Seven Arab women, including two ambassadors' wives, ended their week-long hunger strike in Lafayette Square yesterday, saying the Israeli assault on Beirut had "overtaken" the original purpose of their protest.
The women, all members of the Arab Women's Council, began fasting Aug. 1 to protest the Israeli blockade of food and water to West Beirut and to show their solidarity with the estimated 500,000 civilians living there.
But now "there is not even time for the people of Beirut to die of starvation," the women said in a statement. "They, first, are being systematically murdered in their beds, hospitals and basements by America's monster-gone-wild.
The women's decision to end their fast also reflected recommendations from some Arab ambassdors and Lebanese government officials who said they had achieved their purpose and should continue "the struggle in other ways."
The Arab Women's Council, composed mostly of wives of Arab ambassadors to the United States, was formed shortly after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in order to promote an Arab perspective on the situation in the Middle East.
The organization has received funds from Arab governments and Arab businessmen, which were disclosed when the council's public relations firm, Gray and Co. of Washington, registered as their agent with the Justice Department, according to a Gray spokesman.
During the strike, the women sat under a yellow-and-white-striped canopy across from the White House taking only water and sugar. They used a room in a nearby hotel to clean themselves.
Hala Maksoud, wife of Clovis Maksoud, the representative of the Arab League in Washington, said that most people who came by in the past week expressed sympathy for their point of view. They collected signatures from 700 people supportive of their efforts, Maksoud said.
In addition, at least two groups of Jewish women, one from New York and one from Washington, visited to show their solidarity, Maksoud said.
And yesterday they were joined in their hunger strike by Lynn Gottlieb, a rabbi from New York, who said the Arab women's action had an impact on many Jewish women and that she was now going to "try to set up dialogues between Arab and Jewish women."