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Women in Black was inspired by earlier movements of women who demonstrated on the streets, making a public space for women to be heard - particularly Black Sash, in South Africa, and the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, seeking the "disappeared" in the political repression in Argentina. But WIB also shares a genealogy with groups of women explicitly refusing violence, militarism and war, such as the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom formed in 1918, and the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp in the UK and related groups around the world opposing the deployment of US missiles in the eighties.
Beginnings in IsraelWomen in Black as we know it today began in 1988 in Israel. In 1987, 20 years after Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian intifada began. In response Israeli Jewish women began to stand in weekly vigils in public places, usually at busy road junctions. Starting in Jerusalem, the number of vigils in Israel eventually grew to almost forty. In the north of Israel, where the concentration of Arab communities is greatest, Palestinian women who are Israeli citizens were also active in Women in Black groups. Many local WIB groups made contact with women across the Green Line engaged in support work, e.g. visiting Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
Establishing a formula for actionAt WIB vigils, women carried placards saying "End the Occupation" and closely related messages. The focus was quite precise, in order to be able to draw in a wide group of women. The vigils were predictable: same site, regular intervals. The women wore black. Although they were not particularly silent in most Israeli locations, as they have become in some countries since, there was no chanting. They were seen by, and provoked reactions from, many passers-by on foot and in vehicles, some of whom heckled and abused them, both in sexualized terms ("whores") and for their politics ("traitors"). Their policy was not to shout back but to maintain silence and dignity.
In other countries, including Canada, the USA, Australia, and many European countries, Women in Black vigils soon began to be organized in support of those in Israel. In Berkeley, California, for example, Women in Black has been standing weekly since 1988. In the UK at this time, women (mainly Jewish, with Palestinians and others) picketed the offices of the Israeli state airline, El Al.
To read more about the history of Women in Black please visit: http://www.womeninblack.org/en/history