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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

2 February 2002
Subject: The Widening Circle of Protest


The week has been rife with violence on both sides, leading to increased fear and anger among Israelis, who see neither peace nor security emerging from our prime minister’s aggressive policies.

The letter by 53 reserve officers and soldiers saying that they refuse to serve in the occupied territories has swung open the door to criticism – of them and of the policies that drove them to this measure, as well. More and more Israelis are beginning to question the occupation – its viability and morality. The shameful face of Israel’s behavior was dramatically brought home to Israelis by a long news item on TV that captured some of the inhumane behavior of our soldiers at checkpoints through which Palestinians must pass. It was therefore not surprising that a poll commissioned by Israel’s state-sponsored radio station reports that 50% of Israelis believe that government policy in the territories is morally problematic .

Cracks in the national consensus are becoming more and more visible. Additional evidence comes from the ever-widening circles of the Israeli peace movement and its supporters:


A full week later, the soldiers who refused to serve are still all over the media in Israel, as are their admirers and detractors. An incredible one-third of Israelis, according to the previous poll, express support for them. Conscious of the terrible damage this is having on the will to serve in the territories, the army launched an all-out offensive – they demoted the officers, stripped them of command posts, and launched a poster and petition campaign “It’s a privilege to serve in the army...” Mofaz, the most openly right-wing chief of staff in Israel’s history, publicly accused the soldiers of being a front for a political party. This effort to smear an authentic, grassroots effort with unfounded allegations only illustrates the severity of the blow to the army, and its sense of urgency about containing the damage. (For details and public reactions to them – some in English, some barely printable – see the soldiers’ website at and add a few of your own.)

Three support groups for the soldiers have sprung up: Disabled army veterans are organizing one. Yesh Gvul is preparing an ad that will say, “Mofaz is soft on those who commit [war] crimes, but bullies those who protest them.” And, finally, several “wives of reserve soldiers” have begun a petition that says in part, “We are not willing to be pawns of a government of occupation and oppression, which corrupts the values of our loved ones and our nation...while our families pay the price.” They have no website yet, but can be reached at

An unexpectedly warm defense of these soldiers came last night from Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel’s Security Services (and ex-Navy admiral), who responded in an interview on the main TV news of the week, “As far as I’m concerned, too few soldiers are refusing such orders. For example, [an order] to shoot an unarmed youth is a blatantly illegal order. I am very worried by the number of Palestinian children shot in the past year.”

What an enormous relief to read and hear this kind of talk, after so many months of denial! Even if the soldiers are unable to garner many more signatures for ads, their efforts have already had enormous positive impact.


Vigils of Women in Black and others are growing all over Israel. We had 100 at the Jerusalem vigil today, up from 60-70 in previous weeks. Though the absolute numbers are small, this may actually reflect an across-the-board 50% increase in Israelis who are fed up with the situation. There are now 18 regular anti-occupation vigils throughout Israel, about half of them Women in Black.

The Women in Black vigil in Jerusalem was like a carnival yesterday, with a small, but very loud, group of extreme right wingers chanting in our faces, “No Arabs, no terrorism.” Just two days ago, this slogan was ruled “incitement” and therefore illegal by Israel’s Attorney General. When we asked the police to arrest the shouters for incitement, they switched to “No left-wingers, no terrorism,” claiming this was legal. The police behaved in their usual manner: Afraid to deal with the out-of-control right, they told the women not to “provoke” them, which made us laugh and take over an even larger area of the vigil square, so that everybody – police, fascists, and not-so-innocent bystanders – could see our signs more clearly.

Adding to the ruckus was a religious man blowing a ram’s horn, traditional Jewish instrument for momentous events – blowing “at” us, not “with” us. But only 50 feet away the honor of Orthodox Jewry was upheld by the “Oz VeShalom/Netivot Shalom” peace movement, making their own proposal for compromise: “We’ll give up settlements, if you give up the law of return.” And a block away from all this was a group of university students with a simpler message: “Get out of the territories now!!!”

Although the police threw down obstacles to prevent our mass rally from happening tonight, they will not prevent us from holding it this coming Saturday night (Feb. 9). To give you some notion of the wall-to-wall coalition sponsoring it, here’s the list so far: Bat Shalom / Coalition of Women for Peace / Du Siach / Gush Shalom / The Campus Is Not Silent, Tel-Aviv University / Israeli Committtee Against House Demolitions / Kvisa Sh’hora: Lesbians and Gay Men Against the Occupation) / Left Forum, Haifa University / Meretz Youth / MachsomWatch / Monitoring Committee of the Arab Population of Israel / NELED / New Profile / Noga / TANDI / Ta’ayush / WILPF / Women and Mothers for Peace (formerly Four Mothers) / Women in Black / Yesh Gvul.

