Women in Black: Weekly Vigils Against the Israeli Occupation

Women in Black: Weekly Vigils Against the Israeli Occupation

by Bill Strubbe

Every Friday afternoon at 1:00, while most Jerusalem residents are caught in the throes of their preparations for the onset of Shabbat (Sabbath), scores of Jewish women dressed in black stand in silent vigil. Each woman holds a sign written in either Hebrew, English, or Arabic reading: “No More Occupation.”

As busy traffic careens around the women standing in the heat of the midday sun, many drivers honk their horns and hurl obscenities: “Go home, sluts!” “You traitor bitches!” The women, trained not to react, absorb the painful verbal blows, determined, in their own small way, to be a continuing reminder to their fellow citizens and the world that not all Jewish Israelis condone the suppression of the Palestinian intifada by their government.

Wearing a wide-brimmed black hat to shade her face from the sun, Aviva, aged 67, has taken her place among the Women in Black. She has been attending the vigils since they began at the onset of the intifada in December, 1987. Born in Transylvania, she immigrated to Israel in 1928.

“I stand here each week as a symbol of what is going on in the heart of many Israelis who are unable to influence, in a practical way, what is happening in our country and the West Bank. I stand here for myself, for my country and for all the other women who agree with me,” says Aviva.

She explains that the Women in Black are not only confined to Jerusalem. In the past several years, separate vigils have sprung up in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Afula and a half dozen other sites around the country.

One of the main organizers and prime movers behind the vigils is Hagar, who moves up and down the line of women, stopping to encourage them and answer questions. She cajoles young girls who are sitting down, urging them to stand up. Camera crews and reporters press lenses and microphones into her face for interviews in Hebrew, French and English.

In the past year, several acts of violence have been perpetrated against the Women in Black by other Jews. The car of one of the leaders was burned and threatening letters have been received.

The Friday after a July 1989 incident in which a Palestinian man grabbed the steering wheel of a public bus causing it to plunge off the road, many of the Women in Black were frightened to stand at the weekly vigil because of possible reprisals from right-wing Jews. As was feared, dozens of members of the extremist Kahane group converged on the vigil, throwing bottles, eggs and tomatoes. They also kicked and hit the women. “It got awfully scary because there were not a lot of women that week. The Kahane people were definitely violent and wanted to hurt us. The police came and had to disperse the mob with tear gas. Since then we have tried to bolster our numbers and have about 100 women each week,” said one participant.

Standing in front of the Women in Black are a dozen or so women and men dressed in white. They hold a large banner which reads “A Unified Israel,” a demand of right-wing Israelis who believe in a Biblically pre-ordained Jewish state. Their ideology claims title to the disputed West Bank and Gaza strip.

One young man tries to provoke a Woman in Black into an argument. “You know what the Arabs would do to you if they were in charge of this land? They would slit our throats without a is a rarity.

The two clashing groups, with such vehemently opposing beliefs, stand within close proximity of each other. By and large they exchange few disparaging comments. Nonetheless, most Women in Black wish that Women in White had created their own forum of expression.

Still, the women’s peace movement inside Israel is growing.

Leslie’s native home is Washington, DC. She is presently living in Israel and studying research psychology at the Hebrew University. For the past nine months, rain or shine, she has donned her black clothing and joined the group.

“Someone has to send a message to the world that not all Israeli Jews are supportive of the suppression of the Palestinians. I don’t know if our presence here week after week changes the situation much, but the very fact that it has continued is meaningful.”

The vigil is expected to continue indefinitely, until the two adversaries sit face-to-face at the negotiating table and begin the process of discussing how best to formulate a two-state solution.