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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

25 February 2001
Subject: Protesting the Closure Today

Israeli and Palestinian women hold signs in each others' languages saying End the Borders and End the Closure


Today felt like another good demonstration against the “closure” of the occupied territories.

About 300 Israelis, mostly women but with a growing contingent of men, showed up at the Jerusalem-Bethlehem border-crossing to protest the so-called “closure.”

“Closure” is sometimes called a “blockade” or “siege,” because the Israeli army actually encircles Palestinian towns and prevents residents from freely leaving or entering. Imagine how frustrating it must feel to have your freedom of movement obstructed – picture yourself prevented from leaving your own city because foreign soldiers have bulldozed the roads and set down concrete slabs. But beyond the insult, there are serious problems – access to medical care, food and supplies, education, and jobs. Several sick Palestinians who were held up at these barriers, pending a decision by the young Israeli soldiers on duty about letting them through, actually died as a result of the delay, including a baby. It is also shocking for me as an Israeli to realize that the closure provides virtually no security dividend to Israel; it is simply a deliberate act of intimidation.

The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace held its first “closure” protest opposite the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv three weeks ago (ending in police violence, the arrest of 17, and practically no media exposure). Today’s event was fairly quiet, no one was arrested, but the Israeli media announced that we “tried to force our way through the barriers.” Well, not quite.

It was a sunny day, and many Israelis had come from Tel Aviv and other cities. Soon after the demonstration began, both sides of the road were already lined with demonstrators carrying or wearing signs: Closure kills, Closure starves, Closure creates enemies, and the usual Stop the Occupation. Our presence, of course, caused the quick mobilization of a larger contingent of soldiers, who now manned the barrier. At the signal, the protesters stepped off the sidewalk and filled the road, marching quietly toward the checkpoint. We walked slowly and in a dignified manner. The soldiers began to scramble to prevent our getting through. At the checkpoint, they formed a cordon across the road, and our forward movement was stopped. We stood there facing them and began to chant the powerful, rhythmic slogan, which rhymes in Hebrew:

End the closure in the territories –
Get out of their bloodstream.
End the closure in the territories –
Give jobs to the workers.
End the closure in the territories –
Give food to the children.

We continued chanting for quite a while, and journalists from Israel, Europe, and the States had some good photo opportunities of this confrontation. One young man in our group was forcefully shoved to the ground by a soldier, but after we pointed out to the soldier that he was on candid camera, he controlled himself much better. Other than that, it was a completely nonviolent action, and therefore powerful. From there, the entire group walked 100 meters back to hold up our signs to the drivers headed to the “bypass roads,” which lead to the settlements.

Our demonstration today was scheduled to take place simultaneously with a parallel demonstration on the Palestinian side of the border, but there was deep concern that Palestinians demonstrating at this location would provide a pretext for army violence, regardless of how quiet and dignified they were. Nevertheless, 50 or so brave “internationals” who were visiting Israel and Palestine for the Sabeel “peace and justice” conference did manage to come through the border from Bethlehem and join us. They told us that the Palestinians knew of our demonstration, and expressed their solidarity. A day earlier, these internationals had joined us on a Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem, bringing our total yesterday to about 200.

On the way to the event today, a friend of mine complained that no one had called her about the demonstration, but she had fortunately read about it in the newspaper ad. “You’re making a revolution,” she said, “and I don’t want to be left out.”

The news this evening had good shots of the confrontation. The soldiers were armed with their M16s and we were armed with our signs and determination. In the long run, it’s not much of a contest. The subjugation of a people is always doomed to failure – sic transit tyrannis. Ultimately the closure and all the apparatus of occupation will be dismantled. It’s only a matter of time... and of how many more people will have to suffer first.

Gila Svirsky
Coalition of Women for a Just Peace

PS Thanks to Neta Golan who coordinated the entire event.

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

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© 2001 Gila Svirsky. The graphic is from the demonstration held on December 29, 2000.

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