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The Only Democracy? » Discrimination, Human Rights Activists in the Crosshairs » Israeli and Palestinian Women Find New Way to Challenge The Occupation

Israeli and Palestinian Women Find New Way to Challenge The Occupation

I will forgo my tendency for long introductions, and start with the actual news.

We Do Not Obey

More women follow Ilana Hammerman`s footsteps: we shall not obey illegal and immoral laws.

(posted as a paid advertisement in Hebrew on Haaretz, August 6)

On Friday, July 23, we went on a trip – a dozen Jewish-Israeli women with a dozen West-Bank Palestinian women and four of their children, one of them a baby. We drove through the interior hill country (`Shfela`) and toured Tel Aviv and Yaffa together. We ate at a restaurant, bathed in the sea and had a great time on the beach. We returned via Jerusalem and watched its Old City from afar.

Most of our Palestinian guests had never seen the sea [located less than 60 km from their homes – AO]. Most of them have never had the chance to pray in their holy places in Jerusalem/Al-Quds, and watched them longingly from Mount Scopus. None of our guests had an entry permit into Israel. We drove them through the checkpoints in our cars, knowingly breaking the `Law of Entry into Israel.` We hereby announce this out in the open.

This joint trip was organized in response to the complaint lodged with the police by the state against one of us, Ilana Hammerman, for a similar trip she took with three young Palestinian women. We have decided to act in the spirit of Martin Luther King and symbolically show that we do not recognize illegal and immoral laws.

We do not recognize the legality of the `Law of Entry into Israel`, a law allowing any Israeli and any Jew to travel freely in all parts of the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river, but denying the same right to Palestinians – despite the fact that this is their country too. This law robs them of the right to visit towns and villages across the Green Line – places with which they have deeply rooted family, heritage and national connections. Therefore, we obeyed the voice of our conscience and took the liberty of bringing these women to a few of these places. They and us have taken the risk together, with clear minds and strong conviction.

Thus, we Israelis have earned another great privilege: to experience in our nation, a nation living on its sword, one of the most beautiful and emotional days of our life; to get to know brave Palestinian women, full of the joy of life, to spend time with them and to be free with them – even if only for a single day.

We did not drive `terrorists` nor `enemies`, but fellow human beings. The authorities separate us with fences and checkpoints, rules and regulations. Not in order to safeguard our security, but to enshrine the hostility and perpetuate the control of land illegally robbed from its rightful owners. This massive robbery has been undertaken in contravention to all international laws and conventions; it violates universal values of human rights, justice and humanism. It is not us who break the law – the State of Israel has been the chief lawbreaker for decades. It is not us, women with a civic and democratic awareness, who have gone too far. The State of Israel has gone too far and is driving us all off a precipice, perhaps even into self-destruction.

We call upon the citizens of Israel to heed the words of Henry David Thoreau, a 19th-Century American thinker, who in his famous treatise `Civil Disobedience` wrote:

`When a sixth of the population of a nation which has undertaken to be the refuge of liberty are slaves, and a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the country so overrun is not our own, but ours is the invading army.`

Listen to these words, see how well they apply to the situation into which our nation has brought itself – and do as we have done.

Ilana Hammerman, Jerusalem
Annelien Kisch, Ramat Hasharon
Esti Tsal, Tel Aviv
Daphne Banai, Tel Aviv
Klil Zisapel, Tel Aviv
Michal Pundak Sagie, Herzlia
Nitza Aminov, Jerusalem
Irit Gal, Jerusalem
Ofra Yeshua-Lyth, Tel Aviv
Ronni Eilat, Kfar Saba
Ronit Marian-Kadishai, Ramat Hasharon
Ruti Kantor, Tel Aviv

(translated by Assaf Oron)

Okay, what is this all about?

Ilana Hammerman is an Israeli literary translator, journalist and activist. In May she published a surprising and highly personal account of a special day in her life, to which the Haaretz translator gave the poetic name “If there is a heaven”, which we covered on this blog.

