February 1, 2006
1) Who’s to blame?
Listening to the reactions of passersby at the
recent Jerusalem vigil of Women in Black, you would think it was our peaceful little group that put the Hamas into power.
This stems from Israeli right-wing politicians who are asserting that Hamas won because of the Gaza withdrawal and other conciliatory
overtures, i.e., “rewarding terrorism”. Indeed, Bibi Netanyahu & co. are delighted with the Hamas victory,
on which they can now build a fear-saturated election campaign, and return voters to the fold who lately had slipped into
something more moderate.
But here’s my take on what made Hamas victorious
in the recent elections: Israel’s failure to sit down and negotiate an end to the occupation. This is often
phrased as “the failure of Fatah to make progress on peace”, but they amount to the same thing: the Fatah
failed because Israel refused to offer any reward for moderation, refusing to sit down and negotiate with them.
And what about the corruption claim – that
voting for Hamas was also a vote against the corruption of the Fatah politicians? This may have played a role for some
voters, but since when does corruption bring down a politician? Certainly not in Israel, where Sharon’s corruption
has been an open book, but forgiven by those who support his politics. Corruption is tolerated when approval ratings
are high in other respects. The corruption of the previous Palestinian government would have been overlooked, had the
politicians only managed to show some progress on ending the occupation.
2) When terrorists become politicians
I remember standing on the balcony of my home
in Jerusalem on a lovely May morning of 1977 and gasping when I heard who had won the Israeli election: Menahem Begin, former
head of a Jewish terrorist organization that had killed 91 civilians by bombing the King David Hotel in 1946. And then
it was Begin who returned the Sinai Peninsula and negotiated peace with Egypt. In 2001, Israel elected Ariel Sharon,
responsible for blood-soaked episodes in Qibiya, Beirut, Gaza, Sabra and Shatila, and more. And then it was Sharon who
returned Gaza – imperfect, but a singularly important precedent.
I condemn terrorism, whether ‘rogue’
or state sanctioned, and I would never have voted for Hamas (or Begin or Sharon). But who is better positioned than
Hamas to reach a compromise peace agreement? We have the mirror image of Israel in the Palestinian election: Just
as the Israeli right (Begin and Sharon) could more easily make concessions than Yitzhak Rabin, who had to fight our right
wing all the way, so too the Hamas can mobilize more support for concessions than the more moderate Fatah could now undertake.
3) About creeping fundamentalism
Yes, I am worried about Hamas rule, particularly
its domestic agenda in Palestine: I worry about women, non-Muslims, journalists, gays, people in the arts, and all those
who benefit from the open society. To what extent will the Hamas increase the role of Shari’a (Muslim) law in
civilian life? Or religious education in the schools? On the other hand, it’s quite evident that Palestinians
have experienced democracy and will not easily tolerate a closing of their society.
I take heart from this week’s survey of
the Palestinian population, published in the Palestinian Authority’s Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda and reported in the
84% of Palestinians support a peace deal with
Israel. In case you wondered if this includes the Hamas, 75% of Hamas voters are opposed to calls for the destruction
of Israel. The Hamas knows that seculars comprise a large portion of their constituency.
4) And who benefits from ending foreign
So along come American and Israeli politicians
advocating for a policy that would isolate and punish the Palestinians by withholding financial aid. Everyone knows
this would destabilize the fragile economy, harm the innocent (but not the politicians), and foster increasing bitterness
against the secular west. A much more reasonable approach would be to extend support and see how responsibly Hamas uses
it. Or does someone have an interest in sowing chaos in the Palestinian territories?
Yes, I too would like to demand a renunciation
of terrorism and violence as a precondition for talking …I’d like to demand it from both sides. But realistically
this has to be done as part of the negotiations.
