Oxford Women in Black Christmas Vigil for Bethlehem, Palestine (14.12.13)

By Pam Parsons, Women in Black, Oxford

Over the last 5 years  the attention of residents and visitors to Oxford has been caught by a group of women dressed in black standing silently in Bonn Square holding black hands in English Arabic and Hebrew saying “Stop the Occupation” with a banner naming them as “Women in Black, Oxford”.

The Oxford group is just one of many groups around the world.  The organisation started in Israel in 1988, with women peace activists protesting against the Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza).  They still hold weekly vigils in Jerusalem. 

Women in Black around the world also protest military action wherever it occurs.  They believe peace with justice can be achieved by talking and diplomacy, rather than by force.  They dress in black to mourn all the dead in armed conflicts, and stand together to draw attention to conflict and injustice around the world.

For the last 3 years the Oxford group’s vigil  closest to Christmas has  highlighted  the reality of life in the Bethlehem of today where Palestinian families live under Israeli military occupation, denied the opportunity to travel, to farm their land, and often to seek medical care.

 Passersby who stopped to take note of the vigil last Saturday were shocked to see photographs of Bethlehem as it is this Christmas with its huge steel gate, watch towers with armed guards and 25 foot barrier wall.  Money was collected for Medical Aid for Palestinians, and a message of support was sent to Vera Baboun who was elected in October 2012 as Bethlehem’s first female Mayor.  The message read:

“We citizens of Oxford send our support to you as we pause in our preparations for Christmas 2013 and remember the people of Bethlehem.”

Many who signed the letter added messages of their own.

One commented:

 “It is a sobering display that really brings home to people what is happening in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christianity.  I wish that more people who sing of the “Little Town of Bethlehem” would do something to support the people ... who live there today.”