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.
Point of order, please: Neither Hanna nor any other woman is again to be referred to as being “literally a little old lady”–can we agree on that? Really in bad form — how often would a male be referred to as being “literally a little old man”?
Beyond that: I do not think Hanna was representing a particular political point of view, as this critique of her presentation seems to be doing — she and the other members of Machsom Watch are engaged in constantly observing a humanitarian disaster, if you will. Her point was that the treatment of the Palestinians at the observed checkpoints was arbitrary, random and inhumane.
Thanks for allowing us space to comment, and thanks a lot for the Weblog.
I meant no disrespect and mean none now, but I insist upon the right to use whatever words I wish. I admire the work of Machsom Watch for exactly the reasons stated in the previous comment; this does not invalidate the point I made at the end, whether it’s “political” or not.
Ralph questions Ms. Barag’s claims regarding the security importance of the checkpoints within the West Bank. Hearing Ms. Barag’s talk, I also had that question.
So, knowing that the security discourse in Israel is dominated by military officers, as well as reserve and retired officers, I asked Ms. Barag after her presentation whether there was any professional military endorsement of her argument that the internal checkpoints in the West Bank have dubious security value. She informed me that her viewpoint was endorsed by the dovish Israeli NGO, the “Council for Peace and Security” – which is made up of high-ranking reserve officers in the Israeli security forces and retired senior officials from the Israeli government and diplomatic corps.
This point is reflected in the summary of the event on the Meretz USA site.
My greater concern with Ms. Barag’s comment was that after she had informed us that Machsom Watch seeks to challenge Israel’s militaristic discourse (dubbed “security-ism” in Israel), she nonetheless was pulled down the same path of commenting on military/security issues. This raises the question of how a country consumed with security and which views so many aspects of life through the lens of tactical security concerns (as opposed to long-term security concerns) can be weaned away from such an orientation.
In the meantime, the failures of non-generals Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz during the Lebanon War, as detailed by the Winograd Report, will not help Israel balance its military discourse with a “civilianized” one. Indeed, the Labor Party’s next leader will once again be either a retired general (Ehud Barak) or a retired admiral (Ami Ayalon).