Today was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak Middle East.
At 9:30 a.m., the organizers were still discussing whether the march should be held single file or two-by-two, as the police refused to grant us a permit to walk in the streets, wanting to contain us on the broad sidewalk. By 10:30 a.m., we saw there would be no hope of containing the vast crowd that had showed up.
An amazing 5,000 people, most dressed in black, turned up for today's events, beginning with the March of Mourning for all the victims -- Palestinian and Israeli -- of the Occupation. Responding to the call of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, people from all over the world found their way to the vigil plaza today. When the signal came to begin, we were all mixed up with each other -- Israeli, Palestinian, European, American -- and began a slow, solemn walk, in silence (mostly), with only a funereal cadence sounded by two women drummers at the center of this long procession. Although the extreme right wing staged a counterdemonstration at the beginning of our route, their small number (about 30) and angry shouts only served to dramatize the power of our own dignified presence.
We led with a huge banner, "The Occupation is Killing Us All", as well as hundreds of black hands with white lettering "Stop the Occupation", and scores of signs calling for peace, a state of Palestine beside the state of Israel, and sharing this beautiful city of Jerusalem, loved so long by so many. It was an unseasonably warm and balmy winter morning, and we were suddenly feeling hopeful and powerful marching together this way. Although the police were trying to keep us all walking on the sidewalk, soon we burst our seams and spread out into the road, blocking traffic along the route. And Ezra, long-time supporter of Women in Black in Jerusalem, walked among us, handing out a thousand red roses to Women in Black until the roses ran out, though the women did not.
We made our way slowly toward the broad, new plaza just outside historic Jaffa Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City of Jerusalem. By the time everyone arrived, we had filled up the plaza completely, with spillover inside the gate and along the roads leading up to it. Past the stage, participants could see as backdrop the beautiful Citadel, rising from the walls of the Old City, with the Valley of Gethsemane spread out beyond in a breathtaking view.
The entire program was moderated in Hebrew and Arabic by Dalit Baum and Camilia Bader-Araf, co-MCs. They acknowledged the Knesset members who had joined us for the events -- Muhammed Barake, Naomi Chazan, Zehava Galon, Tamar Gozansky, Anat Maor, Issam Makhoul, and Mossi Raz -- as well as the delegations from Belgium, Canada, England, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the U.S. Marcia Freedman, former Israeli MK and long-standing Woman in Black, read the list of 118 locations around the world where solidarity events were planned for the same day (from Adelaide to Zaragoza -- see our website for the full list).
Speeches opened with Shulamit Aloni, first lady of human rights in Israel and former government minister, comparing our struggle to end the occupation with the struggles led by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, reminding us that although the task is arduous, it will inevitably be crowned with success. She was followed by other powerful speeches -- Nurit Peled Elhanan, winner of the Sakharov Peace Prize, awarded by the European Parliament, and mother of Smadar, 13 years old when she was killed by a terrorist bomb in Jerusalem; Zahira Kamal, courageous Palestinian activist for peace as well as the rights of women and workers, who found a way to outwit the closure in order to reach Jerusalem and address this rally; Luisa Morgantini, irrepressible Italian member of the European Parliament and devoted supporter of the women's peace movement in the Middle East; Khulood Badawi, chair of the Association of Arab Students in Israel; and Vera Lichtenfels, a 17-year old Portuguese peace activist, representing youth all over the world who are working for peace.
These speeches were eloquent and inspiring, but I myself was especially moved by the ceremony of torch lighting by 13 Israeli organizations who have shown extraordinary commitment to activism for peace and human rights. Each representative lit a torch about one aspect related to their work -- the killed, the wounded, the homes demolished, the trees uprooted, the children whose lives were fractured, as well as the efforts of those who refuse to give in to the despair, but keep on struggling to transform this nightmare into a vision of peace and partnership (see below for the names and descriptions of these organizations).
These were words that one simply doesn't hear elsewhere, so publicly, by Israelis and Palestinians together. And then we held a concert rarely heard in the Middle East -- a "peace happening" of Palestinian and Israeli performers. It opened with the Elisheva Trio -- 3 talented black Jewish women from Dimona, singing peace songs in soul and rock arrangements. There were readings of poetry and plays, a performance piece, and an amazing duo of young Palestinian rappers from Lydda/Lod doing Arabic and Hebrew political lyrics. Ending it all was a hopeful reprise by the Elisheva Trio, with many in the crowd holding hands, swaying, and singing together.
When the concert was over, few wanted to leave and let go of the feeling that peace is really possible. Fortunately, we didn't really have to, because Peace Now was holding its own optimistic rally just inside Jaffa Gate, with Palestinians and Israelis signing a Peace Declaration and releasing doves into the sky over the city. Palestinians and Israelis wandered in and out the streets of the Old City trying to hold tight to the beautiful warm thaw in the air, within this long winter of violence and tragedy.
This evening, I watched Israeli TV to see if anything was reported about the hope for peace that had swept through Jerusalem today. I saw nothing about either the Coalition of Women for Peace or the Peace Now events, though I did hear that the Coalition action made the radio news several times today. We are used to this by now, and it brought to mind the words of Shulamit Aloni earlier today: "Even though Israel's 'patriotic' media seek to ignore you, there is no doubt that your voice will be heard and that a great many others will join your cause. You will break through the silence because yours is a vision of freedom, justice, and peace."
May it come to pass. Today I feel more hopeful than I have for a long, long while.
Thank you to everyone all over the world who joined us in solidarity today, whether in vigils, through contributions, or in your hearts.
Shalom, salaam, Gila Svirsky Jerusalem
Special thanks for their support, which made this event possible: Svinna till Svinna Foundation, the Moriah Fund, Sally Gottesman, the Steve Berman Social Action Award, and many individuals from all over the world.
The organizations represented at the torch lighting ceremony (in alphabetical
One picture is already up at our website: Web site of the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace: http://www.coalitionofwomen4peace.org
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