On June 9, 1961, Mark Epstein was born. He cried out briefly, wanting to be heard. Soon he was silenced forever, leaving behind, us, his deeply saddened parents, who would never hear his first words.
Another June 9, June 9, 2002, is upon us, and this time it is I, on behalf of St. Louis Women in Black * who has been silenced. Our words will not be heard by those who will attend the rally entitled “St. Louis Stands With Israel.” This rally, convened by the Jewish Federation, & coordinated by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), has invited community & political leaders to speak.
In mid-May, 2002, I called Batya Abramson-Goldstein, staff person of the JCRC, requesting the opportunity for St. Louis Women in Black (WIB) to speak at the rally. Batya advised she needed to think about it, talk to some others & promised to get back to me in a week, or later. Not hearing from her, I called her on May 28, & was told “No, you will not be a speaker.” No reason was given. On June 23, Lynn Liss, President of the JCRC, confirmed this decision in a conversation with a respected member of the St. Louis Jewish community.
Had I been allowed to speak on behalf of Women in Black, this is what I would have said:
“There is a yearning in me for ‘Tikkun Olam’ - ‘the just reordering of the world,’ to make right the world. “We have in our hearts” said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “a power more powerful than bullets.”
On the fringes of the pro-Israel solidarity events, the fund raising events to replace Israel’s cut-backs in social services, thus freeing up funds for greater military spending, & American Jews’ solidarity missions to Israel, several U.S. Jewish groups, among them WIB, have begun to make their voices heard. Far from the line that American Jewish community leaders espouse and which has been echoed in the mainstream Jewish community, these other voices, as well as ever increasing numbers of Jewish voices in Israel, are critical of Israeli operations in the territories. They are calling for an end to the occupation, are calling for a two-state solution, for the right of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, in security and in harmony with each other, next to each other.
Though there are millions of American Jews who unconditionally support Israel, their critics are a growing minority. This minority is proving to be quite a nuisance to those in the American Jewish community, who are attempting to marginalize them. The refusal to allow a representative of WIB to speak at the June 9, St. Louis rally is an example of this attempt. Many mainstream American Jews think that any criticism of Israel is treason. They want to give the impression that the entire Jewish community supports Israel unconditionally and anyone who does not agree, is called, as I have been, “a self-hating Jew,” “anti-Semitic,” “a traitor.”
The central message of those of us, who do not feel represented by the mainstream American Jewish organizations, is one of support of the Israeli people, but in opposition to the occupation. We are at pains to emphasize that contrary to the image with which the mainstream Jewish community wants to paint us, we are not anti-Israel. We consider ourselves to be people who care about human rights, the rights of the Israeli & the Palestinian people to live in security, in peace, each in their own independent, sovereign states. Israel has a legitimate right to exist in peace & security, but so does Palestine.
Israel’s occupation policies need to be challenged, now more than ever. Not only have these policies led to enormous suffering among Israelis, Palestinians & other Arabs, but ultimately they have hurt the long term interests of all concerned, including the United States, as increasingly militant and extremist elements arise in reaction. Ultimately there is no contradiction between support for Israelis and support for Palestinians rights. These rights are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent on each other.
What I have said above, is an honest expression of what I see, hear and believe. It is an expression of the Jewish ethical commitment to social justice, and a deep concern for Jewish and Palestinian lives and well being. Let us honor all life & expand our compassion, which by definition repudiates all oppression and injustice.
Women in Black (WIB) is a loose network of women from all over the world who are committed to peace with justice & actively opposed to war and other forms of violence. It is not an organization, but a means of mobilization & a formula for action. WIB vigils were started in Jerusalem in 1988, by women protesting against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank & Gaza, demanding peace between Israel and the Palestinians. These vigils have continued weekly in Israel since 1988. Similar vigils are taking place all over the world since then. They are attended mostly by women, men are welcome, usually wearing black, standing in public places in silent, non-violent demonstration, at regular times & intervals.