* * *
March 8, 2006
International Women’s Day
On International Women’s Day, I took a moment
to notice that the vast majority of human rights organizations in Israel are run by women. In fact, 11 out of 13 directors
of these organizations are women (85%). Here’s the list – I hope I didn’t leave any out:
Adalah: Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights
Orna Kohn, Executive Director
Association for Civil Rights in Israel
Rachel Benziman, Executive Director
Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights
Dalia Dromi, Executive Director
Bizchut: Israel Human Rights Center for People
Sylvia Tessler-Lozowick, Executive Director
B’Tselem: Israeli Information Center
for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Jessica Montell, Executive Director
HaKeshet HaDemokratit HaMizrahit
Nurit Hajaj, Executive Director
HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual
Dalia Kerstein, Executive Director
Kav LaOved: Workers’ Hotline
Hanna Zohar, Executive Director
MachsomWatch [checkpoint watch]
An all-women, volunteer organization
Center for Arab Citizens in Israel
Jafar Farah, Executive Director (a man)
Physicians for Human Rights
Hadas Ziv, Executive Director
Public Committee Against Torture in Israel
Hannah Friedman, Executive Director
Rabbis for Human Rights
Arik W. Ascherman, Executive Director (a man)
If only we could get 85% of the Knesset to be
women, things would look a lot different around here.
* * *
July 15, 2006
The Occupation? Fuggedaboudit!
What a stroke of luck – 10 days before a
war breaks out in Lebanon, we buy an apartment in Nahariya.
We had been looking for a place for about a year. We went to Cyprus to check out the beautiful new communities on the northern shore
– it’s quite a bargain, if you don’t mind settling in occupied territory.
We thought about Mauritius, but the savings on real estate would be offset by the costs of flights there. So finally we settled on an apartment under construction in Israel’s sweetest little town on the
Mediterranean coast – just 5 miles south of the border with Lebanon.
We were looking for a sea view. Had the balcony already been built, we would have been able to watch the Israeli navy array itself along
the coast, laying siege to Lebanon. We wanted to be close to Kibbutz Sa’ar,
just north of Nahariya, where one of my grown daughters lives, except when she evacuates herself to safer points south. And we wanted a getaway from turbulent Jerusalem, somewhere we could spend long quiet
weekends and eventually a serene retirement. Several dozen rockets dropped into
her kibbutz and our serene neighborhood this weekend.
In listening to the media, to my neighbors, to
the gas station attendant, I am amazed by the lack of comprehension: “We
leave Gaza, they shoot missiles at us from there. We leave Lebanon, they kidnap
our boys. How do they expect us to leave the West Bank? Fuggedaboudit!”
These views, expressed by most Israelis these
days, can only fill me with awe at how the Big Lie works: Repeat it often enough,
publicly enough, by political and spiritual leaders, and the whole country/world will begin to believe that Israel is innocent
of all wrongdoing and that these attacks emerged from a political vacuum:
As if there is no occupation. As if there is no siege on Gaza. As if there are no 39 years
(and counting) of military and political oppression with all the killing, maiming, home destruction, and livelihood wrecking
that this entails. What is it about “end the occupation” that they
No, I do not justify Qassam missiles or Katyusha
rockets hurled at Israeli towns or the kidnapping of anyone (even armed soldiers in tanks).
I do not justify any attacks by missile or suicide bomber or remotely detonated device.
Nor do I justify the endless shelling of Gaza
and Lebanon – land, sea, and air – for any reason at all, let alone for purposes more related to posturing and
domestic public opinion than with accomplishing any political objective. “How
could we not respond when they kill and kidnap our soldiers?” asked Yuli Tamir, our Education Minister (for goodness
sakes!) and a former Peace Now activist. As if shelling is sure to make the Hizbullah
leaders remorseful and let our boys come home.
So, as usual in wars, we have an alliance of the
jingoistic decision-makers on both sides, whipping up patriotism while they watch the fighting on-screen from bunkers deep
in the earth. In Israel, this war absolutely thrills the right wing: The escalation keeps up the militaristic approach to problem solving, discredits the view that Israel must
leave the occupied territories, and distances the current warfare from its roots in the ongoing occupation. What’s not to love about this war?
And as usual in Israel, a few cantankerous peace
organizations – the Coalition of Women for Peace, Gush Shalom, Ta’ayush, and a few others – increase their
presence on the streets. At Women in Black last Friday, we carried our regular
“End the Occupation” signs and buttressed them with signs saying, “Stop the Killing – Negotiate!”
