Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 The vigil in Jerusalem
 Gila Svirsky, Israel
 June 9, 2001
 
Dear friends,

Yesterday we had an amazing vigil in Israel and so did many places in the world. Reports and photos have started to arrive from the more than 150 locations worldwide where vigils were held, and we’ll be posting these on the website (see below). We'll also issue a summary report after we hear from most places. . . .

The vigil in Jerusalem brought together 3,000 women and men, both Israeli and Palestinian (and not 300, as reported on CNN). It was the largest single vigil that had ever been held of Women in Black, and, combined with all our allies overseas, we imagine that many thousands participated in this international day of protest.

If you had the good fortune to be in Jerusalem on this beautiful spring day, you would have seen a sea of black at Hagar Plaza, mostly women but a great many men too. In addition to Jews and Palestinians from all over Israel, many Palestinians also came from the Occupied Territories—some from East Jerusalem, who could enter without facing roadblocks, and others who defied the closure to get in. The large number of Palestinians in traditional headdress—women in scarves, men in kafeeyas—was an important physical reminder that this is a common struggle for peace, though organized in Israel.

Dalit Baum and Olivia Attrash, our two moderators—one Jewish and the other Palestinian, both Israelis—did a wonderful job, with all their remarks given in both Hebrew and Arabic, strengthening the message of Israeli-Palestinian solidarity for peace. They told of the all-night vigil in Jerusalem that began at 6 p.m. the evening before, with one Israeli and one Palestinian woman together holding a torch alight through the night, until the mass rally at noon on Friday. Then they opened the presentations with a poignant minute of silence for all the victims of this occupation, both Israeli and Palestinian.

Despite the tragic context of this day—marking 34 years of occupation, 8 months of intifada, and one week since the bomb that slew 20 Israeli teens—the excitement and hope were palpable at this demonstration. Before the speeches began, 1,000 black, helium-filled balloons scattered throughout the crowd were simultaneously released. The sight was amazing—a brilliant blue sky suddenly splattered with a thousand black stains, "End the Occupation / End the Closure" written on them, lifting slowly into oblivion.

The speakers alternated, Israeli/Palestinian, some with harsh words, but each giving a message of peace and solidarity. All spoke of the need to end the occupation and create two states side by side, Israel and Palestine, both sovereign and both safe, with a shared destiny. In the words of Hanan Ashrawi (that were read out loud, in her absence), "The June 4, 1967 boundaries should mark the boundaries of our two states, to enable us to disengage from this fatal proximity of occupier/occupied, and to re-engage as good neighbors". Hulud Badawi, chair of the Association of Arab University Students of Israel, noted that "...this event is living proof that Palestinians and Israelis can live and flourish together." And the words of Nurit Peled-Elhanan, whose daughter was killed in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem three years ago, left few eyes dry: "Last week we saw many pictures of dead children. Children who went out to have a good time, who barely had a chance to figure out the complexity of living in this country, and one child who killed all of them and himself as well. . . .Save the children; don't let the merchants of blood continue to trade in them, because they will never be sated."

Other impressive speakers were Shulamit Aloni, considered by many to be the mother of the civil rights movement in Israel, Zahira Kamal, a leading spokeswoman for Palestinian women in the Occupied Territories, Ruth Gur, an Israeli activist in poor neighborhoods, and Luisa Morgantini, a member of the European Parliament from Italy and long-time ally of the Palestinian-Israeli women's peace movement, who spoke as members of the Italian delegation stood beside her. An original poem written for the occasion by eminent Israeli poet Dalia Ravikowitz, was read out loud.

And if these words were not enough in the ocean of resolve to end the wars that divide us, greetings in Arabic were read out loud from the Women's Association in the Occupied Syrian Golan: In this, our first message from Syrian women in the Golan, they write, "We join our voices to yours in your efforts to end the violence—the destruction of people's lives, homes, and fields. . . .Together we will succeed in ending the occupation in Palestine and areas of Syria and Lebanon."

Following the speeches, the locations of the 150 vigils throughout the world were read out loud by me, and swelled the sense of hopefulness of the moment. Messages of solidarity had arrived from dozens of vigils and individuals abroad, but we couldn't read them all from the stage. We read only the one from the Boston-Cambridge vigils, because it was sent to us in both Hebrew and Arabic. The message: "You inspire us! Your call for justice for Palestinians—the only basis for a lasting peace—is being echoed around the world today. We are proud to be participating in this historic event. Let us go on building—from strength to strength—our international movement to End the Occupation! In solidarity and with much love, Jewish Women for Justice in Israel and Palestine."

It was not surprising that people only slowly dispersed from the plaza when it was over, unwilling to return to the grim reality of radio and TV news. Some teens from the Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement stayed behind and began to sing songs of peace. These are the children who will be called upon to kill and be killed in a year or two. The only way to prevent this is through a global network, in solidarity with Israeli and Palestinian advocates of peace, to demand a just peace.

And even the media could not ignore a global effort of this magnitude. All the Israeli news media sent representatives: We saw ourselves on TV and expect to read the stories in the Sunday papers. Special features about Women in Black and its nomination for this year's Nobel Peace Prize are expected in next weekend's Ma'ariv and Ha'aretz. In addition, 40-50 foreign media were represented, including CNN, the BBC, AP, Reuters, and TV stations from many countries in Europe, the US and South America. We saw ourselves several times on CNN, and ask that you let us know if you see or saw us elsewhere.

From the bottom of our hearts, we thank all those hard-working and dedicated people everywhere, of every religion, race and nationality, who cared enough about peace in this region to pause for a moment in their busy lives and join hands with us in solidarity and goodwill. And we thank the organizers of all these vigils for their days and weeks of planning, organizing, and making it happen. With your help, there can be no doubt: Peace is inevitable.

Shalom / Salaam from Jerusalem,
Gila Svirsky

Member organizations of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace:

Women in Black—holding weekly vigils throughout Israel and the world (est. 1988).
Bat Shalom—The Israeli side of The Jerusalem Link—A Women’s Joint Venture for Peace (est. 1993); e-mail.
Machsom-Watch—A group of women who monitor and prevent human rights violations at checkpoints.
New Profile—Movement for the Civilization of Israeli Society—Addresses issues of militarism and gives support to conscientious objectors in Israel (est. 1998).
NELED—An acronym for "Women for Coexistence".
Noga Feminist Magazine.
TANDI—Movement of Democratic Women for Israel (est. 1951).
WILPF—Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom—Israel chapter.
Women and Mothers for Peace—Former activists of the Four Mothers Movement—instrumental in ending the Israeli occupation of Lebanon.
Women Engendering Peace—Promoting a culture of peace in Israel.

Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.

Photographs of the vigil in Jerusalem, June 8, 2001, can be found at The Coalition of Women for Peace.