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Standing for Peace: Chapter 3 1996

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Friends and Foes at the Vigil

 

Reactions Via the Sewers

 

The Jerusalem Women in Black vigil was held in what is commonly called Paris Square (though officially named France Square), a five-way intersection located ten minutes from the center of town and five minutes from the official residence of the Prime Minister.  The vigil faced the Franciscan College of Terra Sancta on one side and the Kings Hotel on the other – between celestial and earthly Jerusalem, I sometimes thought during long meditative moments opposite.  During the vigil years, Jerusalemites would often refer to the intersection as “Women in Black Square”, which pleased us, as we eventually came to realize that the more our presence was noticed, the more impact we might have.  And notice us they did, well before the media paid attention.

 

Paris Square is one of the busiest intersections in town, especially on Friday afternoons between 1 and 2 p.m., when the vigil took place.  Cars drive around this garden plaza, not unlike a British roundabout, and women on the vigil would stand on the wall around its perimeter, facing the cars as they made their around before feeding into traffic arteries that lead away from it.

 

One side of our vigil – we dubbed it the “front line” – was adjacent to four lanes of traffic, where the drivers often stood stalled and angry in the sweltering Middle East heat, waiting at the long red light.  This wait gave the drivers an opportunity to read our signs and react to them, sometimes more than just verbally.

 

The reactions of many drivers – often vulgar and sexual – were extraordinary.  For some, the vigil evoked a visceral response to seeing a wall of women looking powerful, intimidating, and – what’s worse – flaunting a political opinion, no less an opinion different than theirs.  For others, the vigil became a form of regular weekly entertainment, perhaps even a technique of sexual arousal.

 

For the record, I repeat here some of the most common invective: “whores” (in general), “whores of the Arabs” or “whores of Arafat” (in particular), “You girls need a rape to make you feel better”, “What’s wrong with Jewish men?”, “Is fucking Arabs (or Arafat) better?”, “Shove it, babies, good and hard,” and the endless staple of “Fuck you”.  These were often accompanied by appropriate hand gestures.  “Whores”, the most common appellation, was often delivered in Arabic (sharmuta), although there’s a perfectly good word for it in Hebrew (zona), and those speaking were always Jewish.  Vigils throughout Israel had identical rhetoric thrown at them from passing vehicles, as if all Israeli male drivers had taken the same course to earn their driver’s license.

 

There is no question that much of the reaction to us was based upon our gender, not our politics.  In mixed male and female demonstrations, the abuse is predominantly political, with words and phrases like “traitors”, “fifth column”, “anti-Semites”, “no memory of the Holocaust”, and the like.  We had our share of this, but by and large the curses reserved for Women in Black were sexual.

 

Danny Rubinstein, a journalist who covered the occupation for the Israeli newspaper Davar and then for Ha-aretz, stopped by our vigil one Friday and wrote the following in his next column:

 

            I had walked or driven past this vigil several times, but this time I paused.  It was hot outside and all the car windows were open.  Almost every driver and passenger that passes through this busy intersection has something to say to – or rather to yell at – Women in Black.  What you hear there is a style from the sewer that is hard to describe...70%, perhaps more, about sex.  Although there were those who shouted relevant things, such as “Why bother standing?  You got your answer in the elections” or, less to the point, “It’s Friday, go home and cook.”

            

            But the majority analyzed in great detail the sexual relations of the women demonstrators with Arabs in general and Yasser Arafat in particular.  The things one hears there!  Oral sex, anal sex, sadomasochism, and a summary of all the bed antics from the porno cinema in Tel Aviv and blue movies.  Poor Arafat, who is portrayed internationally as having homosexual tendencies, has to “come” on Women in Black in almost every possible way and primarily in impossible ways.  The standing title that these women are given: “Whores of the Arabs” is the lowest of the low.  Whores of Jews, well...  Whores of tourists and UN observers, even a little respectable.  But whores of Arabs?  Nothing could be more contemptible.[1]

 

Sexist attacks came in other forms as well: “Go home to the kitchen” or “Go make your cholent” (the traditional Sabbath meal) or “Go clean your house” were also standard.  There was one shouter who didn’t understand the appreciative laughter when he rolled down his car window and shouted at us, “Go get a job!”.  Maybe he thought he was watching a labor union strike, but we prefer to think he was simply inspired by the sight of so many women.