(and “It’s the Occupation, Stupid!”). But when the cannons
roar, so do the bystanders, and a dozen police were there to prevent anything worse than words and gestures.
A day will come when this small corner of the
Mediterranean will again hold sailboats and water skiers, and I’m looking forward to that view from the balcony. I still think it was a good investment.
* * *
July 19, 2006
Message from Women in Black, Israel
In light of the ongoing crisis in the Middle East,
Women in Black in Israel are issuing a call to our sister vigils throughout the world (and allied groups) to hold their own
actions this weekend with the demands ...
Stop the War! Stop the Bloodshed!
End the Israeli Occupation!
Begin Negotiations for Peace and Justice!
We call upon our sisters and brothers to join
us in solidarity. Each group is autonomous to decide on its own messages, formats, and times.
We already know of vigils planned in Vienna, Melbourne, and Calgary. We would like to hear about other vigils planned.
Women in Black, Israel
* * *
July 23, 2006
Quick Report from the Israeli Peace Front
The peace movement in Israel has pulled out all
stops to end this mad war. Lots of groups are active, and we had a big joint demonstration last night - at least 5,000
people (though the media reported 2,500). Marching through the streets of Tel Aviv with signs, "End the War", "End the
Occupation" felt like a relief after the roar of pro-war-talk on all the media.
Women in Black held vigils last Friday throughout
Israel. The reactions from the street were quite violent and the police were out in numbers keeping onlookers (and on-shouters)
at bay. After our vigil, we read the list of 55 (!) locations that held solidarity events this weekend. Some were
Women in Black and others organized by allied groups. We felt greatly encouraged by this international solidarity.
I end with a short note from Hannah Safran of
the Haifa vigil of Women in Black. The women were shelled during the vigil, but they returned to complete it.
Later that day, under the newly formed "Women Against War", they again left their homes to protest.
Hi gila, how
are you? we are having a terrible day today. while
we were demonstrating at our regular Women in Black square (30-40 people in all), we were bombed on both sides. it felt like being targeted from close. we had to abandon the
vigil and look for shelter. we came back 20 min. later and completed the vigil
on time. As we were traveling home, there was a second attack and we had to stop
the car and look for shelter. When we came home we opened the newspaper to read letters of women from Lebanon. The devastation is horrific. Has Israel gone crazy or have
we not noticed what a mad country we live in? It is 5:45 p.m. now and we had
two attacks since then. I am off to our daily demonstration of Women Against War in front of the Foreign Office and all the
foreign press. We will not be silenced. War must be stopped now. Every min. counts as people's lives are in danger. do all
you can to stop this madness. only someone from outside can put pressure on Israel to stop. i have to hurry. be well and let's
pray for better days.
Please continue to voice your protest throughout
* * *
July 31, 2006
Brief Peace Update
In Jerusalem alone, 100 people turned up for a
vigil on Sunday in a surge of anger, protest, and mourning following the killing of children and adults in Qana, Lebanon.
Vigils erupted all over Israel, punctuated by the fury of passersby as they read our signs. I brought candles,
but they did not stay lit in the cool evening breeze of Jerusalem. Others brought
their own signs.
On Saturday, we held an extraordinary mass march
of "Women Against War" in Tel Aviv. Women came from 17 sponsoring women’s organizations, and we estimate about 3,000 participants (including men). It was a dramatic sight marching
through the streets dressed in black as a sign of mourning for the victims on both sides. While the tabloids ignored
us, Ha'aretz published a photo and detailed caption, and NRG, one of Israel's biggest news portals, told the whole
story. The Arabic press gave us front-page coverage, and some of the foreign press also captured the story. This
was an important action in a society in which the voices of women are always marginalized – and entirely erased during
times of war. Our gratitude to the Urgent Action Fund for helping make it possible.
