ‘Jenin, Jenin’ (director Mohammed Bakri), an account of the actions of the Israeli army this spring in the West Bank town of Jenin.  The film had been banned by the Israeli censors, but showing in private homes and offices around Israel.  We – the Coalition of Women for Peace – decided to rent equipment and defy the censor, showing it on a big screen we set up in plain view of everyone.


The police knew of the plan and approached Yoni, one of the main organizers, to tell her that the Chief of Police gave strict orders that the film must not be shown.  No way, said Yoni, we’re showing it, and gave orders to run the projector.  The police couldn’t stand it.  They went up to the man who rented us the equipment and was operating it, and told him to turn off the projector or they would smash it.  He turned it off.  That was too much for Debby, another organizer, who also happens to be Yoni’s mom.  Debby pulled out her checkbook, put her signature onto one of them, and handed it to the video equipment owner.  “Hold onto that check,” said Debby, “and if the police smash your equipment, write in the amount that it’s worth.  Now turn it on.”  He still hesitated, but pointed to the button.  “You turn it on,” he said, which Debby gladly did.  The crowd gathered in great numbers and the film ran for over an hour, no equipment smashed, with the TV news this evening reporting, “The film ‘Jenin, Jenin’, banned in Israel by the censor, was shown on a giant screen in the heart of Tel-Aviv this afternoon,” followed by an interview with Yoni who simply explained that one should not hide the truth.  Well done, Yoni.


Special guests at the event:  beloved Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, now retiring; dear Luisa Morgantini, “our” member of the European Parliament; local and international peace activists Shulamit Aloni, Simone Susskind, Uri Avnery, Dan Almagor, and others.


Many local and international media also came, thanks to ‘Jenin, Jenin’, and half the people there seemed to be making videos of the other half.


That’s it.  Special thanks to the many of you in Europe and North America who held your own vigils in solidarity with ours – some in great gobs of snow, we hear.  By the way, exactly one hour after our own event ended in dazzling sunny weather, the sky opened up and poured down buckets of rain.


Well, in some ways, it was more a protest carnival than a march of mourning, like last December.  Did we get through to the Tel-Aviv crowd?  Maybe.  And maybe they got through to us a little bit, too.


Our 10 Commandments, Dec 2002. Photo: Mely Lerman
War Widows for Peace, June 2002. Photo: Ruth Elbilia
Top of Page:  Activism 2002

2006 Gila Svirsky, Dispatches from the Peace Front available on  Please cite this full reference if you quote passages from the book.