Just Saying No / 2010

by: Ofra Yeshua-Lyth

First published on Huffington post Social News, August 12, 2010

A note in the Israeli daily Haaretz informing that the state attorney’s office has asked police to start an investigation against author and editor Ilana Hammerman justly outraged human rights activists. Hammerman drew attention when she bravely published, in May of this year, a detailed magazine article describing a trip to an Israeli beach in the company of three Palestinian girls.

According to Israeli law and Israeli military regulations, no resident of the occupied Palestinian lands is allowed into “Israel proper” without a special permit. Since 2000, permits are rarely issued and so Palestinians are kept out of the Israeli view and space. They also have an extremely hard time just moving within the West Bank between villages and towns. Israeli Jews, by contrast, are free to travel in and out of most of the West Bank, and are waved politely through the checkpoints by the friendly (to them) guards.

Hammerman decided she will have no more of this. Having heard that her young Palestinian acquaintances had never had a chance to see the sea — just 30 miles west of their village — she promptly invited them to disguise as Israelis (namely, drop the traditional Mandil headscarf and dress casually) and get into her small car. They joyfully cooperated, knowing full well that any suspicion at the checkpoint would land them and their families in trouble. Their reward was a happy day of fun and recreation.

The published story touched many Israelis and aroused some heated discussions. An Israeli nationalist organization pompously urged the State Attorney’s office to start a criminal investigation against the law-breaking writer. Many in the Zionist Left and the “Peace Movement” expressed sympathy with Ilana but were quick to register their reservations on this “boundary crossing” of civil disobedience.

To some of us, however, it seemed that “doing an Ilana” is exactly what we were longing to do for awhile. The action fully reflected our long-felt disgust with the Israeli legal system that discriminates people according to their ethnic origins and religion.

“Preserving a Jewish State with a Jewish majority” has become an axiomatic notion in Israel and abroad. An absolute majority of Israeli Jews feel there is a “must” to turn a blind eye to all evil “necessary” to facilitate it. For too long we have been demonstrating, writing and complaining about the sorry state of mind Israelis have locked themselves into. Now we saw a chance to actively break away with all this, as Ilana Hammerman had done.

Motivated by the urgency of the direct threat to Hammerman — her act could potentially lead to up to two years in prison — we decided to join her and follow her example. A group of twelve women (11+ Ilana) quickly organized. We soon found counterparts: courageous Palestinian women willing to make a political statement and interested in a day trip outside their harsh reality. They all knew the risk they were taking in case their identities should be revealed, but could not care less. At the appointed day we set off in six cars with 12 Israeli drivers and escorts, 12 Palestinian women, four children and one baby.

It was a beautiful adventure. The day started with much tension. There was always the chance that an overzealous checkpoint guard would ask for paperwork and spoil the plan. Fortunately this did not happen. Less than half an hour after we set off we were able to assemble in a state of euphoric joy — we made it. The unlawful laws were broken, and from now on it was just a question of finding a good beach and nice cafés and restaurants. Israeli cities have plenty of those.

The recreational aspect was indeed rewarding, but it was merely a side product. Our purpose was and still is to make a political point. We aimed to go public and force a public debate. It soon became clear that the Israeli media will not take too much notice without further prompting, and we opted to place an advertisement titled “We Do Not Obey: Women in the footsteps of Ilana Hammerman“. Reactions are still coming, and we are gratified to have many positive ones besides the many angry expected condemnations.

Our group is determined to continue with similar acts of civil disobedience. We are encouraged with the response to the ad, published August 6 and slowly picked up by some media and websites. While Israeli officials, diplomats, academics and spin doctors raise alarms through the media and Jewish communities all over the world in the face of a so called “global delegitimization campaign against Israel“, we call on fellow Israelis to start cleaning our act back home. We ask good, honest, liberal democratic Israelis to join us in refusing to comply with laws and regulations that deny basic human rights from fellow humans. It is as simple as it sounds, and long overdue.

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