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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

25 January 2001
Subject: Help end the siege!

End the Siege!!!

In recent weeks, the Israeli army bulldozed and destroyed all access roads to Palestinian towns and villages in the occupied territories. After the roads were destroyed — the torn asphalt a jumble beside the new trenches — the army set down heavy concrete slabs to ensure that no vehicles could pass. These acts serve to completely isolate the Palestinian towns and villages — cutting off access to medical care, jobs, schools, family, normalcy. Recent human rights reports (by B’Tselem and others) have documented this in cold statistics, but I think the eye-witness account below by Rabbi Arthur Waskow gives a vivid sense of what the reality must be like for the residents.

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace plans to stage a rally opposite the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Sunday, February 4th — 2 days before election day — in hopes of ending — or at least easing — this so-called “closure.” We will be dressed in black, wear sandwich boards with our message on it, and lay siege to the Ministry itself.

We could use your help.

1) First read the account below by Rabbi Waskow.

2) Then please write to President Bush (, Vice President Cheney (, Colin Powell (, and/or Ehud Barak ( Just say “Tell Israel to end its closure of the Palestinian towns and villages.” Remember — a simple message gets counted and reported the same as an eloquent one.

3) If you live in Israel or Palestine, please come to our demonstration: Sunday, February 4, at 5:00 p.m. at the Ministry of Defense (the “Kirya” opposite David’s Gate on Kaplan Street). Dress in black. Write to me for the bus schedule if you live outside Tel Aviv.

4) If you can, we would appreciate a donation for the Coalition, especially to cover the costs of ads and buses to bring women and men from all parts of Israel to the demonstration. In the US, you can make a tax-deductible contribution by writing a check to the New Israel Fund, with a memo “For the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace,” and mailing it to: New Israel Fund, 1625 K Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20006-1604. Please let me know if you’re doing this, so I can follow up on it. (Or you can also send a check to the Coalition of Women at P.O. Box 8083, Jerusalem 91080, Israel.)

Gila Svirsky

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace:
Bat Shalom of The Jerusalem Link; Mothers and Women for Peace (formerly Four Mothers); New Profile: Movement for the Civil-ization of Society in Israel; Neled: Women for Coexistence; TANDI; Women Engendering Peace; Women in Black; and WILPF - Israel chapter.


Letter from Rabbi Arthur Waskow:

Dear Chevra,

I am writing from Jerusalem. I am here briefly, along with Phyllis Berman & Rabbi David & Shoshana Cooper (& from Israel, Gabi Meyer & Eliyahu Maclean & Dovid Zeller) for a meeting of religious teachers mostly from from Europe & America, many Zen Buddhist-oriented since we were brought together by Roshi Bernie Glassman. The meeting was planned long before the events of the last three months, and was — is — intended to begin shaping a trans-religious, transnational “Peacemakers Community,” drawing on Bernie Glassman’s experience in leading trans-religious vigils at Auschwitz and other pilgrimages. Last night it discussed, but is not now intending to address further, the conflict here.

Yesterday, before this planned meeting began, Phyllis and I were shepherded by Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, to meet with Palestinians on the West Bank from two towns, (one of them a village of 3,000 which lives almost surrounded by Israeli settlers/ settlements). Both places suffered sieges during the last several months.

By “sieges” I mean real sieges, not feeling besieged or even being occasionally shot at. That is, all roads closed by the Israeli army and settlers (actual road blocks) — in one of these town, for two straight months. Sick people prevented from going to hospital. Students prevented from continuing their college educations in other Palestinian cities. Schoolteachers from other Palestinian cities prevented for those months from coming to teach. Purchases of food from outside prevented. (People ate by baking the flour they had stored before, with the olive oil they had stored before.) 1500 olive trees uprooted or cut down by the army & settlers.

These olive trees are not decorative. They are the life-support of the village. Some of the trees were hundreds of years old, having produced for this village oil and olives for all that time. Each one of them, as a villager explained, paid the cost of year after year of schooling for a child. Or the cost of a room built for a growing child. Or a dowry for a girl about to be married.

In short, these trees are the bank accounts. They also beloved members of the family. Many are now gone.

The Israelis came in the night to cut down the trees while the villagers were asleep, and could not go to the groves because they were blocked by the army. Afterwards, the Army said that Palestinians were using the trees to throw rocks onto the road which had beeen built to service the Israeli settlements nearby. Rabbi Ascherman said this was probably accurate for some of the trees. But some, cut by settlers, were so distant from the road that no stones could be thrown or shots aimed from them. And note that the cut-down trees will be affecting the community for decades to come. And note that the road are there in the first place purely for the convenience and safety of the settlers.

This village has been under Israeli occupation for 33 years. Its people have paid taxes all that time. But they said never once had the Israelis paved their streets, brought new electric lines, or built sewers. The visible evidence bore them out.

