|Ein Brief von Gila Svirsky:
Zum Demonstrationsmarsch nach Bethlehem
Most of us who marched toward Bethlehem today came back home in wet clothes and
disappointed at not having entered this Palestinian city. And yet, to quote
Tamar Gozansky - the only Knesset Member at the event - as we were starting out,
"Events like this make you feel good about getting up in the morning."
Activists came in chartered buses from all over Israel, but mostly from
Jerusalem, as our cities are separated by only a few open fields...and a
built-up checkpoint [=border crossing] manned by Israeli soldiers. We were about
700 activists from Israel, Jewish and Palestinian, and a handful of
internationals. The organizers from Ta'ayush (Arab-Jewish Partnership) carefully
briefed everyone about the importance of maintaining non-violence, even in the
face of provocations. The briefing was necessary: At a previous checkpoint
event, army resistance to our presence was brutal, landing over 20 activists in
The army knew we were coming, and had prepared themselves in large numbers. A
water-truck was also waiting, its turret directed right at us. As we approached
the line of border police who were blocking our advance with their bodies, they
began to get very rough. Several used excessive force, hurling activists back
even though we used no force to get past them. Suddenly the water truck opened
fire and drenched most of the demonstrators. I ducked behind a police car and
avoided the dousing, though the car got well washed.
When the water did not dampen our spirits or forward drive, a much more lethal
weapon emerged. Suddenly horses with helmeted riders charged in from behind us
and plunged directly into the crowd, the riders flailing at demonstrators with
their whips, and driving the horses directly onto us. It was terrifying to be
charged by horses, and this did stop our further progress. Several demonstrators
were hurt, but none seriously, I believe. One woman was taken to the emergency
room and others sat down to tend their wounds. It was infuriating to see this
violent police response to our peaceful action (never used at right-wing
demonstrations, by the way). Finally, when the melee died down, we all sat down
on the road and blocked the entry of more army vehicles to the site.
The next hour was one of waiting while appointed activists tried to negotiate
our passage. Meanwhile, one local and several international TV stations
interviewed participants. One "activist" grabbed the camera's attention and
shouted crazily that we were the beginning of a left-wing underground and that
our next step was to assassinate the political leadership of this country. The
organizers quickly announced that these are not the views of Ta'ayush, which
believes in democratic action and nonviolent methods. The police hauled the guy
off soon after. I did a small investigation, and no one there knew who he was.
Which strongly suggests that he was a provocateur, planted by someone (the
right? the Shin Bet?) to discredit this peace group. Or simply deranged.
After about an hour of sitting on the hot asphalt in the August sun, we
regrouped and began to walk arm in arm toward the main checkpoint into
Bethlehem, where the border patrol and soldiers now awaited us in full force,
plus water truck, and now four horses. With the checkpoint in full view, we
still could not get there, despite our steady chanting of "Peace - yes!
Occupation - no!" and other slogans. We were stopped right there, and chanted
endlessly while our negotiators talked to the army and police.
One of those chants was a rhymed version (in Hebrew) of "Our partners for peace
are on the other side of that checkpoint". Did I mention that a crowd of
Palestinians was waiting for us for hours on the other side, in the plaza of the
Church of the Nativity? This was meant to be a joint Israeli-Palestinian event,
held with several Palestinian peace and political organizations. The intent was
to meet in Bethlehem and declare our joint commitment to a just peace between
We could not get in and, needless to say, there had never been any hope of their
getting to us. Too much closure. But the mobile phones did get through, and soon
we had speeches directly into the mike by two senior Palestinian officials on
the other side. I didn't get their names, but one was the governor of Bethlehem
and the other, a Fatah-Tanzim official. What they said was pretty similar:
"Waiting for you here in Bethlehem are hundreds of Palestinians, some of whom
have had their homes destroyed and their relatives killed. And yet all of us
have gathered to express our appreciation for your efforts to reach us, and our
desire to end the bloodshed and reach a peaceful agreement between our two
nations." And on their side, a speech prepared by the Ta'ayush group was read
out loud in Arabic. Probably with similar sentiments.
It was a very encouraging day. Yet we had to close it with a moment of silence
for Dafna Shpruch, veteran peace activist and Jerusalem Woman in Black, who had
been seriously injured in the Hebrew University bombing two weeks ago, and died
as we were on the way to the action today.
Said the moderator from Ta'ayush, quietly, before we dispersed, "This call for
peace - it will not be stopped."
Coalition of Women for a Just Peace"