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At-Home with Gila Svirsky

25 May 1998
Subject: So We Won't Die in Any More Wars


“This is someone from the extreme right wing speaking. We’re going to burn down Bat Shalom and all you left-wingers. Jerusalem belongs to us, period. Here’s hoping you burn together with all the Arabs.”

This was the recorded message heard by people who called Bat Shalom this Saturday to get details about our Jerusalem Day demonstration. Someone had figured out our remote code and changed the message on the tape. The incident was typical of the aggressiveness of the far right toward peace activists, and this was heightened on “Jerusalem Day,” the most nationalistic day of our calendar.

“Jerusalem Day” celebrates “unified Jerusalem,” although the city has never been more divided. To celebrate, the government stages an annual parade with thousands of soldiers strutting their stuff around the walls of the Old City and through the center of town. Also annually, right-wing extremists run their more defiant version, swaggering through the Palestinian parts of town. Bat Shalom felt that the time had come to respond to that.

Negotiating with the police over a location for our demonstration turned into a contentious issue. The police sought to prevent us from being in proximity with the militant right, but Bat Shalom would not agree to being shunted away from the scene of action. We finally agreed on a location along the wall of the Old City near Jaffa Gate, although other organizations (Gush Shalom and Meretz) felt the spot was too exposed and vulnerable, and withdrew sponsorship of the event. We admit that this withdrawal from participation combined with the death threat made us uneasy.

Participants had to walk several kilometers to reach the site, as all roads near the Old City were closed due to the two marches. Nevertheless a group gathered at the appointed hour, and gradually swelled as individuals made their way through the noise, crowds, and military brass to reach us. In fact, many Gush Shalom and Meretz activists made their way there too, even though their organizations had formally dropped out.

We were about 70 demonstrators ultimately and we formed a long line on a hill perched above and behind the marchers below. We held signs reading “Jerusalem: 2 capitals for 2 states,” “Jerusalem Day is a Sham,” “East Jerusalem is Occupied Territory,” and “Palestinians Also Live in Jerusalem.” One old man had hand-lettered and pinned to himself his own long-winded message: “Please be respectful of our Muslim neighbors as Jerusalem is also holy to them, so we won’t die in any more wars.”

The police were tense and alert, pouncing on anyone who looked too hard at us, and dragged away one young man who made a rush at us. They wouldn’t let me wander away from the area, as I wore a Bat Shalom shirt with a prominent women’s peace symbol on it. Many settlers eyed us angrily as they walked by, their rifles slung across their backs. A line of sitting ducks was the image that crossed my mind and the police seemed to feel the same way. But we all stood quietly — no speeches, no chanting, no cat-calls — watching the nationalistic fervor run its course in the streets below.

When the parade had dwindled down to nothing and even the spectators were packing up to go home, we rolled up our signs. The police looked relieved. A priest appeared out of nowhere and blessed us for what we did. Someone helped the old man unpin his sign so he could get home safely. As they left, participants thanked Bat Shalom for organizing it. “This proves once again,” said one of the Meretz participants, “that women are the most courageous part of the peace movement.” Actually there were lots of men with us today, but we were the ones who refused to back down.

Shalom/Salaam from Jerusalem — some day to become City of Peace.

Gila Svirsky

Back Introduction
March 1996: Bombs, Revenge, and One Iota of Hope
   2 Nov 1996: Hand in Hand in Hebron
  4 Apr 1997:  Children Still Alive and Abdallah
25 May 1998:  So We Won’t Die in Any More Wars
10 July 1998:   Lena Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  2 Aug 1998:  Lena’s New Home... Destroyed
  3 Jan 1999: Rifle Grenade #400
  9 July 1999: A Housewarming for Peace
23 Jan 2000: The Politics of the Tree
18 Oct 2000: On Violence by Israeli Arabs
10 Nov 2000: Peace Efforts in Israel
22 Nov 2000: We Refuse to Be Enemies
23 Nov 2000: Meeting of Women MKs for Peace
26 Nov 2000: Views of Faisal Husseini
28 Nov 2000: Lack of coverage for women’s events
  1 Dec 2000: Principles and Action
  8 Dec 2000: Women in Black today
30 Dec 2000: On the Way to Crowning Jerusalem with Peace
Letters from Jerusalem, 2001
Letters from Jerusalem, 2002
Letters from Jerusalem, 2003
New & recent letters from Jerusalem (2004)
Resources and Links

© 1998 Gila Svirsky.

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