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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

21 April 2001
Subject: FW: Cracks In The “National Unity” & The Start Of Civil Disobedience

Peace activists put their shoulders to a boulder

Friends, I forward this letter from Gush Shalom, which well captures recent events in the peace camp in Israel.


-----Original Message-----
From: Gush Shalom (Israeli Peace Bloc)
Sent: Fri, April 20, 2001 8:46 PM
To: Activists List
Subject: Cracks In The “National Unity” & The Start Of Civil Disobedience

Tel Aviv - April 20, 2001

- First cracks in the “national unity”
- Breaking through the Bidia barrier
- Summary of earlier actions
- Calendar of coming events

This week Sharon made his first major blunder. An attempt to start reconquering the territory handed over to the Palestinians during the Oslo process was too much even for the highly indulgent Bush Administration and brought bout a sharp public rebuke from the US State Department – followed by a hasty evacuation of Israeli forces from that area. The embarassed Sharon attempting to push all responsibility onto the army led to bitter recriminations between ministers and generals.

Though much of the Israeli peace camp remains dispirited and atomized, not in a condition to react as vigorously as could be expected under such circumstances, there are now at least some visible cracks in the wall of “national unity.” The minuscule opposition left in the Knesset is starting to discover its role, and there are some signs of the media not automatically supporting every warlike action. The 80 theses of Gush Shalom – published last week as a full-page ad in Ha’aretz and sent to you in an earlier mailing – did succeed in generating the beginning of a wider discussion on long avoided principled questions. Meanwhile in our own circles (the “radical” peace camp) no signs of confusion, on the contrary: there is more dedication than ever to an uphill struggle – to rebuild a sense of hope. With the absence of mass rallies to express a strong statement there is, however, an increasing tendency to those expressions where the quality is throwing another light on the quantity. A few hundred Israelis are starting on the path of nonviolent resistance to the occupation, in partnership with Palestinians.

Several acts falling withing this category took place in the past week alone. The most recent, which is still very fresh in our minds, was yesterday – at the army earthen barrier near the village of Bidia on the Old Trans-Samaria Highway.

Breaking through the Bidia barrier

Trans-Samaria, a highway with a curious history. It was created by the Shamir Government more than a decade ago, as a main highway for the settlers. But the Palestinian villagers of Bidia, Mesha and several smaller places had the temerity to also start using this smooth, high-quality highway which was erected on their confiscated fields.

Following the outbreak of the new Intifada last September, a new Trans-Samaria was hastily created several kilometres to the south, and this time reserved for settler use only and the old one was put out of commission by two huge earthen barriers erected across it, leaving the villagers almost completely bottled in. Already more than half a year, their only access to the outside world is the old, roundabout, unpaved road, which was never very comfortable and which has become hardly passable after so many years of neglect.

It was to the now barred old/new road that we travelled on Wednesday afternoon April 17. At the call of Rabbi Arik Asherman some thirty Israeli peace activists had made themselves free on this working day – from Gush Shalom, the Women’s Coalition and ICAHD – an alliance which is recently working closely together in such acts on the ground. A similar number of internationals – mostly Italians, led by the indefatigable Luisa Morgantini, Member of European Parliament; some Americans from the Hebron-based CPT, a few French, one Swede. From the other side of the barrier came a crowd of Palestinian villagers – several hundreds, ranging from youths to respectable old village notables, brandishing Palestinian flags and digging tools. There was only a single army jeep on the spot. The soldiers made no effort to stop us from joining the Palestinians, but one of them was very busy talking on the radio.

We fell into work with hardly any preliminaries. It was a far more formidable barrier than the one which we successfully demolished three weeks ago at Rantis Village. Not only more than two metres high piled earth, but having on top several huge rocks, weighing tons apiece and looking decidedly immovable. But where there is a will there is a way; under the pressure of thirty pairs of hands pushing in unison, the great mass suddently moved and rolled down the slope, to the sound of a ragged cheer.

All the while, more and more army jeeps kept arriving, as did two police patrol cars. Suddenly, a voice on the loudspeaker informed us that we were in a Closed Military Zone, and that anybody failing to leave immediately would be arrested. We kept on working.

Suddenly, a line of soldiers came surging, the officer waving his rifle as a conductor’s baton. We sat down on the partially-demolished barrier, locking arms. The police, following the soldiers, took us up one by one – each having four police at the hands and feet, to be carried all the way to a waiting paddy wagon. (This scene caught by a Reuters crew was what made both channels of Israeli TV, eager and willing to extensively feature a peace action on their prime time news.) They concentrated on arresting Israelis and internationals; only two of those detained were Palestinians. But with the two paddy wagons full to capacity, there were still quite some Israelis and internationals there, mixed up with the villagers. The military seemed stumped, and the stand-off continued for some half an hour more.

Then, suddenly, the barrage began – tear gas cannisters raining down on the remaining protesters of all nationalities, as did shock grenades which are supposed to cause great noise but no actual damage. That is, if the soldiers take care not to shoot them too close to somebody. In this case, one exploded very near the leg of the 72-year-old Hava Keller, director of the Tel-Aviv Women for Politicial Prisoners and active participant in half a dozen other groups.

