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Lucille Sherlick

In Search of Peace: Israeli Women’s Voices

 

Lucille A. Sherlick

 

With the kind permission of Lucille Sherlick, I am reprinting here Chapter 8 of her Ph.D. dissertation submitted in 2003 to State University of New York at Buffalo (Department of Anthropology).

 

The names of the interviewees have been changed to protect their identity.

 

 

Chapter 8: Narratives from the Left 

            Just as the Green Line divides Israel proper from the Occupied Territories, so a line seems to divide Israelis and their perspectives on national unity, security, identity and peace. I found that Israelis were increasingly polarized, positioning themselves on either the Right or Left of the political spectrum. Coincidentally, their political position mirrors their perspectives on the placement of Israel’s borders, to the left or right of the Green Line. This chapter describes the goals of Women in Black (WIB) and highlights the discourse of women who participate in this movement along with the narratives of Jewish and Palestinian Israeli women who narrate their leftwing perspectives from private spaces. These women support various solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian War including an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories and the establishment of two states for two people.

 

Women In Black

 

            The first official WIB vigil was held in January, 1988 and developed as an offshoot of a newly formed coalition of men and women who rallied around the goal to end the occupation. In fact, this new coalition was called Dai LaKibush (End the Occupation).

 

Tamir

 

      Tamir (not her real name) was a founding member of WIB and described the group’s beginnings, as well as their early and current goals. I spoke with Tamir in Jerusalem during several of the Friday vigils and she agreed to participate in my project. As we sat on comfortable sofas in the living room of her apartment, the bright sunlight coming in through the large picture windows was gradually fading. The windows overlooked a busy Jerusalem street and the windowsills were full of plants thriving from good care. We sat across from each other and she sipped her coffee in between answers to my questions.

     

Lucille: What I’d like to start with is how did Women in Black get started? Could you talk about the history?

 

Tamir:    Well, I think the first Intifada started around November. How many years ago? 12 years? I’m bad at dates. And a month later a group started called Dai LaKibush, End the Occupation, which was an ad hoc group of people that had been in the Israeli New Left and all the other somewhat antagonistic groups to the establishment. But also other people that felt the time has come. And we used to have meetings sometimes over 100 people on a weekly basis, which was great. And this group did a lot but about a month after the establishment of the group, we felt that, a group of us women, 8 or 10, something like that, felt that whatever we do is not enough. Somehow women’s voices do get pushed aside. So we took our model…if I remember correctly, our basic model was the Women In White of the Plaza in the Argentine. You know, the women who are asking for “Where are our children?” And we chose black, we wanted to stand outside of the group and say “enough.” And in a very short time we found that black is something that united us. And it gave us a sense of cohesiveness.

 

Lucille:  Was there a significance to the color?

 

Tamir:    Yes. That we are in mourning, and we are in anger at what is being done in our name. And at first we thought if ever we get to be to 20 people we’ll join up into 2 groups. Then we realized, we stood in different places, until we decided on what is now Kikar Hagar, Hagar Square, Kikar Tsarfat, French Square. [The square is known by both names.] And then we realized there’s strength in numbers. And women just started coming, and that’s how we started. You know it was pretty spontaneous. We had no idea what was going to happen. And it took off, and went very strong until the Oslo Agreement, when it largely fell to pieces. In the sense that, I wanted to stop going. We felt, okay let’s give the powers that be a chance and let’s see if anything is going to come out of it. To just stand and say, “no, it’s not going to work.” Some of us realize today that it wasn’t going to work.

 

              Before the beginning of this Intifada it started coming back again but by the beginning of this Intifada then we were back again. When Sharon came into power we just couldn’t stay home. Well, I couldn’t.

 

      Each of the Women in Black groups throughout Israel is autonomous. During our interview, Tamir failed to mention that the WIB groups in Tel Aviv and Kibbutz Nahshon decided to continue holding vigils and have held them every week without fail.           

     

Lucille:      What was happening before the Intifada that made you decide to go back to the square? What did you recognize was happening?

 

Tamir:        For this present Intifada?

 

Lucille:      Yes.

 

Tamir:        That the government of my country had no real intention of giving freedom to the oppressed people that it was controlling. I mean, we’ve thrown them into extreme poverty and there wasn’t a peace process that was going anywhere.

 

Lucille:      So, you weren’t surprised?

 

Tamir:        I wasn’t surprised, no.

 

Lucille:      What is it that you and the other women are trying to accomplish on Friday afternoon from 1:00 to 2:00 when you stand in your vigil?

 

Tamir:        We’re trying to accomplish the same thing we tried to accomplish in the first 8 years that we stood there. After we stood there Friday after Friday, in snow, sunshine, Hamsin [hot desert winds], heat wave, we stood there. We stood there to say to the Israeli public that this is a way we don’t accept. We don’t accept what we’ve become, what we’re becoming. We don’t accept being occupiers as being our fate or being our glory. We want an end to the occupation.

 

                  We are also a new coalition. There are Zionists, then there are non-Zionists. This is the one thing that unites us. An end to the occupation and this is what we are doing now. It is more difficult now, you know, in some ways. Because after failed expectations, failed hopes there’s more suspicion, bitterness. It changes in the way we were perceived in the first Intifada. At the beginning, the cars used to shout “It’s Friday, you should be home preparing the Sabbath. You left your children, what’s all this nonsense?”

 

Then when they realized we were more serious, they started insulting and saying “You’re Arafat’s prostitutes, Arab lovers, otherwise you wouldn’t be here.” And things like that. Then it became more serious or they took us more seriously and started calling us “traitor” and things like that. Which actually was, in our terms, an upgrading, complimentary. This time it’s very much like that. They don’t bother about “nice women go home,” or “you’re prostitutes.” “You’re traitors!”

 

      Surrounding Hagar Square where Jerusalem WIB hold their vigils, are some of Jerusalem’s busiest streets. Ramban and Ben Maimon streets converge to become Agron that then cross the thoroughfare where King George and Keren Ha-Yesod meet. The square is made of concrete with low freestanding walls on two sides and a single continuous wall around the remaining two sides. Built in varying heights the walls are several feet thick and have areas at the top to accommodate small plants, a palm tree and an iron railing. There were two steps facing the center of the square, each about one and a half feet high, cascading down the inside of the connected wall. A raised concrete octagon about one and a half feet high and fifteen feet across is in the center of the square and was used as a staging area for events and demonstrations.

     

      Hagar Square was located a half mile from my apartment. On Fridays, when I was in Jerusalem, I walked to the square and talked with the women. During their weekly vigils, the Jerusalem Women in Black stood on the wall of the square facing traffic while they held their signs and banners that read “End the Occupation,” written in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Some of the banners were 6 to 10 feet long and three feet wide and it took several women to hold them. Most of the remaining women held signs in the shape of a large hand attached to a 4-foot pole. The hands signify “stop,” and “End the Occupation,” is written in Hebrew, Arabic or English.

     

      Some of the women stood silently and some talked while they held their signs. The women ignored sexualized insults thrown at them by passing motorists and pedestrians. However when someone approached them with a sincere interest in a political discussion, they were more than willing to enter into a debate. I found all the women I spoke with well informed and up to date on the political situation. As Tamir noted, an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories is the message that unites them.

