Local Women in Black to rally to end the occupation

Marcia Freedman is "attached to Israel and the Jewish community by the umbilical chord."

But that does not mean the 63-year-old former Knesset member opposes the rights of Palestinians.

In fact, the Berkeley leftist, who still lives half of each year in Israel, faults the government of the Jewish state she was a part of during much of the upheaval of the past decade.

"The Palestinians have been living under Israel's illegal military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem for 34 years," said Freedman. "This is an enormous injustice that the world has turned its back on."

Freedman is one of a growing movement of both Jews and non-Jews worldwide who will protest the Israeli government's role in the current intifada on Friday, June 8 — just two days after the 34th anniversary of the Six-Day War, when Israel took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Dressing in trademark black to symbolize the death of Palestinian livelihood, pro-peace demonstrators will gather from as far as Ireland, Turkey, Belgium and Spain as well as throughout the United States for the international vigils organized by the Israel Coalition of Women for a Just Peace.

Locally, the vigil will take place on Montgomery and Market Streets in San Francisco, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. In addition to calling for an end to the "Israeli occupation," local protesters will hold placards to denounce arms shipments to Israel and demand international protection for the Palestinians.

The San Francisco gathering is co-sponsored by the Women's Caucus of the Jewish Unity for a Just Peace, S.F. Women in Black, Berkeley Women in Black, the Middle East Children's Alliance, the American Friends Service Committee and the East Bay Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue Group.

The purpose of next week's protest is to "raise consciousness" about the situation in the Middle East, said Freedman, a co-organizer of the local vigil.

"Sure there's escalating violence on both sides," said Freedman, "but if you compare one side's ability with the other side's ability the damage does not compare whatsoever. Of the 500 killed, 400 are Palestinian."

It is Israel's responsibility to end the ongoing violence, she said: The first step is to put a freeze on its "hill grabbing" — Freedman's phrase for settlement expansion.

"There's a perception, that's been fairly successful within the Jewish community, that Israel's survival is being threatened — but that's not what's happening," said Freedman, who believes that the settlers are the only ones who feel threatened, and for obvious reasons.

"They are there illegally to begin with. "There are 200,000 settlers and they are what stands between us and a peace agreement."

Furthermore, said Freedman, the automatic response of the Jewish community to side with Israel no matter what "comes from a place of enormous insecurity.

"Israel today has the fourth-largest army in the world. It has a solid existence. There is no threat to Israel's existence."

"We need to look at the history clearly and open our eyes to what really happened," added Freedman. "Israel was created on Palestinian land. The flourishing of the state of Israel was also the creation of homelessness for 5 or 6 million Palestinians who have been displaced from their land.

"For me, as a Jew of consciousness, it is unbearable to be associated with a government that is perpetrating such injustices."

Women in Black first formed in 1988 when a group of Israeli Jewish and Arab women began holding silent vigils in Israeli cities and at the crossroads of major highways every Friday. They hold signs in Hebrew and Arabic demanding "end the occupation."

"The imagery was so strong that their plight was soon taken up all over the world," said Freedman, noting that next week's event will be "the largest single gathering of the Women in Black protesting and mourning for loss of life."

Both male and female participants are expected to protest in more than 80 locations around the world.

Despite this, Freedman said, the mantra of Women in Black — "truth and reconciliation" — does not always catch on.

"Our message is still being contained within a small group of people. The forces we're working against — media blackouts, the Israeli Foreign Ministry — are huge."

Unfortunately, said Freedman, the message that does catch on is that the Middle East conflict is "everybody else's fault except our own."