Taking her to hospital was anything but easy. The Palestinian medics (whom the organizers had the foresight to have present on the spot) were helpful, but are not allowed to enter Israel and their freedom of movement is curtailed even within the West Bank. The Israeli first aid station for this region is located at a settlement and staffed by settlers, and they were far from enthusiastic at the request to send an ambulance. In the end, Keller was carried by the Palestinians over the earthen barriers, and the finally-arrived Israeli ambulance took her to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tikva. In spite of considerable bleeding it turned out to be a superficial wound, and she went home the same day.

Meanwhile, inside the speeding police cars the 15 detainees were off to the police station at Ariel settlement. Those at the front engaged the police guards in a political debate so intense that the latter did not notice detainees in the back pulling mobile phones out of the pockets and calling the the press.

The police interrogation was, to tell the truth, not particularly arduous. Some of us gave the police elaborate statements on International Law, the Geneva Convention and the duties of an occupying power towards the civilian population; others just chose to maintain their right to remain silent (which is probably the best course from the judicial point of view, since it makes pressing charges more difficult for the state prosecution).

Already en route, the detainees decided on a policy of solidarity – either all are released, or none. As it turned out, the police was bent on singling out Neta Golan, who is already well-known in this station house from her several earlier manifestations of civil disobedience. But faced with a united front of the other detainees, the police relented and offered Golan bail on the same terms as the rest of us – an undertaking not to return to “the scene of the crime” for the next two weeks. To their chagrin, we all rejected that condition, too; in the end, we got expelled from the station with no binding conditions at all. The two Palestinians who were released with us – and for whom the whole adventure had been much more risky – did sign that they would not come near the controversial road anymore.

Once out of the police station we were informed that two activists travelling by car between the site of the action and the Ariel settlement’s police station where we were held had themselves become the target of a bullet spray. The owner of the car, Muhammed Asi – an Israeli-Palestinian – was taken to hospital with light injuries on his hand and suffering from shock. The woman, Yasmin Khayal, 22, a German-Palestinian, avoided injury by remaining crouched in the car. The army told them that it had been Palestinian fire, but seemed in no hurry to go after the perpetrators. The fire actually came from the direction of the Israeli settlement of Brukhim...

A lot to think about on this late hour through the darkness, all the way back out of the West Bank, along roads which are mainly used by settlers and through a countryside which in the past half a year had become the arena of a relentless guerrilla war.

Summary of recent actions

- Between April 8 and 12, there was the Human Rights week in Tel Aviv – an ongoing presence at the Sheinkin Park, various lectures and photo exhibitions, and a performance of “street theatre” (unfortunately disrupted by right-wing hooligans). It concluded with a march of about 200 activists, mostly women, down the streets of Tel-Aviv – wearing black, sporting black, helium-filled balloons with the message “End the Occupation, End the Closure” and vigorously banging on pots and pans.

- On the evening before, three young activists were arrested for driving a car through the streets of Tel-Aviv and broadcasting through a loudspeaker, “A curfew has been imposed on the city. Residents must enter their homes. People seen on the streets after 7:30 PM risk a response according to the usual procedures.” (It is the standard text used by curfew-imposing soliders in the streets of Israeli-occupied Hebron.) The three – two men and a woman – were charged with “terrorizing the public.”

- On the afternoon of Saturday, April 14, an Israeli demonstration (some 300 Gush Shalom and Women’s Coalition activists) and a Palestinian one (Rapprochement Center of Beit Sahour) converged upon the Gilo Checkpoint in south Jerusalem – the point beyond which West Bank Palestinians are habitually forbidden by the army to proceed. Military and police forces were deployed in advance of the widely-publicized action, their mission to halt the two processions half a kilometre from each other and prevent them from joining. Nevertheless Israelis and Palestinians, pushing from opposite directions and reinforced by big delegations of Italian and Norwegian peace groups, succeeded in breaking through the police cordons, joining with tumultuous handshakes and embraces, and holding an impromptu rally around the notorious roadblock. In short spontaneous speeches Ghassan Andoni, Uri Avnery, Gila Svirsky and the Europarliament Member Louisa Morgantini each expressed in their own way the emotions of the moment and the determination to go on. And it got into the evening news.

- At the news that Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmart was planning to resume demolition of “illegal” Palestinian homes, hundreds of Palestinian villagers and Israelis (called by ICAHD) demonstrated on the afternoon of April 17 at Umm Tuba – a Palestinian village incorporated into “United Jerusalem,” where many of the threatened houses are located.

ICAHD also renewed the “Home Brigade” of people (particularly Jerusalemites) willing to be called at a moment’s notice (to join call Fred at 051 875893), and throughout the week Israeli volunteers stayed the night in Umm Tuba. A protest ad and a big article in Ha’aretz were followed by a sharp statement of Meretz leader Yossi Sarid, calling upon Olmart to desist from demolitions. According to Ha’aretz (April 19) at that point Foreign Minister Peres and PM Sharon became involved, and up to the time of writing the houses remain whole.

