Instead, what the peace activists witnessed was more roadblocks, a further expansion of Jewish settlements and a giant wall encircling Palestinian population centres and cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank.

The Women in Black tour is aimed at fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The international peace movement of Women in Black began in January 1988, one month after the first Palestinian intifada (uprising) broke out.

Regular vigils were held by a group of Israeli women to protest over the occupation, and soon their idea spread from country to country, wherever women sought to speak out against injustice in their own part of the world. 

Testimony

On Saturday, the Women in Black delegation, which was in Jerusalem for the movement's 13th international conference, visited the southern West Bank town of Hebron.

Women in Black supporters
oppose the occupation 

There they heard of the suffering by ordinary Palestinian women whose sons, husbands and other relatives have been killed, maimed or imprisoned by the Israeli occupation army, especially since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000.

The mostly Italian delegation, which included a few other European women activists, heard testimony from Sarah Karajeh, president of the local Palestinian women's union, whose husband was killed by undercover Israeli soldiers three years ago.

Karajeh, who described the Israeli occupation as "an act of rape", called on women around the world to stand up for justice and not be "deceived by the negative stereotypical images about our people and our cause".

"We don't have the means to defend ourselves. And I don't reveal a secret when I say that we essentially rely on the world public opinion, people like you, for our survival. So don't let us down."

Tribunal demanded

Another Palestinian woman, whose 14-year-old daughter was seriously wounded by a stray bullet fired by an Israeli soldier near the Ibrahim Mosque in downtown Hebron last year, demanded the creation of an independent international tribunal to which Palestinians could go for justice.

Palestinians say a world tribunal
to deal with  injustices is needed

"Every Palestinian family has been gravely wronged by Israel, and the Israeli justice system doesn't and can't give us true justice. The occupation and justice are after all starkly incompatible."

"Hence, we demand the creation of a genuine judicial body to which Palestinians can approach for redress," the woman added.

A third Palestinian woman, Sara Abu Sharar, dismissed Israeli claims that repression of Palestinians was a response to "suicide bombings".

Abu Sharar said her husband, Salim Safi, died of torture at the hands of Israelis inside a torture cell on 6 January 1971.

"There were no suicide bombings then, there was no intifada. Yet, they killed my husband and tormented my family and me personally for many years to come."

'Slow death'

Dua'a Takruri, 21, who spoke in English, described the "slow death" being meted out to more than 9000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including her father, Haroun Takruri, who has been behind bars for 20 years for resisting the Israeli occupation.

More than 9000 Palestinians are
imprisoned in Israeli jails 

"When I visit my dad, I see him only through double glass. They don't allow any physical contacts. They treat us like animals, and after five minutes, they tell us time is up."

Vicenzi described the "separation wall", as Israelis call it (Palestinians call it the apartheid wall) "a totally inhumane structure".

"It is something very very remote from anything relating to humanity," she told Aljazeera.net.

She added that her group adopted the slogan "The wall must fall".

"When we return to Italy, we will communicate to the Italian public everything we have witnessed and encountered."

EU lobbying

Israeli, Palestinian and foreign
women joined hands in peace

Asked if she would lobby EU political institutions to urge them to take a tougher stand on the wall, Vicenzi said her delegation's priority was to build a grassroots movement in Italy and across Europe to promote peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.

"We very strongly believe that a strong public opinion can prompt change provided it has the correct information," Vicenzi said. "This is why we are here."

An Austrian member of the delegation, Paula Abrams-Hourani, said it was essential that European peace activists concentrated on the "terrible problem of Palestinian political prisoners, especially children".

Assault

At the end of the meeting, which took place at the Palestinian University Alumni Union building in downtown Hebron, a Palestinian woman, Nawraz Kawasmi, spoke about the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, saying it was "the fruit of our struggle and sacrifices".

"Israel must leave the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine, and Palestine can't live without her heart"

Nawraz Kawasmi,
Palestinian woman

"It is not a gift from Israelis. It is the price of our blood and sacrifices. This withdrawal is not a solution. Israel must leave the West Bank and Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the heart of Palestine, and Palestine can't live without her heart."

After the meeting, the activists toured the old town of Hebron, where Jewish settlers threw stones, eggs and rotten tomatoes at them.

Three women were hit in the assault.