The Middle East:

Commentary and Analysis

Email from Gila Svirsky: On the Streets of Israel and New York

Date: Tue, 29 Oct 2002 10:14:32 +0200
From: Gila Svirsky 
Subject: On the Streets of Israel and New York


  I just returned from an intensive 4 days in New York and discovered --
  after catching up by phone and e-mail -- that the frenetic pace of peace
  activism in Israel has not eased, and perhaps even increased.  Several

  Olive Harvest

  The olive harvest, with Israeli and international solidarity, continues
  apace, despite ongoing settler attacks.  In response, the army first
  declared that the Palestinians must refrain from picking olives, then it
  rescinded the order, thanks to local activism combined with outraged
  messages from many of you.  Nevertheless, several olive-pickers were
  injured by settlers in recent days, and the struggle continues, much of it
  organized and led by Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta'ayush, and the ISM.
  Activists from many organizations have pitched in, and a group accompanied
  the villagers of Khirbet Yanun as they returned to their homes, from which
  they fled last week after repeated settler attacks.  Writes Hannah Safran
  of the Coalition of Women for Peace, "If you've never been in a Jewish
  shtetl [Yiddish for "small town"] in Eastern Europe during a pogrom, why
  not try it now with home-made Cossacks.... you will never forget the event
  and your politics will regain its anger and zest."

  Settler violence against both Palestinians and soldiers (as the army
  attempted to remove new settler outposts) has had the useful by-product of
  again making settlers look like extremists and thugs among mainstream
  Israelis.  Not surprisingly, Defense Minister Fuad Ben-Eliezer finds this
  the propitious moment to call upon his party to vote against Sharon's
  proposed new state budget on the grounds that the budget "gives too much
  to settlers and not enough to the poor".  That's certainly true, despite
  the demagoguery.  If the result is that the Labor party finally leaves the
  government coalition, we can expect elections before the scheduled date
  next November.  But don't get your hopes up: The line of succession is

  Other events

  I missed many important actions this weekend, in addition to the

  * An inter-organizational rally protesting the impending war on Iraq (in
  international solidarity).

  * A Gush Shalom demonstration opposing the so-called 'security fence' --
  which grabs even more Palestinian land and seeks to further erase the
  border with the Occupied Territories.

  *  A Peace Now march marking 7 years to the assassination of Rabin, and
  calling for an end to the 'government of settlements'.

  * The opening of a moving exhibition of photos taken at checkpoints by
  Elisheva Smith, sponsored by Machsom Watch.

  * The jailing of several courageous young men who refuse to serve in the

  * An action in the south Hebron hills region, where Ta'ayush activists
  walked kids home from school, kids who have not been allowed to attend
  during the long months of curfew.

  This is a really frenzied pace for one weekend, as you can see.  Which is
  why the Coalition of Women for Peace took time out for a long day of
  strategic planning -- to get perspective, prioritize our goals, and decide
  on the best strategies for reaching them.  I wish I could have attended.

  Instead, I had the good fortune to be invited, representing Women in
  Black, to address the UN Security Council on the subject of women at peace
  negotiations.  This session was intended to spur compliance with Security
  Council Resolution 1325, which mandates the participation of women in all
  decision-making, including negotiations for peace.  Also invited to speak
  were women peace activists from 3 other countries -- Burundi, Uganda, and
  India -- and one representative of the organizing group, a coalition
  called the "NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security".  At the very
  last minute, the Syrian delegation, currently members of the Security
  Council, objected to a presentation by Israel, and others objected to a
  women from Gujarat, India, who (they imagined correctly) would be critical
  of the Indian government.  Despite two of us being 'disinvited', the lot
  of us filed into the Security Council conference room and seated ourselves
  opposite the 15 members (and their advisors) at the so-called "experts
  table".  (It's striking, isn't it, that NOT shooting or throwing a bomb
  requires expertise.)

  When Indira Kajosevic of the "NGO Working Group" delivered her remarks,
  she cleverly presented summaries of the talks that the Indian woman and I
  had prepared, so I didn't feel altogether left out.  But as the Security
  Council delegates discussed the issue -- oh, in complete agreement about
  equality for women, wouldn't you know -- I was sitting there wondering
  what would happen if I simply raised my hand, so I did.  Almost at once
  the Chair recognized me, which astonished me and nearly left me
  speechless.  After a fumbling beginning, I found my voice, distanced
  myself from the policies of the present Israeli government, talked about
  the accomplishments of women making peace with each other and the wisdom
  of including representatives of civil society (peace activists) at the
  negotiating table, and then said quietly that, actually, the conflict in
  the Middle East was not between Israelis and Palestinians.  I should have
  paused longer for effect right here, but I waited as long as I thought I
  could without closing the window of opportunity.  The conflict, I said
  softly, was actually between Israelis and Palestinians who long for peace,
  on one side, and Israelis and Palestinians who don't want peace, on the
  other.  When I finished, the only speaker following me was the Syrian
  delegate, and -- to tell you the truth, my heart started to pound just
  then so I didn't hear a word -- I was later told that my final words
  headed off the usual Syrian broadside against Israel.

