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Week after Week: End the Occupation!

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By Judith Warschawski
Women in Black, Jerusalem
The following text is a translation from the original Hebrew – it was prepared and read by Judith Warschawski, a member of the Jerusalem vigil of Women in Black, at the Alternative Torch-Lighting Ceremony organized by Yesh Gvul to mark Israeli Independence Day, 2012.

I, Judith Warschawski, daughter of Rabbi Max Warschawski, may he rest in peace, and Miri Warschawski, am proud to light this torch in the name of Women in Black, and also to honor my parents and thereby continue the tradition and education that I learned in their home. From my parents I learned devotion to a cause, the pursuit of justice and equal rights, and the existential necessity of taking action on my beliefs – to struggle against evil and change the reality around us. 

For 24 years, week after week, Friday after Friday, our women stand in black in a square in the center of Jerusalem, holding aloft a black hand on which only one message appears: “End the Occupation!” We call the location Hagar Square, in memory of one of our members, one of the women who envisioned and founded our movement. We began as a small number of women who decided to go out into the street and hold aloft a hand like a black flag of warning that declares: No! Enough of the ongoing occupation that brings devastation to everything. The black hand that hurls truth and defiance against the mark of Cain of the occupation that is engraved on the foreheads of us all.

The message is simple and general, and also universal. It is special and meaningful as it is borne by a vigil of women, and anchored in a long tradition of struggles by women throughout the world – women who come together to protest intolerable injustices in their countries, struggles that are distinctive to each. We were nurtured by the tradition of women – grandmothers and mothers – from the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, and in our struggle we bequeathed a new tradition that spread throughout the world, to vigils of women who regularly protest in many cities, dressed in black in identification with us and against the injustices at their own doorstep. 

Steadfastness, continuity is our primary quality. We began before 1988 – so hard to believe – 24 years ago, at the beginning of the first intifada, and have been standing ever since. Despite the hostile reactions, the catcalls, the sexist comments, the attempts by right-wing women to occupy Hagar Square, we have persisted. We have become part of the landscape. And even though we have not yet changed the political situation, I believe that the regular weekly reminder is in itself an achievement. We have been hundreds, we have been just a few, we have been dozens, we have been just Israeli women, we have also stood with internationals, and above all – we were there! We were and are a fortress that cannot be abandoned! As long as we appear in the Square, we carry a promise of change. This tiny candle of morality, that insists on lighting up the vast darkness, showing that things can be different, that there is someone who cannot be silenced and will not be intimidated. 

Twenty-four years is a long time! We celebrated the 99th birthday of one member of our group, one young woman gave birth, and several members passed away after giving light to the plaza. I have already demonstrated in this plaza in three generations – with my mother and my daughter – and I hope and pray that with my granddaughters I will not have to demonstrate, that very soon we will know no war or occupation! 

We just celebrated the Passover Holiday – the holiday of liberation that reminds us the words of Karl Marx: A nation that oppresses another cannot be free. 

And today, on the eve of Israel’s Independence Day, as we witness daily the trampling of the eternal values of justice, solidarity, equality, independence, and peace, and watch the ongoing erosion of democracy, I am grateful in my name and the name of Women in Black for the existence of this alternative ceremony, which perpetuates these values in the face of the empty celebrations and fireworks. Thanks to this ceremony and my sisters in the vigil, I am able to get through another Independence Day, and survive year after year, and, above all, to keep alive the hope: End the Occupation!  

Translated by Gila Svirsky
"Walk gently, breathe peacefully, laugh hysterically." ~ Nelson Mandela