     

      Members of the Kach group (New Kahane) demonstrate at the same time as WIB in Hagar Square (only men from this group attend these counter demonstrations, probably because there is the potential for violence). At various times there have been struggles over the “territory” of the square and Shira explained that the women have had to change the time of or move their demonstration across the street. Every Friday from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m., members of the Kach group stood on the two remaining walls facing the inside of the square looking toward the women. They held Israeli flags and an occasional sign as a counter protest. They yelled insults at the women goading them and trying to get an angry reaction. Because physical altercations have occurred between the two groups, the Israeli police were always present.

     

      Kach is a rightwing extremist group that was once recognized as a political party. They lost their right to that status because of their extreme politics, violent actions, and anti-Arab discourse. Their founder, Meir Kahane, now deceased, advocated “the transfer of all Palestinians, citizens and non-citizens alike, out of Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel, encompassing both Israel and the occupied territories)” (Peled, 1998:716). The counter demonstrators tried to intimidate the women. Unless they attempted to enter the women’s physical space, their actions were, for the most part, ignored.

     

An International Protest

 

      Shortly after I arrived in Israel, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace (an umbrella group comprised of 10 women’s peace organizations, including WIB and New Profile) held a two-day international vigil and demonstration in Hagar Square protesting the occupation of Palestinian territories. Members of Women in Black were among the primary organizers of the Coalition and this event. I was looking forward to finally meeting Shira and filming the vigil and demonstration.

     

      The morning of June 7th was spent preparing camera equipment, packing film and locating Hagar Square. I was surprised at how close the square was to my apartment. An early afternoon visit to the site helped me understand noise levels, pedestrian and vehicular traffic patterns, the size of the area around which I could move, and locations of possible places to stand to get a good angle. I am short and “getting a good view” is always a challenge with or without a camera. Earlier that morning, I had received an e-mail message from Shira, giving me permission to film the vigil and demonstration but I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I assumed there would be about one thousand women dressed in black, some Israeli, some Palestinian from the Occupied Territories, and some from other countries protesting the occupation of the West Bank, demolition of homes and creation of new settlements. 

     

      Returning to Hagar Square at 6:00 p.m. for the beginning of the demonstration I found five women preparing to begin their vigil. I introduced myself to Shira and was in turn introduced to the remaining women. Shira told me that after they lit the torch they planned to stand two at a time (a Jewish Israeli and Palestinian citizen of Israel or Palestinian woman) in the center of the octagon holding the torch together while also holding signs written in Hebrew and English reading “We Refuse to be Enemies” and “Dai LaKibush” (Stop the Occupation). She told me to feel free to take photographs and film any part of the demonstration.

     

      I immediately began filming, capturing the initial “torch holding” between Shira and her Palestinian friend, Maha, signifying unity between Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories and Israeli women. I also checked different angles and shot footage of the increasing number of women arriving to participate. Larry accompanied me and I asked him to shoot some stills of the participants. Initially I asked permission before beginning to film the women, but as the numbers soon grew it was no longer practical. This was a public event. A crew from CNN and a documentary film crew arrived about an hour into the vigil and the Israeli media showed up for the second day of the demonstration.

     

      Within fifteen minutes of beginning to film I was approached by an Israeli police officer who asked in Hebrew what I was doing. When I began to reply in Hebrew he immediately switched to English. He wanted to know where I was from, why I was filming this event, what school I attended and what degree I was getting. He then wanted to see my passport. I also had a letter of introduction written on university stationary and signed by my advisor explaining my fieldwork. This seemed to do the trick and I was allowed to continue. From then on, I carried my passport and the letter everywhere I went. As it turned out I often needed them both and, in some instances, several times during the course of a single event.

     

      At first, the women stood alone in the square holding their signs and banners that read, “Dai LaKibush.” However, within an hour of the vigil’s beginning, the Kach demonstrators arrived demanding to take over their two walls. Shira was still holding the torch but when her time was up she approached several policemen to show them she had a permit for all four walls during this event. Initially the police did not take action. After consulting with other women, Shira approached them again to argue her point. Finally the police talked with the leader of the Kach demonstrators and asked them to leave the square. They did not and the police did not force the issue. So the Kach counter protesters remained where they were, holding a sign that read “Kahane was right.” Shira continued to argue with the police but to no avail. Frustrated she walked away.

     

      Seeing this, some of the women walked to the walls where the Kach demonstrators stood and joined them silently holding their signs “Dai LaKibush.” Several Kach demonstrators then moved to the raised octagon and stood in front of Shira and Maha who continued to hold the torch. The situation became increasingly tense. I continued filming and at one point asked the leader of the Kach demonstrators if I could film his group. He gladly granted permission.

     

      The square began to fill with people expressing different political views, arguing with each other and addressing comments to the women standing on the octagon. I noticed an elderly white haired woman, dressed in black, who attempted to engage the members of the Kach group and rightwing Israelis in dialogue. Becoming intrigued with her willingness and persistence in approaching them, I began to follow her around as she sought to engage others with opinions opposed to hers. Other women were also debating issues with those who had opposing views. While clearly trying to remain “peaceful,” those debates were loud and heated. Not this woman, she was quietly listening. When the person with whom she was talking stopped, often after quite a long time, she either offered her opinion or asked another question. Months later, I came to know her and learned that her name was Talila. She told me that she and her husband had been trained in facilitating peaceful dialogues. Although he had recently died, she continued the work they started together, collaborating with several Palestinian Israeli groups in northern Israel to promote conflict resolution.

     

      As I continued to follow and film Talila, I noticed that tensions in the group were rising. While filming Talila, I happened to capture an altercation between members of the Kach group and a man who was a WIB supporter. Unfortunately, the WIB supporter ended up with a broken nose and a summons to appear in court to answer charges brought against him by the Kach group. During the next day’s rally I learned that the police were looking for me and my tape of this event. Later, I also found out that the military arrests people who photograph events they do not want published (Svirsky, 2002).

     

      I followed Talila a bit longer and then began to film other women’s interactions. For a while I filmed a Palestinian Israeli woman and a Jewish Israeli woman arguing. Once they finished talking, the Jewish Israeli woman approached me and told me that if she were not so upset she would allow me to interview her. She said she was upset because she had watched the vigil from the beginning and she had seen members of WIB provoke members of the Kach group. She was upset because she felt the Kach demonstrators had as much right to demonstrate as WIB. She questioned why WIB demonstrators would want to prevent others from exercising their right to protest. And if WIB were concerned about women, why didn’t they spend more time helping women deal with issues of gender?  Then, still shaking, she walked away. 

     

      Later I approached the Palestinian Israeli woman who had engaged in this discussion and asked her about the conversation. She said the Jewish woman was uninformed and uneducated about feminism and constantly interrupted her. Realizing I had filmed their interaction, she asked to view the tape. I showed it to her and she pointed out how tense the other woman was and how often she interrupted. She said that the Jewish woman had stereotyped Palestinian women and had remarked that Palestinian women did not report abuse when it occurred. The Palestinian Israeli woman said she tried to explain that there were no support groups, police support, or infrastructure to protect Palestinian women (in the Occupied Territories), so there was no one to report the abuse to.

