On October 28, I attended Hanna Barag’s powerful presentation, at Meretz USA’s New York offices, on the work of Machsom Watch, the Israeli women’s group that intervenes on behalf of Palestinians denied freedom of movement by Israel’s system of checkpoints and barriers within and around the West Bank. About 400 Israeli women voluntarily monitor soldiers’ activities at over 40 checkpoints in the West Bank, mainly in the area of Jerusalem.
Ms. Barag knows that Israel has legitimate security concerns; she is not “anti-Israel” or anti-Zionist. But the indignities and abuses heaped upon the Palestinian population by an overly rigid and bureaucratically entrenched system that Israel expanded as a result of the Intifada, in the name of security, has long term impacts that undermine Israel’s security by inspiring hatred.
Machsom Watch (MW) opposes the occupation of the West Bank but Barag – a petite grandmotherly figure – states that “both parties have a full right to self-determination” and that “the State of Israel has a right, even duty, to protect its citizens.” And if the checkpoints and security barrier (fence/wall) were built along the pre-June ‘67 Green Line, she says, their organization would not exist. Yet she sees the 93 manned checkpoints, the 630 unmanned barriers and a number of “flying checkpoints” (sudden and temporary in nature) as primarily serving the interests of nearby settlements.
As an Israeli citizen, she is “embarrassed” by what she and her colleagues witness. Her stories are heartbreaking: of Tafiq, a Palestinian whom MW advocated for when soldiers punished his young son for not responding to them, without knowing that he was mute and retarded. MW then responded to Tafiq’s calls for help as his wife was going into premature labor at night and they were blocked at a checkpoint from getting to a hospital; Tafiq’s wife gave birth as the young soldiers dawdled over their pleas to let them pass, and the baby died. Or of another Palestinian man whom they helped get diagnosed with the urgent need for a liver transplant but bureaucratic delays caused to die before he could secure passage to Jordan for treatment. Or of farmers blocked by the security barrier from their crops by the fence/wall to their west, with their children similarly blocked from school, as the few gates are opened only at inadequately minimal times.
The arbitrariness of Israeli rule in the West Bank is insidious and maddening. As Ms. Barag sees it: “The system applies a never-ending creativity to tire out and aggravate those going through the checkpoints, crushing their patience and their honor to the bone.” Read more about this at Dan Fleshler’s “Realistic Dove” blog.