Across the roads, within two kilometers, were spanking new “suburbs” of houses, advanced electric wiring, water pipes (drawing on water under the Palestinian land), in some of the settlements a swimming pool. (The Palestinian village runs out of cooking water every summer, when there is no rain to collect. The settlers’ swimming pools are full.)

In the second town, we had to approach in a roundabout way because the regular road was closed yesterday — adding about 30 minutes to the trip, for us unimportant but if you are trying to get to work or a hospital and meet four or five such road blocks along the way, VERY important.

We met a young father who had his leg blown off by an Israeli missile that hit his private house when the Israelis were firing at Fatah offices in every West Bank city and town. He was asleep in his bedroom, His house is more than a kilometer from the Fatah office. That he was not lying was manifest to Rabbi Ascherman, who came the next day and saw the blackened bedroom and shreds of flesh stuck to the walls. The Palestinian father spent months in Saudi Arabia having his wounds treated and serious internal-organ damage partly (though only partly) repaired, though still very troublesome.

He had been a computer worker for the settlement nearby. Many of the villagers had been independent farmers until the Israeli setttlements were carved out of their farms and they were forced to get jobs in the settlements. They said the relationship is one of master and slave, not free workers. (If they organized a union and tried to picket their bosses, imagine the result!)

(Israeli-owned factories are located on nearby hills. These factories were denied licenses inside Israel because they were likely to pollute the soil and rivers. Here they were not blocked by the Israeli authorities. They pour polluted water from the factories, filled with noxious chemicals, into the streams nearby. The villagers say the cancer rate has risen.)

The Israeli authorities have offered no apology, let alone recompense, to this father for the maiming of his body or the loss of his income or the traumatization of his children on the night an Israeli missile was fired into his house. Rabbis for Human Rights did raise money to help somewhat to pay for part of his medical treatment, and also money to replace a few of the olive trees.

Some have used the word “atrocities” when referring to attacks on Israelis by Palestinians. They are quite right — there have certainly been such atrocities. There have also been atrocities — ten times as many deaths, about 200 times as many serious permanantly disabling injuries — inflicted by Israeli soldiers and settlers upon Palestinians.

It would be an interesting spiritual discipline for those of us who talk of atrocities to be sure to describe in every post the atrocities visited by EACH people upon the other. Perhaps with some numerical weight representing the real balance of atrocities in the field.

While we were here, the Israeli press reported a study by B’Tselem (an Israeli human-rights organization) of cases in which Israeli civilians have killed Palestinians on the West bank.

The B’Tselem report said:

This incident is one of dozens in which Israeli civilians killed Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. B’Tselem conducts a comparative study of all these cases, which paints a disturbing picture: many cases are never even investigated by the Police; others that are investigated, the State’s Attorney’s Office decides not to file indictments; the few cases that do reach the courts end in acquittal or in light sentences. In those isolated incidents where a serious sentence is imposed, the President commuted the sentence.

If I were to apply the principle of “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” the only workable approach I could imagine would be that the Israeli settlers would have to be faced with a choice: move back to Israel, or become citizens of a new Palestinian state, living under Palestinian law without any special protection by the Israeli army, just as Israeli citizens live under Israeli law without any special protection by any Palestinian army or the army of any Arab state.

This would have the added benefit of returning the Israeli Army to its core task of defending Israel (the Army officials just yesterday complained that occupation duty is depriving them of training time for possible defense of the country against military attack).

It would also have the benefit of making Israeli setttlers and soldiers unavailable for becoming objects of the atrocities that have been committed on some of them by some Palestinian attackers. (Almost all the Israeli deaths of the last three months have been in the occupied territories, not by terrorist attacks inside Israel.)

If I were to apply the rule in Devarim (Deuteronomy) of “If you are at war with a a city, DO NOT CUT DOWN ITS FRUIT TREES!” — well, what indeed would I do?

And where might I decide to plant trees on Tu B’Shvat?

Arik told us that in these months, fewer than 50 Israeli Jews and hardly any Diaspora Jews had made such visits to towns that are or have been under siege.. Partly this was because the Palestinians have said they are fed up with useless "dialogue" and visits that serve only to "normalize" this state of affairs and to make the Israeli or overseas Jews feel they have been nice. So one Palestinian response has been to meet only with Israelis who are taklng serious action to protect human rights or to end the occupation.

But partly, Arik said, the absence of Jews is because very few Israeli or American Jews are willing to confront their own pictures of reality by visiting these villages or meeting such Palestinians as human beings.

With blessing of emet, tzedek, & shalom —
Truth, justice, and peace —

for as the Rabbis said, these three are really one —

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

Letters from Jerusalem, 2001
Letters from Jerusalem, 2002
Letters from Jerusalem, 2003
New & recent letters from Jerusalem (2004)
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© 2001 Gila Svirsky, Arthur Waskow.

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