A “machsom” is Hebrew for checkpoint. On Wednesday, April 18th, Hanna Barag of Machsom Watch addressed guests of Meretz USA.
Hanna Barag has been a member of Machsom Watch since 2002. A retired political organizer, the mother of two and grandmother of four, she was born in Haifa, grew up in Tel Aviv, and is now living in Jerusalem.
Machsom Watch was founded in February 2001 by a group of women. It includes 400 Israeli women– and only women– who observe, report on, and document events at the checkpoints in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In cases of gross human rights violations, severe intimidation, and restrictions on movement, Machsom Watch tries to intervene and, where possible, to prevent them.
Ms. Barag is literally a little old lady, a lively and intensely dedicated woman in her 70s. She was full of praise for Meretz MK Ran Cohen, who has been a great help for their activities — including the escort of tours for other MKs who come to learn of the hardships and abuses forced on people by the checkpoints.
What Hana Barag and her colleagues do is of great moral and humanitarian consequence, but her talk was full of extraneous political observations that were of questionable value. Can she validly say that the machsomim are not really there for security? She made the point that if they were all along the West Bank border with Israel, she wouldn’t be engaged in this activism; most are well into the West Bank, but she did answer positively that she had twice witnessed instances where people were disarmed who might well have intended an attack. Yet even in this response, she wondered aloud whether these weren’t “tests” staged by Israel’s Shin Bet.
It’s important for Palestinians to see Israelis who are other than soldiers or settlers oppressing them. But I wish that she had answered more clearly my question about how the Intifada boomeranged against the Palestinians with the imposition of the security barrier and the proliferation of checkpoints, with all their noxious and arbitrary procedures as illustrated by Hanna’s presentation. Although it is mainly innocents who suffer at the checkpoints, this is not a conflict which is simply a matter of terrible Israelis oppressing innocent Palestinians. The truth remains a context that we discount at Israel’s peril: if not for the Intifada that began in 2000 and has taken 1,000 Israeli lives, there would be many fewer checkpoints.