Monday, 10 September 2012

Watch out for the Israeli grandma at the checkpoint

Brave ladies from Machsom Watch.
 Hanna Brag (left) and Natanya Ginsburg (right),
 photo courtesy of 
Lea Pakkanen
Voices from the ‘End the occupation’ movement (1)

‘After all we are not doing it  for Palestinians, but to save our soldiers from themselves. They could be our grandchildren!’ - say Hanna and Natanya from Machsom Watch, the group of Israeli women that has emerged in the midst of the second intifada to monitor human violations against Palestinians at the checkpoints. ‘I’ve been doing it because I want to be able to wake up in the night and be able to look at myself at the mirror - reflects Natanya Ginsburg.

For the last 12 years women from Machsom Watch have been out in the field every morning making sure that soldiers do not violate human rights and to help Palestinians to cross the checkpoints in a more human way. For all these years they have been attacked by Israeli mainstream media as ‘self - hating’ group of radicals that ‘had gone out of their mind in the hatred towards the state of Israel’  - recalls Hanna Brag. Looking at these tiny, wrinkled women it’s almost impossible to believe that they have been portrayed as the threat to Israeli security.

Machsom Watch is the women  - only movement. They are not feminists, as they quickly add, they are grandmothers. ‘The mainstream Israeli discourse has been so militarised in the aggressive, masculine way that we wanted to make a point that we are women, we are old, but still Israeli and that there can be another way to think about Israel. All we do comes out of love for our country, not the hatred - all we want is to end this unjust and crazy occupation!’ - say Hanna Brag. She is over 70 now and she herself was born in Israel and served in the army back in the 50 ties. Her tiny posture stands really in almost a caricatural opposition to her bold opinions and even bolder actions.

Occupation run by a Kafka style bureaucracy

What Machsom Watch has been really effective in doing is to help Palestinians to get through the checkpoints easier. The fact that they are all Israeli help them a lot in navigating through the complex system. There are almost 300 hundred of different permits. You have to have a different permit for a worker, different for your wife, different for a schoolgirl, for a car, for a hospital and for a donkey. And for each checkpoint as well. It is really hard for people to navigate especially when everything is communicated in Hebrew. ‘And guess what - exclaims Hanna - they obviously don’t speak Hebrew’. And soldiers don’t speak Arabic. And then different Israeli authorities do not talk to each other. Apparently, the business of running the occupation lies under Coordinator of West Bank who reports to Ministry of Defence. While the people in the West Bank are under Civil Authority. And these two bodies do not communicate well.  So it all takes time. ‘Everybody has time in Israel when it comes to Palestinians rushing to work at the checkpoint’ - adds Hanna.

You never know when you land on the ‘black list’
The major difficulty for people to cross a checkpoint is related to the fact that many Palestinians are on the so called ‘black list’ - of people who are ‘danger’ to Israeli state. You did not need to do anything bad to end up in the ‘black list’. It’s enough that you are a male between 16 - and 6o. Its enough for us to think you might be a terrorist!’  - says Hanna. Ironically people do not know that they are ‘on the black list’. ‘They only realize in the crisis situations when they really NEED to get through the checkpoint like funeral, hospital or happy crisis like wedding’. And then the bureaucratic hell starts.

For the last couple of years Machsom Watch has been specializing in getting people ‘out’ of the black list - helping them in the most simple things like writing letters in Hebrew, posting the letters, telling people what they need to do to be able to pass.

But why do they need to cross to Israel?

Hanna leaves no illusion that PA (Palestinian Authority) is to also to blame for this situation. ‘Where is all the money that you people give to the PA for schools and hospitals? Where? Why is the Palestinian economy so dependent on Israel? Why do Palestinians need to work in Israel? These questions can be answered in all different ways.

She believes that West Bank authorities have all the capacities to run Palestinian economy and create jobs for people. She points towards amazing ‘loss of money’ when it comes to distribution of aid that comes from the West. Why do Palestinians have to come to hospitals in the East Jerusalem? Do you think that there are no hospitals in the West Bank? Palestinian doctors are one of the best in the world. Its just that they do not have the right equipment despite the money that goes for that equipment from all your governments’

People are brainwashed to believe that all Palestinians want to kill them

We ask Hanna how aware Israeli public is about the scale of the human rights violations and the everyday reality of occupation. ‘People here are brainwashed and its not just right wing radicals - its everywhere and everyone. My granddaughter came to me when I was talking to a Palestinian on the phone and asked me ‘Grandma, why do you talk to them? They want to kill us!’. And believe me we are a liberal family and my granddaughter is attending the most liberal kindergarten you can get here. It all comes from the media.”

Same for the soldiers. They think that all Palestinians who cross the checkpoints are terrorists. And I tell them, have you come out of your mind!? If you want to blow something up in Jerusalem surely you do not go thru the checkpoint! Palestinians are not stupid!’  - she exclaims.

She recalls the early years of her marriage when she left the daughter for a week to stay with Bedouins. And then the Bedouin girl came to stay with them. It was the happiest two weeks for both of them. Our neighbours were shocked! Today it would be simply impossible.

The biggest worry of the current situation according to Hanna is that Israelis think of themselves as just and moral people. Somehow we managed to convinced themselves that the whole occupation is taking place just because the Palestinians did not want peace and they want to kill us so we have to protect ourselves. And this is simply not true. We need to stop that circle.  And we really worry about our soldiers and what they do.

You can read more about Machsom Watch at

1 comment:

  1. One has to admit that the "Kafka style of bureaucracy" has reached in Israel an unmatched level of perfection that no totalitarian regime have ever dreamed about