     

      One of the Kach supporters, a young man in his late teens, observed the Palestinian Israeli woman and I viewing the tape. He approached me and loudly demanded to see the footage I had shot of him. I said, “Okay.”  He looked at the tape, smiled, shrugged his shoulders and returned to his place among the counter protesters.

     

      I noticed Shira and Maha talking near one of the entrances to the square and I approached them only to learn that Maha had to leave. She told me that although her home was less then 7 km away she would have to have a friend get her through 5 check points and that at that moment she was in Israel illegally. I quickly asked her to participate in my research. She hurriedly agreed and left.

     

      As the evening progressed and the light grew dim, several hundred women had gathered in the square and it became increasingly difficult to get good shots. Other than the torchlight and a few streetlights, there was not much light for the camera. It didn’t help that most people were dressed in black. About an hour after dark, I said goodbye to the women I had met and headed home. Other people were leaving but many women would stay the night, taking turns holding the torch.

     

      The demonstration and rally were scheduled to begin again at 12 noon the next day. Larry and I returned at 11:00 a.m. and found the square and surrounding sidewalks full of women, many belonging to WIB groups from countries all over the world. More and more women were arriving. I walked around filming women and their signs. Across from the square is a monastery enclosed by an iron fence. Many women had woven their placards in between the rungs of the fence. These placards indicated the country or state in the U.S. they represented. There were women from Italy, Germany, Turkey, Spain, Canada, France, England, etc. I walked around observing, filming and experiencing the excitement that was building. Women from all over the world were gathering in support of ending the occupation and promoting peace.

     

      As I moved about I took the opportunity to interview a young Israeli woman named Yehudit who was with a group of activists from Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc). She and several others were holding a banner advocating “two states for two people.” As a member of Gush Shalom she regularly entered the Occupied Territories to try and block destruction of Palestinian homes and farmlands. She spoke about her work with this group helping to rebuild Palestinian homes destroyed by the Israeli government. We talked for a while and at one point she smiled and said that since the Israeli government was so determined to continue the war with the Palestinians, they should use some of their armored buses to develop a program highlighting the war as a tourist attraction. She wondered how many Diaspora Jews would support Israel if they saw first hand what was happening in the Occupied Territories.

     

      Eventually, the Kach protesters returned and this time the police insisted they stand on the sidewalk across Keren Ha-Yesod away from the square. By now there were at least one thousand people, mostly women. IDF soldiers and the police were everywhere. The police manned the immediate rally and the IDF positioned soldiers in their jeeps or on rooftops, and in armored vehicles with their guns held ready to handle any problems.

     

      Over the loudspeaker, Shira asked all those with cameras to move out of the square and across the street to film the event. The square was full and she wanted the best view saved for demonstrators, instead of the ever-growing numbers of international and national television camera crews. Complying with her request, I crossed the street and attempted to film the rally, but all I could see were a lot of women with banners and balloons. I could not get a view of the women in the center of the square who were the speakers and organizers.

     

      The crowd had grown and now there were thousands of women filling the square and surrounding street corners. Organizers estimated 3,000 people were present. The rally began with hundreds of black helium balloons released into the sky. Realizing that from my vantage point I couldn’t see any of the activities taking place in the center of the square, I walked back and found an inconspicuous spot where I had a good camera angle and was not blocking anyone’s view. From this location I was able to film the rally.

     

      Around 1:45 p.m., the speakers began reading their declarations in opposition to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the demolition of homes. They also read speeches supporting “two states for two people.” Representatives of Israeli, Palestinian and Italian groups spoke in Hebrew, Arabic and English. Italian women started the first WIB group outside of Israel and there is a special connection between women from these two countries. Shira helped organize the rally and read a list of over 150 WIB groups that were demonstrating at the same time or equivalent time in countries all over the world. Many groups from Europe and North America sent representatives to the Jerusalem demonstration.

     

      During the entire rally Kach protestors tried to interrupt the events. The leader of the group was eventually handcuffed and taken away by the police. I don’t know whether formal charges were filed against him, but I did learn later from Shira that during the Thursday evening and Friday demonstrations he was carrying an illegal handgun. Citizens of Israel, other than soldiers, are not allowed to carry guns. Jewish settlers often own guns to protect themselves when the IDF withdraws its protection from their settlements. Many members of Kach are settlers.

     

      The following are portions of a narrative one of the organizers wrote about this demonstration and rally.

     

Dear friends,

      

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

      

… our two moderators - one Jewish and the other Palestinian, both Israelis – did a wonderful job, with all their remarks given in both Hebrew and Arabic, strengthening the message of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity for peace.   Despite the tragic context of this day - marking 34 years of occupation, 8 months of Intifada, and one week since the bomb (in a Tel Aviv nightclub) that slew 20 Israeli teens - the excitement and hope were palpable at this demonstration. 

 

       The speakers alternated, Israeli/Palestinian, some with harsh words, but each giving a message of peace and solidarity.  All spoke of the need to end the occupation and create two states side by side, Israel and Palestine, both sovereign and both safe, with a shared destiny.

      

And the words of N., whose daughter was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem three years ago, left few eyes dry: "Last week we saw many pictures of dead children.  Children who went out to have a good time, who barely had a chance to figure out the complexity of living in this country, and one child who killed all of them and himself as well....Save the children; don't let the merchants of blood continue to trade in them, because they will never be sated."

 

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

      

       Some teens from the …youth movement stayed behind and began to sing songs of peace.  These are the children who will be called upon to kill and be killed in a year or two.  The only way to prevent this is through a global network, in solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian advocates of peace, to demand a just peace.

       

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

      

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

      

       Shalom / Salaam from Jerusalem,

       (e-mail:CWJP, 6/9/01)

 

      As the rally ended, I stayed behind to talk with some of the women. With Larry’s assistance, I asked Shira a few questions and filmed her replies. She was excited about the success of the rally but tired after all her efforts. She asked whether I had taped the altercation between WIB and Kach supporters the evening before. I told her I did not know what was on the tape, but I would let her know. Interested in my reaction to the rally, she asked for my impressions. I told her I was very impressed and had no idea of the number of women who would come from all over the world to support this event, and the work of WIB and the Coalition.

     

Lucille: What did you hope to accomplish today?

 

Shira:     We hoped and I believe we succeeded in organizing an international movement of women and men to end the occupation in Israel. Because without international solidarity we’re not going  to do it. But to have international solidarity they have to know we were doing it here. And they have to know that it was a joint mutual Israeli - Palestinian effort. Because without that it doesn’t do anything there. And so it was very important, it was very powerful.

 

              We had a hundred and fifty one different places to come in on it and now we’ve got to make sure that that movement doesn’t end with today, but keeps going and getting bigger and more demanding for a just peace.

 

Larry:    Were you impressed by the effort, getting all the people together?

 

Shira:     No. I was impressed by the fact that this is a one – two punch. One is what happens in Israel together with Palestinians. And two is what happens in solidarity internationally. That’s the only thing that’s going to bring us peace. It’s the strategy of Israel plus abroad. Either side can’t do it alone.