 

Reading reports of the women’s peace movement in other countries leads to the inevitable conclusion that men from many countries relate in a sexist manner to women with political views.  Trying to clip the wings of independent women by sexual attacks is not peculiar to the Middle East, the third world, or developing countries.  Indeed, the epithets hurled at the Greenham Common women in civilized England or at the Black Sash women by patrician white South Africans were no less despising of women and an attempt to minimize them than those hurled at Women in Black in Israel.  It’s sad to think that chauvinism seems to be universal.

 

Vulgar gestures and behavior were also common responses to the vigil.  One man walked by, called our attention to him, and then dropped his pants.  I found it hard not to stare at him, fascinated at the connection he made between his genitals and our vigil, but the women all nudged each other to keep our eyes averted or it would encourage him.

 

One man dropped his pants inside his car (he was not, thank God, the driver) and managed to stick his rear end out the window as his friend the driver laughed hysterically.  (A few of us also found this very funny, and had to be reminded of the violent message behind it.)

 

A good deal of spitting also went on, especially from the buses that stopped beside the vigil as they waited for the light to turn green.  Some passengers on these buses, often young boys, thought that it expressed their point of view well to let fly a gob of spit as the bus would pull away.  It was actually quite revolting to have phlegm that didn’t belong to some infant in your care end up, splat, upon your face.

 

People threw whatever happened to be at hand – tomatoes, oranges, half-eaten sandwiches, or water from canteens.  It was also not unusual to have eggs thrown at us, and one woman – at her first vigil – caught an egg first on her face and then on her back, after having soul-searched for a year about whether or not to join our vigil.  (She became an ardent Woman in Black after that.)

 

Some prepared things to throw in advance, like a group of high-school seniors from a Jerusalem high school, who used us as regular target practice on their Friday bus ride past our vigil, spitting and lobbing various objects at us as the bus pulled away from the curb.  We couldn’t get the police to do anything about stopping them and finally we planted a brave young man on the bus who pulled out a camera and took photos of the boys as they let fly.  A bus official who volunteered to help us then boarded the bus and took their names.  Now, with names and photographic proof in our hands, we filed a complaint with the police.  A day later, Anat, who had filed the complaint, received a phone call from the principal of their school asking Women and Black to meet with him.  We consented and the principal made his plea to us “as mothers”.  He begged us to consider the effect this would have on the youths.  “They are good boys; you as mothers should understand the blot on their lives, etc., etc.”  He could not ask us to rescind a criminal charge, but only not to testify against them.  After he left, we discussed it at length.  Truthfully, it was not easy for some of us to agree to “hurt the boys”.  Then some women pointed out that Palestinian teenagers were never given the benefit of the doubt, and, furthermore, that not testifying would set a precedent for these young men about getting away with brutality against women.  That clinched it, and we decided to testify.  And then, not surprisingly, the police never followed up: They never called the photographer to give evidence and never brought the case to trial.

 

Then there was Zvi, a man in his 60s, who happened to walk by our vigil on his way home from grocery shopping.  Zvi became so incensed by our point of view that he reached into his shopping bag and, finding a can of bug-spray, managed to spray a few women before he was stopped.  Zvi was ultimately fined by the courts, one of the only ones to have paid a price for violence against us.  (And he came back to apologize later, truly a rarity.)

