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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

11 June 2001
Subject: “This is what I did about it.”


Yes, you’re right, you who called or wrote to say that there were a few things I left out of my report about the Jerusalem vigil last Friday (June 8th). I did so because the report was already so long, but since you ask that I add them, here they are:

All-night Vigil

We began at 6:00 in the evening, dusk in Jerusalem, in a solemn and dignified ceremony. Dr. Sumaya Farhat-Naser, a Palestinian from Bir Zeit University in the occupied territories, and I, a Jewish Israeli, stood in the center of the vigil plaza and held one torch aloft between us, with two signs at our sides: “End the Occupation” and “We Refuse to Be Enemies.” People were beginning to gather at the plaza, and most just stood back and watched this powerful still-life in silence.

After about an hour, members of the extremist right-wing group Kach arrived and began to mingle among us. Organizers approached the two policemen on duty and asked them to have the Kach members separated from our group, just as we are separated at our regular weekly vigil. The police refused, on the grounds that everyone is free to stand where they want. More Kach members arrived and began to taunt us and jump onto the raised area where Sumaya and I stood. Women in Black and some men supporters immediately surrounded Sumaya and me, holding their “End the Occupation” signs in front of them. More Kach members arrived, and activists redoubled their efforts to get the police to intervene, with no success. One Kach member is a known thug, with a long history of arrests for violent behavior against Arabs, Women in Black, and others. By now, we were about 50 and they were 15, but some of them carried loaded guns in their belts. At about 7:00, the expected brawl began. Now the police intervened, but not before some severe blows, in which one of our supporters – Dr. Eric Jacobson from Free University of Berlin, who was in Israel to lecture about “militarization” on behalf of New Profile – had his eyeglasses smashed, his nose broken, and several bruises.

More police arrived, but Kach was never removed from the vigil plaza. Until about 2:00 in the morning, they continued to shout racist slogans, attempt to set our banners on fire with cigarette lighters, destroy signs that were not protected, and prevent us from conducting our All-night Feminist Vigil, where we had planned to read and discuss some of the wonderful texts that had been sent from all over the world.

When the Kach members finally tired and the last of them left, we were too exhausted to focus on any readings. Most of us sat quietly together, huddled against the growing night cold, and talked. But through it all, right through the long night, two vigilers stood in the center and held the torch aloft.

At about 5:00 in the morning, the sun began to rise over Jerusalem, and seven of us were still there with our torch and our message. All of us now grabbed signs, lit a second torch, and jumped up on the wall around the plaza, facing the rising sun and the cars now in growing numbers. We felt euphoric that we had made it through the night, and the torches were held high. Drivers passed, some of them cursing, others incredulous, and one man on his way to work watched for a few minutes and then joined us for a while. At 7:00, someone brought us coffee. By 8:00, we were joined by enough new vigilers that we felt we could go home, have a shower and breakfast, and put on fresh black clothes and return.

No, the Kach member who attacked Eric was never arrested, though Eric is pressing charges. Attorney Lea Tsemel is handling the case pro bono.

Later the Same Day...

For the mass vigil between noon and 3:00 p.m., the police kept a small group of Kach members separated from the crowd. By the last of the speeches, however, some had managed to get past the barriers and approach the podium, where they released a hailstorm of rocks, which struck vigilers standing closest to the podium. No one was hurt. Three Kach members were arrested and released... later the same day.

Post-Vigil Activities

Following the vigil, some members of Women in Black went to visit the family of Faisal Husseini and extend their condolences.

Gush Shalom activists also didn’t go right back home. A busload went to demonstrate at al-Khader near Bethlehem, where settlers from Efrat are again encroaching on Palestinian land. Several demonstrations in the past (including one that ended in shooting at and arrests of the demonstrators) had prevented this from happening under Rabin, but under Sharon the settlers are trying again. Gush Shalom plans to continue its organizing to stop this settlement expansion, most of which is disregarded by the media.

Invaluable Material Support

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to those individuals who sent contributions to make this work possible, and also to three generous foundations: Samuel Rubin Foundation, Max and Anna Levinson Foundation, New Israel Fund, and the Sister Fund.

Grace Paley

Finally, I would like to close with words sent to us by Grace Paley, not only a renowned author, but a longtime activist for peace and justice, and a Woman in Black from New York. In these few words, Grace talks about all of us on vigils or who otherwise act on our beliefs:

We live in this world which takes our children and sets terrible barriers before them: war – a new one just for their generation; drugs; narrow nationalisms of hatred, poverty, absurdity. Our bodies live in this world and are picked up, shaken, and what is natural becomes difficult. What is difficult becomes painful and hopeless....

Still, I must remind myself, having said all this, that there is now a women’s community, women’s communities where women stand still, almost breathless to talk to one another, or gather at home or in meeting places... to listen, to say: This is where my trouble is; this is where it hurts. And then someone answers: Me too. And listen. This is what I did about it.

Shalom / Salaam from Jerusalem,
Gila Svirsky

Web site of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace:

If the above site doesn’t work, you can find out about the vigils at:

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.

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