Women in Black
Women in Black Did Not Mourn Meir Kahane
context for this tension was the intifada, the Palestinian uprising
against the Israeli occupation of lands claimed by both sides. For almost two
years the intifada had wreaked havoc in the Palestinian suburbs of
Hussein almost provided the casus belli for
was the context into which the violence finally erupted on
the violence escalated. Meir Kahane, a New York Jew who had fanned the flames of
hatred between Jews and blacks and then transferred his racism to the conflict
between Israelis and Palestinians, had been gunned down by a Palestinian, and
Kahane’s thugs in
body was flown back to
day after the funeral, Women in Black were asked to meet with the Jerusalem
District Commissioner of Police, Rahamim Comfort. Rahamim means “mercy” in
Hebrew. Mercy Comfort—not a bad name for a policeman! Five of us went. We were
ushered into his office, and found him sitting officiously behind a large desk.
He waved us into seats opposite.
Commissioner opened with a solemn tone: “I am here to ask you not to hold a
vigil tomorrow. I’m not telling you not to demonstrate; that’s your right.
But I am telling you that tomorrow there is a greater chance of violence against
you than on any other Friday.”
ticked off the “anniversaries” to be celebrated the next day by various
extremists: one month to the Temple Mount slaughter; two weeks to the Jerusalem
stabbings; the monthly celebration of the day on which the intifada
began; and now the ritual mourning period for Kahane, which his supporters
threatened to commemorate as seven days of violence against Arabs and
“traitors”—Jewish peace advocates like us. The Commissioner asked us for
our own safety not to hold the vigil the next day, but to allow this one Friday
to pass without it. He said that he had reports of plots to attack us, and that
he could not guarantee our safety. It was not an encouraging picture that he
drew. “Just this once,” he pleaded.
remember sitting there with the other women, all stalwarts of the vigil, but we
hemmed and hawed. This would not be easy to explain to a commissioner of police,
but we had to try.
Hoffman began. She told the Commissioner that Women in Black is a collective
with no formal leadership, and that we cannot make decisions on behalf of the
group. It sounded so simple when she said it, but it turned out to be a
difficult concept for a police commissioner to grasp. Yes, it’s a group with
great commitment and organized activities, but no, we have no formal leadership.
We all pitched in and tried to explain. He didn’t get it, and I knew we were
feeding into his stereotype of weak, indecisive women, but nothing could be
we abandoned the explanations and became assertive. We told the commissioner
that the police are supposed to protect those under attack, not let the streets
be taken over by thugs. I remember Haya Shalom telling him the analogy of women
entitled to protection from rape, not told to stay off the streets. Comfort is
probably a very smart man, but he didn’t get it at all, and we finally gave
up. We promised to convey his words to our sister vigilers in
the police station shaken by his words. For three years on the vigil, I had a
picture in my mind of someone driving by in a car and lobbing a hand grenade at
us, just as a grenade had been thrown 7 years earlier at another peace
in the windy street outside the police station and made plans to activate the
Women in Black phone network, calling as many women as could be reached that
night. We agreed to convey faithfully the words of the Commissioner, with all
his ominous warnings, but to add that attendance at the vigil the next day was a
personal decision that each woman had to make for herself. We split up. I felt a
great weight in my heart as I left. At home, I made the call that set off the
phone network, and then spent the evening searching my thoughts.
work the next day, I kept my eyes on the clock all morning, waiting for
took “End the Occupation” signs and formed a line along the curb facing
regular Friday, women would saunter in anywhere during the first half hour; we
were “full” only for the second half of the vigil. That Friday was
different. Within 15 minutes, we were not only full, we were many more women
than ordinarily turn out. Amazing! All of us, with our hearts in our throats,
more silent than our silent vigil ever really was, standing there in
determination not to be shoved aside by bullies. “What a group!” Ethel
whispered to me, and it echoed what my own head was saying. We had the usual
curses and obscene gestures from passersby (“Whores!” “Go home to your
kitchens!”), but the police kept Kahane’s thugs a block away. People threw
things from their cars, but nothing exploded. And the women continued to stand
did we get this way, I wondered? How had we grown from ordinary teachers, social
workers, secretaries, executives, and housewives into such brave women? We had
clearly taken more courage from this vigil than it was taking out of us in
weariness. What a group, I thought again.
are many stories of the work and dedication of Jewish peace groups that formed
This is the first sequel of Gila Svirski’s book Standing for Peace:
History of Women in Black in Israel, 1996.
Sarid, “Don’t Come Looking for Me,”
Ha’aretz, August 17, 1990.