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February-06-01

Under the Peace Tent - Part II

Long aware that their fates were inextricably linked, they took on the hard work of fighting for justice and an end to oppression, both in the Occupied Territories and within the State of Israel--because there cannot be peace in one without peace in the other.

Whatever the political outcome of the coming weeks and months, these women know that the separation between Israelis and Palestinians that Prime Minister Ehud Barak speaks of as a national goal is a dangerous oversimplification of reality. How can there be "separation" when Jewish settlements surround and choke the cities and villages under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority? Even when a Palestinian state is finally declared, how will a "separated" Palestinian public travel between Nablus and Jerusalem, between Tulkarem and Ramallah, when they have to go through Israeli territory to do so?

The mainstream Israeli public seems to ignore these questions. Meanwhile, they are shocked and outraged at the protests by Israeli Arabs. The demonstrations by Arab citizens of Israel to end the excessive violence against the Palestinian people and to protest their own status as second-class Israeli citizens have rocked the status quo.

It is these hard truths that inform the thoughts of the women as they lay down their protest signs--the hour-long demonstration has finished--and file into the peace tent a few yards away.

Tonight is the second of three nights of speeches and discussions. Succat Hashalom is traditionally a festive affair. But not tonight. Watching the faces, observing the body language, one could only describe the mood as one of calm tension. The women gather--a veiled Arab woman sitting next to a secular Jew--waiting for the first speaker.

Her name is Arrabia. A resident of Nazareth and a citizen of Israel. As Arrabia speaks, people look at the large posters that adorn the inside of the tent. They are composed of photographs and newspaper articles about the 13 Israeli Arabs who were killed in the last few weeks, most of them while demonstrating in solidarity with Palestinians from the Occupied Territories. Unlike in Israeli TV reports, here the dead Arabs have names: Inazaret, Inesrink, Jourmalfa, Alannasser, Jaber. They have been killed by Israeli police and security forces. They are citizens of Israel who have been singled out for attack by the government that exists to protect them.

"The children of this Intifada--when they throw rocks, the rocks are like messages sent in a bottle to a people far away," says Arrabia to the group. "Open the bottle and read the message. For your own good. ÔI am only 8 or 10 or 15 years old. If you kill me with your bullets, the picture of me wounded, dying later in a hospital or at a checkpoint, it will stay with you, haunting you, all the days of your life.' We give birth and life to these children. We must stop this madness. It is up to us to stop it--the men never will."

The speeches of other women follow. They are the voices of activists, of parliamentarians, of mothers. All are filled with fear and confusion--and, surprisingly, hope. Hope, because despite the unofficial and asymmetrical war being waged between their two peoples, these women have made a decision to come to this annual celebration of coexistence and peace. For them, the simple act of getting into a car, or onto a bus, is a powerful act of defiance. We, the women, they are saying, will not let you destroy our future. We will not let racism triumph.

The evening ends, and women who have known one another for five, ten years, maybe longer, say good night and head for home. Perhaps because they have had the opportunity to express their concerns freely, the earlier tensions have dissipated. Some women stay behind to prepare the succah for tomorrow night. One woman is collecting posters for the protest at the highway intersection. In one hand she holds a sign, "We Have Tried War Already." In the other, sh

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