Katz: Israeli occupation responsible for violence

by Mark Herman | 5/9/03 5:00am

Activist Sue Katz brought her controversial views on Israeli-Palestinian relations to Filene Auditorium last night, decrying what she called the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and its social consequences in a lecture entitled "Another Israel: The Activists who Refuse to be Occupiers."

Katz, a native Californian who moved to Israel in 1987 and founded a pro-Palestinian protest group, told the audience, "I blame the occupation 100 percent" for the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Katz might have offended ardent supporters of Israel who say its military actions are needed for its security. Instead, she encountered a friendly crowd, composed largely of women, who supported her pacifist message.

Katz, who lived in Israel for 14 years, became an Israeli citizen and now lives in Boston, said the occupation of Palestine has created a disfunctional society in Israel.

"The army is the basic method of socialization in Israel," Katz said, noting that military life tends to teach violence rather than consideration. "You can't send people into war and expect them to come back and play nice."

Politically, issues of war and occupation dominate the agenda, Katz said, preventing a focus on issues like women's equality, gay and lesbian rights and the environment.

"Israel is falling apart," Katz said.

Katz said "what's happening in Palestine is also a disaster." In the Gaza Strip, she said, 80 percent of residents live on under $2 per day.

Even protest efforts are suffering under the ongoing occupation, with activists losing their will to fight for ideals they feel will never be enacted, she said.

"People are wiped out. They're burnt out. They don't feel like they're making a difference," Katz said.

That feeling of impotence is reinforced by a society that largely favors the occupation and views dissenters as traitors, she said.

Katz felt the need to become involved in protest efforts as soon as she arrived in Israel.

"I was scandalized from the first day of what was being done in my name," Katz said, explaining that the occupation was justified as needed "for the safety of 'our' women and children."

As a woman, she felt the need to speak out against the government's actions and declare that they were "not in my name." To do this, she founded Women in White -- an organization of female protestors -- in direct response to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Women in White held weekly vigils in Tel Aviv, where members would gather dressed entirely in white. Their protests also involved displaying graphic images of the Israeli military action to a public denied them by a "very censored" media, Katz said.

Women in Black grew out of Women in White in 1988, as a union between left-leaning women in conservative groups and communist feminists, she said, describing their experiences as "all day orgies of pot luck and politics."

Within a year, Women in Black was holding weekly vigils in Israel. Today, it is a worldwide organization, nominated for the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize, that has fostered protests for peace and social justice in Yugoslavia, India and even here in Hanover.

"It is much more provocative to stand silently," Katz said, explaining the protocol for the group's protests. Katz said that in a country where violent protest commonly meets a violent response, silence is a safer way to express dissent.

Katz described the Israeli media as a highly conservative and reactionary tool for government propaganda. She said the Israeli military "has been absolutely brilliant" in manipulating the public.

The Israeli military, much touted as inclusive of women, is sexist, she said. In fact, she said, women soldiers are allowed to serve in just 120 of the 560 military disciplines.

Katz also used the lecture as a forum to advocate the increased role of women in the resolution of international conflicts. To illustrate the lack of women in influential positions come wartime, she said that "women [were] wiped off the face of the media," and contrasted their absence with the presence of "war mongering 'experts.'"

Katz's feminism -- now manifested in her work with Women in Black and Boston's Jewish Women for Justice in Israel/Palestine -- has evolved over the years from the Every Woman Can Kick Your Ass Gym that she founded in California after receiving her black belt in Tae Kwon Do and before moving to Israeli where she became involved in social justice issues.

The lecture was sponsored by the McSpadden Public Issues Forum and Sigma Delta sorority.