For a real sense of the event, click into this
3.5 minute video done by "Social TV". It's in Hebrew, but you’ll get the idea:
For chant collectors, here's a translation
of a few of ours (in Hebrew they rhyme):
"Peace and security are not
built on dead bodies"
for the disadvantaged, not for war"
"Children in Beirut and Haifa ALL want to live"
It was an amazingly long procession, and we could
see people hanging out of balconies to watch and sometimes curse – no surprise, with 90% of Israelis in support of this
war. The anti-war movement in Israel seems to be inching forward, though the vast majority
of Israelis continue to view us as traitors. The international anti-war movement is a great source of solidarity for
Most disturbing is the overwhelming Israeli support
for the Qana bombing based on the belief that the Hezbollah were using this building as a launching site for their missiles. And while all this is happening, dozens of Palestinians are being killed in Gaza by Israeli
troops. A news (not op-ed) article in Ha’aretz noted, “The large number of fatalities suggests the
IDF is engaged in indiscriminate killing under the cover of the war in the north” (30 July 2006).
It’s more than those killed for whom we
have to light candles – it’s the breakdown of morality in Israeli society in general.
* * *
August 11, 2006
War, Nyet! Ceasefire, Da!
I figured there would be extra anger at us at
the Women in Black vigil today, and there was. “I hope all your children will get killed and your house explodes
too!” screamed one woman as she walked by.
I think the fury rises in direct proportion to
how Israelis think the war is going, and it is going very poorly indeed in public opinion: Only 20% of Israelis say
that “Israel is winning”. These are the ones who are convinced by Olmert’s glorious view of the battlefield.
Another 30% say, “Israel is not winning”…presumably because somebody else is. And 43% say that there’s
no winner or loser. Like a tie in soccer, I suppose. [Data published in Ha’aretz 11 August]
Driving home, I tuned the radio to the easy listening
music program, but there was no easy listening for me today. The celebrity host was telling listeners about the proposed
ceasefire, and warning them, “If we have a ceasefire now and return the territory in dispute, that will reward terrorism,
and then Syria will invade, knowing that it can also regain lost territory by going to war against Israel.” How
many errors can you find in that sentence? The media are now filled with Israelis protesting that the proposed various
ceasefire plans will not let us finish off the enemy.
A few items about war and peace:
Military Refusal in Israel
From a report by Sarah Anne Minkin and Rela Mazali:
“…activist groups New Profile and Yesh Gvul report that hundreds, if not thousands, of reserve troops are refusing
to go to the war. More than a hundred have turned to the groups for help in refusing to serve. While 5 refusers are currently
in jail, with more awaiting trial for their refusal, the vast majority of refusers will not face immediate trial or punishment.”
Why not? Report Sarah Anne and Rela: “…the majority of refusers are being told by their commanders to go
AWOL, with punitive measures delayed for a later, less-urgent time. Refusers also report that many other men get out of service
by going abroad, getting a medical deferral or simply going AWOL” (http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org).
Pride and No-pride
At recent gay pride events in Israel, Queeruption
held several successful happenings under the banner “No pride in occupation & war”. And there is Shaul,
a staunch peace activist, trying out his piano after a direct hit to his Haifa home by a Hizbullah-fired rocket destroyed
just about everything except the piano. Shaul continues to come to the anti-war rallies (and his wife Ruthie is an active
member of the Coalition of Women for Peace).
“They place military installations
in the midst of their towns and villages”
This claim against Hizbullah is used by Israel
to justify its bombing of Lebanese towns and villages. Now that makes me worry, as a huge number of Israel’s military
installations are also in or near our populated areas. Marjam Hadar Meerschwam of New Profile (http://www.newprofile.org) writes that she “has a military plant at the foot of my road, and Gelilot army
base a short walk away.” Rela Mazali, also of New Profile, writes, “My own house, in quiet suburbia just
north of Tel Aviv, is 15 minutes walk from a major intelligence base in one direction and a major munitions plant in the other.”
And did we mention that Israel’s Ministry of Defense (our Pentagon) is in the heart of crowded, downtown Tel Aviv?
Both sides have a lot to learn about the rules of war.
I just heard that a peace activist was hit by a bullet today at the weekly protest of the Separation
Barrier in Bil'in. The websites say he has “moderate to serious head wounds.” I hope he’s okay.
