Today, three days after the bomb explosion in Tel Aviv, we are still experiencing feelings of tension and dismay, especially as the building at Abu Gheneim/Har Homa continues. Next Sunday will be "Yom Adama", a Palestinian-Israeli initiated day to commemorate the riots which followed the confiscation of Palestinian land by Israel on the 30th March, 1976. We expect large numbers of demonstrators to protest on Sunday throughout the Territories and Israel and can only hope that these demonstrations will not turn violent.
In spite of this unstable situation we must try to live as 'normally' as possible. In addition to our political demonstrations, Bat Shalom has planned a variety of cultural, social, and educational activities throughout the next weeks. Although many of you will not be able to attend these events, we hope you will find it interesting and inspirational to read about our ongoing work.
On a positive note, our email mailing list has grown enormously over the last 6 weeks. The first e-newsletter was sent to only six women- while this letter will reach over 100 interested individuals. We want to thank everyone who has passed our email address on to other women to help to establish our presence on the internet. Please feel free to continue to pass our newsletters and updates on to other individuals so that we can create an even more effective network of supporters of peace and social justice in Israel.
We also wish to thank all the people who have written letters to PM Netanyahu, President Clinton, etc, or who have organized solidarity protests abroad. We are very grateful, as well as heartened, by your support. Following the calendar of activities is a piece written by Gila Svirsky recounting a group of Bat Shalom women's attempts to protest at Har Homa last week. Although this account was written prior to the bombing on Friday, it captures a spirit of optomism which is much needed now as things seem to become continually bleaker.
A REPORT FROM THE FIELD:
The three major peace movements -- Bat Shalom, Gush Shalom, and Peace Now -- have been paying regular visits to the mountain, with signs like "the bulldozers are destroying the peace", "Har Homa is an obstacle to peace", etc.
But the army has tightened its grip on the mountain in a wide, armed belt, no longer allowing Israelis or Palestinians to get anywhere in sight of the bulldozers. They even surrounded and laid siege to the so-called "tent city" of Faisal Husseini, forcing him and some others to abandon the tents and return to diplomatic channels.
That's why I think we can be proud of a group from Bat Shalom for managing to infiltrate the area yesterday, getting past army barriers by various ploys, with the imaginative cooperation of our Palestinian minibus driver, Abu-Rami. At one barrier, we were Palestinian women on our way to visit friends in the village of Sur Baher; at another, we were religious Jewish women on our way to the settlement of Tekoa; and at another, we were American tourists. At each, we held our breaths as the driver and one other woman -- in the appropriate language -- advanced the argument.
Abu Rami lives in Sur Baher and knows the mountain backroads. With a sure hand, he drove us right onto the low valley road where 100 soldiers were guarding bulldozers shoring up the land on each side of them.
Our small group got out, walked about 60 feet (20 meters) toward the bulldozers, and began to construct the tent that we had brought with us. It took the soldiers about 15 seconds to reach us, and demand to know what we were doing. "Building a tent" seemed obvious, but we said it. "What tent?" "A women's peace tent," we explained, "to protest the activities of the government on the mountain." By then the major media had run over and began filming the scene -- women setting up the tent, arguing with the commanding officer, and exhibiting peace posters: "Women Protest Har Homa". "You have 5 minutes to speak your piece to the media," said the commander, unable to stop the cameras from rolling, "and then beat it." Well, it was closer to 45 minutes, and we did speak our piece to all the major media from Israel and elsewhere. It was worth the $350 for the tent to get all that exposure.
>From there, we headed (with Abu-Rami's superb navigation and elusive driving) toward Faisal's tent. On the way, we picked up a Palestinian woman journalist, one we had met in previous peace excursions to Hebron, who was hiking through the area to get her story. It was like a family reunion when she boarded the bus and discovered her sisters in peace on it!
After some more army barriers, we got to a point about 600 feet (200 meters) below Faisal's tent, but the bus could not plow through the mud any longer, so we got out and walked. Just as we were about halfway there and climbing a very sharp incline, a troop of soldiers descended toward us with their guns ready. "This is a closed military area," declared the commanding officer. "Yes, but we have an invitation to drink coffee with our friends over there," we explained. He was not persuaded. "Show us the order," asked one of the women, and he went off to find it. By then, and completely uncoordinated with us, a small group of Christian Peacemakers appeared coming up another path, and the soldiers ran off to stop their approach. This, of course, allowed us to inch our way forward, thanks to the unexpected diversionary activity.
By now we were shouting distance from Faisal's encampment, and they came around the tents to see what was going on. Then we saw that the army had set up a fence to keep them in and others out! The Palestinians and we could only signal to each other, but the media were allowed through, and soon enough we were again facing a battery of cameras, explaining our point of view to the international and the local community. And the cameras loved the pictures of throwing kisses, the V sign for victory, and peace slogans back and forth over the heads of the frustrated soldiers who could do nothing to stop the hope for peace from criss- crossing right past their guns.
Bat Shalom is a feminist center for peace and social justice. Our aim is to work toward a democratic and pluralistic society in Israel, where women will be of more influence. By bringing together women peace activists, educators, and community leaders, we strive to raise one another's consciousness and to create together a culture of peace and social justice in Israel.
In conjunction with the creation of Bat Shalom, a Palestinian women's Center, Marcaz al-Quds la l-Nissah- The Jerusalem Center for women, was created in East Jerusalem. Some of Bat Shalom's activities are conducted jointly with The Jerusalem Center for Women. The coordinating body of the two centers is called the Jerusalem Link.