 

I am tempted to go on ad nauseam with a roster of violence against us, but I will make do with one more incident: the jeep-load of teenage boys who drove by and threw eggs at us, one of them injuring a woman in the eye.  Again we filed a complaint, and this time the calls arrived from their parents.  “My son’s about to be drafted into the army.  A police file will prevent him from becoming an officer.”  The answer to this came more easily:  “Thank goodness we have an opportunity to prevent boys like your son from becoming officers in the army.”

 

Even away from the vigil, many of us were subject to the recriminations of those who recognized us from the vigil.  Once when I tried to stop a taxi, the driver slowed down, then, as he recognized me, called through the window, “I don’t take Arafat lovers”, and drove off.  There was also a bus driver on the 19 line in Jerusalem, who regularly growled at me about my politics.  “Don’t Women in Black get off here?” he would call at me through the rear-view mirror as we neared the bus stop for the vigil.  It didn’t make me very popular with some of the passengers around me.  Incidents like this happened to other women as well and there were violent assaults at every vigil, no exception.

 

Counter-Demonstrators Come and Go

 

The first of the counter-demonstrations in Jerusalem was a random group of right wingers who waved the Israeli flag and accused Women in Black of being traitors, Nazis, Jewish anti-Semites, and collaborators with the enemy.  This group would stand on the sidewalk in front of the women, trying to block our signs from being read by cars and passersby.  Once a public bus stopped nearby, an old Arab in traditional dress sitting inside, gazing out of the window at our vigil.  One of the right wingers knocked the window with his sign to get the Arab’s attention, then made a few choice comments about the old man’s nation and his mother.  The Arab looked on stone-faced, not seeming to comprehend.  But as the bus began to move, he turned his head toward us and quietly flashed us the sign of the “V”.

 

Sometimes the counter-demonstrators would become aggressive, leaping onto the vigil plaza and trying to push us off.  This happened in Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Jerusalem, and many vigils.  For the first few months of the vigil, before the roles had been clearly worked out, some women (me among them, I am semi-ashamed to say) would respond to these provocations by our own offensive strategies.  Hagar and I, both tall women in a country of short men, could easily intimidate an isolated counter-demonstrator.  Joined by Ilana Brody, a small woman, we could even get away with pushing right wing infiltrators clear off the wall and quickly filling up the space with innocent-looking Ilana.  Hagar and I engaged several in a few physical altercations and acquitted ourselves not badly, I must say.  Hagar was also terrific at verbally devastating her opponents, a talent I don’t have.  There were a number of articulate women who excelled at these verbal duels, and, at this early stage, pitched verbal battles were often held with bystanders.

 

But our more aggressive responses soon ended, as other women helped us understand the power of nonviolent response, how we diminished our position by responding to the hectoring in kind.  So Hagar, a few other women, and I – despite our initial disappointment – agreed to abide by the policies of nonviolence and to maintain silence in the face of the taunting.  It had been fun while it lasted, but we too realized it was counter-productive, detracting from our dignity and strength.  And the other women, if I am not mistaken, breathed a sigh of relief when we stopped.  All the vigils throughout Israel eventually adopted a policy of nonviolent response, and this became an identifying mark of the vigils throughout Israel.

 

Right wing political movements and parties began to organize their own regular vigils of opposition.  The longest lasting groups of counter-demonstrators were the Tehiya Youth (Tehiya was an extremist right wing party that dropped out of the Knesset after their election defeat in 1988), Victims of Arab Terrorism (another extremist right wing group that takes a greater interest in vengeance than in the welfare of the victims), and the Kach activists, thugs who were disciples of the racist Rabbi Kahane.  These same groups plagued the vigils all over the country, using the same tactics everywhere, which meant that their activities were planned and coordinated nationally.  A favorite tactic was to “infiltrate” the vigil – stand among us – dressed in white clothes and holding their own signs.  The Tel-Aviv vigil dealt with this efficiently:  They had several women dress in white and hold signs against the occupation.  The counter-demonstrators soon gave up.

