hall: No conference hall was available on the Palestinian side of Jerusalem
that could accommodate so many women. As a result, we rented the large open space
behind the Seven Arches Hotel, located on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Since
this meant that the conference would be held outdoors, we made the following arrangements (which may not have been necessary
at an indoor site):
Þ Erected three large canopies to
cast shade on the participants (photo below);
Þ Rented (and cleaned) 1,000 chairs;
Þ Constructed a raised platform so
the speakers would be visible;
Þ Installed a sound system outdoors;
Þ Installed nearby broad-band, wireless
internet connections for webcasting and direct conference coverage;
Þ Constructed six booths for the translators;
Þ Set up tables for earphone distribution,
informational materials, exhibits by other organizations, and lunch provisions;
Þ Rented 18 hotel rooms for use as
workshop meeting space;
Þ Rented one hotel meeting room for
ongoing screening of political films;
Þ Installed outdoor beach showers,
to enable participants to cool off, as needed;
Þ Provided 300 hand-held, battery
powered fans (ineffective!);
Þ Provided box lunches for 700 people
Þ Ensured the provision of 1,500 bottles
of cold water each day.
Hotels: Approximately 400 of the conference participants were housed in three inexpensive
hotels (the Knight’s Palace, the Gloria, and the New Imperial hotels), all in proximity to each other in the Christian
Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Participants were assigned roommates
at their request, but countries were mixed among all three hotels. 2-3 staff
members from the Organizing Committee were also accommodated at each hotel in order to handle registration and answer any
Buses: Each morning and late afternoon, a fleet of 8 buses moved women between the hotels
and the conference venue. Because of the narrow streets in the Old City, women
had a 10-15 minute walk to reach the buses outside the walls. Transport caused
unfortunate delays in conference time, but these delays were anticipated and scheduled into the program. We also made extensive use of buses for travel to Ramallah, Bil’in, the Separation Wall, and Kalandia.
Meals: Ordinarily, this would not merit discussion, except for the following. Lunches were catered by two women’s collectives – the Palestinian “Bint al-Balad”
and the Israeli “Women Cook up a Business”. Breakfast was served
at each hotel, but all participants (even those not staying at the hotels) gathered for dinner every evening at two of the
hotels. All meals were vegetarian.
Languages: To ensure the participation of women from different backgrounds, all plenary sessions
were simultaneously translated into 6 languages – Hebrew, Arabic, English, Spanish, Italian, and French. We also tried to arrange in advance for volunteer translators in some workshops, but others were unilingual. Most, but not all, official conference materials were translated into all six languages.
2. Entering Israel
Visas: The Israeli authorities are strict about entry into the country, particularly with
respect to citizens of developing countries. After deliberating the issue at
length, the Organizing Committee decided to declare openly to the Interior Ministry that we are inviting women to a Women
in Black conference, and to demand our right to hold this conference openly and bring in women to participate. We published and hung a poster advertising the conference throughout Israel saying “Women Resist
Occupation and War” (photo). After many initial negotiations at the Visa
Department, and pressure from two Knesset Members, we were successful: Every
visa that we sought was granted.
refused entry: About two weeks before the conference, three participants
who did not require visas – two from Spain and one from Iceland – were turned away at the borders, based on their
record of human rights activism in the territories (on previous visits). The
Organizing Committee immediately hired a lawyer with experience in this work, and trained a task force of 8 women (two in
each language of English, French, Spanish, and Italian). When participants were
detained at the airport, they called someone on the task force who spoke their language and gathered the relevant information
from them. Our lawyer then began to advocate for their release, using persuasion
with the border authorities and pressure from government officials. As a result,
although women with rich records of activism were detained for up to 8 hours and threatened with being turned away, every
one was ultimately allowed to enter the country.
to Africa: During the course of inviting women from distant countries,
we learned that electronic plane tickets (e-tickets) cannot be issued to many third world countries. This was complicated by the fact that there is no Israeli consulate in their countries to issue the visa
that was approved in Jerusalem. An additional problem was the need to acquire
visas for stopover countries. We realized that we did not leave enough time to
make all these arrangements, and as a result, there were invited guests from Burundi, Rwanda, and Kenya who could not attend.
3. Joint planning – Israeli and Palestinian women
There is no Women
in Black movement in the Palestinian territories, but the Israeli women organizers regarded the participation
of Palestinian women in the conference as a matter of principle and did everything possible to maximize their involvement. There were two levels of obstacles: (a)
the difficulties of meeting with each other for planning, as a result of the restrictions on movement; and (b) the difficulties
of maintaining relationships in a situation of national conflict and power imbalance.
A group of about 12 Palestinian women joined the Organizing Committee on the Palestinian side, while approximately
30 Israeli women participated in the organizing on the Israeli side. Joint meetings
were always small – 3-4 women on each side. The first joint meetings were
in Ramallah, later joint meetings were held in Jerusalem. It was agreed that
the overall conference program would be planned together, while the political action inside Palestine would be planned exclusively
by the Palestinian side.
Palestinian women were visible at the conference, both in the audience and on stage.
We also know of Palestinians who took risks to attend the conference, crossing the borders illegally.
4. Ideological differences between Israeli and Palestinian organizers
During the course of joint planning, three significant differences arose between the sides:
workshop: After both sides initially approved the program and it was
circulated internationally, the Palestinians insisted that the workshop “Lesbian Activism against Oppression”
be deleted from the program. The Palestinian organizers said that this workshop
would have been acceptable to them, but it was intolerable in their society and would put them at serious risk. Although this met with strong opposition on the Israeli side, the Palestinians did not relent, and the
workshop was removed. The removal of this workshop became the subject of much
discussion throughout the conference, and the inspiration for t-shirts that were printed in Arabic saying “Lesbians
for a free Palestine”, which many wore throughout the conference.
from the “Arab world” disinvited: Pakistani, Egyptian, and
Iraqi women were planning to attend the conference (the Pakistani and Iraqi women held UK passports, enabling them to enter
Israel). When the Palestinian women on the Organizing Committee learned
of this, they wrote a letter to them stating, "As
we appreciate your initiative to participate, but since the conference is taking
place in East Jerusalem, Palestine, we as the Palestinian coordinating group refuse to be a bridge for normalization between
the Arab World and Israel. We hope you reconsider your intention to participate." None of the three attended and the issue caused great distress on the Israeli
side, most of whom disagreed with the Palestinian position on this matter.
visit: Another source of disagreement was the fact that the Israeli
conference participants were asked not to attend the meetings in Ramallah, although many wanted to attend. Furthermore, and in retrospect, the Israelis also would have wanted more input about the program in Ramallah,
as many were opposed to the idea of a visit to Arafat’s grave.