Masha Lubelsky, secretary-general of the Histadrut women's organization, Na'amat, addressed the assembly of the Women's Day For Peace in Jerusalem on Friday, in a departure from Labour Party leaders' reticence to identify openly with protests against the occupation of the territories.
The event was organized by the Women and Peace Movement, an umbrella organization made up of a number of women's protest groups. It was organized to call for peace negotiations with the PLO, an end to the occupation, and creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Lubelsky addressed approximately 1,500 women, including Jewish and Arab Israelis, as well as Palestinians and a sprinkling of women from North America and Europe. Many of the women were dressed in black, in preparation for the women's march to East Jerusalem later that day.
Following the assembly, over 4,000 women, most dressed in black, marched from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem. On Salah ed-Din Street in East Jerusalem more Palestinians joined the group, chanting Palestinian national slogans.
The march took place without incident until nearly the end, when a group of Palestinian women raised a Palestinian flag and shouted nationalist slogans near the Hakawati Palestinian theatre. The police used teargas and waded into the crowd, detaining 16 people. According to police yesterday night, all 16 were released.
At the women's peace assembly, Lubelsky said she accepted the invitation to address the gathering because she believed women could influence the peace process. She said, though, that "it must be clear to Jewish and Arab women alike that the State of Israel is no longer of such great interest to other countries; in some places we are even seen as a nuisance. Events in the international arena have distanced the possibility that other countries will want to influence the peace process here. Thus, we are forced back on ourselves. At this time we must show our own strength and take the initiative towards a peace conference."
Nabilla Espanioli, a Haifa psychologist whom moderator Debby Lehrman introduced as an Israeli Palestinian, observed that in Israel society, "machismo has become the ideal type. The superman has become adorable; our children are expressing this in intifada games and street roulette. Women can feel the danger."
Zahira Kamal, the chairwoman of Palestinian women's organizations, noted that for Palestinian women, the notion of self-determination includes gender politics as well as the struggle for a Palestinian state. To scattered applause, she said: "Our national integrity is not subject to Israeli definitions; we have the right to designate our legitimate leadership, the PLO." She called for women "to embark on a joint quest for peace. Peace will not arrive at our doorstep unbidden if we do not strive for it."