 

The groups of organized counter-demonstrators engaged in frequent verbal and occasional physical attack.  These escalated in the second year of the vigil and always following an act of Arab terrorism in which Jews were killed.  The assumption must have been that people like us who supported a call for compromise with “the enemy” were insensitive to – or responsible for – the loss of life on “our side”.  In one tragic incident on July 6, 1989, 14 Israelis were killed and 27 injured by an Arab terrorist who grabbed the steering wheel of a bus, plunging it into an adjacent gorge.  The following day, a Friday, Kahane whipped a mob into a frenzy in downtown Jerusalem.  When the rally dispersed, some of them, fired up with the hate-filled demagoguery, raced over to our nearby vigil and attacked the women, grabbing signs and letting fists fly.  The police – who had been posted at the Kach rally to prevent violence – arrived on their heels riding riot-control horses, which plunged into the melee of rampaging right wingers and women trying to defend ourselves.  Within a few minutes, the tear gas canisters were fired off and everyone scattered in all directions.  Many women later reassembled in an office three blocks away, where, still choking on the gas and quite shaken, we convened a support group to release some of the fear we felt.

 

Five days after this attack by Kach, we met to decide how to handle the spiraling violence against us.  The minutes of that meeting (translated from the Hebrew) give some indication of our strategy, as well as our concerns, our fairly efficient organizing, and our pride in what we were doing:[2]

 

             Information Sheet - Jerusalem Women in Black - 14 July 1989

            Following the events of last Friday (July 7, 1989) in which the Women in Black vigil was attacked by Kach, a meeting was held on Wednesday, July 12th, in which 40 women participated.  A summary of our conclusions:

            A. Decisions

                    1.    Women in Black in Jerusalem have three fundamental and irrevocable principles:

                            1. Only women on the vigil.

                            2. Black clothes.

                            3. The “hand” sign saying “End the Occupation”.

                   2.    Standing on the vigil

                           Women are asked to try to arrive on time; to maintain the appearance and decorum appropriate to a protest vigil; and not to be drawn into provocations and arguments.

                           The weekly monitor will be walking around the vigil.  please be understanding of her requests.

            B. Announcements

                   1.    The best security is greater numbers.  Come and bring your friends.  The more women we are, the safer and more effective we’ll be.

                   2.    A workshop on nonviolent responses to violence will be held on Tuesday July 17 at 8:30 p.m.  For details, see Yvonne, Hagar, Hella, or Haya.

                   3.    A support group will be held immediately after any attack (to talk, share, get support) in a location near the vigil/attack.  For details, as above.

                   4.    Tear gas  DO NOT wash with water.  DO NOT cover with a handkerchief.  DO NOT rub.  DO distance yourself and get fresh air (it will pass quickly).  DO wash your clothing immediately afterward.

                           Those suffering from asthma or heart conditions who are directly affected should immediately proceed to the emergency room on duty.

                   5.    First aid - A medic and first-aid kit will be available at the vigil.

                   6.    Dispersal - At the end of the vigil or when a decision is made to disperse, evacuate immediately and quickly.  DO NOT remain for conversations, etc.

                   7.    An observer from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel will be at the site.

            C.    Police

                   1.    Every week and particularly on days likely to be dangerous, requests are made to the police to send a patrol.  The police have responded to our requests 75% of the time.  (Anat is coordinating this.)

                   2.    In the big cities and other Women in Black locations, the police have provided no protection or help, but assume a tough and malicious attitude.  Statements will be collected from various vigils and these will be handled by the Haifa branch of the Association for Civil Rights, who will ask the police for a clear statement of policy regarding the right of Women in Black to hold a legal demonstration.

            D.    Proposals still pending

                   1.    Various women expressed the desire to add signs linking the occupation to [other forms of] violence.

                   2.    It was proposed that a leaflet of Women in Black be issued that expresses the reason for the vigil.

                   3.    Some women expressed the need for political activity designed to change attitudes within society (on the street).

            E.    Organizing Committee - Women who wish to take part in policy-making are invited to meetings on the first Sunday of every month at 17:30.  The location will be divulged to those interested.  (Members of the Organizing Committee who organized this meeting: Yvonne, Hagar, Hella, Haya, Anat, Shoshana, and Sarah.)

