New Jersey Jewish News
Hebrew U. prof describes her role as human-rights activist in Israel
A Princeton University audience got a taste of the wide range of debate among Israeli Jews earlier this month when Israeli scholar/activist Maya Rosenfeld spoke on campus about her efforts to expose what she calls Israeli repression of Palestinians in the West Bank.
Rosenfeld, a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, described her role in the Israeli human-rights organization Machsom Watch, a group of women who have monitored border checkpoints in the West Bank since shortly after the beginning of the second Intifada in the fall of 2000. In Hebrew, machsom means checkpoint.
In her lecture, she criticized the oppressive nature of Israels closure policies on the West Bank.
This closure policy is an ongoing regime of siege that actually is being imposed on an entire people, said Rosenfeld, author of Confronting the Occupation: Work, Education, and Political Activism of Palestinian Families in a Refugee Camp.
When we are speaking about closure, she said, we are speaking about measures and orders that prevent or restrict the movement of Palestinians from the Palestinian territories into Israel proper but mainly in between the Palestinian territories within the West Bank.
Israel first imposed its closure policy during the Oslo years as a means of exerting pressure on the Palestinian Authority, according to Rosenfeld. Whereas, she said, during the past five-and-a-half years, these closure measures are part of a total war, actually, that Israel is waging against the Palestinian national authority and against Palestinian society in general.
Machsom Watch was founded in reaction to those measures, Rosenfeld said.
This movement was established in order to document what is taking place and also to protest what is taking place, she said. This is a unique combination of documentary work. It is done completely by volunteers. There is something very genuine and very authentic about it. The women decided they want to be there because they want to say no at the exact site where the repression is taking place.
During her visit to Princeton, Rosenfeld also gave a public lecture on the economic situation of families in the Palestinian territories. Both programs were sponsored by the universitys Institute for the Transregional Study of the Contemporary Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia in connection with its 2005-06 research theme Society under Occupation: Contemporary Palestinian Politics, Culture and Identity.
This year, thats what weve been interested in looking at, said Gregory Bell, program coordinator of the institute, during a telephone interview. The luncheon talk really came about because she has this other side to her life. She was willing to talk about that and we thought it was an opportunity we shouldnt miss.
Bell said that although Rosenfeld did not address the question of the threat of suicide bombers crossing the checkpoints into Israel, that issue has been addressed in the diverse array of public lectures presented on campus.
Its a question, I suspect, that many of the readers of your publication would want to ask, Bell said, and its a legitimate question one that has come up at a lot of our talks.
A Feb. 8 editorial in the Israeli daily Haaretz acknowledged that human-rights organizations such as Machsom Watch that monitor Israels treatment of the Palestinians have never enjoyed widespread support among Israelis. The understanding that these organizations save the states honor and that decrying them undermines and weakens Israeli democracy has not penetrated the public, the editorial stated.
Indeed, earlier this month, the mayor of Beersheba banned a Machsom Watch photo exhibit, claiming that the contents of the exhibit are harmful to the sensitivities of the public.
But the Haaretz editorial defended the role played by Machsom Watch. This organization like other human-rights organizations, each of which focuses on a different consequence of the occupation is the least that Israeli citizens can do to try to prevent injustices stemming from the occupation, the editorial concluded. [T]he human-rights organizations are the states pride, not a threat that must be liquidated or minimized.
The actual experience of being on the line for Machsom Watch was very, very overwhelming, Rosenfeld said.
What we noticed was the very aggressive means the Israeli army employed to prevent day laborers to go back to their workplace, she said. They were prevented, actually, from making a living or seeking health services. We were there to monitor and to say no to this kind of closure policy.
Rosenfeld said that she conducted her field research for Confronting the Occupation in a Palestinian refugee camp south of Bethlehem, and she knew the district and its people very well. The Palestinian day laborers would go out of their way to take back roads in order to sneak into Israel so they could continue to make a living, she said. And the Israeli soldiers would pursue them.
They would kind of corner them into a valley, into an olive grove, and, of course, these soldiers were fully armed, and the soldiers were pretending they were fighting an enemy, she said. Then these people would be held for hours and hours under the sun to be taught a lesson, so they would not repeat these attempts.
We would plead with the soldiers Please, please, please. You confiscated his ID. Please return it now just bang, bang, bang, until this officer or soldier can really get p___ed off and arrest you as well, as happened to us. On the other hand, they say, This woman is nagging and nagging and nagging, and some of them let go. You always look for some road to this mans heart.
The Palestinians were fighting to continue some sort of normal life in these abnormal conditions, and the soldiers were fighting to prevent them, she said, and we were in between.
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