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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Israeli activist speaks on peace and human rights

Published: April 13, 2007
Section: News

Israeli activist Hana Barag spoke at Brandeis Wednesday, marking the first event sponsored by the new student-run club Students for Peace in Israel and Palestine. Barag is a member of Machsom Watch, a womens human rights organization that monitors activity at checkpoints in the West Bank.

Barag explained that she always had strong feelings about the occupation, adding that Machsom Watch is an active thing. I dont believe in demonstrations.

According to Barag, Machsom Watch is a different voice in Israel. She added, I [will show] a window into the ugly backyard of Israel. I do this as a devoted IsraeliEverything I say is based on eye witness accounts.

Before discussing the checkpoints, Barag explained that her organization was founded in February of 2001 for women to observe what happened at checkpoints in the interior of the West Bank as a challenge to male militarism. She explained that Machsom Watch monitors no checkpoints that lead into Israel proper. Barag said that she and the women in Machsom Watch worry about the impact of occupation on Israeli society.

The single-sex organization is comprised mainly of retired, middle-class, secular, educated womenmany of whom were born in what was Palestine prior to 1948. Barag explained that it is easier for women to observe at checkpoints because Israeli men have a long history with the armyif they see their grandmothers, it will be easier communication. She added, Machsom Watch is not a feminist group, just a womens group.

Machsom Watch aims to monitor behavior at checkpoints and prevent abuse. Standing at the checkpoints, Barag said, allowed us to influence behavior at checkpoints. The groups third goal is to report observations to officials and to the general public. Barag said, every Israeli and every Jew in the Diaspora should be aware of what happens at checkpoints.

Seven days a week, Barag explained, women from Machsom Watch go in small groups to different checkpoints in the interior of the West Bank. Shifts, she said, can start as early as 6 in the morning. They take notes on their observations and then post the accounts on their website. Every member writes her own reports. We dont touch them. We only take out names, Barag said. Our reports represent hard facts.

Barag emphasized the negative effects checkpoints have on daily life and the economy. She particularly stressed the issue of medical care as access to hospitals is impeded by the presence of checkpoints. She also touched upon the humiliation Palestinians undergo as a result of checkpoint procedure.

Barag acknowledged the issue of security saying, there are terrorist acts. You cant overlook itsometimes they really do catch explosives. However, she said, does wrecking every vestige of normal life create security? Barag also explained that security is further undermined at checkpoints due to the arbitrariness of the system. She asserted that people cannot be occupied at gun point. As such, she said, bureaucracy [is] a main actor in the occupation. From her perspective, the checkpoints within the West Bank are part of that bureaucracy.

Barag took particular issue with the checkpoints in the West Banks interior in part because many of them were placed to protect Israeli settlements. She asserted that the lives of thousands of Palestinians are disrupted for a few hundred Israelis. The settlers, she said, are holding us by the throat.

After showing a brief film of a checkpoint inside the West Bank, Barag addressed some of the moral difficulties women in Machsom Watch face. Our activity is targeted against occupation and checkpoints. How has our presence affected the situation? If the organizations efforts have improved conditions at the checkpoints, Barag asked, have we affected the permanence of the checkpoints? These are questions every woman [in Machsom Watch] must deal with.

Barag added that many Palestinians have come to recognize the Machsom Watch women and call their hotline to report their own experiences. She later added, a human rights group needs to cooperate with people who are causing abuse. Thats a conflict because we [are forced to] recognize something we dont recognize.

Barag then opened the discussion to questions from the audience. One individual asked about the relationship the Machsom Watch women have with the soldiers at the checkpoints.

Some [soldiers] are hostile, some curious, some supportive. We dont criticize the soldier. We dont denounce him to his officer. Its not pleasant for anyone [to be at the checkpoints], Barag answered.

Another student asked Barag about possible solutions to the conflict. She responded, two states for two peoples. She explained that this is her personal view and not necessarily that of other women in her organization.

I came to show you another side, Barag concluded, there are other people on the other side. Were not alone in this game.

Evan Parks 10, one of the clubs founders, explained that he and others created the club because they felt uncomfortable as progressive students about the [Palestinian-Israeli] conflict. He added that the viewpoint put forth by Students for Peace in Israel and Palestine is a presence that doesnt exist at Brandeis.

Hila Landesman 10, the groups other founder, explained that the group is pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli. We dont think those have to conflict.

Etta King 10 said that she shares the same feelings as the event organizers. King said, the progressive Zionist voice is lacking on this campus. She continued, Im glad somebody built a framework for this discussion. There are people who feel the same way. Its really nice that someone is building an outlet for this.

Mia Goldwasser 10 explained that she came to the event because it sounded fascinating. The idea of women watching checkpoints Ive never heard of this. I wanted to know more. When asked about her reaction to the presentation, Goldwasser remarked, its embarrassing to see this stuffits hard to see that this is Israel too. The work [Machsom Watch does] is powerful and important.

King added that for many years, she has been part of Habonin Dror, a group which bills itself on its website as the labor Zionist youth movement. She took a gap year in Israel before coming to Brandeis on a program with this same organization where she met people who did work along the same vein as Maschom Watch. Upon arrival to Brandeis, King said, I felt my voice didnt exist on this campus. I say progressive Zionism and people dont know what that meansBrandeis cant afford to leave this view point out.