 

      I thanked Shira and we agreed to talk the following week to schedule time to discuss my participation in her activities for the WIB group. Exhausted, Larry and I returned to our apartment. I took a brief nap and then decided to shop for some essentials before the beginning of Shabbat. It was 4:00 P.M. and the Sabbath would not start for several hours.

     

      I made several attempts to arrange a time to meet with Maha.  We never met. Shortly after the demonstration she resigned her position with one of the women’s organizations. She said she didn’t want to talk because she was depressed over the lack of success in achieving peace, and an end to the occupation and oppression she and others experienced. I didn’t pursue it.

      

Shira

 

      Shira heard about the WIB vigils from one of her daughters and joined the Jerusalem women a few weeks after the group began. Raised in the Orthodox tradition, she made aliyah as a young women, married a man she met in Israel and they had two beautiful daughters. She has since divorced and her daughters have grown into lovely young women. Shira lives with her partner in Jerusalem, and works as a Hebrew/English translator. She is also a grant writer for the Women’s Coalition for a Just Peace of which she is a founding member.

     

      I called Shira and during our next meeting I showed her the film of the altercation between the WIB supporter and the Kach counter protester. I did not think the film helped the case of either man, and Shira agreed.  We then discussed my involvement in WIB activities. She explained that the vigils and an occasional organizational meeting for WIB and the larger meetings for the Coalition were the primary activities of WIB. She said that I could accompany her to sit-ins and demonstrations but most took place in the Occupied Territories.

     

      I explained that I did not want to cross the boundary into the West Bank or Gaza Strip and she was disappointed. I told her that in addition to potentially compromising my visa status, I was concerned about having tapes or camera equipment confiscated by the IDF if I filmed something they did not want made public. I elected to accompany Shira to WIB vigils and a few Coalition meetings, but I did not want to venture into the Occupied Territories.

 

            Working hard to provide as many opportunities as possible, Shira kept me abreast of Women in Black vigils, interactions with international groups who often requested meetings with her, and Coalition meetings and actions. One Friday afternoon Shira invited me to a meeting with a group of Quakers who attended the vigil and wanted to talk with her about her work. We walked to a nearby park and sat under the trees talking and sharing food we brought for an afternoon nosh (Yiddish for snack). The Quakers were part of a group working in Ramallah helping Palestinians reconstruct their homes and lives. Curious about the history of WIB, the Quakers also asked about the issues in the al-Aqsa Intifada, the problems with the Camp David talks and the percentage of Israelis who supported peace efforts.

 

            Shira told them that recent polls showed that 80% of Israelis thought that a Palestinian State was inevitable. She also explained that everyone wanted peace, but the exact meaning and consequences of the idea of peace varied greatly. When asked where she got her strength to do the work she did, she replied that her friends and family where her greatest source of strength. Members of the group continued to ask questions, and Shira readily and eloquently answered them. She has a strong yet soothing voice, and her energy and passion for the work of peace activism became increasingly apparent as she answered the questions.

 

      The Quakers wanted to know about her work with the Women’s Coalition for a Just Peace. Describing several acts of civil disobedience organized by this group, she told of a sit-in and “counter” closure on the street in front of the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv. She said the women in the Coalition wanted the people working at this Ministry to know the feeling, if only for a few minutes, of being closed off against their will.

     

      All the demonstrators were women and as they protested some of the women decided to sit in the street and block traffic. The police acted quickly to remove them, but more women took their place. This continued for several hours, as the police dragged off one group of women, another group sat in the street. Seventeen or eighteen women were arrested, including Shira, and released on bail the next day. She mentioned that the demonstration and her arrest were experiences that she will never forget because of the impact on Tel Aviv traffic and on the determination of the demonstrators. Shira said she was disappointed with the Israeli press because there was no mention of their “closure” or “traffic stopper” on television or in the newspapers.

     

      During Coalition meetings, Shira and the other members, Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, planned additional demonstrations and actions and discussed broadening the scope of their discourse to include Mizrachi women. They also wanted to address issues involving the environment, economy, and education that were affected by the occupation and war. I marveled at the skill of coalition members who facilitated these meetings, one of whom was Sarit. Out of diverse perspectives and opinions, with a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, they found common ground. Sometimes these meetings were planned for Fridays, and the women would take a break to stand silently at the closest WIB vigil site. There were over 30 sites throughout Israel where women stood together every Friday from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. As a result of these meetings I spoke with women who stood vigil in several parts of Israel. Many of the women began with Friday vigils and as their interest in activism grew they started other organizations, e.g., Bat Shalom (Women for Peace), a non-profit organization that promotes peace through workshops, meetings, dialogue and dissemination of information.

     

      Members of WIB operated through consensus building and communicated via the Internet. The women knew vigils were held at the same time every Friday. Therefore the group rarely held organizing meetings. However, I did attend one such meeting in October of 2001. It was the first WIB organizing meeting since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada. There were no leaders or membership fees but unofficial leaders emerged to manage particular tasks. At the beginning of the meeting, Shira mentioned that the group had not won the Nobel Peace Prize. Instead it went to Kofi Annan and the United Nations.

 

      In light of September 11th attack on the U.S., the women wanted to discuss their national and international roles. Questioning whether they should change their slogans to include Afghanistan, the women decided to remain focused on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories. They agreed to generate a poster listing Israeli and Palestinian casualties for each month and create a brochure that explained a number of issues related to the occupation, e.g., numbers of home demolitions, the expulsion of Palestinians from South Hebron, and the economic, political and social impact of the occupation on everyone. Deciding to use photographs in the brochure they hoped to increase their ability to get their points across.

     

      Writing about the impact of WIB on Israeli society and the peace negotiations, Svirsky (1998) noted that the weekly vigils presented peace as an option outside the acrimony between Israelis and Palestinians, and promoted peace narratives in societal discourse. In public displays, the women used symbols, i.e., black for mourning, as counter protesters to war, and positioned themselves as a mass to be reckoned with.

     

      Shadmi (2000) adds, “They did not capitalize on the traditional roles of women as mothers and wives to advance their protest; instead, they established their status and position in the town squares through their mere presence as citizens with equal rights” (p. 27). Using their bodies, dressed in the symbol of mourning, these women maintain a constant and consistent presence to expose Israelis from all walks of life to their overt and covert meanings (Shadmi, 2000). They are mourning the death of Israelis and Palestinians but also the death of a way of life that would include peaceful coexistence with their neighbors, and living without fear.

 

      Shira and I discussed the international focus of the movement. Their practice of silent vigils has found meaning in sites distributed throughout Israel and in many parts of the world. Many of the WIB groups in other countries hold solidarity vigils supporting Israeli WIB and their message to end the occupation. Others support issues germane to their nation’s concerns. The following excerpt is from a WIB flyer Shira wrote.      

      Women in Black has become a movement of women of conscience of all denominations and nationalities who hold vigils to protest violence in their part of the world: war, interethnic conflict, militarism, the arms industry, racism, neo-Nazism, violence against women, violence in the neighborhoods, etc. Each vigil is autonomous, setting its own policy and guidelines, though in all the vigils the women dress in black, symbolizing the tragedy of the victims of violence. What unites us all is our commitment to justice and a world free of violence. (WIB flyer, 2001)  

      A few unintended consequences of the WIB movement have included counter narratives that arose in response to their discourse. Svirsky (1998), claims that the WIB movement gave birth to Women In Green, “a rebellious ‘daughter movement’ to counter our effect” (p. 332). Women in Green used a style of protest that was very different from WIB and members of the WIG group with whom I spoke denied this genealogical claim.

