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The River Diaries

Monday, October 30, 2000

New York

Dear Gila,

Your words are fine. What feels like rambling is often the honest expression of experience. Your pauses, your exclamations, your angers, your fear of saying the wrong thing are all so important. I feel towards you just what I felt in writing to Lepa: tremendous admiration, worry for your safety of body and mind, guilt at my own priviledged position. At times, I will not know what to say, not knowing how best to honor all you live and see around you. And the last thing I want is to have this writing be an added burden. Sometimes I do not even know how to end my letters to you—be well, love, in support, may the day be bearable, may there be less killing and wounding today, may there be more acts of kindness and of crossing borders—all these I want to say.




You ask how my days are lived. I reach out my hand before my eyes are even open in the morning and I turn on the radio news. I listen for an hour doing morning things before I turn it off and bring in my email, filled with the horror accounts of yesterday’s events in the territories. I read a local newspaper, then the International Herald Tribune, and then I begin to work— translations. I never work straight. Radio & TV news can be had in Israel from 6 am through 10 pm straight, with a 45-minute break in the afternoon. Hard news, as you would say. I hate listening, because it’s so biased, but I do, sporadically throughout the day, then another hour in the evening.

The so-called peace camp in Israel roughly divides into the liberals and the radicals. The liberals these days have now joined hands with the right wing. They say that Arafat is to blame for all the violence, that Palestinians can’t be trusted, that all Israel is doing is defending itself, that the whole world’s against us, and that now is a time for unity within Jewish ranks. The radicals these days are blaming Barak for all the violence, see no wrongdoing in anything Arafat has done, and prefer mutual bashing to national unity.

I myself can hardly find anyone who feels the way I do: that the underlying cause is Israeli occupation, but that Arafat and Barak both have the responsibility to call off the violence. I am completely opposed to “closing ranks” with other Jews, because the sub-text of that is ending peace efforts. I know that the Oslo agreement was not doing the Palestinians any good—and in fact hurting them—but I still strongly believe in a peace agreement based on the principles of 2 states, sharing Jerusalem, a return of all occupied territories (with mutually agreed upon adjustments), and a complex resolution of the refugee issue that accepts the principle, but not the practice, of the right of return of refugees.

I keep asking myself why I don’t tell you about my life, my encounters with the violence, my peace actions, women’s peace work. Maybe because I hate to focus on what’s happening here, our own efforts, when I see how much the Palestinians are suffering in their daily life, and how little our efforts prevent that.

As usual, women are the most vital, creative, and steadfast part of the peace activists in Israel, though the least reported or cared about by the public at large. Do you know we have 10 separate women’s peace organizations in Israel?

The 4 existing vigils of Women in Black have grown, and new vigils have opened. In Jerusalem where I live, we had 50 women at last Friday’s Women in Black, and another 50 men & women joined us who do not identify as Women in Black. We have women organizing petitions that go into newspapers carrying our pro-peace views, women paying numerous condolence calls to the homes of Palestinians whose family members were killed in the violence, women organizing support for conscientious objectors, women trying to help us see the militarism that permeates Israeli society, women and men organizing “peace tents,” a new spontaneous form of peace protest, alongside major highways where anyone can stop by and express solidarity with peace, and women pushing for dialogue groups where they have broken down.

Today I attended a meeting of women members of the European Parliament who met with Israeli women peace activists. It was a mix of Arab and Jewish women, all Israelis. Samira Khouri, a veteran Arab peace activist from Nazareth, spoke of her commitment to peace. Samira’s two daughters—one a physician and the other a psychologist—had been badly beaten by Israeli soldiers when they were peacefully demonstrating. One’s shoulder was broken, both suffered multiple wounds. Amazingly, Israeli TV caught this entirely on camera and showed how “our boys” also get out of hand. Samira never skipped a beat in her commitment to peace, and her daughters deliberately went to a peace tent 2 weeks later. Would I have been so generous, I wonder?

Palestinian women from across the Green Line have mostly “frozen” relations with us. This is a result of 2 things: first, anger against Israeli organizations who did not express their solidarity in writing (though phone calls had been made) in a style that was unequivocal. Second, adherence to the policy of avoiding “normalization” with Israel—avoiding all contact. This policy has plagued relations for years, and some Palestinian women had defied it, but now when boys are being killed every day every day every day, there is no desire to speak up on behalf of peace with Israel.

I am pushing for a big coalition of women’s peace organizations to start a mass movement for peace, just as it was a women’s peace organization, Four Mothers, that turned around public attitudes about Lebanon, forcing Barak to leave unilaterally last June. We agreed to meet next week. I hope we can get some minimal consensus about joining forces on the big issue, setting aside our nuances.

Yes, Jerusalem is in the center of things. About that another night.

I am quite depressed this evening after all the violence of the day—tanks, bombs, shelling, killed, wounded. Palestinian towns are strangled, and lash back. So Israel shows them what for. Every shot alienates both sides all the more. And I sit in my home and will turn off the computer and get a quiet night’s sleep. And then turn on the news in the morning.

It’s bad these days.



© 2000 Joan Nestle, Gila Svirsky

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