Op-Ed: My Day with MachsomWatch
Orit ArfaThe writer is author of "The Settler," a novel following the rebellious journey of a young woman into Tel Aviv nightlife following her traumatic eviction from her home in Gaza during the 2005 withdrawal. Visit Orit's website for more info: www.oritarfa.net.
I knew a publicly advertised tour with the Arabist, far-left NGO, MachsomWatch, would be my only chance as an Israeli Jew to enter the Palestinian Authority.
Signs read: “This road leads to Palestinian village. Entrance to Israelis is dangerous”—that is, unless you're Israelis travelling with MachsomWatch. They love the Palestinian Arabs, and Palestinian Arabs love them.
MachsomWatch's tagline is "Woman Against Occupation and for Human Rights." Daniela Gordon, the Israeli matriarch of the movement, is clearly passionate about her work, believing she's fighting the good fight.
I joined a tour with a group of college exchange students from Singapore, a Spanish journalist, two French consulate employees, and some Brits—all for a mere $15 and few questions asked.
The tour focused on the “seam zone,” the "no-man's land" between the “green line” and the security barrier Israel built to ward off terror. Gordon lamented that Arabs living there are "trapped" between the "West Bank" and Israel.
Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Gordon. Yes, the security barrier is a monstrosity. Gordon even cited an article by her political opponent, Moshe Arens, entitled "Tear Down This Wall." It has undoubtedly created hardship for Arabs. To me, it's a cop out from truly crushing Islamic terror at its source.
I also agreed that IDF soldiers shouldn’t be obsessing over checkpoints. A few yards away from a bright, well-stocked Arab nursery stuck in the seam zone near Qalqilya, soldiers lethargically got out of their jeeps at the designated checkpoint patrol time. A few Arabs waited underneath an awning as it took the soldiers about 20 minutes to unlock the gate. Traffic consisting of donkeys and shiny Palestinian SUVs built up on the litter-filled road. Israeli soldiers should be warriors, not have to be "prison" guards.
Gordon was quick to point out that checkpoints along the green line should remain intact— what she sees as the de facto border. She blamed internal checkpoints on "settlers," whom she submits are not all evil. She pledged not to touch politics, but hinted her support for a "democratic" Israel living alongside a judenrein Palestine.
“One state or two states, doesn’t make a difference to me as long as we live in dignity,” said Omar, the owner of the nursery, with Gordon looking upon him like her own son. She beamed as Omar called her a “princess.” But, he added, any land division must be performed under the auspices of the United Nations. A passionate cry for a humanitarian solution, except that in the Muslim world, which dominates the UN, "dignity" translates into living under an Islamic state.
"Jews and Muslims can live together," he assured us. Sure they can, when Jews are as naïve as Gordon.
The love between Gordon and local Arabs was also felt in the town of Jayous (spelled three different ways in the signage) where we met with a Palestinian Authority representative. He tugged heartstrings describing the farmers' difficulty reaching their fields beyond the barrier, land that Israel is purposefully "stealing."
I was more taken by a different wall: the one outside City Hall which featured a map of Israel being showered with blood next to another labeling all of Israel "Palestine." Graffiti asks: "Will my home be free?" Inside, flyers announced events for Nakba, the Arab holiday mourning the "catastrophic" founding of Israel.
Next, in the "village" of Kadum, we drove down windy roads, all decorated with Palestinian flags, passing houses that never seem quite finished, as a local accused the neighboring Jewish town of Kedumim of choking their freedom of movement. He conveniently ignored the wall painted with a swastika.
"We hope for a better future for our children, and freedom and peace for everyone," he concluded with true pageantry. Except that "Freedom and peace" in Islam is synonymous to submission to Islamic law.
No one asked hardball questions—is it because they were afraid of being labeled right-wing extremists?—except for one British gentleman.
"Do you have any power to influence the education system to remove references to Jews as apes and pigs?” he asked.
“We don’t have that access,” Gordon replied, undisturbed.
One of the best parts of the tour was dirt cheap falafel. By dirt cheap, I also mean the joints were dirty. Dust from the main road of Harara blanketed the floor where we ate lunch. 3 shekel falafel!
Too bad my freedom of movement is also constricted. I'd shop there more often. Household appliances, like falafel, are three times cheaper.
But the real treat is supposed to be the town's "knafe," which Gordon raved about.
I was anxious to try this famous delight until I got to the bakery. Posters of Yasser Arafat, responsible for the murder of hundreds of Jews, were plastered all over the exterior glass wall. I boycotted the place.
As we passed the progressive city of Ariel that I call home, we were asked to close the curtains so that we could watch a propaganda film about the crowded conditions at the Qalandiya checkpoint.
“Checkpoints are liable to create terror,” Gordon concluded. In a speech she must have given hundreds of times, she passionately implored us to support her work for the sake of a better future for Israeli children. She meant it. Unlike Americans and Europeans who tell Israel what to do, her children are affected by what happens here.
Maybe, just maybe, her loyalty to Arabs will save her progeny. As their "princess," she'd be spared the violence that will no doubt plague Israel if land is ceded to create a Palestinian state. Unlike most Israelis, she may be free to find refuge in Jayous, or Kadum, or Harara.
But all of us will be spared violence and constricted movement if Gordon leverages her Arab friendships to tear down different walls: the wall seeking Israel’s destruction, the wall marked with the swastika, and the wall celebrating a mass murderer. It's those walls that are truly liable to create terror.