  The "NGO Working Group" had also done a great job of arranging a press
  conference, briefings of senior UN officials, and a public reception, so
  we did have opportunities to get the message across.  I also had the
  privilege of participating in not one, but two New York vigils of Women in
  Black -- the so-called Wednesday and Thursday groups -- and was moved to
  think of the large and spontaneous movement that is building across the

  The text I prepared in advance, never uttered in full, appears below.
  Many thanks to Ruth Linden for her help in polishing and paring it down to
  5 short minutes.  I do think they got the message, though.

  Back home and more relaxed,
  Gila Svirsky

Address to the Security Council of the United Nations
Gila Svirsky, Women in Black and Coalition of Women for Peace
23 October 2002

Your Excellencies,

Allow me to begin by telling you about the secret meetings held between Palestinians and Israelis that began 15 years ago. These meetings were secret because it was illegal for Israelis and forbidden for Palestinians to meet in those years. A number of groups were then getting together, but only one group persisted over time - resolutely grappling with the most difficult issues - and crafted an agreement that was signed and publicized several years before the Oslo Accords. Above all this agreement declared establishment of a free, independent and secure state of Palestine side-by-side with a free, independent and secure state of Israel as the core of a political settlement.

As profound as this moment could have been in the history of the Middle East, very few people heard about it. Why? Because the agreement was written by women. You may wonder whether the agreement was rejected for other reasons, perhaps because it was a radical statement dreamed up by utopians or marginal people. But these women were neither marginal nor radical. Each delegation included prominent political leaders - members of parliament, government ministers, an ambassador, and a party head.

As for the content of the agreement, most of its principles have now become matters of consensus among both Israelis and Palestinians. Despite the current magnitude of brutality - or perhaps because of it - surveys consistently show that a decisive two-thirds of Israeli Jews would support a peace agreement that includes Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories, evacuation of most Israeli settlements, and creation of a Palestinian state. Most Palestinians hold the very same views. Indeed, only extremist political leaders on both sides fail to understand that these principles will ultimately set the terms of peace between our nations.

Clearly, the agreement was both pragmatic and moderate. In fact, had the women who wrote it been internationally recognized negotiators, the two Intifadas that followed might have been prevented. This is but one example of the need to implement and enforce Security Council Resolution 1325.

At the grassroots level women have also been at the forefront of peacemaking. In 1988 women in Israel founded the movement now known as Women in Black. Dressed in black to mourn the victims on all sides, Women in Black has kept a one-hour vigil every single Friday for the past 15 years. On street corners throughout Israel, Arab and Jewish women hold signs demanding an end to the Israeli occupation and pursuit of a just peace.

The Women in Black movement quickly and spontaneously spread around the globe as a public forum for women to say "no" to war and injustice. In Italy Women in Black protest the Israeli occupation and the violence of organized crime. Women in Black in Bangalore, India call for an end to abuse by religious fundamentalists. During the war in the Balkans Women in Black, Yugoslavia set an inspirational example of interethnic cooperation. Today, Women in Black throughout the world are engaged in a struggle to prevent a war from being launched against Iraq. For their remarkable work, the international movement of Women in Black, represented by the movements in Yugoslavia and Israel, were nominated for the Nobel Prize for Peace and won the Millennium Peace Prize awarded by UNIFEM [the UN Development Fund for Women].

In Israel, the women's peace movement extends well beyond Women in Black. We are Bat Shalom, the organization formed to promote the principles of the pre-Oslo peace agreement described earlier. We are New Profile, women seeking to end the militarization of Israeli society. We are Machsom Watch, women preventing human rights violations at checkpoints. We are the Movement of Democratic Women, Jewish and Palestinian women citizens of Israel struggling for peace and justice. These and other organizations, joined together in the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, are united in relentless effort to bring the bloodshed to an end.

The women's peace movement in Israel is absolutely breathtaking: It is alive with new ideas, indefatigable as women have always been, and at the vanguard of creative thinking about how to get to peace. Israeli and Palestinian women march together under the banner "We refuse to be enemies". Indeed, the Israeli and Palestinian women's peace movements have already made peace: on paper, in our hearts, in the lessons we teach our children, and in the behavior we model. We are allies for peace, united in our struggle against extremists and warmongers on all sides.

Is it not preposterous that not a single Israeli woman, and only one Palestinian woman, have held leadership roles at a Middle East peace summit? Instead, the negotiators have been men with portfolios of brutal crimes against each other - military men who have honed the art of war and who measure their success by the unconditional surrender of the other. Is it any wonder that we are still locked in combat?

Ultimately this occupation, like every other in history, will come to an end. The general parameters of that ending are already drawn and in agreement. What we need now is leadership committed to swiftly concluding this era awash in blood, leadership that understands the price we pay in death and destruction for every hour of delay. What we need now is leadership with expertise at reconciliation and rapprochement. What we need now is women.

Thank you.

see also Coalition of Women for a Just Peace
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De Clarke