On Friday, September 15th, Women in Black – a Jerusalem-based female group for peace, held its weekly vigil at Paris Square to silently protest the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
«Our goal is to make people understand that the occupation is morally wrong and obstructs chances for peace» – Renata, one of the Israeli Jewish activists of Women in Black told PNN.
The movement bringing together Israeli and Palestinian female activists was established during the first Intifada, in 1988. For over 25 years women of all walks of life and denominations have held silent vigils once a week to express their solidarity with the Palestinians and protest violence.
Although for many years their actions would attract hundreds of women, recent times have proved to be rocky for female political activism as less and less women are keen to join regular protests due to lack of time, pressure, and often times apathy.
But even now, when faced with dwindling numbers, the founders of the movement vow to continue their weekly vigil.
«We haven’t succeeded yet, have we?» – Judy, an 84-year grandmother and one of the founders of the Women in Black who comes to the square every single week, said half-jokingly.
«There isn’t a large contingent of people in Israel/Palestine who would commit themselves to continued fight against the occupation. Thus, it is very important that people can see some regular actions. Even if there’s only a dozen of us, we will keep going» – Judy told PNN.
Yet shrinking ranks are not the only challenge that Women in Black struggle with while being on the streets.
Although they managed to keep their faces still, the women activists gathered at the square on Friday could hardly ignore the religious Jewish passersby and drivers hurling angry insults and pulling their fingers at them. Occasionally angry words turn into violent shoving and pushing against the activists.
«They think we’re the enemies of the state. When we held our vigils during the first intifada, we were called ‘prostitutes and whores’. Now we’re ‘just’ traitors» – Ivonne, another Israeli Jewish activist from Women in Black, stated matter-of-factly when asked what could potentially disturb the onlookers about their silent vigil.
«Israeli society hasn’t healed the wounds of Holocaust. The fear of destruction adds fuel to the militaristic mindset and right-wing nationalism» – Ivonne said, arguing that a «siege mentality» still prevails among the Israelis.
«But there is an inherent contradiction here– we continue to feel victims but in fact we are the oppressors» – she added, casting her gaze to the other side of the street where a pair of religious orthodox held their counter-protest, holding a banner with the words «Get an occupation and stop bashing Israel».
«What do you mean by <occupation>?» – a middle-aged man clad in traditional Jewish garb and sporting impeccable American English accent, approached one of the female activists, claiming that he wanted to establish a dialogue.
«These are disputed, not occupied territories. And, as a matter of fact, the land of the <Judea and Samaria> belongs to Israel» – the man said, refusing to be identified by name.
A moment later he held up his thumb in approval as a car pulled over, the driver rolled down the windows and screamed at the women: «F*** you people!».
The ladies did not react, kept standing mute, holding high their hand-shaped anti-occupation signs in three languages – Hebrew, English and Arabic.
«Maybe there will be times when we start chanting slogans again. But for now we’ll keep silent» – the 84-year-old Judy says, whisking a smile.