Women Resisting the Destruction of Rafah

Gila Svirsky 5/24/2004


As most well-read people already know, the Israeli army has spent the last
five days battering and bludgeoning the inhabitants of a hot and dusty town
on the southern edge of the Gaza Strip, known as Rafah.

Also well known is the rally of 150,000 last Saturday night in Tel Aviv to
demand that Israel leave the Gaza Strip. Less well known, however, is the
frenzied activity of the Israeli peace movement to get the army to leave
Gaza in one piece to end the death and destruction as it seeks to save
face for the killing of 13 soldiers last week.

On Monday, a small group of women drove down from the north of Israel and
sought to enter Rafah from the closest military checkpoint, just 3 km east.
Rebuffed by the army, they pitched camp a short distance away, vowing not to
leave until the army does. I joined on Thursday and found 30-40 women, some
who had driven down from the north and others from nearby kibbutzim, who
kept them supplied with food and water and solved logistical problems.

Standing (and sitting) there, watching the tanks, armored personnel
carriers, helicopters, and busloads of soldiers move in and out of Rafah
and being unable to stop them was terribly frustrating. Drivers in
passing vehicles threw eggs, garbage, and curses at the group. Violence
will never bring peace, proclaimed one of our futile signs as dozens of
Rafah residents met a violent death while we vigiled. It was agonizing. A
decision was made to continue the protest in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The photo (above) shows the three vigil initiators Hannah Safran of the
Coalition of Women for Peace and Lilly Traubman and Jessica Nevo of Bat
Shalom. Hannahs sign (closest to the camera) reads Sharon: Qibiya, Sabra,
Shatila, Jenin, Rafah, listing some of the known bloodbaths of our prime
minister, while Lillys (second closest) reads End the Occupation. For
more photos from this encampment, see
[on site, click on View as a slide show to see the photos in full size].

Another new womens initiative is Shuvi: Women for Withdrawal from Gaza.
Dressed in black t-shirts with a yellow U-turn signal, Shuvi activists are
collecting 60,000 signatures on a letter demanding that Sharon implement the
disengagement plan that he promised, and get out.

On Friday (May 21), a large group of organizations (including Taayush, the
Coalition of Women for Peace, Yesh Gvul, Gush Shalom, and ICAHD) held a
dramatic demonstration at the Kissufim entrance to Gaza, through which most
of the settlers pass. Close to a thousand demonstrators made their way
there, many carrying black flags (see photo, left) to symbolize the black
flag of illegality that waves over some [military] orders, citing an
Israeli court judgment from the 1950s. At the end of the rally, many
demonstrators charged the checkpoint, which ended, of course, in
pandemonium: 8 were detained and many injured, but no one seriously (I
believe). Im sure there are better photos, but you can see mine at

The agony and helplessness of last week was epitomized by the announcement
that women Members of Knesset from the left would be holding a demonstration
on Sunday opposite the Prime Ministers office to protest his actions in
Gaza. Do MKs have to resort to demonstrations to affect government

But the worst thing I saw at the various peace actions was poised just
beyond the entrance to Gaza at Kissufim 5 armored bulldozers (photo left).
Notice the drivers cabin and the blade, taller than the soldier walking
past it.

Maybe these were the bulldozers that demolished 62 homes in Rafah during the
previous two days [www.btselem.org.il]? Maybe one of these bulldozers
rolled over Rachel Corrie? Well never know, though whoever drove them
surely knows what he was up to, and must live with it.

But the devastation continues. This mornings Haaretz reports that
700-2,000 more Rafah homes may be destroyed in order to widen the buffer
zone with Egypt. Relief agencies report that food supplies are dwindling
and that potable water is scarce.

Hannah just called me to suggest the following: In every city, organize a
group (even 2-3 people will do) to bring food and water to the Israeli
embassy or consulate, demanding that it be delivered to Rafah. Make sure
that the media meet you there to cover the event. Explain to the media that
the Israeli armys assault on Rafah has caused a severe humanitarian crisis,
and you are calling upon Israel to deliver the supplies and end its brutal
campaign. You may also want to do this at US embassies (or Caterpillar
companies), since the United States funds the weapons that make this
possible (and Caterpillar sells the bulldozers).

The Israeli government is concerned about the international outcry, and just
announced that it will compensate the owners of demolished homes. Now we
have to get it to stop the demolitions.

Gila Svirsky