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Women in Black


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Photo taken by Ayesha Carmouche (December 09, 2012)

“In such condition there is…continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes, 1651).

“If we wish to maximise our personal liberty, we must not place our trust in princes; we must instead take charge of the political arena ourselves” (Skinner, 1978).

Above are two quotes which capture my experience of a weekly vigil, organised by the Women in Black movement, in Jerusalem, against the occupation of Palestine.

The first quote picks up on Israel’s creeping descent into a Hobbesian like fear, where existential threats to Israel’s existence preoccupy the minds of many. One which results in a permanent feeling of insecurity, proving hostile to those who attempt to criticise Israel’s claim to ‘self-defence’.

Yet the second quote makes reference to Women in Black movement, consisting of a small group of Israeli women who continue to use their voice to stand up to human right injustices against Palestinians. By taking “charge of the political arena”, the movement seeks to challenge its government’s oppressive and discriminatory policies, and exemplifies the substance of a democratic opposition.

As part of a joint collaboration with other branches in Tel Aviv and Haifa, these women, many of them elderly and suffering losses from previous intifadas, amplify their dissent against the background of heightening intimidation. In raising their voices they subject themselves to verbal abuse and are often considered traitors to their country by other Israelis.

Yet in showing their tenacity, these very women should be commended for their bravery, as they personify the very principles of a civic republicanism, which have been fought long and hard for over our centuries.

Central to their mission statement is the message that the Israeli occupation is ultimately self-destructive and prolongs the violence on both sides:

“Unless Israel ends the occupation, there is no hope for peace, security, a healthy economy, or a just and democratic society”.

Their dissent however, has been met with a despicable sense of hostility, as we discovered first hand. During the vigil, we witnessed these elderly women, one of them an 85-year-old holocaust survivor, being verbally abused by those deemed to be their own countrymen and women.

Accordingly, many of the women are often degraded sexually, referred to as whores, amongst other terms. In our observations, we saw a passer-by appear so disgusted with their presence, he spat on the ground they stood on.

The anger seemed premised on the feeling that the demonstrators were anti-Israeli in voicing their criticism. Yet in a conversation with one of the founders of the movement, she was keen to reveal her dissent as one that stemmed from her of love – rather than hate – of Israel.

Her critique was not derived from a deep-seated hatred of the ‘other’ indicative of the usual war-like dualism. Instead it was a brave and self-reflecting examination of one’s nation.

The critical line emphasised by those women holding vigil is no more simpler than this: the futility of an on-going conflict has led to an unjustifiable number of deaths on both sides, spanning a 60 year trajectory - with the odds against the Palestinians.

On a more fundamental level, the women aim to shed light on the psychological and social damage of ‘war’ on a nation. From the movement’s perspective, military aggression against another “people” corrupts the minds of those soldiers inflicting and enduring violence.

By extension, it feeds the anger of the opposing side. When killing one’s enemy, the feeling of hate, hurt and anger is given further nutrients and the ideology of destructive nationalism grows with a greater ferocity than before.

Based on my own reflections, it seems important to reiterate the sense of a Hobbesian instability. The permanence of conflict itself gives way to an omnipresent tension, and even suspicion, predicated on an eternal feeling of fear and paranoia. A feeling that is hard to ignore when one travels throughout Israel.

In the face of the suffocating presence of fresh-faced soldiers equipped with their automatic rifles, you are reminded, repeatedly, of this fear as you move from checkpoints to McDonalds restaurants. So strong is this perception of an existential threat that life does indeed feel “poor”, “nasty” and “brutish”!

Written by Ayesha Carmouche and published on 11-January-2013




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