Interview highlights from Gila Svirsky

I grew up feeling very strongly Zionist I moved here [to Israel] when I was 19. [...] There was gradual change [in my thinking], and then there was a moment of deep insight. The gradual change came because I married a man who was not Orthodox, and he had a profound effect on my thinking. He was a staunch Laborite, and believed very strongly that Labor Zionism—socialism—was the correct way. I began to think that Labor was a better place to vote, and that's how it went in the early years.

I had an invitation to somebody's home to meet a Palestinian friend. I had never before had a conversation with a Palestinian. The woman was a professor of sociology at a Palestinian university. There was nothing in the previous statement that made sense to me. And I walked in the room and sat down, and she was completely like me. She was articulate in English, she had a very cautious, temperate, and humane woman's analysis of the situation, about how her family is suffering under the oppression of the occupation. I had never before heard that said, or met a Palestinian.

I started to visit the Territories and meet with people and talk to them, and go into their homes and see that they also have flush toilets and they're reading from recipe books and sharing novels with each other. It was an unbelievable experience for me, and then I began to think more seriously about politics, and began to involve myself more. I realized there was a big curtain of silence and concealment behind which an occupation was festering. Little by little I began to devote myself to addressing that.

[...We] had an all women demonstration of Israeli, Palestinian and international women. About 70 women went to a Palestinian village and held a non-violent demonstration against the wall. The border police exploded with stun grenades and tear gas and horses, and Molly was hurt by a baton, as she was fleeing the action, we have photographs of this, the horse rider, the horse person ran after her and then dropped a baton on her head and shoulders and broke her shoulder. I sent out an e-mail about this. The problem is it's not an isolated incident. Consistently in recent weeks all hell has broken loose at non-violent demonstrations because the soldiers allow themselves to do this. Today I read a very angry response in Hebrew from an Israeli who read my report and accused me of looking for ways to harm Israel from within and to bring the wrath of the world against Israel. So I see that and I hear it. We're not immune from it; it's very painful.

We're in a climate that is in great fear of Palestinians, and a belief that they don't share our worldview. President Katsav, our current President, said shortly after this intifada began, "We are dealing here with people who are not only not from the same frame of mind as we are, they are people who are outside our entire realm of being, they don't even act like they come from the planet earth." And that's the message that Israelis get. Palestinians are aliens who don't share our values, they're aggressive, primitive, cruel, etc. So it's very hard when your President and Prime Minister and the entire government are saying things like that, and you're trying to say, "Look, they are people just like us." Nobody hears that message.

We [the Women's Coalition for a Just Peace] do not in any sense justify suicide bombing or terrorism, or violence of any sort, not by us and not by them. We certainly understand that and, I speak for myself, I understand that Israel has to defend itself. I know Israel has enemies. I would understand Israel building a wall to protect itself even though I don't agree that it's the best way to go about protecting itself. But the need for a wall does not mean that you go about building it in the territory of the other party. It just inflames the situation even more.

[My long term vision is] very similar to the Geneva Accords: a two-state solution, the '67 line should be more or less the border, there should be a mutual exchange of equal amounts of territory that will be negotiated. The refugees will have to be negotiated on a level that Israel can live with and Palestine can live with, Jerusalem has to be a shared capital and divided and open. It's a vision that says Palestine and Israel are here, embraced forever in a way they never wanted to be, but they can never be released from each other, and therefore let's figure out a way to make it work for us both.

The Oslo process gave us the understanding that we have to aim for a two-state solution. Prior to the Oslo process only 20% of Israelis - these are real figures - believed that a two-state solution was worthwhile pursuing. Today 80% or more of Israelis say that it's inevitable. In fact I'm sure that it's more than 80%, that number is already 4 or 5 years old. So, that's a major change, and that was brought about because of the Oslo process.

My message is that ending the Occupation is better for Israel, let alone better for Palestinians. If people are really interested in the welfare of Israel and Palestine, they will find a way to force us to negotiate a peace that works for both sides.