I reprint below the translation of an article
that just appeared in Ha’aretz. We’re very proud of these
two young activists in the Coalition of Women for Peace.
Translated from Ha’aretz,
10 August 2006
– Nyet! Kharb – La! [“War – No!”
in Russian and Arabic]
At the vanguard of the
radical left protest against the war are two women – an Arab and an immigrant from the former Soviet Union – leading
the demonstrations with “End the War” chants in Arabic and Russian.
The evening before we
met, Khulood Badawi escaped the horrors of war to go to the al-Hakawati Theater in East Jerusalem. But even escapism
is not what it used to be. She was watching the Lebanese movie “The Kite”, directed by a friend’s
sister, in which a young Lebanese woman falls in love with a Druze soldier from Israel during the first Lebanon War.
At the height of the story, her cell phones began to ring. The news that Katyusha rockets had fallen on Haifa quickly
moved through the theater. Badawi, who had lived in Haifa for several years, fled the theater to watch the TV news,
where she recognized the offices of al-Ittihad, the newspaper of Hadash, Badawi’s political party. Among
the ruins she saw many offices she knew, and began calling her friends.
At that same moment,
Yana Knopova, who immigrated to Israel from the Ukraine 11 years ago as a young Zionist activist, was fielding phone calls
to and from friends and colleagues. The rockets had fallen not far from the Haifa apartment she shares with Abir Kopty,
the spokeswoman for the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel, and in the heart of the neighborhood of many
Arabs and Jews who share her uncommon political path.
The two met the next
day in what they call “the Tel Aviv bubble”, where they have been orchestrating the key protests against the war
on behalf of the Coalition of Women for Peace and Ta’ayush. An Arab and a Russian. Another of the strange
phenomena to emerge from this war.
The 30-year-old Badawi
has a long history of political activism: The former militant chair of the Association of Arab University Students in
Israel, Badawi is today a field worker for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel. The 25-year-old Knopova, a student
of psychology at Haifa University [and coordinator of the Coalition of Women for Peace], strayed far from the Zionist dream
though she had worked five years for the Jewish Agency,
In those years, she
believed that “the left was only the Meretz Party”, as she put it, and then she discovered what she calls the
lies and arrogance on which Israel is based, which not only create primitive men in Israel, but undermine the judgment of
the entire country. Thus she found her way to a political and social home in the radical left.
The Bomb and the
Clearly the sense of
marginalization in Israeli society – which views Arabs as the enemy and ignores immigrants – strengthened the
solidarity between them. “The police see Khulood as a natural enemy,” says Knopova with a bitter smile;
“while in the exact same situation, the police refuse to see me as an enemy. They also live with the stereotype
that there are no Russians in the left. Khulood is always dangerous, I am never dangerous; Khulood is a demographic
time-bomb, I am a demographic hope. This is an approach that regards the wombs of us both as in the service of the state,
and we will not give them this pleasure.”
Over the past month,
they have orchestrated all the demonstrations of the left, and held them in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and Russian.
Based on the number of calls coming in to Badawi’s three cell phones, one would think that opposition to the war is
the new consensus; based on the calls to Knopova in Russian throughout our conversation, one would think that a million Russian
speakers in Israel changed their political views.
This is not true, of
course, but there is no doubt that something different and new is happening. Much has already been said about the uniqueness
of this war; the fact that at the vanguard of protest are two women – an Arab and an immigrant from the former Soviet
Union – is without a doubt another unique element. Everything is new about this: Most of the protest in Israel,
including that of the more left-wing activists, used to spring from the pool of Ashkenazi Jewish men. Not anymore.
Today the protest of this war is being led to a large extent by women.
And that is not the
only difference. In the past, Arab citizens of Israel refrained from going to demonstrations in Tel Aviv during a war.
At most, they would make do with token representation in the later stages of protest. They would also generally hold
their demonstrations in Arab towns. Not any more. From the very first week, the Arabs became equal partners to
the demonstrations in Tel Aviv. Thousands of Katyusha rockets falling on them erased the reluctance of the past.
