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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

27 December 2002
Subject: A Protest Happening in Tel Aviv


Things are so terrible here, one could weep. Or sit home and do nothing. Or move to Tel Aviv and get lost in the café crowd – galleries, gourmet food, and a political party called “Green Leaf” pushing for the legalization of marijuana. Now that’s one way to cope with reality.

So, we decided to bring reality into the heart of affluent, artsy Tel Aviv, and to do it on their terms – using music, art, cinema, and street theater, all set into a mass Women (and Men) in Black vigil.

We were about 1,500 people from all over Israel as well as Europe and North America, most of us dressed in black and spread out on the five corners of one of the busiest intersections of Tel Aviv. Our twin slogans – “End the Occupation” and “No to Racism” – called out from every direction: white lettering on black smocks, black umbrellas, black banners, and the traditional black “hands” of Women in Black. (Thank you, Dita, for those great graphic items.)

The day was meant to convey a serious message, but the sudden bright, hot sun after a week of cold winter rains, our own need for respite from the horror, and the Tel Aviv escapist state-of-mind all seemed to get the better of us, turning a protest demonstration into a protest happening, with action every few meters:

  • Two drummers, doing Middle Eastern rhythms;

  • Five “Angry Old Ladies” singing subversive political lyrics they had written to nursery rhymes and Zionist foot-stompers;

  • A group from Portugal doing much-loved peace songs with guitars and hand-clapping;

  • Black Laundry: Lesbians and Homosexuals Against the Occupation with an art installation that defies simple description;

  • Crates of olives and olive oil, packed into empty soda bottles, sold by peace activists that had helped in the harvest (ah, they taste best when you have picked them yourselves...)

  • To counter the racist “Transfer = Security” stickers that have sprouted all over the country, there were “Transfer = War Crime” stickers, on the background of the yellow Jewish star that had been used by the Nazis during the Holocaust;

  • The Fifth Mother Movement (carrying on the tradition of the Four Mothers Movement that got us out of Lebanon) sold shirts saying “War is not my language”.

But best of all was the public screening of the film Jenin, Jenin [director Mohammed Bakri], an account of the actions of the Israeli army this spring in the West Bank town of Jenin. The film had been banned by the Israeli censors, but showing in private homes and offices around Israel. We – the Coalition of Women for Peace – decided to rent equipment and defy the censor, showing it on a big screen we set up in plain view of everyone.

The police knew of the plan and approached Yoni Lerman, one of the main organizers, to tell her that the Chief of Police gave strict orders that the film must not be shown. No way, said Yoni, we’re showing it, and gave orders to run the projector. The police couldn’t stand it. They went up to the man who rented us the equipment and was operating it, and told him to turn off the projector or they would smash it. He turned it off. That was too much for Debby Lerman, another organizer, who also happens to be Yoni’s mom. Debby pulled out her checkbook, put her signature onto one of them, and handed it to the video equipment owner. “Hold onto that check,” said Debby, “and if the police smash your equipment, write in the amount that it’s worth. Now turn it on.” He still hesitated, but pointed to the button. “You turn it on,” he said, which Debby gladly did. The crowd gathered in great numbers and the film ran for over an hour, no equipment smashed, with the TV news this evening reporting, “The film Jenin, Jenin, banned in Israel by the censor, was shown on a giant screen in the heart of Tel Aviv this afternoon,” followed by an interview with Yoni who simply explained that one should not hide the truth. Well done, Yoni.

Special guests at the event: beloved Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, now retiring; dear Luisa Morgantini, “our” member of the European Parliament; local and international peace activists Shulamit Aloni, Simone Susskind, Uri Avnery, Dan Almagor, and others.

Many local and international media also came, thanks to Jenin, Jenin, and half the people there seemed to be making videos of the other half. But for some very nice stills done by Mely Lerman (yes, Yoni’s dad), click onto I’ll also insert here one of Jane Fonda and Eve Ensler at last week’s very rainy vigil of Jerusalem Women in Black:

Jane and Eve wearing green raincoats under black umbrella, standing next to Eve's husband, holding green signs shaped like hands that say STOP THE OCCUPATION
Eve Ensler, writer of the Vagina Monologues,
Jane Fonda, and Eve’s husband at the
Jerusalem Women in Black vigil,
20 December 2002

That’s it. Special thanks to the many of you in Europe and North America who held your own vigils in solidarity with ours – some in great gobs of snow, we hear. By the way, exactly one hour after our own event ended in dazzling sunny weather, the sky opened up and poured down buckets of rain.

Well, in some ways, it was more a protest carnival than a march of mourning, like last December. Did we get through to the Tel Aviv crowd? Maybe. And maybe they got through to us a little bit, too.

Shalom / Salaam from Jerusalem,

Gila Svirsky

Coalition of Women for Peace:
Bat Shalom; The Fifth Mother (formerly Four Mothers Movement);
Machsom-Watch; NELED; New Profile; Noga; TANDI; WILPF; and Women in Black.

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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© 2002 Gila Svirsky.

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