Machsom Watch: "We tell only about things we have personally seen"

Yesterday, in our post on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s remarks at a literary festival in London, it was reported that he praised the ladies of Machsom Watch.

By chance, I found a video posted on Youtube, made by Journeyman Pictures in June 2008, that gives one of the best representations I’ve seen of the oppressive humiliation of Palestinians at checkpoints, and of the arrogant and irresponsible behavior of some members of the Israeli Border Police and Defense Forces in the West Bank. It also does a very good job of portraying the motivation, views and work of the members of Machsom Watch (some of them I have had the pleasure of meeting and seeingn at work on the spot in the West Bank).

This vidoe is entitled “Mother Courage”[maybe not the best title] , and while its embedding function has been disabled upon request, it can be viewed in full here.

The explanatory blurb posted on Youtube by Journeyman Pictures says that “Every morning and afternoon, shifts of Israeli women go out to some 30 checkpoints within the West Bank and on the seam-line between Israel and Palestine, to monitor and document IDF and Border Police conduct, whilst attempting to protect basic Palestinian human rights. Known as Machsom Watch, they are a dedicated group of Jewish mothers focused on monitoring and recording how the Israeli soldiers treat Palestinians and reporting the results of their observations to the widest possible audience, from decision-makers to the general public. ‘Our strength is in our weakness. We come unguarded and offer trust and belief in people. We offer some kind of innocence and just want to bring it back to this tormented place’ says one member of the activist group.

Only Israelis can be members of Machsom Watch — apparently to reassure the Israeli soldiers and Border Police. A few men — one or two — now join the women on occasion.

Other remarks made by the Machsom Watch women in this film are:
“We tell only about things we have personally witnessed”.
“We represent for the soldiers the part of Israel they left behind when they entered the [Palestinian West Bank] territories”.
“My husband thinks I’ve lost it…”
“Our friend just called a higher-ranking officer to make sure the Border Police are not just ignoring regulations” …

The Machsom Watch website in English is here. It says the organization was founded in 2001, and they monitor on a daily basis some 30 out of more than 600 checkpoints that now stand in the occupied West Bank.

Machsom Watch has its own archive of information stored on the site, including a feature called Spotlight, here, which, it explains, “illuminates and emphasizes incidents and events at IDF checkpoints in the Occupied Territories, of which the public should be informed. For the most part you will not read or hear about them in the media”.

Machsom Watch has its own videos, posted here.

Tamar Fleishman’s excellent video of some of the quieter moments at Qalandia checkpoint on the last Friday in Ramadan, at the end of September 2008, is posted here. In it, thousands of mostly-fasting Palestinians from all over the northern West Bank have come to Qalandia to try to get through to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem, is here:

In it, you can see some of the wierd wheedling that Palestinians have been reduced to, forced into, at checkpoints; “Do me a favor”, for example, one lady says absurdly to the Border Police. Another says, “I’m old, I’m old. I’m 50”. A young woman — too young to pass for prayers when the age limit for women is something like 35, says “the children just want to see their father in the hospital” (which may or may not be true, but all four or five kids are dressed in their best clothes. One boy cries, but I’m sorry to say it’s not very convincing, and the mother — if she is their mother — doesn’t have a permit). This then turns into a ritual of the Israelis not believing the Palestinians, of thinking they are all liars. The claustrophobia, the pushing, the humiliation is all there. No video can convey, however, the sun, and the heat, the hours of waiting, and the dust, and the adrenalin…

And does anybody believe that if the Israelis really felt there was a security threat there, would they have been wading into the crowd like that?

We were there on that day, and reported on it here. We reported on the first two Fridays in Ramadan here and here.

Machsom Watch publishes reports about their daily activities, and their latest report (posted here) from the infamous Qalandia “border crossing” (according to Israel, though it is not listed in international diplomatic registries as an international border crossing) reports that last Wednesday afternoon, 27 May, was “A ‘regular’ day at Qalandiya checkpoint. As always, the absence of the thousands of Palestinians who used to go through this crossroad to the southern suburbs of Ramallah (A-Ram), north of Jerusalem (Bet Hanina, Dahiat Al Barid and Shuafat), East Jerusalem and eastward is heavily felt. The few lucky Jerusalemites and permit holders are used to the shouts coming out of the loudspeakers and somehow manage to understand what the soldiers say, which is unintelligible for us. We find the usual men sitting idle on the metal benches at the northern side of the checkpoint. They explain that they do not have a permit to work in Israel but some of them do get in somehow. The others are there just waiting, as they don’t have other work alternatives. Waiting for what? Maybe an asteroid will hit Earth and things will change. One of them tells us he was caught this morning and his finger prints were registered and he was returned to the checkpoint … Our guest, an Italian professor of Jewish contemporary history and contemporary Israeli literature is very quiet during all our shift, watching the car and pedestrian lanes going southward. When we cross the pedestrian checkpoint southward at the end of our shift, she sees the greetings in Hebrew, English and Arabic (we don’t know what is written in Arabic), wishing pedestrians “Have a safe and pleasant stay”. She is shocked by these greetings in the context of the surrounding cages, walls, fences, barbed wire, loudspeakers, closed circuit cameras and weapons. She tells us that every diplomat and visitor to Israel should be taken, obligatorily, to 2 sites: Yad Vashem and Qalandiya checkpoint”.

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