            And finally --

                   We are growing larger and stronger: Today Women in Black vigils spread from the far north (Western and Upper Galilee) to the south (the Arava and soon Eilat); at highway junctions, in big cities, and even at many kibbutzim.  And this is just the beginning...

 

            (Women are requested to contribute several shekel for a first-aid kit and to pay for duplication of this page.)

 

            CC: Women in Black in Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba, and at the Kibbutzim Samar, Gan Shmuel, HaZore’a, Nahshon, etc.  Please pass this on.

 

The following week, the number of women at the Jerusalem vigil surged to 150.

 

For one intense period, the racist Kach organization was a serious nemesis.  They published and distributed a flyer reading (in large black letters): “Cast Out the Black Ones!”  This was followed by a list of seven Women in Black (Hagar Roublev, Yvonne Deutsch, Hella Yaniv, Dita Bitterman [from Tel-Aviv], Anat Hoffman, Sarah Stein, and me) with our addresses and telephone numbers.  And it ended with the words, “Join us for more action.  The Movement of Kach Youth.”  Publication of this flyer was followed by a barrage of personal harassment.  The seven of us had threatening telephone calls in large numbers (one of mine carried the sound of a machine gun firing, Anat’s children took a phone call in which the callers told them that their mother was dead), Hagar found a fake bomb at her front door with the hit list inside, and Sarah had a hearse arrive at her home “to pick up the body of the recently deceased Sarah Stein”.  It was unnerving.  The police recorded each complaint, tapped our phones, and, despite repeated inquiries from us about the progress of the investigation, eventually let it peter out.  In my heart, I was hoping the police were saving the information they gathered from this investigation for use against the Kach activists in more serious matters.

 

Absurd though it sounds, the Kach movement at one point planted a mole among Jerusalem Women in Black.  She was an 18 year-old resident of Kiryat Arba, the extremist settlement adjoining Hebron, and she took on the role at the request of her boyfriend, Noam Federman, who was then the Kach spokesman.  The women didn’t realize there was a spy among us until several Kach ruffians broke into and disrupted a meeting we were holding at a synagogue[3] for purposes of discussing how to respond to Kach violence.  They had to have an insider to have found out about that meeting, and they didn’t deny it.  When asked by the press how his girlfriend felt about participating in the vigil, Federman replied: “Although she finds it emotionally difficult to stand together with those who seek to harm the state of Israel...she understands that one must suffer on behalf of one’s nation.”[4]

 

At some point, the police established a policy of separating the Women in Black from those who came to demonstrate against us.  Once the police instituted the “separation of forces” between us and remained to enforce it, life on the vigil became more livable.

 

During one long period – perhaps a year’s worth – the counter-demonstrators saw it as their goal to “claim” the vigil plaza before the arrival of Women in Black, thereby, under the principle of “separation”, forcing the police to relegate us to a less conspicuous position across the street.  At first, Women in Black responded by trying to get to the plaza even earlier, claiming it before them.  Then the counter-demonstrators would arrive even earlier and beat us to it.  For a while, the men of Yesh Gvul, an organization of conscientious objectors to army service in the occupied territories, would guard the space for the women.  Then we organized rounds of women to claim the plaza from as early as 8 in the morning.  (My younger daughter Denna Brand, then about 13 years old, would often participate in this, sitting quietly on the plaza wall and explaining patiently to any comers that she was a Woman in Black and this area was already taken.  Not everybody was respectful of her claims.)  But coming early became terribly inconvenient and also ludicrous to have to show up earlier and earlier every Friday to “claim our turf”.

