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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

15 August 2001
Subject: Hoping this list helps...


The situation in the Middle East (it won’t be news to you), has gone from bad to worse. From terrorist bombings of civilians in Israel to tank and air strikes of civilians in Palestine, decent people on both sides are feeling depressed, discouraged, and hopeless. When Zuheira Kamal, a wonderful Palestinian woman who is a labor leader and dedicated peacemaker, says about Israel’s siege of the Orient House, “Perhaps this step will awaken us from a dream, the dream of peace, negotiations, and agreements,” you know that the Israeli government has made yet another very bad mistake.

Sharon has been the worst prime minister in the history of Israel – dangerous and deadly to the Palestinians and, consequently, the Israelis as well, as he courts retaliation rather than reconciliation. And the presence of Shimon Peres as his right-hand man bestows a legitimacy on Sharon’s policies that seek to sanitize them to the world at large. This only confirms my long-held view that Nobel Peace Prizes are not deserved by war-makers who have (temporarily, in this case) set aside their arms.

But rather than add to the already voluminous list of sins and suffering, I thought that I would share with you the list beside my computer of things that serve to encourage me during these dark days:

  1. Conscientious and other objectors increasing.
    There are more Israeli young men than ever who, for ideological reasons, are refusing to do army service in the occupied territories. In addition, there are more men than ever who, for self-interest, are not showing up for reserve duty. Both cases expose the lack of motivation among many to carry out the brutal tasks of occupation. In fact, the Knesset has had to pass special laws recently to improve the “working conditions” of reserve soldiers in an effort to counter this trend, but the number of COs, refusers, and shirkers will only grow as the task of occupation becomes more dangerous and morally repugnant. (Professor/Rabbi Yeshayahu Leibowitz used to say that if only 1,000 boys refused to serve in the territories, the machinery of occupation would fall apart.)

  2. Settlements back in the doghouse.
    After a brief grace period at the beginning of this intifadah, settlements have returned to the black list of many Israelis, who again regard them as an obstacle to peace. A recent Tel Aviv University survey reveals that 52% would support a forcible evacuation of settlements in the context of a unilateral withdrawal. In fact, several settlements in particularly dangerous and isolated locations have virtually emptied of residents – the “non-ideological settlers,” who can no longer claim that being in the territories upgrades their quality of life.

  3. Support growing for “separation.”
    “Separation” is the politically acceptable way for Israeli politicians to talk about a unilateral withdrawal to the 1967 borders. This concept is now being bandied about by several politicians, including some from the Likud party. The majority of Israelis continue to see a Palestinian state as inevitable, whether they like it or not. Israelis are reconciled to a future side by side with Palestine.

  4. Criticism growing of human rights abuses.
    Many outsiders, Europeans in particular, now understand that brutal violations of Palestinian human rights are part and parcel of the Israeli occupation. A case in point is the widespread revulsion in Denmark at the appointment of Carmi Gillon as Israel’s ambassador there, because of his role as chief of Israel’s “security services” during the period when torture was systematically applied to Palestinians arrested by Israel. Ongoing international outcry about human rights abuses continues to be of immense strategic importance to bringing them to an end – closure, home demolitions, land confiscations, withholding water, etc.

Though the list is short, peace and human rights activists continue to be out there consolidating and extending these gains. Some vignettes from recent days:

  • The Coalition of Women for a Just Peace in partnership with Gush Shalom and Ta’ayush held a demonstration near Orient House to protest the seizure of this building. This was important for asserting that many Israelis condemn this invasion.

  • Three women (an Israeli, a Palestinian, and an American Jew) have organized an International Solidarity Movement into a “human shield” around Beit Jalla – living in Palestinian homes during times of shelling by the Israeli army.

  • Physicians for Human Rights are holding a medical clinic for the Palestinian cave dwellers whose homes and cisterns were destroyed by the army.

  • Bustan Shalom together with Rabbis for Human Rights are paying condolence calls to the families of the victims of the Jerusalem pizzeria bomb.

  • The Palestinian Center for Rapprochement has organized two weeks of actions with Palestinians and international delegations, including a demonstration near Orient House where they were brutally beaten by the police.

  • Peace Now is starting to revive, and held a rally calling upon the government not to go to war, but to negotiate.

  • In the face of signs in Jerusalem’s market saying “Don’t buy from Arabs,” three women brought photos from Nazi Germany showing “Don’t buy from Jews” posters (and were beaten up for their efforts).

  • Yesh Gvul and New Profile continue their work to discourage military service in the territories and give solidarity to COs.

  • Friday will bring a Jewish-Arab rally in Nazareth (sponsored by Hadash) to protest the occupation and demand international protection for the Palestinians.

And this does not include the many vigils and demonstrations held regularly all over Israel – in Rehovot, Naharia, Acre, Haifa, Gan Shmuel, Kibbutz Nachshon, Ra’anana, Megiddo, Beersheba, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and other locations, where individuals refuse to sit quietly and let reality roll over them. And I apologize for those I didn’t know to mention.

Finally, Women in Black continues, alive and well, and there is finally some progress to report. After 13 and a half years of this vigil, aggression against us from the right wing has changed in character for the better. For years, those who disagreed with our views would walk by and call us “whores,” or suggest that a proper sexual experience would correct our politics. Today, we are less often called “whores,” referring to our bodies, and more often called “traitors,” referring to our political views. They are beginning to take us seriously.

Gila Svirsky

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

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Letters from Jerusalem, 2002
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© 2001 Gila Svirsky.

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