Palestine: A Besieged Nation Under Watch :: Checkpoint Watch: Testimonies from Occupied Palestine – by Yehudit Kirstein Keshet ::


As a young teenager I used to read harrowing books about the Holocaust crying myself to sleep and being haunted by tormenting nightmares. My grandparents perished at the hands of the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto and quite often I imagined myself as a Holocaust’s survivor tortured by the Nazis. Reading Yehudit Keshet’s book – "Checkpoint Watch: Testimonies from Occupied Palestine" – [1] the old nightmares started hounding me once again.

Checkpoint Watch was established by the author together with a small group of Israeli women in 2001 with the stated goals of monitoring the behaviour of israeli soldiers at checkpoints on the Green Line border and inside the West Bank as well as ensuring the protection of human and civil rights of Palestinians who pass through the checkpoints ,and reporting back their findings to the general public and policy-makers. (Keshet p.36)

According to B’Tselem – the Israeli information centre for human rights – there are nearly 50 staffed permanent checkpoints, 7 manned control towers and more than 600 hundreds erected barriers around Palestinian villages. Those blockading measures turn the whole of the West Bank to ghettoized enclaves guarded by the masterful Israeli army which through an integrated-curfew-closure-checkpoints system and an Apartheid pass regulations expedite the occupation and sustain Israel’s supremacy over the Palestinians. Although security has been cited by israel as the reason for these measures the policy of passage permits began in 1991 long before suicide bombing became a reality. The permit policy and checkpoints prohibitions prevent movement not only into Israel but also within the Occupied Territories – protecting the Israeli settlers (about 235,000 in total ) who live in the West Bank in defiance of international law. (Amira Hass, Keshet p. xiv)

A report by the Israeli Physicians for Human Rights (2003) observes pointedly that "freedom of movement and health are inseparable." This is borne out by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society’s report which shows that between September 2000 and october 20003, 83 Palestinian patients died at checkpoints due to denial of access, 57 women were forced to give birth at the checkpoints (over 30 of these cases resulted in the death of the infant); 25 medical personnel were killed and 425 injured; 121 ambulances were damaged and 991 cases were denied medical access.

On the ground, Checkpoints Watchers "have frequently encountered a contemptuous attitude towards the sick and towards medical personnel on the part of soldiers who refuse to believe, or even investigate, the urgency of their cases." (Keshet p.2 0)

Paradoxically, the inhuman abuse of Palestinians’ rights finds its overwhelming expression through the human testimonies of those middle-aged Israeli women who made it their duty to monitor the checkpoints 365 days a year abandoningtheir traditional role of mothers, housewives andcarers, and courageously confronting the might of young armed soldiers. The hidden vulnerability of those women and the duality embedded in their roles emerge touchingly on meeting some unexpected semblance of humanity in the soldiers’ behaviour: "I have seen so many checkpoints, heard so many excuses put downs, humiliations,orders… But today after 900 days of checkpoints for the first time and definitely unique time I did I hear a soldier say (to a Palestinian women) you can go through ma’am… My wonderful soldier – you rekindled my heart the flicker of hope that seemed to have been extinguished…. there in the other planet, in the planet of checkpoints, the rights of the other trampled into nothingness… Thank you my soldier, thank you very much…. You never knew that I too would hear what you said . But I did hear..and was filled with hope." (Nava Elyashar, Systems Analyst, Jerusalem – Keshet p. 119/120)

Tragically, such a gleam of hope seems to fade in the face of reality. Young conscripts seen by the Israeli society as victims rather than perpetrators. They join the army on living school wrenched away from the safety nest of family and friends . Many of the soldiers have become traumatized by the watchdog role forced upon them which leads some to taking drugs and being pushed over the edge (Susan Nathan – The Other Side of Israel). The testimonies of Watchers, whose number expanded to 500 in December 2004, suggest that a significant number of soldiers have lost their sense of humanity treating the Palestinians as a herd of creatures who "do not feel anything" and "punishment does not humiliate them." This attitude permeates throughout the Israeli society and even on the left of the political map "there seems to be a sense that while the Palestinians are entitled to their rights their rights are less equal than those of Israelis." (Keshet p. 122)

Equally, mainstream Watchers who came from the "Zionist elite" are still entrenched in the ethos of Israel’s supremacy arguing that the CPW should express concern for the morals and well being of the Israeli soldiers rather than stressing in its public statements the human rights of the Palestinians . Such feeling are encouraged by the media which play a major part in shaping Israeli public opinion. Though the newspapers openly report on checkpoint abuses they tend to regard them as aberrant acts committed by soldiers who are emotionally disturbed, or by members of minority group and newcomer immigrants. Newspapers correspondents ( excluding very few of the liberal newspaper Ha’aretz) tend to perpetuate the entrenched myth that the Israeli army is the most humane in the world and morally preserves the highly human values of the Israeli nation. The CPW, on the other hand , is portrayed by the media as a self-styled human rights group of "elderly women cut off from harsh reality in an ivory tower and associated with an allegedly radical fringe group Women in Black." (Keshet p. 138)

The dissonance between the more radical "feminist-radical" agenda of the CPW’s founders and the mainstream members ,whose main concern is with the safety of the Israel state and the well being and morals of its soldiers, continues to create an undercurrent tension between Watchers. Yet ,as Yehudit keshet rightfully contends – "there is no comparison between the lot of oppressors and the lot of oppressed." While condemning suicide bombing as inhuman crimes, Keshet maintains that "Palestinian militias taking arms against invading, ruthless, enemy with superior military power is, surely, legitimate resistance…. ." (p.121) Such pronouncement may be regarded as outrageous and indefensible by the Israeli public buttestimonies from the resistance movement of the Warsaw Ghetto reveal a similar conviction – "there is no other way out, all that remains to us is to fight even if we are capable of putting up a fight that will only resemble real fighting it will be better than the positive acceptance of slaughter." (Reuben Ainsztein, The Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, The Holocaust Library, New York, 1979 p.36)

The Palestinians may not face the wholesale slaughter of the Holocaust but rather a slow-grinding ethnic cleansing which stifles their living soul and national aspirations by brutal and unrelenting occupation. Have they no right to resort to militant methods of resistance? Judging by the stark testimonies of Checkpoints Watchers, as highlighted by Keshet’s insightful examination of Israel’s mechanism of oppression, the apparent answer is a resounding yes.


[1]. "Checkpoint Watch: Testimonies from Occupied Palestine"
by Yehudit Kirstein Keshet