 

Finally, Women in Black discussed this at length in one of our evening meetings.  “Don’t give up the streets to the right”, said one group of women, promoting a more aggressive policy toward the poachers.  “We don’t have to cling to territory,” said another group, paraphrasing the advocates of the “Greater Israel” movement.  Finally we decided to use another site:  If Paris Square were taken by the counter-demonstrators, we would hold our vigil one block away on the sidewalk facing the offices of the Chief Rabbinate of Jerusalem.  This is what we did for many weeks.  Although standing at street level made us vulnerable to cars that deliberately sideswiped us as we stood at the curb, changing location was the right decision, as the counter-demonstrators lost their raison d’ךtre when Women in Black were out of sight.  After a week or two of our absence, they gathered up their signs and left the square, marching defiantly to the sidewalk across the street from us, where they could face us again.  Women in Black were good tacticians, however, and a few of us would stealthily return to the plaza while the right was self-involved in noise-making and sloganeering across the street.  By the time they realized that the women were seeping away, the plaza would have been “retaken” by Women in Black, the rest of whom could now gleefully march back and reclaim our turf.  The childishness of these incidents was not lost on us, but you don’t blame us for claiming a little satisfaction, do you?

 

We did, however, abide by our policy not to respond to provocations, and this became easier over the years.  The only incidents we had were when an occasional male ally standing nearby would feel the need to answer an attack and “defend our honor”.  Then the fisticuffs would fly.  This phenomenon was repeated at vigils throughout Israel:  Physical attacks by opponents were often correlated with responses by nearby men who felt compelled “to protect us”.  The women maintained the principle of no-response, and though we often broke discipline and chatted among ourselves, only rarely were we goaded into answering the verbal assaults in kind.

 

The groups of organized political opposition spent weeks, sometimes months, staging their weekly counter-vigil near ours, but all of them gradually dissipated over time.  This was another source of satisfaction to us.  The most steadfast were the individual crazies who found their way to facing street corners: the older man who constantly badgered us, “You got AIDS”; the woman who flung at us “You’re all lesbians” (“Just some of us,” Haya would mutter under her breath); a two-fisted sign-maker, who would hold up in one hand a timely new message, while the other held his trademark “Black Widows” sign; a young man who would walk around the vigil waving a noose at us; and an older man (with already one conviction of manslaughter for killing a Palestinian) who would take sullen aim at us with his cane.  In vigils outside Jerusalem, the cane turned into M-16’s, Uzi’s, and assorted hand weapons carried by passing soldiers or citizens, which were deliberately aimed at Women in Black, though thankfully none of them were fired.

 

Vigils throughout Israel had their own steadfast opponents.  Some of these, like us, stuck out the vigil for years, and a kind of camaraderie of foes developed between us.  Sarah Stein once bumped into one of them downtown, but neither could remember from where they knew each other.  “You lost weight, you look terrific,” said he.  “Thanks so much,” said Sarah beaming, “you also look well.”  “I just can’t place you,” he finally confessed, but neither could she.  They thought for a while together.  “Peace Now?” Sarah finally suggested.  “Oh, my God,” he said, turning away.

 

The Policeman is Your Friend?

 

            In your various letters, you keep using the term ‘women in black’.  To whom are you referring?  Is every woman who wears black on Fridays in the Rehavia neighborhood considered a ‘Woman in Black?’

 

This was the disingenuous – indeed hostile – response of Deputy Commander Shahar Ayalon, who headed the car patrol unit in Jerusalem, in response to a lawyer’s letter in February 1989 which complained that the police were not protecting the vigil from assaults on the women.  The lawyer noted that “For many weeks, the demonstrators have complained about the throwing of objects upon them, including stones.”  “What do you mean by ‘the complainants’?” responded the officer superciliously, “women chatting among themselves or calls to some hot line’?”

 

The sneering contempt in Deputy Commander Ayalon’s answer was unconcealed...and without basis as well, considering that many formal complaints about attacks and requests for protection had already been filed by women at police headquarters.  Also note another part of the officer’s response: “The police have responded rapidly and resolutely to every recent incident in the Paris Square area about which complaints were filed by either side regarding damage or mutual assault” – as if women on the vigil had also assailed the counter-demonstrators.