The only major group missing is Peace Now, apparently because our statements about “war crimes” and “refusal to serve” are beyond what they are willing to say at this stage. On Tuesday, they plan to launch their own “Leave the territories” campaign. And none of this mentions the ongoing human rights work carried out by B’Tselem, HaMoked Hotline, Physicians for Human Rights, and some of the abovementioned organizations. And just I finished writing that sentence, I had a call from a woman in the northern Galilee area of Israel, saying a large group there wants to organize for protest; how do they begin. The circle is widening.


Our government, of course, digs in even deeper when faced with the ugly threat of peace initiatives. Just one illustration: Permission to enter Ramallah was denied to Knesset Speaker Avrum Burg, who was planning to bring a message of peace to the Palestinian parliament. I have no objection to the trip, said Mr. Sharon, but the Security Services said no.

Finally, a word about Wafa Idris, the 28 year-old woman who exploded herself and more than a hundred Israelis on the main street of Jerusalem this week. Just before she detonated the bomb, Wafa entered a shoe store, looked around, motioned away a saleslady, walked out of the store, and then ... boom. Why didn’t she do it in the store? Did she decide that too few people were inside to make it worthwhile? Or was she unable to pull the cord, having met the eye of another human being? All killing is horrifying, terrorism even more appalling. The question we should be asking is: Why would anyone become a terrorist, especially a woman, a paramedic, trained to save lives? What could drive such a person to extremes? Appalling and unjustified as her behavior was, the question has an answer, and we must face it.

Gila Svirsky


Date: Sat, 02 Feb 2002 21:44
Subject: And wider...

Since I sent out “The Widening Circle of Protest,” many other peace actions have happened in Israel today. Peace Now held two large protests this evening, one in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv. Below you can read about the dramatic action by Ta’ayush [coexistence] today in Ramallah. And some Israelis made home-made “End the Occupation” signs and went to stand along a highway near their home...and people actually stopped to join them. Something good is happening in Israel, at last.

Ha'Aretz logo
Saturday, February 02, 2002 Shvat 20, 5762       Israel Time: 07:49 (GMT+2)
17:00 02/02/2002       Last update - 19:35 02/02/2002

Left-wing activists meet Arafat in Ramallah
By Ha’aretz Service and The Associated Press

Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat met Saturday with some 300 left-wing Jewish and Arab Israeli activists from “Ta’ayush” (Arabic for coexistence), in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Army Radio reported.

Arafat told the activists that he believed that peace would come “sooner or later,” adding that a visit from so many Israelis gave him hope that there is a partner for peace. “We are brothers, cousins,” said the Palestinian leader.

The Palestinian leader also said that Israel’s siege was giving “us more strength to continue our real mission... the peace of the brave.”

soldier standing behind thick cloud of dark gray smoke

An IDF soldier throws a smoke canister
toward protesting peace activists near
Yasser Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters
(Photo: AP)

The Israeli contingent arrived in Ramallah on foot from the Kalandia roadblock after the IDF prevented them from entering the West Bank city by bus.

The group included several youths who have refused to perform their compulsory military service in the West Bank and Gaza. Lotan Raz, 21, jailed three times for a total of 56 days for refusing to serve in the West Bank, said an increasing number of Israelis shared his views.

“We need to find a peaceful solution and the Israeli army doesn’t help find this solution... the army upholds occupation and I won’t be part of this,” he said. “There are more and more Israelis who are understanding, who will understand this is wrong, and this will stop.”

“We are very happy to see faces of Israelis other than the faces of the soldiers in Palestinian cities,” Islah Jad, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University, told the Israeli crowd. “It is important a movement towards coexistence is again picking up in both Israeli and Palestinian societies,” she said.

Following the meeting with Arafat, the activists approached the IDF tanks, which are in position just 100 meters from the governor’s mansion in Ramallah where Arafat has been holed up for over a month. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has refused to let Arafat leave until he arrests those responsible for the killing of right-wing minister Rehavam Ze’evi in October of last year.

“Get out of here,” the activists shouted at the soldiers in the tanks. The soldiers then threw a stun grenade and a tear gas canister at them, no injuries were reported.

Palestinians rally in support of Arafat

Thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank rallied Saturday in support of Yasser Arafat.

More than 2,000 Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza City, shouting pro-Arafat slogans and carrying a mock coffin marked for Sharon.

“To the garbage dump of history,” the coffin read on one side.

At a rally in the West Bank town of Nablus, organized by Arafat’s Fatah movement, Arafat was able to address the crowd by telephone.

“Peace and security will never be achieved in this region by Israel through siege, occupation and settlements, but by the full withdrawal from our lands,” Arafat said. His voice was played to the crowd over a loudspeaker.

“The occupation has to end for there to be peace between us and them, for our children and their children, I promise you our precious blood will not be wasted,” he said.

At-Home with Gila Svirsky

Letters from Jerusalem, 2001
Letters from Jerusalem, 2002
Letters from Jerusalem, 2003
New & recent letters from Jerusalem (2004)
Resources and Links

© 2002 Gila Svirsky, Ha’Aretz. Web site of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace:

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