Women at War
by Judy Lash Balint
Two Israeli women's organizations are waging their own battle at the checkpoints that control Arab access to Israel's towns and cities. The leftist MachsomWatch (Checkpoint Watch) group monitors soldiers' behavior and reports those who yell at Arabs; the right wing Women In Green bring goodies to the soldiers and monitor MachsomWatch, accusing them of preventing soldiers from doing their job of keeping terrorists out.
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It's 7 A.M. at Checkpoint 300, the dividing line between Jerusalem's southern boundaries and Bethlehem. A convoy of five cars with large Israeli flags sticking out of the windows and hand painted signs praising soldiers pulls up from the Jerusalem side. A dozen women sporting bright green baseball caps hop out of their cars bearing cake and soft drinks and make a beeline to the soldier's shelter. They're greeted with wide smiles and expressions of gratitude.
But the Women In Green (WIG) are disappointed. They'd specifically arrived at this hour hoping to monitor the activities of MachsomWatch (MW), the self-styled Israeli human rights group created to protect the "human and civil rights of Palestinians attempting to enter Israel."
MW was founded three years ago by women who are veterans of other far-left extremist movements. MW founder Ronni Jaeger, for example, is a Canadian Israeli and long-time activist with Bat Shalom--a group that calls Israel's anti-terror separation fence "The Evil Fence."
Over the past few years, small groups of MW women have taken up position at many checkpoints watching the conduct of Israeli soldiers, and intervening to facilitate the passage of Palestinians. Vivi Sury, a MW member from Jerusalem, says the women use their "intuition" to distinguish innocent Arabs from mass murderers. "We're women with experience in life," she says of MW members, most of whom are age 40 and above. Their primary tactic is "nagging. In fact we do more nagging than anything else," she asserts. Nagging that distracts the soldiers from their task, claims Nadia Matar, co-founder of WIG.
"They ask the Arabs if they have complaints against the soldiers," says Matar. "Naturally, the Arabs are only too happy to comply. Without checking the veracity of the accusations, these women immediately file complaints against them. A soldier who does his duty properly and conducts a thorough and lengthy examination of an Arab and his belongings is subjected to curses and vilification from the MW women. These women, who threaten to file complaints against the soldiers every minute, are actually encouraging the soldiers to do their work sloppily, and thereby endanger the security of Israeli citizens," she adds.
Sury claims that the soldiers and border police stationed at the checkpoints "humiliate people. They shout and curse." Sury and her MW friends say the young soldiers don't know any other way of dealing with the thousands of Arabs trying to cross the checkpoint at all hours of the day. "So, as women we try to show them another way." Matar counters that the very presence of older women watching over soldiers undermines IDF authority and changes the atmosphere from the frontline of Israel's battle against terror, to that of a kitchen where a mother is scolding her errant son.
In a handout that WIG gives to soldiers outlining their right to file complaints against harassment by MW women, Matar writes that, "Their true goal is to shame you before the Arabs and to interfere with your important work.."
Several soldiers approached at the A-Ram control barrier between Ramallah and Jerusalem refuse to comment on the war of the women. But Nati, the police commander on duty says the MW women don't bother him since "We have nothing to hide.."
About a mile up the road at the Kalandia checkpoint, members of the IDF Volunteers of Hope force are pulling duty. These older reserve unit soldiers volunteer to act as humanitarian officers at checkpoints with particularly heavy traffic. They try to make sure that the old, infirm, young kids or pregnant women cross through as quickly as possible. 20,000 people a day pass through this barrier, and mass murderers have dressed as pregnant women before. Teenagers have been strapped with bomb belts too, so it's often a tough call.
Volunteer Joel Leyden from Raanana says, "You are half Mr. Nice Guy and half combat soldier. You must be able to go from a warm smile to loading your M-16 in half a second."
MW activist Sury knows about the Humanitarian officers but is not impressed. "Some of them are even worse than the regular guys," she asserts. "They tell the soldiers to act according to the book."
Back at Checkpoint 300, Nadia Matar is telling her disappointed band of women that they'll get to confront the MW types another day. Meantime she declares the visit a success, since her purpose is "not to fight them, but to make sure they don't come to bother our soldiers."
from the June 2004 Edition of the Jewish Magazine