 

Anat Hoffman kept an ongoing record of the many attacks on the Jerusalem vigil and regularly filed complaints to the police department.  “I report everything,” she said. “If we ever have another Emil Gruenzweig [killed in 1983 by a grenade thrown by a right wing opponent of Peace Now], the police will not be able to claim that it has no idea how it happened, that it was completely unexpected.”[5]

 

Anat was keeper of the correspondence with the police and a frequent emissary to them.  Her records carry the complaint filed against one Eliezer Kramer, who brandished a knife at her on the vigil, followed by his arrest and interrogation, subsequent release, and, two weeks later, a second assault on her.  Anat’s letters reveal an ongoing chronicle of attack after attack, but only in one case were charges pressed.  Most ended with the form letter:  “The Police/State Attorney has determined that there is no public interest in investigating or prosecuting the case.”

 

The lack of protection by the police for vigils being assaulted everywhere was compounded by their sloppy handling of Women in Black matters.  In one case, two women filed a complaint against a truck driver who jumped out of his truck and struck one of them.  Several weeks later, a letter arrived from the police indicating that they would not prosecute the case of “alleged assault by Hagar Roublev against Sarah Stein”.  Huh?  They had switched the victims with the assailant, but were closing the file anyway “for lack of public interest”.

 

The situation elsewhere was just as bad if not worse.  At several vigils (Megiddo, Gan Shmuel, Acre), the women themselves were harassed by the police – arrested and brought to the station for interrogation, released hours later with no charges pressed.  In Haifa, police themselves assaulted the women on at least two occasions and, several times, refused to accept complaints of Women in Black against those who attacked them.  In Tel-Aviv, Sue Katz taught self-defense measures to the women on the vigil who were frequently threatened by passersby.  For the vigil at the Acre-Safed junction, Anika Kelner was forced to go to the police station every week to obtain a permit for the vigil as a condition for police protection – even though the permit was not required by law.  The police invariably showed up halfway through the vigil anyway.

 

In one startling reply from the police, their spokeswoman wrote, “As you know, the police protect the vigil every single Friday”, an out-and-out lie.  But not to worry.  In reply to our letter of protestation, the spokeswoman responded: “I thought it would be self-evident that my previous letter from January 29th was incorrect” [emphasis in the original].

 

Was this a comedy routine or what?  It would be, if not for the seriousness of the threats.  Despite the severity of some of these incidents, the police never assigned a regular patrol to the vigils outside Jerusalem, and, in Jerusalem, a regular patrol was assigned long after attacks had become commonplace – three and one half long years.  When provocateurs began to foment violence around us, one of the women would have to make her way across the intersection to telephone the police – who would sometimes arrive after the vigil had dispersed.  Telephoning for the police was the rule throughout the vigils.  Refusing to protect Women in Black can only be explained by police hostility against us and, in parallel, indulgence of right wing misbehavior – not enforcing the law against politically-motivated violence by the right.[6]  This was not, in my opinion, because individual police officers supported extremist views, although some of them probably did.  When Noam Federman, the Kach activist, was asked if he understood why the police never arrested them for harassment, assault, or trespassing at our private meetings, he replied: “Sure I understand.  It shows how much the police hate Women in Black and like Kahane.”[7]

 

However, I think that police permissiveness of right wing violence was derived primarily from their not taking seriously the threats or actions of the right against other Jews.  Sure, one fanatic Jewish group set fire to the doors of homes of left wing activists; okay, so a Jewish guy named Yona Avrushmi had thrown a hand grenade into a Peace Now rally; but by and large – the police believed – right wing extremists were just good kids who ran a little wild.  Unfortunately, it was not until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 before the police and security services began to extend serious protection to the targets of political violence by right wing Jews, and then primarily to politicians.

