Women in Black founder and anti-Zionist activist Hava Keller died on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, Israeli media sources reported earlier this week.
Keller, who was 90 at the time of her death, was an active member of Gush Shalom, Women for Political Prisoners, Taayush (Arabic for Coexistence) and other movements, according to online magazine Sicha Mekomit (Local Call).
Keller, who was born in 1929 in Łódź, pre-war Poland, fled to Lithuania in 1939 during the Second World War. In January 1941, her family fled Nazi-occupied Lithuania after receiving a permit to immigrate to British Palestine.
She became a member of the Haganah militia while in high school and was arrested by the British authorities on several occasions. During the 1948 War, Keller participated in the conquest of Acre and later became one of the founders of kibbutz Saar in northern Israel.
In 1988, Keller, along with other radical left-wing activists, founded Women in Black to protest actions taken by the IDF and the Border Police to suppress Palestinian protesters in the First Intifada.
In 2006, Keller gave a testimony to Zochrot ("Remembering"), an Israeli nonprofit founded in 2002 to "promote acknowledgement and accountability for the ongoing injustices of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948." While the emergence of the Palestinian refugee situation after the War of 1948 is a fact, many in Israel claim that some of the responsibility to the Palestinian plight lays on the Arab refusal to accept the UN decision to create a Jewish state next to an Arab one and following extreme leaders who promised to annihilate the Jews and "drive them to the sea." Yet other historians claim that the pre-IDF military commanders saw an opportunity to secure the Jewish community against possible future hostilities, and took it. The discussion about the course of the 1948 War is still far from over, seeing as not all documents are available to scholars.
"[Arab] People fled in cars," Keller told concerning the conquest of Acre, which she witnessed. "My job was to sit on top of the watch tower in Ein HaMifratz and count the cars coming out of [the city]."
"I went into Acre [when it] was nearly empty of residents. I remember being shocked at the sight of one of the apartments," she said. "The door was open. On the table was pitta bread and coffee. They were probably having breakfast [when they left]. On the floor [I saw] a pair of baby shoes."
"They probably didn't manage to put them on the kid in time. [The kid] is cold, [I thought]. We have to find the kid," Keller said. "I started screaming and crying."
Keller also spoke about the Yehiam Convoy that was ambushed by Palestinian militants in March 1948. "One of the most horrifying things took place," she said. "I was in Ein HaMifratz. We waited, and got the news from there."
"The [Jewish] women's bodies arrived in bad condition. [There is] a barbaric practice of corpse mutilation," she said. "There was a rather disgusting reprisal. When Kibbutz Kabri was captured, young [Palestinian] men were caught and killed on the convoy's cars."
Keller participated in the expulsion of Beersheba's remaining Arab residents toward the end of the war. In 1949, she was guarding Palestinian prisoners who were deconstructing the railroad to Lebanon in Rosh HaNikra. One of the prisoners tried to flee and was shot, Keller recalled.
"She rarely recalled horrible things," her son, Adam Keller, said earlier this week. "She said, for instance, that she once shot a person who was running toward her," he recalled.
"They did not know the word 'feminism' in [Israel] but [even when she lived] in the kibbutz, she was bitted over the fact that women were forced to work in the kitchen or the laundry room."
After the war, Keller recalled asking when the residents of Samiria, a Palestinian village that neighbored Saar, the kibbutz she and her husband had founded, would return. When she saw the village was destroyed, she said, she decided to change her views concerning Zionism.
"That day was the day I was done with Zionism," Keller said. "I realized that Israel had no intention of living in peace with the Palestinians, and that the [real] intention was to force them out."
In the 1980s, Keller participated in protest rallies against Israel's invasion of South East Lebanon to drive out the PLO and the Jewish Settlement in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem. In 1988, she founded Women against Political Prisoners and brought warm clothes to female Palestinian prisoners who were held in Sharon prison.
As per Keller's request, her body was cremated and the ashes were scattered at sea near the coast of Tel Aviv.