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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

30 December 2000
Subject: On the Way to Crowning Jerusalem with Peace

Marchers holding left side of banner which says in Hebrew: Palestine Side by Side With Israel -- On the 1967 BordersMarchers holding right side of banner


Yesterday, Israel saw the largest rally for a just peace that has been held since the outbreak of the intifadah three months ago... and it was a joint Israeli-Palestinian event.

Women came in droves from all over Israel — Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druse. And despite the “closure” that Israel had imposed on the Occupied Territories, Palestinian women and men also managed, by means only they know, to cross the Green Line and reach us.

The day began in the Notre Dame conference center located symbolically on the border of Jewish and Palestinian Jerusalem. The walls carried two huge banners in Hebrew and Arabic: Women Demand: No to Occupation - Yes to a Just Peace! We opened with greetings from three international women peace leaders who flew in especially for the occasion — Luisa Morgantini from Italy, Simone Susskind from Belgium, and June Jacobs from the U.K. The co-moderators — Hannah Safran from Women in Black and Nabeha Murkus from Tandi — reported to the crowd about solidarity demonstrations being held throughout the world, and of greetings from organizations and individuals from a long list of countries.

Women then took the podium one by one, Palestinian and Israeli alternately, to speak movingly and passionately of both the suffering as well as the determination to end the bloodshed between our peoples. This was a conference “of the people,” but we were glad to see in the audience three Israeli MKs (Tamar Gozanski, Naomi Chazan, and Muhammad Barake) expressing their support for the grassroots work. The simultaneous translations into Hebrew, Arabic, and English allowed each woman to speak in her own language. I will just quote two: Michal Pundak-Sagie, activist in New Profile: Movement for the Civil-ization of Israeli Society, called upon soldiers to refuse orders that their conscience does not allow. And Zahira Kamal, leading grassroots spokeswoman in the Occupied Territories, declared that the principles of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace provide a sound basis for peace between our peoples.

From the conference center, waiting buses moved the entire crowd to Hagar Plaza, the location of Jerusalem’s Women in Black vigil, and an estimated 2,000 women filled the entire plaza and spilled over onto the side streets carrying the traditional black hand signs with “End the Occupation” painted in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. This silent one-hour vigil was an even more dramatic sight than usual, and TV crews from all over the world — even from Israel — were there to capture it. The extreme right wing did their best to infiltrate the ranks, to provoke us and draw attention to themselves, and finally ended up exchanging blows with the police, but they were overcome and moved behind barriers — out of sight, mind, and media.

At 2:00 pm, the crowd poured out of the plaza and from every corner and sidestreet, we began our march toward East Jerusalem. Men and women who had joined us from other organizations — Gush Shalom brought its own busload of activists — held aloft their own collection of banners and signs for peace. The sight was overwhelming, as the street filled with marchers and voices. Nabila Espanioli from Nazareth grabbed a megaphone and led responsive chanting: “Peace?” “YES!” — “Occupation?” “NO!” doing renditions in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and even Italian for the delegation of 35 who had flown in for the action. Flying high were signs and banners saying “Palestine Side by Side With Israel — On the 1967 Borders,” “Jerusalem - 2 capitals for 2 states,” “The Age of Generals is Over,” “Fund the Poor, Not Settlers,” and “We Refuse to be Enemies.”

It was breathtaking to be part of that march. But the moment that brought tears to my eyes was when I greeted a man being pushed in a wheelchair beside me, and asked if he wanted to hold a sign. In response, he unbuttoned his collar and pointed to a deep scar just below his neck. The man pushing the wheelchair explained: “We’re from Hebron. This is one of the victims of the massacre by Baruch Goldstein. He wanted to join you today.” A victim of the violence who harbors no hatred in his heart. I shook his hand wordlessly.

As we finally all assembled in the park beside the ancient walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, people spread out on the grass on this unusually warm and sunny winter day, exhilarated and awaiting the closing ceremony. Because of the traffic jams we had caused, the sound system had not yet arrived, but the crowd waited patiently. Meanwhile, four brave young women took banners and actually managed to climb to the top of the wall from inside the Old City — some by stairs, but also by one quite daring leap — and made their way to the top of the wall just over our gathering, beside two armed soldiers “protecting” us. From here, they unfurled four banners down the height of the wall saying Shalom, Salaam, Peace, and End the Occupation in the three languages. The crowd roared its approval and the Old City was crowned the city of peace for one brief moment —until the soldiers assaulted two of the women and their banners. The women wisely threw the other two banners down to the crowd — to save them, and probably themselves, too. But that was a great moment in modern history. Thank you Naama, Tali, Moran, and Micheline.

