International Human Rights March of Women has finally come to an end, and
it was much harder and more successful than any of us had hoped for.
This was a
3-week march (from December 20 through January 10) through Israel and
Palestine, and 100-150 women came from overseas to participate, in addition
to the locals -- Palestinians and Israelis -- who joined intermittently.
Women marched in all the major cities of Palestine (with the exception of
Nablus, then under curfew) and Israel (with the exception of Haifa). Along
the way, the women witnessed and often experienced the brutal heart of the
occupation -- checkpoints, curfews, closures, demolished homes, the
'security' wall, refugee camps, and -- on the Israeli side -- sites of
terrible suicide bombings.
It was a
kind of reverse VIP tour: Instead of meeting with official dignitaries,
participants met mainly with people on the ground: Palestinian and Israeli
families, representatives of grassroots organizations, Israeli soldiers
manning checkpoints, Palestinians trying to get through. The Palestinian
side arranged for a meeting with Arafat; on the Israeli side, we were turned
down for meetings by a long list of officials (Sharon, among others) on the
pretext of insufficient advance notice, though Knesset Member Issam Makhoul
(from the left-wing Hadash Party) did find time to meet. On both sides, the
group met with a rainbow of progressive organizations -- peace, human
rights, social justice, and women's issues -- learning about the nexus for
both populations of occupation-inequality-poverty. And women spent
unforgettable nights with families in Palestine and Bedouin families in the
desert region of Israel.
The march itself took place for an hour or so each day, as a single file of
silent women walked through city streets or well-travelled roads, holding
banners that called for an end to occupation and the protection of human
rights. Many stopped to stare and accepted flyers that explained who we
are. Although silent marches are not a common format in the Middle East, we
too began to appreciate their power, radiating dignity and steadfastness as
we walked through harsh weather.
But these women from Europe, North America, and Australia were all
experienced activists -- who else would undertake such a journey? -- and
they soon added an intense activist component to their presence. A few
*After witnessing the appalling
conditions at the Erez checkpoint, the women demonstrated solidarity with
the Palestinian workers returning to Gaza, meeting and greeting them with
signs of support. While the army refused the marchers entry into Gaza --
even those with explicit entry permits -- the group managed to send through
a truckload of infant food and messages of support to the strangled
population, and this was met on other side by a large crowd of Palestinian
women and dignitaries. This was given good coverage in the Palestinian
media, though Israeli journalists were not interested.
*Participants visited their own embassies in Tel Aviv to deliver a letter
calling for their governments "to demand the Israeli government immediately
stop military actions against the civilian population; to expedite the
delivery of urgently needed food and medical supplies; to call on the United
Nations to deploy an International Peace Keeping Force to secure the safety
of the civilian population on both sides and to demand implementation of
United Nations resolutions." In Jerusalem, they delivered a similar letter
to Sharon, and a petition to the UN office in Bethlehem.
*After reports arrived about the prolonged Israeli military strike in Nablus
-- a tale of death and destruction that was never properly reported in the
Israeli or international media -- the wome again raised money among
themselves for another truckload of baby food for Nablus women. A
delegation of three women managed to get through and make this vital
*On the final day of the march, a demonstration was held at the Qalandia
checkpoint, which separates Jerusalem from Ramallah. Palestinians,
internationals, and a small group of Israelis (small because 2 other
important political actions were being held that day) demonstrated on both
sides of the checkpoint, and this received extensive international
coverage...everywhere except Israel.
was intense and exhausting, and we all came away from it with a chronic
cough brought on by hours of marching in cold, sometimes rainy, weather and
coming back to inadequately heated rooms, tepid showers, and never enough
But we all came away with something more: 150 smart and committed women
from all over the globe now know more about the Middle East conflict than
all the politicians who sit in plush offices around the world. They have
seen the occupation with their own eyes, and no one can tell them that it
has anything to do with security for Israel.
The women met an old man in Palestine, 107 years old, he said, whose
grandson was killed in the conflict. "You will leave and I will remain, and
nothing will change," he told the women. I don't think there was a single
woman in the group who did not resolve to prevent this bitter statement from
On behalf of the March Organizing Committee of the Coalition of Women for
Peace -- the Israeli side of this march -- we are grateful to all those who
invested their time, money, and energy and braved a trip to our troubled
part of the world in order to share our struggle to reach a just peace
between our peoples. We remain your committed partners in activism.
Shalom, peace with justice, from Israel,
Omaima abu-Ras, Nicole Cohen-Addad, Rachel Amram, Yvonne Deutsch, Pnina
Firestone, Yana Knopova, Gili Pliskin, Michal Pundak, Taghrid Shbeita,
Aliyah Strauss, Gila Svirsky, and Alix Weizmann.
is an Israeli peace activist living in Jerusalem. She is a founding member
Coalition of Women for a Just Peace, a grouping of eight Israeli and
Palestinian women's peace organisations.
Other Articles by Gila Svirsky
With Eyes Wide Open
Off With Their Heads!
"Realistic Religious Zionism"
A Macabre Alliance
A Busy Couple of Days for the Bulldozers
The Great Wall of Denial