 

To be fair (even-handed, as we say in the Middle East), I should add that complaints were also filed against Women in Black to the police, the most common being that some of us wore a button that showed the flag of Israel crossed with the flag of Palestine in a kind of semaphore of coexistence.  It took arrests of various peace activists and correspondence between civil rights lawyers and the Attorney General’s office to establish that wearing such a button “in and of itself” does not constitute violation of the law.  Nevertheless, the Attorney General pointed out, the button “greatly resembles symbols of terrorist organizations [prohibited by law]” and wearing it might constitute violation of the law under certain circumstances.  Enemies of Women in Black continued to claim that wearing the Palestinian flag at the vigil was “a provocation” and thus indeed constituted the circumstances that warranted arrest.[8]

 

And True Loyal Friends

 

But I would be remiss if I did not mention the wonderful people who came to vigils throughout Israel to support us: Udi Arnon, Steve Booth, Emmanuel Farjoun, Ilan Sharif, Yossi Wolfson, and many others who brought us life-giving water during the sweltering hot days in the hamsin sun, or sometimes just their affirming presence.  Avi Butavia, who brought water in the summer and dried fruit and nuts in the harsh winter months.  The woman who gave us black hats that she herself had sewn.  The anonymous woman who stopped her car beside our vigil during a sudden downpour, rolled down her window, and extended her umbrella.  “How can we return it to you?” we asked.  “It’s a gift,” she responded and drove away.

 

And special thanks to Ezra Yitzhak, who came every Friday for years, handing a red rose to each woman who stood on the vigil.  Ezra is a plumber and a believer in peace who felt that the purchase of 100 long-stemmed red roses every Friday was a good use of his money.  So each woman on the Jerusalem vigil of Women in Black could be found every Friday holding a red rose in one hand and a small hand saying “End the Occupation” in the other.  This rose, amazingly, became the source of accusations in some foreign and local papers – that Women in Black dressed in the colors of the Palestinian flag: the black of our clothes, the white letters on our signs, and the red rose with green stem.  Of all the many things said about Women in Black, this had to be one of the more outlandish.  We could only respond that, on those grounds, eating watermelon in Israel would also soon be outlawed.


[1].Danny Rubinstein, “The Mothers of Paris Square,” Davar, November 11, 1988 [Hebrew].

[2]. Reuven Kaminer, in his analysis of Women in Black, comments about these minutes: “...the information sheet reveals a rich, almost mosaic-like composition of political shrewdness, organizational savvy, collective determination and attention to detail which is the hallmark of any serious group of people who have a good idea of what they want and how they intend reaching their goal.”  See The Politics of Protest, p. 86.

[3].Thank you, Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman for letting us use the Kol Haneshama Synagogue for many meetings of the Jerusalem vigil.

[4].Yair Nehorai, “A Kach Spy Demonstrates With Women in Black,” Yom Shishi, June 29, 1990 [Hebrew].

[5].Nahman Gilboa, “Everything Is Always a Coincidence”, Al HaMishmar, September 7, 1990 [Hebrew].

[6]. For two studies documenting this phenomenon, see the Karp report published by the Israeli Ministry of Justice, Investigation of Suspicions Against Israelis in Judea and Samaria, May 23, 1982 [Hebrew]; and B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Law Enforcement Vis-א-vis Israeli Civilians in the Occupied Territories, Jerusalem, March 1994.

[7].Neri Livne, “Seeing Black”, p. 25.

[8].Letter from Shmuel Pressburger, a Likud (right wing) member of the Jerusalem City Council, to Yosef Harish, Attorney General, and Dov Shilanski, Chairman of the Knesset, February 13, 1990 [Hebrew].  From the Women in Black archives of Anat Hoffman.

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Haifa vigil. Photo: Yair Gil

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Haya Shalom, Jerusalem vigil. Photo: Yair Gil

1996 Gila Svirsky, Standing for Peace: A History of Women in Black in Israel available on www.gilasvirsky.com.  Please cite this full reference if you quote passages from the book.