Finally, the sound system was set up, and Halla Espanioli spoke movingly of our longing for peace. Nabila called for a minute of silence in memory of all those who had been killed in recent months, and the stillness in the crowd was palpable. Following this, I made a slightly modified Jewish prayer: “May the Divine Presence give strength to all her peoples, and may she bless all her peoples with peace.” And we all ended by singing “We Shall Overcome.”

There is much to do to turn this moment into a revolution. We invite all of you to join us.

Gila Svirsky

Coalition for a Just Peace

Gila with her white hair is visible among the demonstrators in front

How to help:

  1. Stage your own demonstrations.
  2. Write to your elected officials that you demand a just peace with Jerusalem and Palestine side-by-side, Jerusalem as the capital of both, and a just solution for the Palestinian refugee problem.
  3. Send a contribution. Write to me and I’ll explain how:

Members of the Coalition for a Just Peace:

Bat Shalom of The Jerusalem Link; Mothers and Women for Peace (formerly “Four Mothers”); NELED: Women for Coexistence; New Profile: Movement for the Civil-ization of Society in Israel; TANDI - Movement of Democratic Women for Israel; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom - Israel chapter; Women Engendering Peace; Women in Black; Women on Behalf of Women Political Prisoners.

Allied Organizations:

Altufula: Pedagogical Center and Multipurpose Women’s Center; Drejaat Committee al-Ahaliya; Gush Shalom; Mazrah: Association to Promote Education and Society; Neve Shalom / Wahat al-Salaam; Public Committee Against Torture in Israel; Re’ut-Sadaka Youth for Peace; Women Against Violence; Yesh Gvul

Our principles:

  • An end to the occupation.
  • The full involvement of women in negotiations for peace.
  • Establishment of the state of Palestine side by side with the state of Israel based on the 1967 borders.
  • Recognition of Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states.
  • Israel must recognize its responsibility for the results of the 1948 war, and find a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
  • Equality, inclusion and justice for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
  • Opposition to the militarism that permeates Israeli society.
  • Equal rights for women and for all residents of Israel.
  • Social and economic justice for Israel’s citizens, and integration in the region.

Thank you to all the women who put it together:

Adi Kuntsman, Jerusalem; Adina Aviram, Kfar Saba; Amana Abazeh, Tira; Dafna Kaminer, Jerusalem; Dalia Sachs, Haifa; Dita Bitterman, Tel-Aviv; Edna Gorni, Haifa; Erella Shadmi, Ma’oz Tziyon; Gila Svirsky, Jerusalem; Hannah Safran, Haifa; Marcia Freedman, Jerusalem; Maya Bluhm, Jerusalem; Michaella Harari, Jerusalem; Michal Pundak-Sagie, Herzliya; Miriam Schlesinger; Tel-Aviv; Molly Malekar, Jerusalem; Nabeha Murkus, Kfar Yassif; Norah Orlow, Jerusalem; Olivia Attrash, Acre; Rachel Ostrowicz, Tel-Aviv; Ronni Jaeger, Jerusalem; Rotem Ilani, Haifa; Ruthie Finnegan, Jerusalem; Samira Khouri, Nazareth; Talma Bar-Din, Haifa; Terry Greenblatt, Jerusalem; Yarden Dankner, Yaffo; Yehudit Keshet, Jerusalem; Yehudit Zaidenburg, Kibbutz Beit Alpha; and all the sign-makers, leaflet hangers, sadraniyot, speakers, and women and men who made contributions unpublicized.

And thank you to our funders:

Heinrich Böll Stiftung; Engendering the Peace; Max and Anna Levinson Foundation; New Israel Fund; Samuel Rubin Foundation; and individual donors from all over the world, with special thanks to Donna Spiegelman in Boston.

Palestinian demonstrator holds Hebrew sign saying 'Peace Will Overcome'

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

© 2000 Gila Svirsky.

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