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Update on the Jerusalem vigil of Women in Black
Gila Svirsky, Israel
September 8, 2002
This is an update and new information about the Jerusalem vigil of Women in Black.
Brief recap: For years, right-wing extremists have harassed Women in Black at vigils throughout Israel, shouting racist and fascist slogans. Jerusalem Women in Black have far out-numbered the right-wing, but the right is particularly violent and therefore the Jerusalem police caved in to them and proposed a Solomonic course of action: that we each demonstrate at Hagar Square on alternate Fridays. Women in Black immediately rejected this proposal. The right—represented by a man who has frequently been arrested for assault of Arabs and us—accepted it at once.
The following week, thanks to an amazing response from supporters in Jerusalem, we were 160 women and men at the Jerusalem Women in Black. As a result, the police declared that Women in Black could have the vigil that Friday, but that the right would have it the following week.
Jerusalem Women in Black met a few days later and decided the following: We will continue to hold our vigil at Hagar Square every Friday. Until further notice, however, the Jerusalem vigil would be held at 12:00 noon—one hour earlier than usual—thereby leaving the right without a reason for demonstrating.
In parallel, and after consulting with human rights lawyer Lea Tsemel, we faxed a letter to the Jerusalem police with the following message (in Hebrew): "Your proposal is totally unacceptable to us. It is inconceivable that the Israel Police would forego protection of our right to express our views." We asked for a meeting with the police to resolve this matter 'in good spirit'.
Yesterday, we held the vigil at noon, one hour earlier than usual.
Despite the change of hour and the fact that it was the eve of Rosh
Hashana, almost 100 people showed up. Several policemen present asked us if we had changed the hour. We said that we had not, but that we were demonstrating at noon that day to show the police that we do not want confrontation with the right. Nevertheless, we demand to continue at Hagar Square every Friday at 1 pm, as we have had for 14.5 years.
The vigil dispersed early, as planned, just as carloads of police arrived to handle the anticipated battle between Women in Black and the right. The patrolmen looked surprised to see us leaving. I sat in my car at some distance and watched as 7 right-wing demonstrators showed up at 1:00; I counted more police than demonstrators. I don't know how long the right remained, but they must have felt bereft without us.
The coming vigil is planned for Friday at 12:00, even though the police 'allow' us to use the square at 1 p.m. A small group of Women in Black will meet with the police this week to demand our rights. If the right shows up at noon, that will strengthen our case they their only raison d'être is our presence, and the police should protect our right to demonstrate at 1 pm.
Meanwhile, we ask women and men to join us this coming Friday, in black, at noon. We ask veterans of the movement to call (or e-mail) Judy Blanc or me to prepare affidavits that we will need for the anticipated legal battle.
We will keep you informed.
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli human rights and peace activist.