Sunday, June 6, 2010

Our June Vigil--We are All Gazans Now

Emily Henochowicz, 21, art student from New York was hit directly in the face with a tear gas cannister at the Qalandiyah checkpoint. Here a Palestinian woman calls for help.

Standing in the rain and tumult of Israel's national failure

Hargit, Geraldine, Hinde, Jean, Sivan, Esme, Alex, Sandra, Hellen, Joan, Di

From Haifa to Melbourne,

Statement of Isha L'Isha

We the women of Isha L'Isha-Haifa Feminist Center express deep shock at the continuing and deteriorating consequences of the siege of Gaza. We express solidarity with women peace activists who acted to break the inhuman siege on women, children and men; a siege that has been preventing basic human freedoms, health services and essential materials.

We extend our support to our sisters in the feminist movement, especially those who went out to exercise their right to protest against an outrageous injustice and found themselves facing a military attack that was a result of a violent state policy.

We call on women and men in Israeli society to resist the attack on the most basic human values, and to join our call--the attack on the peace flotilla is an attack on me. The siege on Gaza endangers us all. Isha L'Isha--Haifa Feminist Center is a multi-cultural feminist collective established in 1983. Our aim is to bring about social change by promoting values of equal rights and equal opportunities for all women; bring about social change by promoting values of equal rights and equal opportunities for all women; eradicating discrimination, violence and oppression of women; and fostering solidarity among women.

From Melbourne to Haifa, to Gaza

On Tuesday night, Students for Palestine called for a mass rally against the Israeli commando raid on the flotilla of aid ships that killed, we think, there may be more, 9 men and wounded many more. I received a call that afternoon asking if I would be willing to speak on behalf of Women in Black, but there was a deeper reason. I would be the only Jewish voice and this is why I said yes, half hoping they would not need me. Daniel was waiting for me on the corner of Elizabeth and Bourke Streets, the closed-to- traffic- main street, where only trams are allowed, bringing their passengers to the two largest department stores of Melbourne, Meyers, and David Jones. Leaning on his arm, I walked past the sight of our monthly vigil, the night sky heavy with clouds towards the already large crowd spilling over into the roadway. I had folded in my pocket a copy of my blog writing prior to this one and a letter I had sent that morning to The Age, Melbourne's largest newspaper. Somehow I knew I would not read from a page if I was to speak. The moment, the pain, the anger was too large for premeditated words. Kim, one of the the organizers, quickly found me and said, yes, I would be speaking and I should stay near the sound truck. Hellen and Sandra, Women in Black friends, joined me and I saw Sivan further back in the crowd and Sol as well from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. I listened to all those who came before, to the young Palestinian woman just returned from visiting her family on the West Bank, her pain and rage at what she had witnessed filling the night air,to leaders of the Palestinian and Turkish communities in Melbourne to a Green politician to a Maritime Union official to an elderly Imam, and I thought, how can I do this, how can I put my Jewish self with my American voice in this justified mix of rage and hurt. How would I not be the enemy. And then I was the next speaker, and I moved close to the center where I could see the faces all around me and I thought how did I get here, I am 70 years old, recovering from cancer surgery, standing yet again in another street with banners and chants, standing like I stood on broad Washington D.C. avenues;on Park Avenue in New York in front of embassies; in front of swanky East Side hotels hosting Nixon or Reagan or Bush; squeezed into Dag Hammarskjold plaza across from the U.N.; standing in Brown's Chapel in Selma, Alabama getting ready to march to Montgomery, how did I get here in such a far away place in such a time of life--and then I saw the dead men and thousands of Palestinian people whose lives have disappeared, names never printed in our newspapers--just the words, "Four Palestinians shot dead by Israeli Defence forces." I thought of all the Jewish people of conscience I know here, in Israel, in New York, all over the world, who stood beside me. I have never felt so naked, so small as in the moment the microphone was put into my hand. All around me were young Palestinian women and men and in the distance I could see families and older people. I cannot tell you exactly what I said, I know the first words that came out were, "I am just a body.." and "tonight we know the failure of history, that what had happened on that boat and every day at check points and house evictions was not what the Holocaust had taught my Jewish heart." I threw into the night air the Yiddish word shanda, I know I spoke as a Jewish woman, for all the women in the international movement known as women in black, I know I said we have to question the certainties of all nationalisms, I know I spoke of my, our, Jewish solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinians. All the time the faces looking back at me, lips forming the word shanda. And then it was over, for me. As I made my way back to Daniel, the young Palestinian woman who had spoken earlier came over and said she remembered me from another demonstration and it was good to see me again. Several older women wearing head scarves came to me. "Are you the woman who just spoke? Yes. One of the women hugged me and said thank you, it means so much that you took the risk to speak. Our heads rested together for a few seconds, my bare gray curls against the black fabric of her head cover.

Daniel, my dear young friend, again offered me his arm so I could begin my journey back to West Brunswick. I was the smallest moment in this evening I have described, but for me once again I encountered that huge moment of human generosity--the refusal of easy hatreds.

New Book: "Shifting Sands: Jewish Women Confront the Israeli Occupation," edited by Osie Adelfang, an anthology of women writing about the Middle East, with a preface by Amira Hass and a forward by Cindy Sheehan including writing by Starhawk, Anna Baltzer, Alice Rothchild, Sandra Butler and Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein. Can be found at


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