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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

13 May 2001
Subject: A Critical Mass



The situation here is bad, worse than ever: In the past week alone, 11 Palestinians were killed, dozens were wounded, 60 of their homes were demolished, and we cannot even quantify the ongoing abusive behavior by settlers and soldiers, the closure-related upheavals, and trauma. And on the Israeli side, there was the grisly bludgeoning of the two young settler boys and bombs that did not explode, thank goodness.

In light of the unprecedented level of violence, the relative powerlessness of the Palestinian community, and ministers within the very government of Israel calling upon the army to “finish the job properly,” there is no humane or moral alternative but to call upon the international community to do everything in its power to protect the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories from further brutality. Those of us who have visited the territories of late are sickened by the sights. I can only urge all of you to convey this demand to your representatives.


On the ground, efforts continue to awaken Israeli and international opinion. What follows is a quick mention of several recent actions for peace that you did not hear about in the media. More took place, but I wanted to get at least this report out before I leave for two weeks, primarily to attend the Open Tent conference in Los Angeles on May 20th. Please don’t expect answers to letters in the coming weeks (and I apologize to those I could not get to before I leave). For emergencies, I can be reached at, but will not have frequent access.


This is spreading on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. In Israel, the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace benefited from an excellent workshop given one week ago by three members of the Michigan Peace Team – Charlotte Whitney, Peter Dougherty, and Bill Thomson.

Yesterday we were able to put it into practice what we learned in an action co-sponsored by the Coalition of Women, but brilliantly orchestrated by members of Ta’ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership). In a convoy of 60 cars and trucks, 240 Israelis drove across the Green Line and into two Palestinian villages under siege, bringing food, clothing, and children’s toys. The army did not impede our progress, knowing that it would only magnify the injustice of the “closure” to those watching.

We were greeted with great warmth and hospitality by the Palestinians. This was an important action – it was both humanitarian and made a vivid political statement. A description of this action by one of the Coalition participants will be emailed “under separate cover.”


Do you remember Dir Istya, where Neta and Yasmin chained themselves to trees and faced down the bulldozer? And do you remember that the army told the court that they wanted to build a road there, but that Palestinians were throwing stones from behind the trees so they had to destroy the orchard?

Well, here’s what happened: No road and no truth. Instead, settlers placed four caravans [Amer: camper/trailers] on that tract of land, as the beginning of a new settlement. And the army placed a military post, also on the village land, to “secure” the caravans.

Neta and others called for a demonstration this past Friday. Hundreds turned out and were met with a terrible barrage of tear gas, stun grenades, and brute force. Here’s the report that Neta wrote about it:


May 12, 2001

Hundreds gather to protest settlement building
Israelis and internationals join Palestinians to call for an end to occupation

(Dir Istya) Friday, May 11 - Scores of Israelis and internationals joined over 200 inhabitants of the West Bank town of Dir Istya in a non-violent march to protest the continued confiscation of Palestinian land for the building of illegal settlements. Israeli settlement caravans were recently brought in and placed upon property belonging to individuals from Dir Istya, further encircling the Palestinian town and preventing the free movement of Palestinians. Dir Istya is surrounded on all sides by the settlements of Yakir, Emanuel, Nofim and Barqan. Farming and agriculture are the main means of sustenance for the residents of Dir Istya but the presence of these settlements prevent villagers from accessing and harvesting their land.

The villagers gathered in the town square and began a three-kilometer march towards the site of the caravans. The town mayor, Dr. Nafez Mansour carried a message that the demonstrators sought to deliver to the Israeli Army and the settlers: “No Peace with Settlements” and “Equality and Justice for All.”

Approximately two kilometers into the march the demonstrators were confronted with a barrage of tear gas from the Israeli military and were prevented from proceeding to the site of the caravans. Despite pleas from the demonstrators that they were unarmed and were coming in peace, the Israeli military chose to bombard them with tear gas. Their requests in English and Hebrew for dialogue were met with repeated rounds of tear gas that caused a number of fires in the surrounding area. Sound grenades and rubber bullets were also used by the Israeli military. One journalist was lightly injured when he was shot in the foot. This method of dealing with the demonstrators is in sharp contrast to the means by which the Israeli Army deals with settler demonstrations. Israeli settlers frequently raid Palestinian villages and terrorize the Palestinian residents, with the knowledge and under the protection of the Israeli military. Needless to say, they have never been tear-gassed. On the part of the villagers, the demonstration remained completely non-violent. When it was obvious that the soldiers refused any kind of dialogue, the villagers conducted their Friday prayers on the site where the procession was stopped before quietly retreating to their village.

Settlements constitute a direct violation of international law and are contradictory to the spirit of peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. According to the Fourth Geneva Conventions it is unlawful for an Occupying Power to transfer any portion of its population into areas under occupation. The International Solidarity Movement calls on Israel to adhere to international law and UN resolutions and calls on the international community to take action ensure Israel’s compliance with these laws.

For more information, pictures or video footage of the demonstration, please contact Neta Golan at: 052-481-261 or via email or Heidi Arraf at 052-90-173 or via


To mark the 34th anniversary of the 1967 war, women and men of conscience throughout the world will be holding Women in Black vigils on or about June 8th. Please think about holding a vigil in your own city – all it takes is a couple people and a strong desire for peace in the Middle East. We already have confirmed participation from ten US cities (Abilene TX, Albuquerque NM, Ann Arbor MI, Boston MA, Chicago IL, Los Angeles CA, New York NY, San Francisco CA, Seattle WA, and Washington DC), as well as Melbourne, Mexico City, Montreal, Rennes, The Hague, Toronto, and a “peace ship” in the Pacific – for a total of 17 locations. Positive responses come in daily. For more information about how to plan your vigil, or to add your vigil to the list, write to Terry at Bat Shalom:


Finally, a thank you to everybody for your words of support and your contributions of money and used videocameras for Neta and others to document the oppression and the resistance. Sufficient money has now come in, and a new digital video will be purchased this week, while the used cameras will be used by other peace activists in the territories and as backup for Neta.

This is an important time to do everything in your power to end this conflict: Write your elected representatives to send an international force to protect the Palestinians, tell them to halt the arms flow into the region (and into the world, in general), organize a June 8th vigil in your city, write letters to the editor, forward emails from Palestinians and Israelis that expose the situation on the ground, and keep yourself informed.

L’hitraot – see you – in two weeks,
Gila Svirsky

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

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© 2001 Gila Svirsky, Neta Golan.

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