FBI investigates Women In Black
By Ronnie Gilbert

     October 9, 2001 being investigated by the FBI.  The first was the
Weavers.  Now it is the Women in Black.

     The Weavers were a recording industry phenomenon.  In 1950 we
recorded a couple of songs from our American/World folk music
repertoire, Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" and (ironically) the Israeli
"Tzena, Tzena, Tzena" and sold millions of records for the
almost-defunct record label.  Folk music entered the mainstream, and
the Weavers were stars.

     By 1952, it was over.  The record company dropped us; eager
television producers stopped knocking on our door.  The Weavers were
on a private yet well-publicized roster of suspected entertainment
industry reds.  The FBI came a-calling.

     Last week, I found out that Women in Black, another group of
peace activists I belong to, is the subject of an FBI investigation.
Women in Black is a loosely knit international network of women who
vigil against violence, often silently, each group autonomous, each
group focused on the particular problems of personal and state
violence in its part of the world.

     Because my group is composed mostly of Jewish women, we focus on
the Middle East, protesting the cycle of violence and revenge in
Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

     The FBI is threatening my group with a Grand Jury investigation.
Of what?  That we publicly call the Israeli military's occupation of
the mandated Palestine lands illegal?  So does the World Court and the
United Nations.

     That destroying hundreds of thousands of the Palestinians' olive
and fruit trees, blocking roads and demolishing homes promotes hatred
and terrorism in the Middle East?  Even President Bush and Colin
Powell have gotten around to saying so.  So, what is to investigate?
That some of us are in contact with activist Palestinian peace groups?
This is bad?

     The Jewish Women in Black of Jerusalem have stood vigil every
Friday for 13 years in protest against the Occupation; Muslim women
from Palestinian peace groups stand with them at every opportunity.
We praise and honor them, these Jewish and Arab women who endure
hatred and frequent abuse from extremists on both sides for what they
do.  We are not alone in our admiration.

     Jerusalem Women in Black is a nominee for the 2001 Nobel Peace
Prize, along with the Bosnia Women in Black, now ten years old.

     If the FBI cannot or will not distinguish between groups who
collude in hatred and terrorism, and peace activists who struggle in
the full light of day against all forms of terrorism, we are in
serious trouble.

     I have seen such trouble before in my lifetime.  It was called
McCarthyism.  In the hysterical atmosphere of the early Cold War,
anyone who had signed a peace petition, who had joined an organization
opposing violence or racism or had tried to raise money for the
refugee children of the Spanish Civil War, in other words, who had
openly advocated what was not popular at the time, was fair game.

     In my case, the FBI visited The Weavers' booking agent, the
recording company, my neighbors, my dentist husband's patients, my
friends.  In the waning of our career, the Weavers were followed down
the street, accosted onstage by drunken "patriots," warned by friendly
hotel employees to keep the door open if we rehearsed in anyone's room
so as not to become targets for the vice squad.  It was nasty.  Every
two-bit local wannabe G-man joined the dragnet searching out and
identifying "communist spies."

     In all those self-debasing years, how many spies did that dragnet
pull in?  Nary a one.  Instead it pulled down thousands of teachers,
union members, scientists, journalists, actors, entertainers like us,
who saw our lives disrupted, our jobs, careers go down the drain, our
standing in the community lost, even our children harassed.  A scared
population soon shut their mouths up tight.

     Thus came the silence of the 1950s and early 60s, when no notable
voice of reason was heard to say, "Hey, wait a minute.  Look what
we're doing to ourselves, to the land of the free and the home of the
brave," when not one dissenting intelligence was allowed a public
voice to warn against zealous foreign policies we'd later come to
regret, would be regretting now, if our leaders were honest.

     Today, in the wake of the worst hate crime of the millennium, a
dragnet is out for "terrorists" and we are told that certain civil
liberties may have to be curtailed for our own security.  Which ones?
I'm curious to know.  The First Amendment guarantee of freedom of
speech or of the press?  The right of people peaceably to assemble?
Suddenly, deja vu Hysterical neo-McCarthyism does not equal security,
never will.

     The bitter lesson September 11's horrific tragedy should have
taught us and our government is that only an honest re-evaluation of
our foreign policies and careful, focused and intelligent intelligence
work can hope to combat operations like the one that robbed all of us
and their families of 6,000 decent working people.  We owe the dead
that, at least.  As for Women in Black, we intend to keep on keeping

     "Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice."
~African adage

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