Women in Black in Jerusalem
Throughout these years of violence between Palestinians and Israelis, the women's peace groups in Israel have continued their courageous actions on behalf of a just peace. Today, Women in Black in Jerusalem were a case in point.
We knew it would be a difficult vigil because just this morning, an Israeli woman settler, mother of six, had been shot to death in a car near her settlement just outside Hebron. The killing of Israelis is always an occasion for the right wing to seek scapegoats among the left, and today was no exception. This was aggravated by the fact that the settlers decided to drive the funeral procession past the prime minister's home in Jerusalem -- one block away from Women in Black, and exactly during the vigil -- between 1 and 2 p.m.
Just as we women gathered at the plaza, the settlers also appeared, many armed to the teeth -- revolvers in their belts and rifles over their shoulders. They began by hurling verbal abuse -- she was killed because of you, you orphaned the children, you are the murderers, didn't the Holocaust teach you anything, and the popular "Kahane was right". Kahane was the racist rabbi who called the Arabs dogs and demanded their death or exile. We knew enough not to answer them, but they could not abide the silence of our vigil combined with our signs -- "Dismantle the settlements", "End the occupation", "Return to the '67 borders", "Sharing Jerusalem". They began to grab our signs, rip them up, and push some women off the ledge. There were only 3 police at that time, and the settlers, now joined by the Kahanists, became uncontrollable. Some women were injured, but not seriously. More police arrived, and the fighting spilled over onto the streets at this busy intersection, as the police tried unsuccessfully to subdue the more violent ones. Most of the blows were exchanged between police and settlers/Kahanists.
As the violence was peaking, the funeral procession was massing a block away, and we knew that we were like standing targets on the vigil plaza. We decided quickly among us that we would not leave, but that we would lower our signs before they passed us. Some women disagreed with this quick decision, but there was no opportunity for discussion as the cars approached and turned alongside the plaza. They would have to travel about 50 feet along the line of women, when we would be no more than 10 feet away from them. We stood in silence, without signs, but making a very clear statement as the leaders of the group drove by -- Levinger (himself convicted of killing a Palestinian in Hebron, who served only 6 months in prison to pay his debt to society), Noam Arnon (the spokesman of the Hebron settlers, who got out of his car to tell the media that the presence of Women in Black was a "provocation"), and Geula Cohen (who was a member of a Jewish terrorist organization prior to 1948), as well as cars filled with weeping women and children. My heart grieved to see that.
The progress of the motorcade was constantly interrupted
by settlers/Kahanists who jumped out to come to blows with the police who
now formed a cordon separating us. It was clear that the police were taking
the blows that were intended for us. And they kept this up until the last
car finally passed out of sight making its way to the cemetery.
Thank you, Jerusalem police.
I knew that the news in Israel would not report our confrontation with these violent people, as they have not reported our decade and a half of vigils. But here's what the media could have said: "Today, as every Friday for the past 14 years, Women in Black throughout Israel maintained their vigil calling for an end to the occupation and a just peace with Palestine. The Jerusalem vigil of about 100 women stood quietly as a large crowd of armed settlers sought to threaten and intimidate them. It did not work."
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli writer and peace activist. In 2000, she co-founded and led the Coalition of Women for Peace, which brings together nine Israeli women’s peace organizations, raising the visibility and volume of the feminist peace movement in Israel. She is currently chair of B’Tselem, Israel ’s foremost human rights organization in the Occupied Territories. In 2002, Svirsky addressed the UN Security Council about Resolution 1325 – the decision mandating the involvement of women at all levels of policy-making. She maintains active board membership in the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel – a program sponsored by the World Council of Churches that brings people of all faiths to accompany Palestinians and Israelis in their non-violent actions for peace. For her writing, Svirsky was awarded a prize by the PEN Association of Writers in Germany and the Solidarity Prize of Bremen – both together with Sumaya Farhat-Naser, a Palestinian woman writer. Svirsky was also honored by the New Israel Fund, the largest funder of progressive causes in Israel, for her “contribution to strengthening Israeli democracy".