     

      Other counter narratives originated with members of the Kach group, and passing motorists and pedestrians who were threatened by an end to the occupation. They lodged verbal attacks in an attempt to delegitimate and potentially drown out the women’s message. Undaunted by this challenge, the women ignored these sexualized insults. As Tamir mentioned, the women interpreted the meaning of the transition from these insults to the label “traitors” as an indication of elevated status in the political discourse. Shira noted that the label “traitor” indicated that the women were being noticed for more than their gender.

     

      Certainly the WIB message to “end the occupation” of Palestinian territories threatened members of the Kach group. These men and boys persistently challenged the women for the right to the “territory” in Hagar Square. Actually, a much larger domain was contested. The women in the square silently voiced their goal and their demand entered Israeli peace discourse. The silent narrative from Women in Black had penetrated the male discourse and the Kach counter protest was an indication of their success. These women and the participants in their sister groups presented a formidable and valid alternative to the oppression of others and the occupation of Palestinian lands. Sheriff (2000) suggests that cultural silence is a form of censorship in which those censored participate. The women in Hagar Square have turned attempts to censor them into a message heard around the world.

     

      However, participants in the vigils had no illusions about their influence in the greater Israeli society. In 2000, when peace seemed imminent, Gila Svirsky (2000) wrote about the impact of WIB in a number of sectors. She explained the movement’s influence on Palestinians and “passersby.”     

      One of the important audiences for Women in Black was Palestinians. It was important for them to know that there are Israelis with whom a real peace can be made. This was as important for the Palestinian trucker, who delivered a crate of cucumbers to the vigil at Kibbutz Nahshon so that his son could learn “that not all Israelis are border guards, soldier, police, or tax collectors,” as it was for Arab Political leaders. President Mubarak of Egypt and Hanan Ashrawi, the former spokesperson of the PLO, have both mentioned Women in Black in the context of taking heart from the peace camp in Israel. It was important for us to tell the Palestinians, to tell Arabs in General, and to tell the world at large that not all Israelis support the occupation policies of the Israelis government, and that some of us also yearn for a just peace.

     

      And finally, the angry passersby. Here, of course, we had no impact at all. I have no illusions that there was a single person who disagreed with us who became convinced of our views by seeing us stand there. They were not our target audience. We did not stand on the vigil to convince Likud voters to vote Labor, nor did we hope to convince Shamir to forfeit his vision of a Greater Israel. These were obviously impossible tasks.

     

      What we did attempt to do was create a constant sound of peace, a soprano continuo, demanding reconciliation. Women in Black and other peace organizations, together, encouraged and gave voice to the growing body of Israelis who had enough of war and suffering. We were the voice of thesilent public who would rather sit at home than be on the streets holding up signs. We represented the Israelis who wanted peace, but were too well-mannered (or constrained by jobs or family) to raise their own voice.

     

      Our silent protest served as their voice, demanding peace on behalf of us all (Pp. 241-242).

      Some of the members of Women in Black are American born. Laskier (2000) examines the impact American born Israeli activists have had on Israeli activist practice. He contends that American style demonstrations and protests are frequently employed but Israeli activists are hampered by “the absence of an American-style constitution and a bill of rights” (p. 148).

     

            Shira, on the other hand, recognized that women-only peace groups had had an impact on broadening the scope and agenda of the peace movement. She said that prior to Women in Black, women’s voices were not heard in the peace movement even though most of the organizers and participants were women. In addition to the “two states for two people” agenda of the mixed gender peace groups, the women-only groups added the following issues to the peace agenda: a shared economy between the two states; economic and social equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel; equality for all Jews; some sort of restitution for the ’48 Palestinian refugees, removal of all Jewish settlements from the Palestinian territories; and women serving as partners in negotiations for peace. In the absence of a formal constitution or Bill of Rights, these women are establishing a forum to insert ideas for human rights into Israeli discourse and hegemony.

 

      Just before the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the Jerusalem Women in Black and their sister groups all over Israel returned to their vigils, once again creating a powerful domain of silence within Israel’s social structure. Their performative and textual practices to “end the occupation” have entered the discourse surrounding peace negotiations and have given voice to women’s perspectives. Silence has different meaning in different cultures and contexts (Kim and Markus, 2002). As a result of their practice these women have empowered their silent space with a message Israelis have had increasing difficulty ignoring. If and when peace negotiations restart, the question of the Occupied Territories will hold a central place. In the context of Israel, women have transformed silence into agency.

     

Additional Narratives

 

            Israeli women’s networks are strong and I found that women with totally opposite perspectives were often friends. Some of the women I met introduced me to their friends and welcomed me into their families. The women’s narratives that follow have been selected because they reflect the ideas repeatedly articulated by those women whose politics were on the Left. I met with these women in their homes, offices and public spaces.

 

Mona

 

            The questions I asked about identity seemed most relevant to Palestinian Israeli women because their identity is informed by a lived experience of discrimination. My landlady asked a friend of hers, Mona, if she would meet with me. She agreed but wanted to remain anonymous. We met in her Jerusalem office.

 

            Mona talked a great deal about her struggle to gain equality in Israel. She said she felt the discrimination everyday and everywhere, at work, in the schools and in the resources and rights that were withheld from Palestinian citizens of Israel. Realizing that she was not able to achieve everything she would have liked to achieve in her life, she hoped for a better life for her two children.

 

            Employed in human services, she had to fight to get the same benefits as the Jewish employees. The Palestinian Israeli woman who had had the position before her did not fight and did not get the benefits. It took Mona 6 months, but she achieved her goal. She said that not everyone is willing or has the personality to advocate for themselves, but she felt it was important to struggle to achieve equality.

 

      Remarking that Jewish Israelis expect Arabs to accommodate to their way of life and language, Mona said she did not see any commitment on the part of the Jewish government to acknowledge an Arab way of life. Some Arab villages in Israel are not recognized by the Israeli government and do not receive water, electricity or medical services while even the most remote Jewish community receives these resources.

     

            Education and job opportunities are not equal and Mona recommended that Arabs be allowed to perform community service in lieu of military service so that they qualified for the benefits, scholarships and mortgage discounts that are offered to Jewish Israelis after they fulfill their military commitment. Mona suggested the establishment of Arab universities in Israel so that students could study in their own language and have a better understanding of the concepts and ideas taught.

 

     When I asked for her dream of peace, she explained it very clearly.

 

Mona:    We really dream to have a better future for our children – by a better future I mean that they can live in Israel as equals with the  Jewish people. I can’t believe that my children are going to live in an independent land. This is also my dream, two people- two nations, all independent, in two pieces of this land, Palestinian land and Jewish land. Everyone can deal with himself in their own way, independent country. And as my children, as my children, I can’t believe that they will leave their own home. My children have their own home now. To feel equal, to feel very proud of themselves. Not to believe that everywhere they have to go, they have to check if the Jewish people accept them or not, if they believe them or not.

