It's 1:30 in the morning, and 17 of us just returned from the Tel-Aviv lockup, where we were under arrest since 6:00 this afternoon, when the police decided they had had enough of women taking control of the streets away from them.
It was our demonstration against the cruel "closure" that Israel has imposed on the Occupied Territories.
The demonstration was brilliantly conceived by a mostly Tel-Aviv group of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.
About 500 women were there from all over Israel. We dressed in black and donned black "sandwich boards" with the word "Closure" painted in white in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and English). We massed outside the entrance gate to Israel's "pentagon", its "Defense" Ministry in Tel-Aviv.
At the signal, a group of women started to cross the street very slowly, with the intention of slowing traffic through this busy artery. But when the spirit moves you, you respond: A group of women suddenly sat down on the road in a line clear across the street and completely blocked all passage of cars.
Within moments, a larger group of women thickened the line, and stood with their placards facing the cars -- a solid block of "Closure" signs preventing the drivers from advancing.
For us, this was a small representation of what the Palestinians experience every day -- being blocked entry and exit from their towns and villages. The sight was so dramatic -- some women were sitting across the road, others were standing behind them with arms linked, the closure signs forming a solid black message clear across the road. We started to chant a very powerful set of slogans.
Here's the translation, though in Hebrew it rhymes and is very strong:
End the closure in the territories
Get out of their bloodstream.
End the closure in the territories
Give jobs to the workers.
End the closure in the territories
Give food to the children.
It was amazing to be part of this powerful line, and to have brought this busy road to a complete standstill.
Then the police drove up, shrieking up with sirens. They didn't waste time asking for cooperation -- they just plowed in and grabbed, dragging women to the sides, and wading in for more. Some women returned to the road as soon as the police let them go, but there were car drivers who took their cues from the police, and tried to use their cars to plow us off the road.
I stood facing a car with my sign, and the driver first hit me (gently), then kept moving forward on me. I was not violent, but I wouldn't step to the side.
The police dragged some of us off the street many times, but we returned again and again until they suddenly realized this, and began to throw us into paddy wagons. All this was done with, shall I say, excessive force. My body feels bruised all over, and I'm not the only one.
After the police had taken away two carloads, women returned to the road and again sat down and blocked traffic. It was wonderful how they were not intimidated by the previous brutality. They continued for quite a long time, until an hour or so had been spent illustrating for Tel-Aviv drivers the tip of the iceberg of what it means to have a closure imposed on you. - We did not, of course, demonstrate how it feels to be cut off from access to medical care, jobs, schools, and family. That they will have to imagine.
At the police station, we were first 12 women and 4 men, who came to the demonstration. Then they arrested the lawyer who showed up to represent us! The interrogations were civil, though they charged us with everything they could think of -- participating in an illegal demonstration, disturbing the peace, blocking traffic, resisting arrest, attacking a police officer, and even (in my case) attacking a car (poor car!).
Two of us (including me) admitted to the acts of civil disobedience (though not to the accusations of violence), and the rest took advantage of their right to remain silent. Gradually, until about 1 a.m., they released everybody after bail was posted.
Many, many thanks to our sister demonstrators who waited for us the whole time at the station, drove to the airport to find an open post office to post bail, and met us with food and soft drinks when we came out.
And thanks to tireless Knesset Member Tamar Gozansky, who came to the station for a solidarity visit. And big, big thanks to Leah Tsemel, human rights lawyer extraordinaire, who stayed with us to the bitter end negotiating with the police for our release, brought enough cash to front bail for everyone, and gave her professional services completely pro bono as her contribution to the cause.
I'm not sure how much will be in the media tomorrow. There were tv cameras from French and Belgian stations, and lots of still photographers. We had excellent coverage on the radio, with an accurate explanation of who we were and why we were doing it. We think the Israeli newspapers tomorrow will have some coverage. I hope so.
The Israeli media have a terrible track record of covering women's peace actions, even though the women's actions are much more dramatic, progressive, and even larger than the mixed-gender demonstrations. Could it have something to do with the fact that we are, after all, only women?
I don't think we stopped the closure tonight, but we did let Tel-Aviv know what we think about it. The only way to maintain a brutal occupation is by brutally suppressing awareness of it, and criticism. We must not let that succeed.
Shalom / Salaam,
Gila Svirsky, back in Jerusalem
For the detail-oriented:
Dalit B., Asaf S., Dalit S. Barbara S., Yehudit K., Irit K., Haggai K., Iris B., Tirtze T.,Susy M., Asher F., Roni A., Nabeha M., Micheline B., Shahar S., Gila S., and Yossi W.
Member organizations of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace
Bat Shalom; Mothers and Women for Peace (formerly Four Mothers); New Profile: Movement for the Civilization of Society in Israel; Neled, TANDI, Women Engendering Peace; Women in Black; and WILPF - Israel chapter.
* An end to the occupation.
* The full involvement of women in negotiations for peace.
* Establishment of the state of Palestine side by side with the state of Israel based on the 1967 borders.
* Recognition of Jerusalem as the shared capital of two states.
* Israel must recognize its responsibility for the results of the 1948 war, and find a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.
* Equality, inclusion and justice for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
* Opposition to the militarism that permeates Israeli society.
* Equal rights for women and for all residents of Israel.
* Social and economic justice for Israel's citizens, and integration in the region.
If you want to help:
Write to President Bush (email@example.com), Vice-president Cheney (firstname.lastname@example.org), and Colin Powell (email@example.com). (Skip Barak, who shut down his email to the public.)
Just say "Tell Israel to end its closure of the Palestinian towns and villages." Remember -- a simple message gets counted and reported the same as an eloquent one.
If you'd like to contribute:
We'd appreciate a donation for the Coalition -- not for bail, but for future actions -- in
any of the following 4 ways:
(1) In the US, you can make a tax-deductible contribution by writing a check to the New Israel Fund, with a memo "For the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace", and sending to: New Israel Fund, 1625 K Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20006-1604.
(2) Send a check addressed to US/Israel Women-to-Women marked "For the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace", and mail to US/Israel Women-to-Women, 275 7th Avenue - 8th floor, NY, NY 10001.
(3) Send a check to Bat Shalom "for the Coalition of Women" at Bat Shalom, POB 8083, Jerusalem 91080, Israel.
Please let me know if you're doing this, so I can follow up on it.