What follows is an account of an evening spent at Succat Hashalom, a peace tent set up in the north of Israel. The event was organized by Bat Shalom, a feminist group that brings together Palestinian and Jewish Israelis every year to celebrate peaceful coexistence. As it happened, the 2000 Succat Hashalom was held soon after Israeli general and right-wing Likud party leader Ariel Sharon visited the holy site known as the Temple Mount to Jews and as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims. Sharon was accompanied by hundreds of armed soldiers, an act that many say was meant to provoke Palestinians by flaunting Israeli authority over the site. A period of violence and upheaval followed.
While most Israeli peace groups cancelled their activities during this time, for fear of being branded “unpatriotic,” the women at Succat Hashalom stood up for their beliefs. “Right-wing Israelis tried to intimidate the women participating, calling us ‘whores’ and ‘witches’ and threatening to bomb the succah [tent] because Jews were meeting with Arabs,” says Terry Greenblatt, director of Bat Shalom. Despite an ongoing escalation in violence and hatred, the Jewish women of Bat Shalom and Palestinian women, particularly from the Jerusalem Center for Women, an Arab peace group, continue to work together, organizing protest rallies and vigils, paying condolence calls to the families of victims, and monitoring human rights abuses and discrimination. The mainstream media, both in Israel and in the U.S., have virtually ignored this seemingly unimportant “women’s work.”
The sun is setting behind the hills at a highway intersection leading into Nazareth. Cars drive by, Israeli commuters on their way home. Some slow down, leaning out to shout angrily at a long, snaking line of women standing at the side of the road. Silent, the women hold up signs: “Stop the Occupation,” “Respect International Agreements,” “End Discrimination Against Israeli Arabs.”
Police vehicles pass frequently, as if on a surveillance mission. One police car stops, and an authoritative voice thunders: “Move back six feet!” The women, already standing at a safe distance from the road, obey the order. Standing in silent protest is no longer a harmless action to an Israeli public deeply polarized and waiting for outright war. The women’s presence is so threatening that news of the gathering has brought anonymous death threats.
Unlike similar demonstrations, where Jewish women have protested on behalf of Palestinian rights, these are Arab and Jewish women standing together. These are not women who have come together only in reaction to two weeks of violence and bloodshed. These are Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis, all citizens of Israel–Lily, Fatchiya, Samira, Vered, Maryam, Yehudit–who have worked together for many years despite attacks and public condemnation. They are Palestinian women from Nazareth and surrounding Arab villages, Jewish women from Afula and neighboring kibbutzim. Continued