 

Amneh

 

      I introduced Amneh in chapter 4. She and I agreed to meet at Haifa University, in one of the cafés on campus. When asked, Amneh did not see a threat to the continuation of the State of Israel but she was aware of the potential of an Arab majority in about 50 years. Amneh was concerned that Jews needed to wake up and realize that their discrimination against Arabs could have unintended consequences. That continued discrimination against Palestinian Israelis could result in the same treatment toward Jews if Arabs ever became a majority.

     

Amneh:  Today the fight is really to have a state. A Palestinian State, an Israeli State, an Israel for all its citizens. Not only Jewish citizens. In 2020 we are going to be a third of, even more, we are already 20%. In 2020 we are going to be half the population.  In 2050 we are going to be majority. 2050 is not that far away. In 2050 we are going to be the majority, we can elect our own government, and then we can create our own laws, and they may be discriminating or not. I don't know. If hatred and discrimination continue, then I think we will create our own laws that will discriminate. And this is what I don't want. This is really what I don't want.

 

              This is a really beautiful country and we have to start respecting each other.

     

      Both Mona and Amneh were tired of the discrimination that permeates all aspects of their lives. When we discussed identity, Amneh said she was frustrated over all the labels others placed on her.

     

Amneh:  I don't want to go on with this identity dilemma, identity problem of what I am. Am I Palestinian? Israeli? Arab? What I am? Nothing is expected. Israelis tell you, “You are Arab.” Arabs tell you, “you are Israeli,” especially from abroad.

 

              And I don't want to fight all my life. Not fighting for rights only, it's fighting to have them understand that I am not a terrorist. That I cry to and that I am sometimes happy and sometimes sad. And when I see people dead, I don't mind [care] if they are Jews or not. I cry, I feel bad. And If a Palestinian is getting killed I also feel bad.

 

              As for our side there are a lot of changes to be done. Things like, I’m talking about the Palestinian minority now but I’m a minority in a minority. I am not a minority in Arab society but I am discriminated against as a woman which is also another issue, it’s not only in the Arab part society but in the Israeli society as a whole.

 

              It’s like in Israeli society, you have the religious people and the non-religious people. Same for us, we have the religious and we have the secular.

 

Lucille:  It is Christian or Muslim?

 

Amneh: There is also the Christian/Muslim thing. It’s a bit on the side. So  we were talking about it a lot, but now that we have this issue of  one Palestinian, it’s united in a way. But there’s also the secular and religious, both Muslims and Christians. And me containing being a secular, containing being female and Palestinian, I have three minorities on my side.

 

              Yes, lots of things need to be done. And I believe that none of them will be done until we have peace: political peace and people peace. Then we will have time for other issues.

 

      Amneh was passionate about wanting an end to discrimination and the start of equality. She recognized that once the larger issue of the Palestinian State was settled, the more immediate day-to-day issues of discrimination would have to be addressed. I asked her if she thought there was a solution, an end or change in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. She said, “No, but I still work for it.”  I also asked her if there was anything I forgot or left out.

     

Amneh:  I think a lot of people ask, "Why do Palestinians do this and that?" "And how can a person bomb themselves?” And me, myself, I am a Palestinian and I can't understand how can a person bomb themself? I believe that life is the most precious thing. But there is a saying in Arabic, it states that, "Die like a lion but don't live like a rabbit." Die as a strong courageous man but don't live as a coward.

 

              We should start asking about Israeli acts and about the government. The situation here is really bad… For Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip it is very bad…People are getting killed everyday and the media doesn't know about that. People are humiliated everyday and the media doesn't know either about them. Things like that should go more to the media than terror. The media, all it’s interested in is waiting for terror, for something attractive. But please do not believe everything that's in the media. Yes we throw stones, and we throw stones to attack. And keep this in mind, we throw stones to show we don't want this occupation. Even if it’s a good thing we don't want that.

 

              And it's our right to choose, we are people and it's our right to choose how we want to live. Even if it's going to be a dictator in a Palestinian State and the worst one, then we will have our own fighting to do, fighting against the Palestinian government which is not democratic or not humane but then this is our own fight. Please let us have the right to choose. This is what we are telling Israel. Please give us the right to choose. Give us the right to build our own state. To learn from our own mistakes. It is like a little child telling his parents, "Please let me get dirty so that I know what it feels like.”

 

      Amneh is a Palestinian citizen of Israel and was able to articulate some of the concerns and wishes of the larger group of Palestinians, regardless of borders. She wanted to remain an Israeli but like most Palestinians in Israel dreamt of a Palestinian State. Their daily experience of discrimination helped them identify with the oppression the Palestinians experienced in the Occupied Territories.

     

      Jewish Israeli women also articulated many of the concerns addressed in Mona and Amneh’s narratives. They were aware of the discrimination about which Mona and Amneh spoke. Many Jewish women from the Left have friends who are Palestinian Israelis or Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories and were able to identify the effects of discriminatory practice. Shira’s explanation of issues surrounding national security and unity are representative of the concerns leftwing women articulated.

     

Lucille:  There are people who believe that there is a threat to the continuation of Israel. Is there a threat? And if there is, where does it come from?

 

Shira:     Right now the Israeli military is one of the strongest in the world. Not only can it defend itself against any single country in the region, it can defend itself against all the countries in the region put together. There is no existential threat to Israel at this time.  There used to be but there isn’t anymore. Israel does not have to worry about its survival.

 

              Now this doesn’t mean that in the future there would not be existential threats by countries, that like Israel, develop a bomb, nuclear bomb. This is why it’s so important to disarm all these countries of nuclear warheads - Israel included. All the countries in the world, not just the regional countries, but that includes the Western countries as well.

 

              I believe firmly that if we could develop interdependence and cultural, social and economic cooperation among all the countries, we would be going a long distance toward preventing future global warfare. Now, globalization is not the answer. Globalization just fills the pockets of the very rich. But a shared economic future that would be beneficial to the peoples of the region would be a very strong investment in global peace.

 

Lucille:  You’re saying Israel with the Arab countries in the region?

 

Shira:     Certainly. Absolutely. If there’s anything in Israel’s interest, it’s economic development of the neighboring Arab countries. The last thing Israel needs is poor countries surrounding it, who don’t like the wealth and prosperity that they see in Israel. Therefore, it behooves us to invest economically in our neighbors.

 

Lucille:  Do you think there’s a fear in the population of annihilation? Israel’s annihilation?

 

Shira:     Yes, of course. There is tremendous fear on both sides. Some people fear the annihilation of Israel. Most people just fear the next bomb. People are fearful not that the State of Israel will be wiped out, there’s some people who believe that it would be wiped out. But most people just fear going to the market for shopping, or going to a movie or going to the mall, because there’s so many bombs around, or taking a bus.

 

              So the fear is very palpable among Israelis. And fear drives the wisdom, or rather, the fear is driving the lack of wisdom in our policies. Now the politicians are delighted to play on the fear of the Israelis because the politicians know that fear is a strong motivator and will keep them in office. So what we see is a lot of politicians who promote a divisive attitude because, divide and rule. It keeps them strong.