Aya is a young woman of about 18, whom I love. Lin and Yasmin are her cousins, and are about a year or so older. All three live in the same village in the “Land of Judea.” Let’s call it Tekoa, Bani Na’im, Beit Umar, Battir – the exact name isn’t important. One day I was sitting with Aya in front of her home in the Land of Judea, and I asked her why she was looking a little sad. She was bored, she told me. She was tired of being stuck in the village all the time, never going anywhere, never seeing new things.

“Where would you like to go?” I asked her. The slender girl, wearing a traditional headscarf that hid every last strand of hair, thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe to Istanbul.” She watched me with her large brown eyes, waiting for an answer.

“Well,” I said, “I can’t take you to Istanbul, but I can take you to Tel Aviv! And Tel Aviv is beautiful, too. There are really tall buildings,” I stretched one arm up high, “and a giant shopping mall,” I spread my hands wide, “and a gorgeous beach! Tel Aviv is always celebrating something. It’ll be very interesting. You’ve never been to the big city. We’ll have a good time.”

Sounds like fun, no? There’s a teeny problem. Aya is an Occupied West Bank Palestinian, and as such she is forbidden entry into Israel. Ilana had been down this road before (all emphases mine).

When I got home I checked the map and mentally reviewed the conditions at the checkpoints that I know in the Land of Judea. I was stopped once before at Tarqumiya with a girl I was taking to an appointment at a hospital in Israel, and her mother. The mother had a tasrih [=permit], but the daughter, who was ill, did not. The soldiers checked the mother’s ID and saw that the daughter was over 16 – meaning she was only allowed to pass through with an ID and a permit. And anyway, they said, this crossing was supposed to be just for laborers, plus Israelis can’t go through the same checkpoint with Palestinians. We should try the Bethlehem checkpoint, they suggested; maybe there they would let us through on humanitarian grounds. These soldiers didn’t deal with humanitarian issues, that wasn’t their job. But we knew that at the Bethlehem checkpoint only Palestinians are entitled to pass – if they have a permit, of course – while Israelis cannot go through.

…we tried our luck at the Al-Khader checkpoint, where we were prohibited from crossing together. I let the two off so they could take a taxi to the “Palestinian” side of the checkpoint, while I drove around to the “Israeli” side. I arrived quickly and waited by the booths, where female soldiers sit behind reinforced glass and check the papers of the people wanting to enter. But the mother and daughter didn’t show up; maybe they couldn’t find a taxi or there was a long line on the Palestinian side that was not visible from the Israeli side.

When they finally did reach the soldiers, they were told the same thing: The girl needed her own ID card as well as an entry permit into Israel. This time, too, our pleas were of no avail – nor was a document showing that the girl had an appointment at the hospital, which we were not going to make on time. We helplessly bid one another farewell from either side of the electric turnstile and went our separate ways.

So this time around Ilana knew where her best chances lay: “smuggling” the girls dressed as Israeli teenagers, through an Israelis-only checkpoint. She did just that, and shares with the readers the signs encountered there.

The signs inform people coming from Israel that they are prohibited from bringing a vehicle into the Palestinian Authority for repairs …and that the transport of animals and animal products from PA territory is illegal.

That’s one side. For those continuing on the other side – in a vehicle that is not, for example, headed for repairs inside the PA and not carrying goods or animals out of the PA – a red sign offers these caring words of caution:

“Dear Citizen!!! Due to a fear that you may be entering PA-controlled areas which Israelis are prohibited from entering by mistake/against your will, the soldiers at the checkpoint have taken down your personal and vehicle information, for your safety. This information will be kept by security officials and used for security purposes if it is discovered that you entered PA territory.

Have a good and safe trip – Command Center of the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank.”

