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Behind the Headlines: Taking Name from Pre-1967 Border, ‘women in Green’protest PLO Pact

January 10, 1994
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At a time when many groups opposed to the Israel – Palestine Liberation Organization accord are struggling to get their views across to the public in Israel and abroad, one women’s organization is conveying its message loud and clear.

Known as Women for Israel’s Tomorrow, the group has proven adept at attracting media coverage at a time when events and demonstrations linked tot he pact between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat constantly vie for air time and headlines.

Inaugurated eight months ago by some 30 Jerusalem women who were opposed to territorial concessions to the Palestinians, the group has sprouted into an organization with 1,000 dues-paying members.

Thousands of sympathizers and supporters have also lined up behind the organization.

According to Ruth Matar, a founder and chairwoman of Women for Israel’s Tomorrow, the vast majority of the group’s members live within Israel’s pre- 1967 borders.

“We’re not settlers,” she said. “We’re ordinary Israelis who oppose the agreement between Rabin and Arafat.”

This fact is important, Matar asserted, “because we represent the views of a growing number of Israelis.”

Quoting recent opinion polls, which indicate that the majority of Israelis no longer support the accord, she said. “The tide of public opinion in Israel is turning, and our voice needs to be heard.”

Matar said she and several like-minded friends, many of them originally from English-speaking countries, launched the organization “partly as an answer to the media’s coverage of anti-government demonstrators.”

“The media in Israel has traditionally portrayed anyone who demonstrates against concessions to the Arabs as settlers and right-wing fanatics,” she said.

“That was especially true after Rabin and Arafat signed the agreement and hundreds of thousands of Israelis came out to demonstrate against it,” she said. “There were at least 200,000 people at the largest rally, but Israel Television reported it as tens of thousands.

“The TV and newspapers also said that the vast majority of the demonstrators were settlers or religious people. That simply wasn’t true,” she said.

Matar, who emigrated from New York in 1977, said: “Israelis are eager to hear what we have to say. We’re not anti-peace; we want a real peace that will not threaten the State of Israel.

“As wives, mothers, grandmothers, we have a special interest in attaining a real peace,” she said.

The group has dubbed itself the Women in Green. Its members wear Kelly-green hats to demonstrate that they are opposed to returning to the so-called Green Line, Israel’s borders before the Six-Day War.

Their nickname is a play on the name of the left-wing group Women in Black, whose members have been demonstrating every week since the start six years ago of the intifada, or Palestinian uprising, against Israel’s occupation of the territories.

Since May 1993, members of Women for Israel’s Tomorrow have staged weekly demonstrations, ranging from small vigils to large rallies throughout the country.

With chapters in Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, as well as in smaller communities such as Ra’anana and Petach Tikvah, the organizers are able to mobilize members in a particular region within a matter of hours.

The image of the group as being composed of mothers and grandmothers has often worked in the organization’s favor, said Ruth Gregor, a 34-year-old member.

“Israelis are interested to see that women from all walks of life, especially those in their 60s and 70s, have come out to demonstrate,” she said during a recent demonstration in front of the Foreign Ministry.

“Let’s face it,” she said with a laugh, “this is not your typical population of demonstrators.”

One woman at the demonstration was Hadassah Weisbord, 72.

“I needed to do something about this accord, so here I am,” said Weisbord. “I’ve lived in Kiryat Yovel, just within the Green Line, since 1955.

“Just after the `67 war, I walked over the Line and climbed a hill,” she said. “I was shocked to be able to see my house, plain as day. I don’t want to go back to the `67 borders.”

David Bedein, a Jerusalem media analyst, attributed the organization’s success to a carefully planned marketing strategy by the group’s organizers.

“Unlike most groups that are right-of-center, which have isolated themselves from public opinion, these people have determined to make friends and influence people who make decisions,” he said.

“Instead of using a mass demonstration approach, they are targeting specific media people and influential opinion makers.

“They have successfully demonstrated that a well-dressed, well-mannered group of thinking people are upset by the accord,” said Bedein, who has advised advocates of “Greater Israel.”

But Anat Hoffman, a Jerusalem City councilwoman and a founding member of the Women in Black, believes that Women for Israel’s Tomorrow has often been maligned by the media because it is perceived solely as “a women’s group.”

“I’ve seen several newspaper articles with derogatory references tot he members’ anatomies, and to the fact that a lot of the women are older and Anglo-Saxon (immigrants from English-speaking countries).

“Sure, they’ve gotten some media coverage, but much of it has belittled their age, their accents and their gender,” she said.

Furthermore, said Hoffman, “Women, whether they’re right – or left-wing, still get very little attention from the Israeli media. Look at Mabat (Israel Television’s nightly news program). A recent survey showed that women and women’s issues received only about 5 percent of the show’s news time.”

Knesset member Naomi Chazan, of the left-wing Meretz bloc, said, “I am a very strong supporter of the peace process with the PLO and of the Women in Black. It’s interesting to note that Israel’s Tomorrow is using many of the methods developed by the Women in Black.

“But I cannot say that protest is harmful, as long as it is legal. Opposition is welcome; resistance and rebellion are not,” said Chazan.

While conceding that Women for Israel’s Tomorrow and Women in Black stand on opposite ends of the political spectrum, Hoffman said, “We have more in common than not. We are both striving for peace.”

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