 

Lucille:  Who are they dividing? Who are these messages targeted to?

 

Shira:     It says, “You Israelis, beware of Palestinians. Palestinians are people…” to quote our President Katzav, “The Palestinians came from another galaxy.” Can you imagine he said this racist remark? Publicly? It’s divide Israelis from Palestinians.

 

              Shall I tell you who’s really divided? The real division, it’s between Israelis who want and love peace together with Palestinians who want and love peace, against Palestinians and Israelis extremists. That’s the true division. The vast majority on both sides really want to get to peace. Want to live normal lives. And we together as allies are pitted against the Palestinians and Israelis who are religious fanatics who are setting off bombs, who are underground terrorist organizations on both sides, who are shooting each other up. They are making our lives miserable.

 

Hannah

 

      Although identifying with the Left, some Jewish Israeli women who were not activists said they have heightened concerns about Israel’s security and about Arab intentions with regard to peace. Arafat’s and Barak’s failure to achieve a peace agreement along with a growing awareness that Palestinian Israelis were angry over the continued discrimination, have caused these women to rethink their assumptions about Palestinians’ loyalty to the State of Israel and their ultimate goals. They mistrust statements from the Palestinian Authority that profess peace, and consider them insincere. In addition, they report becoming increasingly pessimistic about ever reaching peace, even if the Occupied Territories are returned to the Palestinians. 

     

            A friend of mine introduced me to Hannah. On several occasions, we met in her apartment and talked about the conflict and her views. Hannah is multilingual and worked out of her home in Tel Aviv translating manuscripts and other written materials from Hebrew to English for writers, students and business executives. Although she hadn’t been active for a while, she had a long history of activism in peace and feminist groups and considered herself part of the Left.

 

Hannah: I think until October, I really thought that the territories are the key to peace with the Palestinians. And that if we give all the territories, or most of them, make compensation for some, that they would have no more demands, and hopefully we’d be able to really get on the road to peace. And now I don’t believe it anymore. I still think that we shouldn’t be in the territories. Being an occupying power has done as much harm to us as it has to them, to our character, to the Israeli character. An occupier always becomes, and has to be in many ways brutal and insensitive to the occupied. I think that’s part of the game, if you’re an occupier, that’s what happens to you. I don’t think we’re worse then any other society would have been, but that doesn’t make it good. And I still think the territories are an obstacle to peace. But now I’ve lost a lot of faith in the Palestinians. I don’t think that they’re ready for peace.

 

              I’m not talking about the ordinary man in the street, but the people who decide. And I don’t think that even if we give up the territories tomorrow, and I won’t be sorry if we do, I don’t think that peace will come.

 

Lucille: Why is that?

 

Hannah: What’s changed?

 

Lucille: What’s changed?

 

Hannah: I think first of all, Arafat had a good chance with Barak. Now everybody is saying that Barak made a lot of mistakes and he was arrogant and he made it impossible for Arafat to agree. I don’t know how true that is, but Arafat did have a good chance and even if Barak did behave like that, he had a perfectly good chance to get things going and it wouldn’t have had to stop there. But every concession that was made to him, he demanded more and walked out and then did all kinds of things to make it impossible. And I think now he’s playing a double game. He’s not really trying to stop the violence. Not really. Well, if he’s not trying to stop the violence, then he’s not really interested in having proper talks for peace.

 

              To give you an example of something that really shocked me, was my Arabic teacher. I study Arabic. And our teacher who’s an Arab, from Israel, from Galilee, he’s very, highly educated, very intelligent and articulate and we usually have great fun in the lesson. One day, after Sharon was elected, he said something, we don’t talk about it in the class, but he said something, and I stupidly said, “Well, it was your fault.” Meaning that the Arabs did not vote, so because the Arabs did not vote, they were voting for Sharon. And I shouldn’t have said that but a lot of us felt very bitter about Sharon getting in. [Palestinian Israelis boycotted the election.]

 

              And he went into this diatribe, but the bottom line was that there’s no justification for the State of Israel. Now, the man lives in Tel Aviv. He’s actually married to a Jewish women. He has the best of everything. And I’m not saying that he doesn’t have a grudge. He does have a grudge, because his village was taken away from him, in Israel. And his father, when he wanted to go back to his village, was not allowed to go back because the government had decided that it was not his property anymore. And I understand that he could feel terribly bitter, and I can sympathize with that. But his bottom line was that there’s no justification for the State of Israel at all.

 

              Only yesterday, I had a long conversation with him and there’s no willingness on their side to understand it at all. They only see the injustices being done to them, and the oppression that they’re suffering. And I felt like saying, you know, “Jews, throughout history have been thrown out of almost every country in the world. If they just went around with chips on their shoulders for the rest of their lives, there would have been no Jewish Nobel Prize winners, there would have been no Jewish scientists. There wouldn’t have been Israel. Because, I think they would have just let themselves be driven into the ground. But they went beyond that always and they built up their lives, whatever sacrifice, they built up their lives to get ahead.

 

              But he is one of the people, because of what he said, that have made me much less optimistic about the possibility of peace. The good will on the other side, not the good will but the real willingness to come to peace, to come to agreement, because there’s got to be compromise. If there isn’t a compromise, it means just really defeating all of us.

 

Ronit

 

      On the other hand, there were several women with whom I spoke who were angry with the Left for not taking a stronger stand in support of Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. These women, considered themselves “nothing,” and did not align or identify with any political group.

     

      As previously mentioned, in July 2001 I attended the first Peace Now rally held after the start of the al-Aqsa Intifada. One of the speakers was Ronit, a women who also spoke during the June 2001 Women in Black vigil and rally mentioned earlier. A suicide bomber had killed Ronit’s daughter three years earlier. She was critical of Peace Now and the Left for their silence during the 10 months after the Intifada began. While speaking, she began criticizing Peace Now and other members of the Left for their silence and was dismayed when she was told to cut her speech short.

     

Lucille:  Why were you asked to speak at this rally?

 

Ronit:    I was invited to speak because when my daughter was killed by a suicide terrorist, I blamed the government of Israel for the killing and I was memorialized in Israel because nobody has ever said that… that's why they invite me everywhere. Do you understand Hebrew?

 

Lucille:  I understand some. I didn’t understand it all, could you tell me what you said?

 

Ronit:    What I said was about two components. First, I wish to exclude myself from the category of people, the group to which I belong because the group has gone astray and I don't want to belong anymore, and I’m looking for another group. And the group I wish to belong to is not Arab or Jewish but is a group of peace lovers who are opposed to the war criminals killing us. Their children are in a subterranean group of children that the occupation has created in Israel. Characteristics of this group. Boys who refuse to go to the army, Israel forces them to have a certificate of insanity and I said we exclude the mothers who live in settlements and expose their children to death and violence.

 

              And then I spoke about, the main theme of education in schools will be violence. There is circular from the Ministry of Education. that has some tenets about which the school has to operate.  Which means respecting the rights of others and abiding by the law. And school is a microcosm and the State of Israel has to abide by international law regarding human rights. And in Israel murder is permitted if you are in uniform and racism is the ruler by which you judge people to life. And we do make a distinction between blood and blood.

