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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

Wadi Ara demonstrators holding banner saying 'We're Ashamed' - photo from Israeli IndyMedia

22 November 2000
Subject: We Refuse to Be Enemies


There’s been an escalation — both in the violence and also the voices for peace. I will not dwell on the violence, since I know you have all read about the horrendous Palestinian bombing of the settlers’ schoolbus, and the horrendous shelling of Gaza by the Israeli army, and other such actions. But I do want to report on several things that may otherwise not reach those outside the region.

Isolating Palestinian towns & villages

The Israeli army carries out numerous “acts of occupation” against Palestinians, from humiliations at border crossings to curfews to exploding the homes, fields and orchards of families whose sons engaged in violence. Yesterday, however, a new form of punishment was inaugurated. The Israeli army bulldozed and destroyed all access roads to Palestinian towns and villages in the occupied territories. And after the roads were destroyed — the torn asphalt a jumble beside the trenches — the army set in place heavy concrete slabs to ensure that no vehicles could pass. This constitutes the complete isolation of Palestinian towns and villages — cutting off access to medical care, jobs, schools, family, normalcy. Doesn’t Barak fathom the enormous anger and hatred that this action sows?

About the exploitation of children

The bombing of the settlers’ schoolbus was shocking, and so were the interviews with the mothers of children who were injured. One mother of 3 small children who were brutally maimed (all lost limbs) explained that this was not her children’s first brush with death, but that she is determined to remain. She said that the children sometimes ask why they must live in Gaza, but now the answer is more clear to her than ever: “God gave us this land, and we are on a mission on behalf of all the people of Israel.” Not on my behalf, may I clarify in the name of many.

Clearly there are some Israeli mothers in a cruel counterpoint to any Palestinian mothers who send their children to the front lines.

By the way, the settlement of these families yesterday confiscated and annexed even more land in Gaza. For perspective: The Gaza Strip holds 6,000 Israeli settlers in a sea of 1.2 million Palestinians, meaning that the Israelis represent only 1/2 percent of the population there...but control 40% of the land. The remaining tract is second in population density only to Hong Kong.

Demonstrator holds sign saying WE REFUSE TO BE ENEMIES

We refuse to be enemies

The predominant voice heard in Israel these days is that of the extreme right wing, and their latest slogan is “Let the IDF win.” The meaning, of course, is to get Barak to unleash the full force of the army against the Palestinians.

Other voices are also heard, especially that of the women’s peace camp. Women in Black are now standing in vigil at 3 more locations (Haifa, Nazareth and Acre) in addition to the vigils that never stopped (Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and Nachshon). More are in formation in the Beersheba and Kfar Saba-Ra’anana regions.

Yesterday, in an astounding show of unity, Jewish and Palestinian women — all Israeli citizens — held a joint peace action in the Arab heart of Israel, Wadi Ara. This region was the location of demonstrations that became bloodbaths in early October, as the Israeli police shot at Arab demonstrators to stop the stone-throwing, killing 13.

The demonstration yesterday was a brilliant show of the unity of women for peace, with some 500 Jewish and Arab women coming from all parts of Israel. Signs ranged from the demand for equality for Israel’s Arab citizens, to ending police brutality, to stopping the Israeli occupation across the “Green Line” (1948 border). My favorite banner was, “We refuse to be enemies.” Many Arabs from the surrounding towns and villages joined us as the afternoon progressed. In a vivid reminder of the inequality of Israel’s Arab citizens, the police had their video cameramen take pictures of all those standing in protest. Such camerawork is usually absent — or at least hidden — from all-Jewish demonstrations.

After the street protest, the women jammed a hall in Umm al-Fahem, the focus of the prior unrest. Outside, the destruction of the previous month was still starkly visible — broken street and traffic lights, debris everywhere. Weeks later, the traffic and utility companies still have not fixed these. But inside, the Arab proprietor donated coffee and baklava to the whole crowd, and we listened to speeches in Arabic and Hebrew of women committed to equality and a just peace, and pledging to instill these values in our children. It was a sweet moment of reconciliation for us all, and we are determined to nurture it into a fully blossomed peace.

Special thanks to friends from Brookline who covered some of the costs of this event.

Shalom from Jerusalem,

Gila Svirsky

Back Introduction
January 1991: War Is a Crime
March 1996:  Bombs, Revenge, and One Iota of Hope
   2 Nov 1996: Hand in Hand in Hebron
  4 Apr 1997:  Children Still Alive and Abdallah
25 May 1998:  So We Won’t Die in Any More Wars
10 July 1998:   Lena Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  2 Aug 1998:  Lena’s New Home... Destroyed
  3 Jan 1999: Rifle Grenade #400
  9 July 1999: A Housewarming for Peace
23 Jan 2000: The Politics of the Tree
18 Oct 2000: On Violence by Israeli Arabs
10 Nov 2000: Peace Efforts in Israel
22 Nov 2000: We Refuse to Be Enemies
23 Nov 2000: Meeting of Women MKs for Peace
26 Nov 2000: Views of Faisal Husseini
28 Nov 2000: Lack of coverage for women’s events
  1 Dec 2000: Principles and Action
  8 Dec 2000: Women in Black today
30 Dec 2000: On the Way to Crowning Jerusalem with Peace
Letters from Jerusalem, 2001
Letters from Jerusalem, 2002
Letters from Jerusalem, 2003
New & recent letters from Jerusalem (2004)
Resources and Links

Text © 2000 Gila Svirsky. The top graphic, showing demonstrators at Wadi Ara on November 22, 2000, is from the Israeli IndyMedia Center. The second graphic is from the protest march held on December 29, 2000.

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