Women in Black protesting in Jerusalem Friday. (Tomer Neuberg/Jini)

Women have traditionally been the motivating force and inspiration of the various peace movements throughout the world. They work tirelessly and seem to have a special energy unknown to the males in the species.

This has been true in the States, most of Europe and in Israel. One group of these courageous women, Women in Black, just marked the 20th year of their formation. They have demonstrated continuously against the Israeli occupation and have pledged to continue until they achieve their goals.

Following is a report from their ‘anniversary demo’…..

Women in Black marks 20th year, but occupation continues
By Tamara Traubmann, Haaretz Correspondent

The hundreds of women and the few men who on Friday celebrated the 20th anniversary of Women in Black didn’t seem to know whether the event they were attending was a somber one, or a party. After all, the cause the movement has championed for the past 20 years has not been achieved. The Israeli occupation still exists.

“It’s the only demonstration that has been going on for 20 years now,” one of the participants said.
The place where the crowd of 250 women gathered was the same place where Women in Black always hold their Friday demonstrations: Paris Square in Jerusalem. As always, they were carrying signs against the occupation.

“The peace movements have succeeded. We have thousands of demonstration hours,” Hanna Safran boasted. “We have all been very creative. We’ve marched naked, we went down to the Territories. Our message has been accepted, but it hasn’t put an end to the occupation and the wrongdoings that go along with it. In fact, things only got worse.”

The movement was born in late 1987, weeks after the outbreak of the first intifada, which turned the attention of most Israelis to the very fact that the Palestinians were living under occupation. The first demonstrators, Safran among them, gathered at Paris Square, not far from the prime minister’s official residence. They stood in silence, carrying signs the shape of a stop sign, reading: “Stop the occupation.”

Within several months, other women joined the protest, demonstrating at junctions outside towns and cities. The members of Women in Black represent the full spectrum of the Israeli Left, from Labor to the anti-Zionists.

Two of the most frequently asked questions Women in Black have had to answer over the years were why women, and why black. They say the absence of men in their ranks is meant to allow women to make their voice heard in a militaristic society.

As for black, there are several versions as to why the color was chosen as a trademark.

“What can I tell you, it’s just a visually strong color,” said Debbie Lerman from Tel Aviv.

One characteristic of Women in Black’s protest rallies was the torrent of swear words, curses and fulminations they usually elicited from passersby, who vent out their hostility toward the organization. But nowadays they are no longer targeted.

Women in Black members explain that the hostility subsided because 20 years ago, a congregation of women engaged in political protest was perceived as defiant ipso facto.

“That’s why the first demonstrators were spat on, and subjected to sexist and bigoted remarks from passersby,” one activist said.

In Israel, Women in Black has failed to bring about the end of occupation. But the movement has become a role model for other countries, where certain sectors of the population have to endure humiliation, oppression and racism.

At present, Women in Black organizations exist in over 40 countries, the Israeli members say. In India they are protesting religious discrimination. In the former Yugoslavia, various splinter states saw the formation of Women in Black protesting the war. In Germany they address fascism, nuclear weapons, and the Israeli occupation, too.

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