By Janet Burstall
Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish and international women marched for peace through Israel and the West Bank in January 2004.
Sydney activist Vivienne Porzsolt from Jews Against the Occupation was the only Australian on the march. She presented a slide show and spoke about the march at a meeting in Sydney on 22 April.
Women's peace march - West Bank and Israel
Vivienne told stories of the obstacles faced by the marchers. Checkpoints operate not only at the borders between the West Bank and Israel. Vivienne had photos of checkpoints all through the West Bank, blocking or delaying internal movements. Some are permanent, others are mobile and temporary checkpoints. Some are bulldozed piles of dirt and rubble making vehicle passage impossible. Some are erected next to stinking rubbish dumps where people must queue in the stench. Vivienne acknowledged that the marchers were experiencing only briefly the constant daily problems of the Palestinians - "The checkpoints are an exercise in humiliation, they are the daily essence of the Occupation".
Photos of Sharon's wall where it has been constructed show what a land grab it is, and how much more impossible it makes life for Palestinians. One photo is of a home cut off from its farm lands, with a gate open at unpredictable occasional intervals for 30 minute periods. Palestinian land that is unfarmed for a length of time can be legally claimed and occupied by Israeli "settlers". So the army and would-be "settlers" try to make Palestinian land unfarmable, for example by ripping up olive groves.
Vivienne also had photos and stories of hope and struggle. Israeli peace activists join with Palestinians in replanting olive groves to save the farmland. Murals, plays, and sculptures and artistic expression provide ways to tell stories and build Palestinian morale. A Palestinian teacher organised the "Windows" project for Palestinian and Israeli children to tell stories looking forward to a positive future.
One of the challenges for building a movement for justice for the Palestinians that came through in Vivienne's stories is the obstacles to unity between Palestinian activists and their Israeli supporters. The Windows project had to be organised from Italy, it could not be done in Israel or Palestine. For the Palestinian women who helped to host the international Peace March "it was not possible to be seen to be working with Israelis" - so the Israeli women on the march could only join the sections that were in Israel, and could not cross into the West Bank.
The 40 or so people who attended Vivienne's talk were stimulated to discussion about what could be done. Ideas included identifying and targeting suppliers of military hardware to the Israeli army. Workers Liberty supporters at the meeting asked Vivienne about what unity actually exists between Palestinian and Israeli activists and organisations, and whether acceptance of a 2 states solution would be necessary to achieve that unity. Vivienne gave an open answer, saying that there are links developing, and it is through these links that solutions that can be supported by everyone must be developed. Vivienne expressed hope that more Israelis would reject the Occupation because of the austerity program due to the social and economic costs within Israel of maintaining that level of militarisation, if not out of recognition of Palestinian rights. The Israeli peace movement and the Palestinians are too weak by themselves.
Viviennne lamented the media's preference for covering suicide bombings which offer no hope. She advocated more coverage of the courageous acts and joint work by Palestinians and Israeli peace activists in standing against the Occupation.