By Cody-Leigh Mullin
A 10-piece band could be heard from San Lorenzo Park amid children’s laughter and the chatter of the crowd that gathered for Israel in the Park, a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the creation of Israel. The only ones not making noise were the Women in Black (WIB).
The WIB is a collection of women and men who dress fully in black in order to make a nonviolent protest. Ann Simonton, an organizer of the WIB, began acting out against the occupation of Palestine after visiting Israel and researching the conflict and the occupation.
“It’s been 60 years since a major massacre of the Palestinians,” Simonton said. “That isn’t part of our history books. Most people in the West don’t know about it, and it’s definitely silenced by the mainstream media. I really became more radicalized for Palestine, not by visiting, but by following the work and informing myself – because the mainstream media wasn’t informing me.”
WIB was founded in Israel in 1988 when Jewish Israeli and Palestinian women joined together to protest Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. At its height, some 40 WIB vigils were held weekly in public places throughout Israel. Today, the WIB holds vigils in Jerusalem each Friday.
The Santa Cruz chapter of WIB consists of men and women of all races and religious backgrounds who choose to encourage peace and resolution to the conflict in Israel and Palestine. The group also holds weekly vigils to protest the war in Iraq every Friday from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Pacific Garden Mall.
Several other Israel peace action groups, like the Palestine/Israel Action Committee (PIAC) and the Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, gathered alongside the WIB. Dorah Rosen, member of the PIAC, stood with the WIB and became active after traveling to Israel in 2004 and witnessing injustice firsthand.
“I just wanted to see for myself,” Rosen said. “I was totally shocked at the things I saw. I literally saw ambulances stopped at checkpoints, I saw Palestinian families being intimidated — including little children. I met people who were pushed out of their own homes because soldiers were setting up military outposts on top of their homes.”
Rabbi Howie Schneider, with Brit Tzedek V’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Peace and Justice, has been working toward a peaceful policy change in Israel and supports the WIB for their nonviolent approach to protest.
“I really want to support peace and I think it’s key to having peace in the entire world,” Schneider said. “I think it’s an important part of the world that’s going to make a big difference.”
Darrell and Sue Yeaney, two members of WIB, have been active in opposing the occupation for over 20 years now and take groups of people on fact-finding tours to the Middle East. Yeaney, who at the time was a UC Santa Cruz campus minister, traveled to Israel in 1985 and was inspired to act.
“It was like taking scales off my eyes — it was a revelation,” Yeaney said. “It changed my outlook completely. So we decided to do something about it.”
The Yeaneys created the Congressional Accompaniment Project (CAP), in which they take congressional aides to Israel to bring the issue of the occupation to the forefront of the government’s mind.
“If the U.S. was alone by itself as being so one-sided and blocking peace, we knew we had do something with our own government,” Yeaney said.
The Yeaneys plan to take more congressional aides on fact-finding tours in order to educate those in office about the conflict. Currently, aides from Iowa are making the trip. The Yeaneys are discussing future trips with aides from Washington, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois and Arizona. The Yeaneys will be taking aides from Santa Cruz congressmen in August. Until then, the Yeaneys will continue to work with WIB to spark conversation and enlighten onlookers.
“We’ll keep this up until the Lord says stop,” Yeaney said. “This is our vocation. We feel that this is what God wants us to do: speak the truth in love.”
The PIAC and MIB have been called anti-Semitic. Many members said the label misrepresents their cause.
“I’m not anti-Semitic; I’m not self-hating,” Rosen said. “I’m concerned about this issue because I’m Jewish and I’m also an American. Our country supports the occupation of Palestine, and we have since day one.”
“Catastrophe/Independence; Palestinian and Israeli Narratives in Dialogue,” an open forum including Jews, Christians, Muslims and Arabs, will be held in the Fellowship Hall at Messiah Lutheran Church on High Street on May 29 at 7 p.m. Those involved hope to include more of a student voice on the issue and will be planning more activities in an attempt to spark interest about the conflict.
Schneider, along with Yeaney, will be facilitating the discussion. Schneider emphasizes differentiations between supporting Israel and criticizing the country’s current policies.
“Being pro-Israel doesn’t mean supporting everything the government does,” Schneider said. “You can be pro-Israel and still be critical. We want to create the environment where all points of view are able to be expressed and discussed and we can come up with the best solutions to support peace in Israel and Palestine.”
For Rosen, the matter in Israel is not far from protesting the injustices of another country. The WIB’s appearance at Israel in the Park was not an act of protest, but one of remembrance and acknowledgement.
“We’re not against Israel,” Rosen said. “Just like if you protest against injustice in any country, you’re not protesting against the whole country. We’re just saying that the country is doing something wrong, and we are drawing attention to that.”