Darlene Wallach died in July after a two-year struggle with cancer. She was 66. She described herself as an anti-Zionist activist for social and environmental justice.
If you’ve been a leftist anywhere in the Bay Area in the last twenty years, you have definitely acted up with Darlene and Donna, the irrepressible twins from San Jose. They were at everything, usually side by side (confusing us all with who was who), wearing identical keffiyehs and hats ringed with political buttons calling out every issue from tenants rights to nuclear weapons. Darlene was active in the campaign to ban San Jose police from using tasers and to free political prisoners, especially Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu Jamal. She and Donna helped to anchor a weekly Friday peace vigil in San Jose. Darlene sometimes worked as a substitute teacher and in 2014, she was recruited to run for school board in the Luther Burbank School District, a one-school district in an unincorporated part of San Jose. She went door-to-door in her keffiyyeh and won a seat, with the second highest number of votes.
For all her many passions, Darlene was most passionate about justice for Palestine. If there was a demonstration or a talk about Palestine, she was at it. Darlene spent almost two months in Palestine from May to July 2002. She visited Gaza, Ramallah and then a night at the Balata Refugee camp where she was detained and arrested with seven other internationals. All eight received deportation orders from the minister of the interior. They had witnessed brutal collective punishment of the Palestinians. Darlene fought the deportation order, went on hunger strike and was eventually let out on bail, but she was eventually deported.
In 2008, Darlene and Donna joined the successful siege-breaking flotilla to Gaza. They were among those who remained in Gaza to work with people there, enabling Palestinians who needed to leave to take their places on the return trip. Even though she was very seasick on the voyage, Darlene immediately began going out on fishing boats to help protect the fisherpeople from Israeli attacks. She shot some amazing footage of a boat being assaulted by water cannons, and then was arrested by the Israelis and imprisoned and deported once again. While in prison, she was interviewed by Amy Goodman on the national news program Democracy Now. Here’s part of what she said:
“I was on the Liberty, one of the two boats that — one of the first two boats that went to Gaza from Cyprus. And I actually was with the Liberty on the way to Cyprus. And so, it was a wonderful trip. It was a wonderful boat. It was an amazing, amazing experience.
The welcome that we got in Gaza, it was just overwhelming. My emotions come up, because it was thousands of people just so happy to see, at least token-wise, symbolically, the siege broken. It was the first time in forty-one years that, from Cyprus, a stamp on a piece of paper said a boat was leaving Cyprus for Gaza. And it was like an amazing trip. And it’s been amazing to be in Gaza to work in solidarity with the Palestinians. They’re amazing, kind, warm, loving people. And I — for me, just being out on the fishing boats and the stress, I don’t understand how they can go out there day after day with the stress, knowing at any time they could be killed, that any time their boats could be taken, at any time they could be arrested or shot.
…this time it seemed to me they were specifically targeting the internationals, because they released the Palestinian fishermen to their homes. And they also confiscated the fishing boats. And the way that they arrested us was very different than how they normally arrest the fishermen. So, normally, they force the fishermen to strip to their underwear, jump in the water and swim to the Israeli navy boats. And this time they brought Zodiac boats, and the frogmen boarded each Palestinian fishing boat. And the first person taken was Andrew. I saw him being taken. And then they took the fishermen off of that boat. Then they came to the boat I was on and took me off the boat.
And so, I don’t know — I didn’t know what happened to the fishermen. I was very concerned about their safety and what Israel might do to them. And I’m very, very concerned about the fishing boats, because in the past what Israel does is they sink the boats or they damage the boats, like taking the engines off, or steal all the equipment. So I’m very concerned about what’s going to happen to the fishing boats. That’s their livelihood. I mean, they said fifteen fishermen. Well, there’s more than just those fifteen that work on each boat. So the livelihood of all those people now has been destroyed. That’s how many families now? And the families tend to be large. How many families now have no income, and there’s no employment, because they have no fishing boats to go out on? It’s really just disgusting, despicable, deplorable. And I want the world to speak out and tell Israel to stop.”
Donna has asked that donations in Darlene’s memory be made to the Women’s Boat to Gaza, which continues to do education and direct action to end the blockade of Gaza.