A person who passes from one side to the other at this crossing, feeling reassured by the discreet security services promised him in such a personal way, learns from the next set of signs that he is in fact invited to visit Betar Ilit, the city of Torah and Hasidism in the Judean Hills, to head south on Highway 60 to Gush Etzion, Efrat, Elazar and Neve Daniel and on to Alon Shvut and Carmei Tzur, or to continue to Kiryat Arba and Hebron – without actually knowing whether he entered or was brought into PA territory, deliberately or unknowingly.

…I was particularly interested in the yellow sign that greets those coming from the new Israel to the old Israel – i.e., the sign that would greet me, Lin, Aya and Yasmin on our way out. The sign said

“Welcome to the Betar crossing point. This crossing is designated for Israelis only. Crossing over or transporting of someone who is not Israeli is prohibited!! An ‘Israeli’ is a resident of Israel, someone whose place of residence is in the area or is eligible to immigrate in accordance with the 1950 Law of Return, as valid in Israel.”

Despite the awkward wording, I understood what was written on the sign and what was permissible and prohibited. Granted, I could be a stickler and say definitively that not only was the three teens’ place of residence “in the area,” but they had never left it, to their dismay. On the other hand, it was impossible to claim that they were Israelis or were eligible to make aliyah in accordance with the Law of Return. So, I read the sign and understood it quite well, but I did not agree. I simply could not agree with it.

And so it was. Ilana successfully “smuggled” her friends into Israel, and they all enjoyed one of the best days in their lives together. As described in detail in the article.

Well, so what? Will a little gadfly’s symbolic protest act – no matter how wittily described – matter to anyone? I mean, the Occupation is chugging right along. The military backs the settlers; the government backs the military; the US government and AIPAC back the government; and Palestinian leaders either collaborate or are written off, or both. People, especially on the right, will either shrug or laugh at Ilana. Right?


If the fanatics have their way, Ilana Hammerman might spend the next two years in prison.

…reading Hammerman’s account of the day in Haaretz, a settler organization began a campaign for her arrest.

And as you might guess, in Israel the settlers usually have their way. So since the Israeli police and prosecution simply have nothing more pressing to deal with, there is now a criminal indictment against Hammerman.


Hammerman, of course, broke the letter of the law intentionally. She wanted to point out that while Palestinians are barred entry into Israel, and their movement is severely restricted even inside the West Bank – Israelis travel freely not only inside Israel, but also all across the West Bank. In April in my home visit I did just that: rode with friends in a car deep into the West Bank, near Nablus. We could have gone to any settlement, no matter how remote (and some of them are quite remote), without having been stopped once.

These severe restrictions have not always been the case for Palestinians. In 1972 Israel’s security minister, Moshe Dayan, issued a “General Movement Permit”, which formally integrated the economy of Israel-Palestine. Occupied Palestinians, like Israelis, were allowed to move throughout Israel-Palestine without permit, and also seek employment and engage in commerce.

Rather than create a new reality, Dayan was merely reaffirming the reality that had existed on the ground since June 1967. The two economies integrated almost instantly. Since the integration was a grossly unequal one both politically and economically, the Israelis had far more to gain from the Palestinians’ amazingly skilled manual labor, their cheap produce, their captive consumer market and their natural resources. According to the charts, to this day the years 1967-1973 represent the largest annual jumps in Israeli per-capita GDP, both absolutely and in relative terms.

This situation lasted as long as Israelis felt they were gaining from it. But with the eruption of the first Intifada in late 1987, the Palestinians ceased to be the conveniently docile “junior partner” in the deal. Over the next several years, as the Israeli public and political system grappled with the new reality and waffled about what to do, the military started squeezing away Palestinians’ freedom of movement. In 1991 on the eve of the Gulf War, the IDF issued a landmark decree: for the first time since 1972, a blanket closure was imposed on the West Bank and Gaza. The war ended with no incident from the side of the Palestinians, but closure has been the default ever since then.