- CO Gabby Wolf is in prison for a second term – 28 days this time. During the weekend between the first and second terms, he gave an account of his experiences.

[...] After I tried to convince fellow-prisoners of my ideas, and especially after refusing to get a free, military haircut (my four-and-a-half-year-long hair is important to me), I was transferred to the Isolation Ward. The guard commander gave me a warm welcome directly into my left ear: “You are now in my Isolation Ward! Do you know what that means? It means you are going to suffer, suffer badly!!” My pens, soap, toothbrush and much other stuff were taken away from me, as were some of my books. Fortunately not all – in a small cell with two cement blocks (beds), 24-hours-a-day neon illumination and a cellmate who speaks only Russian, there was little to do except read and wait for the next meal. So I spent my nineteenth birthday, on April 4. [...] The demonstration by New Profile and the article by Yossef Elgazi, and the faxes and letters to the prison administration certainly made a difference. Suddenly I was moved to a different cell, where there was a bit of sunlight in the day and the illumination put off during the night. They were especially sensitive to Ha’aretz publishing that I was not allowed to take a shower. At noon I was taken to the prison bathroom and pushed into the shower; in the afternoon, I was taken there a second time, though in fact I felt still clean and fresh from the earlier time. Thank you all – those who demonstrated, wrote letters, painted graffiti on the walls of Tel-Aviv – it all helped. This Sunday, I will go again to the unit, refuse again to be soldier and go again to prison; there I will refuse again to have my hair cut and will be sent again to the Isolation Ward. Let’s see when they grow tired of it.
Letters to Gabriel Wolf, Serial No. 7158325, Military Prison 4, Military Post 02507, IDF.

- The protest movement of reserve soldiers had been gathering momentum over the past week, getting enormous attention from the media and support (at least verbal) from across the political spectrum. They have been carefully avoiding political issues – stating that they are willing to go to any place they are sent and obey all orders; that their only demand is to get fitting recognition for their efforts in the form of monetary benefits and of more intangible social approbation. However, threats have been made of a mass refusal of military service, should the establishment (particularly the notoriously tight-fisted Finance Ministry officials) prove tardy in acceding to their demands; more conservative reservist groups condemned them for being “unpatriotic.” Altogether a phenomenon well worth watching – bursting out as it does in a period of confrontation and preparations for escalating war.

Actions to come

Tomorrow, Saturday, April 21 at 9.30 AM, a peace and solidarity convoy organized by Ta’ayush (Jewish-Arab Partnership) will rendezvous at the Arlozrov St. Railway Station in Tel-Aviv. (Second Rendezvouz at 10.00, near the gas station at the entrance to Kafr Quasem; contact 03-5739853.) A car convoy of Jewish and Arab Israelis will head for besieged Palestinian villages in the Nablus Region of the West Bank, carrying food and other basic relief collected in Tel Aviv, Kafr Qasem, Ar’ara, Ramat Gan, Jaljulya, Freydiss and Kaukab al-Hija for the past few weeks. Donations to Ta’ayush, Account 396608, Bank HaPoalim, Ramat Aviv Branch [no.606]; or checks, made out to Ta’ayush, to Dr. Gadi Algazi, Tel Aviv University, 69978 Ramat Aviv.

- For the fourth consecutive year Yesh Gvul holds an Alternative Independence Day Ceremony, giving an award to those who in the past year contributed to “A more just, egalitarian and worthwhile Israel.” Twelve torches (as in the official Independence Day ceremony at Mount Herzl) will be lighted by those involved in the struggle for peace, human rights and social justice. The ceremony will take place on Independence Day Eve, Wednesday April 25 at 8.00 PM, opposite the Prime Minister’s office in the Jerusalem – where a small plaza bears the name of Emil Grunzweig, the peace activist murdered on that spot in 1983. Transportation from Tel-Aviv: 6.30 PM at Arlozorov Railway Station. Info 02-6250271, 03-5224118

- On Monday, April 30, at 1.30 PM, Israeli and Palestinian trade unionists will mark May Day by a joint demonstration at the A-Ram Checkpoint north of Jerusalem, a tradition already a decade old which gets a special significance in the present circumstances. Transportation from Tel-Aviv, organized by Hadash, will be available at 11.30 PM from the Alrlozorv St. Railway Station. Further info 03-6835252, 050-201416,

Messages to the Mossad

Mossad, the state of Israel’s international espionage agency, has decided to go public in its recruitment efforts. Ads placed in the Israeli press called for prospective agents to take up “a highly challenging job, where you could advance both yourself and the country” and send CVs by fax or email (, +972-1-800-363-003). There is nothing to stop you from using this rare chance to communicate directly with this renowned espionage agency and tell them what you think.


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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

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Text © 2001 Gila Svirsky, The Other Israel/Gush Shalom. Graphic is courtesy of

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