In their eyes, this is no longer a Jewish war, but a civilian war in which they have an equal right to make themselves heard.
Badawi says that they deliberately bring their voices to Tel Aviv, which is seen as the capital of Israel.
Another kind of change
is transpiring among Russian speakers, considered the hard core of the Israeli right. Once, bringing a few Russian speakers
to demonstrations of the Zionist left was considered a big achievement. Today there is a small, but visible and consistent
participation of Russian speakers in the protest movement of the radical left. Thus, the Arabs are learning to chant
“Voine – Nyet!” (no war), while Russian and Hebrew speakers are chanting “Salaam – Na’am!,
Kharb – La!” (peace yes! war no!). It looks like this connection will last long after the voices of war
The Old Left Failed
To Badawi and Knopova,
all this seems quite natural. Above all, they feel that the role of women in this protest is obvious. “All
the elements of this war bring the issues together – feminism, social justice, class distinctions, environment, and
the occupation,” they say; “Women make this connection in a natural way. The Old Left, even Gush Shalom,
has not managed to connect these struggles. We do. Even the social justice and political networks of women are
stronger. This war is taking place on our social turf, in our homes. As women and citizens, we create an alternative
voice of women facing the militant voice of men.”
“This is a male
war about honor, both that of the Israel Defense Forces and the Hizbullah,” says Knopova. “Women are
less into matters of honor. Russian women instinctively understand that this war is a man’s game. We grew
up in that kind of society, and it’s obvious to us.” Perhaps this is why the group of Russian-speaking women
in the radical left in Israel grew over a short period from 3 to 200 activists who are now involved in protest.
Knopova explains that
even her father now visiting in Israel, a profoundly non-political person, “understood the lie” from watching
the Israeli TV channel in Russian. Even he, reports Knopova, noted in amazement that one Israeli soldier seems to be
worth the lives of ten Israeli civilians and a hundred Lebanese. “He feels instinctively that something is wrong,”
she says, “but the Russians in Israel get brainwashed.”
“Human life is
valued in Israel only when it is in uniform,” contends Badawi. “From our perspective, the struggle now is
for the dignity of everyone in Israel. Every human being. Arab women have a common socio-economic interest with
Russian and Mizrahi women. Our parents will have nothing left to eat after the war. When we speak from the stage
– Yana in Russian, I in Arabic – that in itself is a political message. It also conveys to the Arab world
that the claims by Israel and the U.S. that Jews and Arabs cannot live together is a false message.”
It is easy to elicit
endless criticism from them about Israel, but harder to pry from them statements against the Hizbullah. “Clearly
we as feminists cannot support a fundamentalist religious organization,” they agree, “but we do not want our statements
to be used manipulatively against our views. Israel gave the Hizbullah reasons to attack, but our struggle is waged
on behalf of our own society, to prevent a regional war that would hurt us all.”
Badawi says that this
is also the beginning of a way to repair the fractured relations from the events of 2000 [when 13 Arab citizens were killed
by the Israeli police], after which it was practically impossible to find Arab partners for political protest. “The
age is over when we would accept Jewish partnership at any price,” she says. “Today the connection is genuine,
with Jewish activists paying the price of their participation by demonstrations against the wall in Bil’in, refusal
to serve in the military, activism at the checkpoints. We have a common fate, but it is different than in the past.
These demonstrations can help us out of the severed relations of October 2000. Now the Arab-Jewish partnership is egalitarian.”
Only one area remains
outside the joint space: the emotional memories. When Badawi talks about the evils of the Separation Fence, her personal
baggage takes her back to 1948. Knopova agrees to every word, but has other associations from the collective Jewish
memory. “I do not want Germans guarding us within the ghetto that we created for ourselves with the Separation
Walls and security zones,” she says. “In the tragic evolution of Zionism, Israel has become the final solution
of itself.” Perhaps this is not the text that will accompany the official lighting of torches on Independence
Day in Israel, but it is the only moment when the thoughts of the two good friends part ways.
* * *
August 10, 2006
My Letter Today in the NY Times