Israeli Women's Peace Movement on Jabal Abu Ghneim

Dear friends,

The last few days have been intense with peace activism, most of it centered around the new settlement going up in Jabal Abu Ghaneim. More intensive work is planned for the weekend.

I think something should be made clear: The fact that bulldozers have begun to shore up the land on the mountain does *not* mean that our side has failed. On the contrary, our efforts have had a powerful effect:

Yes, Netanyahu tossed a bone to his extremist right, one that caught in the throats of all of us, but he cannot afford such extravagant gestures in the future. This is an important lesson that he learned from messages sent by the US President and Congress, UN delegates, European political leaders, and others. And these were driven by the pressure brought by people like you in the field -- through teach-ins, sit-ins, letters to the editor, letters to politicians, lobbying, speeches, and muddy days and nights on the mountain.

The job is not yet over -- we must get the Israeli government to sense the full brunt of isolation that will descend upon Israel if it proceeds with settlement policies. So please keep up your good work.


Women in Black continue to stand with signs protesting the construction at Jabal Abu Ghaneim (Har Homa). We'll probably have a fairly large vigil this coming Friday.

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.

That's all about yesterday. We did not manage to get through, but we got wonderful publicity for our point of view. I hope you will continue your important work throughout the world, as there is a great deal to do. And thank you for your solidarity; it means so much to us.

Gila Svirsky