Where now for Women in Black?


The signing of the Oslo Declaration of Principles in September 1993 has posed a dilemma for Women in Black, the women's movement in Israel of Jewish and Palestinian women aimed at stopping the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. In October VIVIENNE PORZSOLT attended a national meeting in Israel of 30 activists. Here, she describes the discussions that took place on the future for Women in Black.

The movement began in Jerusalem in early 1988 in response to the Palestinian uprising, the Intifada. It developed a unique tactic — a weekly vigil by women dressed entirely in funereal black — which spread quickly all over Israel until there were weekly vigils in more than 30 centres.

Without leaders, a hierarchy or formal organisation, women around the world have been inspired by this style of action for peace. Women in Black groups around the world, as in Sydney and Melbourne, have usually addressed the rights of Palestinians. But sometimes, as in ex-Yugoslavia, local issues have been the focus. In other parts of the world, the approach has been directed to peace generally.

While at the height of the Intifada more than 30 groups of women across Israel held weekly vigils, now there are only two — in Tel Aviv and Nachshon. It is surprising that there are any at all given the general view in Israel that peace has broken out.

Some women felt that the government's policies and those of the peace movement were now in line and there was no more justification for the vigils.

Others believed that the current process was undermining peace. They felt the current "peace process" excluded Palestinians and that little had changed in their daily lives. In fact, the closure of the border between Gaza and Israel has caused widespread hunger and misery.

Nevertheless, there was a general view that Women in Black had been successful in several ways: it was a form of protest with which women felt comfortable; the vigils also made it possible for women of very different ideologies — Ashkenazi and Sephardi, Arab and Jew — to work together because the movement emphasised the things women had in common rather than their differences.

The Jerusalem members have initiated an international conference to be held in Jerusalem this month. Its aim is to reflect on the experiences of Women in Black around the world.

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