This teaches another key Israel-Palestine lesson: don’t listen to the words, watch the action on the ground. It is on the ground that the Occupation has been built; in Israeli rhetoric – both internally and for foreign consumption – it still does not really exist. The military is the sovereign in the Occupied Territories, and if the military decides to confine Palestinians “for security reasons”, then the talking heads won’t stand in its way. Each particular “security” decision along the slippery slope from 1987 to this decade might seem logical and defensible on its own. But the overall result – a regime which is essentially a system of open-air prisons – is ghastly and unacceptable on any level.

Which, to return to our subject, is precisely why Ilana Hammerman chose to challenge it. In June she responded to her adversaries.

…as an ordinary citizen who is required to respect the laws of her country, I consider myself entitled, even obligated, to examine – including by means of common sense – the justice and morality of the laws that apply to me, and particularly with respect to other people who are subject to the laws of my country. …Indeed, we Jews know better than anyone how the road to the human abyss is paved with evil legislation that was properly enacted and accepted by the majority.

The Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom was enacted in Israel in 1994. It includes the following stipulations: There shall be no violation of the life, body or dignity of any person; there shall be no violation of the property of a person; there shall be no deprivation or restriction of the liberty of a person by imprisonment, arrest, extradition or otherwise; all persons have the right to privacy and to intimacy; there shall be no entry into the private premises of a person who has not consented thereto; and, all persons are free to leave Israel.

All of these rights are denied the civilian Palestinian population living in the occupied territories under Israeli military control: Their lives, dignity and property are violated; their privacy and intimacy is not respected; and their private premises are entered without their consent. But, above all, their liberty is restricted: They are not free to leave their country, to move within it or to choose their place of residence at will. …the state is persistently and systematically, in contravention of the international conventions, employing collective punishment against a civilian population.

…one can say that Israel has lost the right to be called a state of law. It has also to a large extent lost the right to be called a democratic state …what is the red line beyond which we can no longer continue to respect its laws and regulations without betraying our conscience, which requires us, just as the Basic Law of our country says, “to defend human dignity and liberty” – that is, the human dignity and liberty of every person, and not just the Jewish or Israeli person?

In an offline email, Ilana pointed out to me another glaring inconsistency. Every day, thousands of Palestinian laborers sneak into Israel or are actively smuggled by Israeli employers. Despite all efforts, Israeli economy cannot completely wean itself of Palestinian labor, so despite finger-pointing and eye-rolling, the authorities actually turn a blind eye towards this. Of course, militants and terror-act planners are the first to know about the current situation of all human-smuggling routes into Israel. Which means that the formal checkpoints, barriers, permit systems, etc., are mostly a means of oppressing ordinary people – not preventing terror.

The freedom of movement is probably the most basic of human freedoms. It is not a coincidence that what we do with convicted criminals is put them in jail. If their profession so allows, they might still engage in it while confined; for example, a carpenter can continue doing carpentry work at the prison, a writer can continue writing in her cell. Quite often prisoners are also allowed to continue to express themselves, or pursue higher education. But they are not free. They are prisoners.

Under “security” pretexts, Israel has been imprisoning an entire nation in its backyard, while – quite amazingly and with complete conviction – claiming to be a free society. This is what Ilana Hammerman is trying to remind the world. She is doing it in a very feminine way (if I may generalize) – via a celebration of life and a joining of hands.

And she is not alone. As the statement above indicates, 11 Israelis have openly joined her in action. Ilana told me that dozens more, if not hundreds, are ready to do so too. On the Palestinian side, thousands or even more are willing to engage in this pure act of freedom.

Please help spread the word. Among other things, join the Facebook group supporting this campaign of civil disobedience.

(crossposted on Daily Kos)

Written by

Assaf Oron works as a statistician and moonlights (voluntarily) as a human-rights activist and blogger. He arrived in Seattle from Israel in 2002 for studies, and for now is sticking with the local greyness, dampness and uber-politeness, while plotting his glorious repatriation to the land of eternal sunshine and rudeness. Meanwhile, he tries to explain to anyone who cares to listen, what the Occupation is and why it must be ended now, not later. Assaf is webmaster for the Israeli human rights organization "Villages Group"

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