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 This morning’s news
 Gila Svirsky, Israel
 January 31, 2003

This morning's news came with the final election returns. After the very last vote was counted, 2 more Knesset seats were gained by right wing parties: Likud is now 38, and the National Religious Party, now 6. While the 2 lost seats came from the Arab-Jewish Hadash party and the labor-oriented One Nation. And Labor retained a measly 18 seats in the Knesset.

As if we needed an illustration of the terrible tidings this bodes, yesterday began with the razing of the Palestinian food market in Hebron. This completes the work of the settlers in this city, whose teenagers would regularly overturn Palestinian stalls and laugh, a grotesque Israeli version of Hitler Youth, as soldiers look on. In fact, this was the second blow to this market: In 1994, when the settler Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Muslims at prayer in Hebron, the Israeli authorities responded by banning Palestinians from the street where the previous market had stood. Well, explained the army after last night's raid, we did it because 22 Israelis have been killed by Palestinians in the Hebron area in the last 3 months. What they do not mention is that 155 Palestinians were killed by Israelis during the same period (see B’tselem)—25 in this week alone. And it was not the tomato vendors who did the killing, anyway.

Is it any wonder that peace activists would be appalled if the Labor Party joined Likud in a "unity government" coalition, a move that would shrink the opposition to a mere 33 Knesset members (out of 120)? The fig leaf that Peres & Co. furnished Likud during Sharon's first reign undermined decency, democracy, morality, and any hope for peace, and let the racism genie out of the bottle full force.

Yes, we do feel discouraged, now that you ask.

Which makes it surprising, perhaps, that we had a particularly large vigil of Women in Black in Jerusalem today, or a full house at the meeting last night of the Coalition of Women for Peace. At the meeting, no one wanted to talk about the election results, though, of course, it was first on the agenda. Instead, we spent three hours making plans for the coming 6 months: How to get our views into the media (onto the TV and the radio talk shows, into the newspapers), what kind of message to put on posters that would combat racism and support a belief in peace, how to deepen the boycott of settler products, and other actions that we plan for the coming weeks. And in a grand gesture of defiance to the election returns, we decided to hold a major international event in June—the anniversary of the occupation—to take place simultaneously in Israel, Palestine, and internationally, linked to each other by video conferencing. This would allow the voices of Israeli and Palestinian peace activists to finally reach large numbers of people on the other side, most of whom would be surprised to learn of their existence. Imagine simultaneous rallies, visible to each other on giant screens, and Israeli and Palestinian speakers declaring live that 'we refuse to be enemies'? That would be breathtaking.

I felt better after last night's meeting and today's vigil. And something to recall: Only three short years ago, in 1999, it was the Likud party that earned a measly 19 seats in the Knesset. The political map is not good now, but this government, too, shall pass.

Gila Svirsky is an Israeli human rights and peace activist.