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Standing for Peace: A History of Women in Black in Israel

Dispatches from the Peace Front
Women in Black: A Book
Women in Black: Conference 2005
Security Council Address
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I wrote this book in 1996.  Both the international and the Israeli movements of Women in Black have changed considerably since then, but this is my understanding of its early years.  It would be great to read the histories by and perspectives of other women.  This book has never previously been published.
Photo: Yair Gil

Introduction: Women in Black Did Not Mourn Meir Kahane


The murder in New York of Meir Kahane, the rabbi who had incited hatred of Arabs, was followed by a rampage of his followers in Jerusalem against Palestinians and Jewish “traitors” – peace activists.  Women in Black were a favorite target, and here the reader is introduced to the women on the vigil who did not back down from confrontation with the extreme right wing.


Chapter 1:   Intifada and the Revival of Israeli Peace Activity


The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is briefly sketched as a backdrop to the outbreak of the “first intifada” – the popular uprising of the Palestinians that erupted in late 1987 – which finally awakened (some) Israelis to the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation.  The origin of the Women in Black vigil is described.


Chapter 2:   Coming of Age


The first year of the movement is examined against the background of growing violence in the occupied territories and expanding groups of Women in Black in the major cities of Israel, culminating in a mass vigil on the first anniversary of the movement.


Chapter 3:   Friends and Foes at the Vigil


Responses to Women in Black were rarely polite.  This chapter examines the sexist and sometimes violent reactions of political opponents, and the failure of the police to take them seriously until a “hit list” was published against eight women.  The reasons underlying these reactions are considered.


Chapter 4:   Why Women?


Why did women need a peace movement “of their own” outside the mixed-gender peace movements?  The feminist formats and dynamics of Women in Black are discussed, as well as qualities about the Palestinian uprising that may have inspired women's activism.  Finally, the medium of the movement is examined for its hidden message – the presence of women taking a political stand so publicly.


Chapter 5:   Be Fruitful and Multiply


The spread of the vigil throughout Israel is surveyed with special attention to Palestinian women who joined Jewish women on the vigil.  Some unique vigils are described, including one held regularly under the broiling desert sun, a vigil beside a prison, and kibbutz vigils.


Chapter 6:   The Heyday of the Vigils


Why did standing on the vigil year after year lead to the growth and radicalization of participant women?  An event is described in which 6,000 Israeli and Palestinian women held a march for peace, which ended in police brutality, mass arrests, and deepened commitment on the part of the women on the vigil.

Chapter 7:   Power Prevails


How did women on the radical left (avowed Maoists) dwell in peace with the bourgeois liberal women in the movement?  This chapter looks at how diverse women managed to share a universe of discourse despite vastly different political persuasions until the Gulf War erupted and raised a conflict that dissipated the trust so painstakingly built up over the years.


Chapter 8:   The Years of Perseverance


In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the movement became dispirited and diminished in numbers.  A hard core of women, however, continued to stand on the vigil.  What sustained this commitment?  And how did the election of Yitzhak Rabin affect the vigil and its struggle for peace?


Chapter 9:   Foreign Supporters and International Vigils


The movement of Women in Black in Israel inspired vigils throughout Europe, North America, and Asia.  Women in Black vigils have since been used in many countries to protest local issues (ethnic cleansing in former Yugoslavia, Muslim fundamentalist violence in India, domestic abuse in Australia, neighborhood violence in the U.S., etc.), and a mass Women in Black vigil was held in Beijing as part of the 1995 U.N. Conference on Women.  The international network of women for peace and its nurturing of the mother movement in Israel are surveyed.


Chapter 10:   Beyond Oslo, Beyond Rabin


The effect of the Middle East peace process on the Women in Black movement is examined, focusing on the alternating euphoria and discouragement evoked by the twisting road to peace.  This chapter also reflects upon the consequences of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the subsequent election victory of many who oppose the peace process.


Chapter 11:   Impact: A Completely Biased View


Did Women in Black have an impact on making peace?  The many faces of impact are surveyed, with special attention to the personal transformation of women who participated and their subsequent roles as socializers for peace.  “We, the great army of nurturers, now serve up politics with your dinner.”  But is peace really on the agenda?






Most of the photos accompanying the pages of this book are from a more recent period.  Thank you, Yair Gil, for permission to use your beautiful shots, and for your tireless documentation of women's peace activity.


Here's an archive of documents from the early years of Women in Black in Israel, prepared by Dafna and Reuven Kaminer of Jerusalem.

1996 Gila Svirsky, Standing for Peace: A History of Women in Black in Israel available on  Please cite this full reference if you quote passages from the book.