Regional Programs > Israel & Palestine > Next Story

 Friday—High Noon
 Lydia Aisenberg, Israel
 February 26, 2002
 
Almost every Friday at noon groups of Israeli women stand at major junctions throughout the country holding signs demanding an end to violence, racism and the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza.

Nobody is holding a sign saying 'Down with the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza' but the sort of Reader's Digest style condensed version, 'End the Occupation!'

The ladies who hang out around the traffic lights belong to either the Women in Black or Bat Shalom (Daughter of Peace) movements. Although I strongly identify with many of the points that propel these Jewish and Arab ladies to stand together and declare their opinions most Fridays at noon, there are some points that are just not so black and white for yours truly.

I therefore suppose I would have to call myself a daughter of peace in gray. The staunchly Zionist part of me is uncomfortable with the clearly divided black from white of the ladies at the lights. But at the same time however, I am definitely struggling to come to terms with the deep stains that have been appearing over the last few decades on my patch of blue and white.

Am I really the left over hippie from the sixties that some accuse me of being? I actually take that particular barb as a compliment these days what with pension age looming up fast in front of my not so pink tinted glasses. What's so laughable about young folks in the sixties wanting to make the world a less war-mongering place to live in? That those who had plenty should share a wee bit and more with those who had little, such a terrible thing to ask? The naivete of youth one could say—so how come so many of us never 'grew up'?

Am I an under-developed sixties left over, or just a mother of five horrified by the reality that her children were born into a far more violent, egoistic, materialistic nationalistic environment than she and the other 'flower power' folk of yore.

Lights of Darkness

The Megiddo junction is one of those major crossroads frequented on Fridays by women from the Jezreel Valley and Nazareth branch of Bat Shalom. Sometimes there are only four or five ladies on the corner. Last Friday there were about twenty folks, including two men, battling a strong wind intent on ripping the plastic sheeting signs from their grasp.

On the other side of the road to the left of the group, the Megiddo Prison stands. Surrounded by high fences with barbed wire on top, the British Mandate period built police station is now a prison run by the IDF. Soldiers in watchtowers that protrude above the walls keep an eye on the busy thoroughfare and on what is going on inside the prison grounds which today holds some 800 or more Palestinian males.

A few kilometres down the road between the Bat Shalom demonstrators and Megiddo Prison is the pre-l967 border kibbutz of Givat Oz, two Israeli Arab villages, then the Green Line and Palestinian villages large and small to the Palestinian autonomous town of Jenin. From the Megiddo junction to Jenin is about a ten minute drive.

A sprawling town built on the slopes of hills in the far right hand corner of the Jezreel Valley, some of the houses can be seen from where the demonstrators stand. Until the present intifada broke out, this was a heavily trafficked road as Palestinian labourers drove over the Green Line at the IDF checkpoint, now a border police base, on their way to work on construction sites and in agriculture in Israel. Today there is little traffic on this portion of the valley road, which is the only means of exit for the kibbutzniks of Givat Oz, and the Israeli Moslem Arabs who live in Salem and Zalafe bordering the kibbutz.

Directly opposite the prison a short distance away across the wheat fields of Kibbutz Megiddo, stands the ancient tel of Megiddo, Armageddon, where some 23 layers of different civilisations have been discovered during decades of archaeological digs.

The main road cutting through between the prison and the tel, Route 65 sneaks through the deep valley between the Amir mountain range on one side, Menashe Hills on the other and enters into the Jezreel Valley at the Megiddo junction.

Sweet and Sour

Every Friday at noon a roadside vender grabs his pitch a little further along on the same corner as that bagged by Bat Shalom. He is flogging different things every week, unlike the ladies with their hour-long weekly vigil at the lights thatare trying to flog the same message week in and week out.

Last Friday he was selling colourful flowers and rather luscious looking strawberries. He always comes equipped with a nargilla (water pipe) which he sets up behind a plastic awning in front of a battered bus cum kiosk operated by Givat Oz at the crossroads. Every now and then he lops off for a quick suck on his 'peace pipe' hidden out of view.

A young couple draw up to inspect his wares. They throw disdainful looks at myself and the lady next to me, the end of the line of demonstrators.

"Because of you, Jews are being killed," the tall, attractive young Israeli vehemently throws out of the side of her mouth in our direction.

"Your sons don't go to the army you left wing bitches," throws out her companion, two bunches of flowers, obviously to adorn the Shabbat table, tucked under his arm as he gets back in behind the drivers seat and drives off toward Afula.

My blood pressure begins to rise. What does this young man know of me and my sons, three of whom, plus my daughter, after army service and the last of my offspring four months into his 3 year stint in a combat unit like his older brothers.

Drivers stop at the lights or whiz past as they change. Very few give a toot of support—the vast majority spit out expletives and comments that I really do not want to repeat, or satisfy themselves with a hand gesture of the one finger variety at the very least.

I am holding a sign that simply says, in Ivrit, 'No to War'—similar to those I would have been found clutching in my youth at anti-Vietnam demonstrations in Britain when I truly believed I might, just might, make a difference. Will I go again this Friday is the question that I am asking myself. I cannot see any value in becoming a verbal punch bag for those angry, upset and feeling threatened folk whizzing by. There is no element of dialogue here, of trying to understand why and what I think and what and why they think as they do.

Do I not suffer from similar emotional distress with the pit and pendulum of what daily life has become, on either side of the bloody Green Line?

Toward the end of the hour of standing mutely on the corner as all the traffic passed by, a rather snazzy dark blue four by four jeep stopped at the lights on the other side of the road.

The driver yelled out: "United we stand divided we fall—you are all fifth columnists."

What happened to democracy?

Come to think of it, I think I will be there again this Friday. Seems we need to go back to basics and stand for just that, the right to stand.

Lydia Aisenberg is in the International Department of Givat Haviva, which fosters educational initiatives, research and community work in the fields of peace, democracy, and coexistence.