 

              If school breeds violence it is because it exists in this society. And it is not a lonely island. Who is going to teach children all these things? The father just came from the army killing children, and the teacher lives in a settlement. And I finished with an outcry that I always do,

 

              “Mothers and fathers who haven't lost their children yet to call out for the world to hear, help to save our children because we don't have any more.”

 

              I think that a state that behaves criminally cannot educate anything but criminals and this is the situation. This is a state whose Prime Minister is a war criminal. The parties of the left are evaporated. This is the first time we hear them in a year. So there is such a large consensus in Israel, no one says anything. No opposition. I think it is a shame they didn't invite Palestinians to this demonstration. When I asked them before they said they don't want to heat the atmosphere. They are my brothers and sisters much more, because most of the parents I know, who have lost children, the parents have never held a weapon in their hand. And now we abandon them, to starve and to be terrorized. And it is hypocrisy to not invite them. Racism. Then she told me I have one minute to go.

 

Lucille: I was surprised that there were no Arabs.

 

Ronit:    No, they only called one Arab who is an Israeli. It is a shame. Hypocrisy. Before I went up they said not to speak about the right of return, not to speak about Jerusalem, It is saving face. They want to keep up with the parties, that's all they want. And that's what the young people yelled at him [an Israeli Politician from the Left]. "How do you have the right to speak when you are part of this… of the government or whatever."

 

Lucille: Is there something else we should understand about this society? Other than what you already said?

 

Ronit:    I think that Israeli society lives in constant fear of the other….and I think they…what is being enhanced here in education, mostly is the feeling that we are victims because of WWII. And children grow up to believe that. And so they go to the army without question. Israel society judges people by their participation in the army, my country right or wrong. I think it is a very racist society, not only between Jews and Arabs but also within the Jewish world. European Jews dominate. The way you speak, dress, comb hair is political. So much tension, so much hate, it is very easy to direct all this tension and all this hate to some kind of enemy. That is how they succeed. Everything is a part of it, education, media, books, politics, everything goes in this direction. And then you have mythology about great Israel which is far more worth than everyday life.

 

              Children are brought up to believe they are not worth the soul of Jerusalem. Amazing how easy it is to do it. To indoctrinate people to this. Very easy because there is just a fear that they want to kill us all. There is a paper by William James about the other…the enemy…create a category of “other,” the enemy and then everyone is the enemy. That's the way they operate.

 

Lucille:  Do you think there is a threat to the continuation of the State of Israel?

 

Ronit:    Now there is a threat. Because someone will have enough. All the Arab countries. Our children are leaving the country. Our main export of Israel is our children, to universities in other countries because they have to do reserve army and don't want to do it. Then very religious, who don't care who rules here, stay and others will go away because they couldn't continue to live like that. Half of young generation leaves Israel after finish army. And they don't see it. And the import from other countries is amazing, maniacs and madmen of European and American Jewry come to live here and they come to kill. Change in composition of society and in the tone given by people. It's going to…

 

Lucille: What is the solution? What needs to happen?

 

Ronit:    I think that a Palestinian state with the partition of Jerusalem. If we don't do that they will not accept anything. Must have the right to return…to their houses to their homes. So that is the solution and if we remain we remain and if we don't we don't. If you decide to be human, you have to be human. Otherwise I think you are doomed anyway.

 

Lucille: Are you a member of Profile Hadash [New Profile]?

 

Ronit:    I'm not a member of anything.

 

Lucille: Thank you very much.

 

Ronit:    Good luck with your thesis.

 

Devorah

 

            At the beginning of this chapter I mentioned the breadth of ideas emanating from the Left. Devorah offered a perspective on peace and the occupied territories that I did not hear from anyone else. I asked her what peace meant to her.

 

Devorah:   Everyone thinks differently about peace. I think the word peace, [is] used by the Israelis to force a settlement with the Arabs. I mean that if we will give you the West Bank and Palestinian State, you will give us peace. But I think that we can’t say that, “We give you the West Bank,” because it’s theirs. We just have to stop the occupation. We have to give back what we took by force. And if you have to give back what you took by force, you can not speak about the price that you are going to get from that. And when we speak about price, peace is the price that we demand from the Arabs, we want to use our power to force the peace on them.

 

              And I like good fences. My dilemma now is to have good fences between Israel and the Arabs, the Palestinian State. I’m sure we will have to give back every inch that we occupied in ’67 and because of the hatred, the terrible hatred. And of course no settlements, nothing can stay there in the West Bank. Maybe big places like neighborhoods of Jerusalem can remain and we will switch areas, give them a piece of Israel. And maybe we will switch lands, we can talk about settlements that are on the borders. And that’s how I see that.

 

            Women on the Left, Jewish and Palestinian Israelis wanted peace. Women on the Left, Jewish and Palestinian Israelis, wanted an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories. Jewish Israeli women on the Left varied in their understanding and awareness of the costs of discrimination against Palestinian Israeli women.

 

            As I continued talking with Devorah, she spoke about the complexity of many of the issues surrounding peace; for instance, the issue of Palestinian refugees. She thought that Palestinian refugees could be given the homes of the settlers who would be removed from the West Bank. Then Israel would give the settlers new homes inside Israel. She went onto say that the issue of the refugees is very complex because Israel is a state comprised of refugees, the refugees from the Holocaust. So when the Palestinian Israelis talked of the return of refugees, there was more than one refugee issue that needed to be considered.       

 

            I agree with Devorah that the issues surrounding peace in Israel are very complex. There are so many possibilities and solutions within the context of ending the occupation. The meaning of ending the occupation varies because “going back to the ’67 borders” means, in part, giving back large sections of what is now West Jerusalem. It means dismantling settlements along the borders and it means moving parts of Highway #1, the highway from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv that crosses those borders in two places.

 

      Ending the occupation means that Israel will have to address discrimination against Palestinian Israelis who want their rights and the rights of their families to return to Israel. They would also like their land in Israel returned, Land on which many Jewish Israelis now live. 

     

     For now, Tamir’s dream for peace will end this chapter.

     

Tamir:    I’ve got a very simple dream. We go back to the ’67 border, 97% of it, and for the other 3%.  You know, there’s my dream, and there’s my realistic dream. My dream is that we get out of everything, you know, Gilo and all the settlements. That‘s my unrealistic dream. I recognize that around Jerusalem there are blocks that are not going to be completely dismantled. So my dream is that a couple of blocks, minimum blocks, for which the Palestinians are going to be given alternative land on a one to one basis.

 

              And it must be childish but I long to say, “hurray, hurray, hurray, this is my flag, this is my country, we are in the ’67 borders.” And if anybody comes and attacks us, “Oh, yah, yah, yah, how terrible!” We’re going to defend ourselves.

 

              Now we’re not defending ourselves, we’re racists, we’re the aggressors. I want to stop being the aggressor. And I’m afraid at the moment, it seems like a pipe dream.

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Lucille writes, “I would welcome any comments of any nature that readers would like to offer. I hope to publish this dissertation and the comments offered would appear in a final chapter.  Again, no identifying information would be indicated and respondents could state that they do not want their comments used.”  To send a comment, write to Lucille at lasherlick@hotmail.com.