Palestine: 250 Palestinian & Israeli women in West Bank Civil Disobedience Conference

Lo Metsaytot (We Do Not Obey)

On March 12, 2011, women human rights defenders from Palestine and Israel marked the centenary of International Women's Day with a historic conference at which the following contributions were made:  Ilana Hammerman: The "Entry to Israel" law is illegal and should not be obeyed; and Rivka Sum: The attack in Itamar proves that we should continue to work daily together to end the impossible occupation. 

"The law regulating entry into Israel is illegal and should not be obeyed. As a group of women practicing civil disobedience, we will continue to work to destabilize the system of military decrees and regulations that make the life of our Palestinian friends and their families unbearable," said writer and translator Ilana Hammerman in an unprecedented women’s conference in the West Bank, celebrating civil disobedience. 

250 women, both Israeli citizens and Palestinians from the West Bank (in roughly equal numbers), spent the day discussing ways to practice civil disobedience. 

The presence of Israeli citizens in the Palestinian town of Beit Ommar is in itself an act of defiance: the Israeli Army has pasted large signs at the entrance to Beit Ommar forbidding entry to Israeli citizens. The signs claim wrongly that Area Beit Ommar is in Area A, and is thus under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In fact, the Oslo accords clearly state that it is in Area B and is indeed treated as such by the Israeli security forces, who prevent Palestinian security forces from acting in the village. 

Fida Arar and Ghadeer Abu Ayyash, from Beit Ommar, and Yusra Hammam of Hussan described in detail the suffering of Palestinian women at the checkpoints on the way to work. In addition to the burden of providing for their families (with fathers and husbands often imprisoned or unable to get work) they are forced to spend long hours in line on a daily basis, and to undergo often humiliating searches. The Palestinian women also called attention to the impoverished status of women within Palestinian society, and called upon women to insist on their rights for education and more freedom of choice. 

Sara Beninga, an activist in the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, focused on the political investigation initiated by the Israeli police against the activists. Crying slogans against the occupation is now labeled as "incitement" and criminalized, she explained, and thus, "joint non-violent activity by Palestinians and Israelis against the occupation is presently conceived as the most intimidating threat to the Israeli regime." 

Participants directly referred to the killing attack in the Itamar settlement in the West Bank few hours before the conference took place. Rivka Sum, a veteran Israeli activist, said: "These violent events, which will not end as long as the occupation continues, stress the commitment we must have to act together daily to end the present situation which is impossible." Another Israeli said "Our objection to violence also includes the phenomena of Palestinian Baruch Goldstein" [referring to an Israeli settler who slaughtered 40 Palestinians in a mosque some years ago]. She added: "For years Israeli society has had a monopoly over violence in the area. Israel dedicates half its national budget to maintain this monopoly. It is hardly surprising that the other side will continue to try and break it." 

On the Palestinian side one of the women said: "We too condemn the use of violence. It has not contributed to our progress but on the contrary, back fires on our own public". 

Participants described the path-breaking conference, which was planned to coincide with International Women's Day, as a powerful emotional experience. "It is a rare occasion for us to be hosted so generously by women who live under occupation, in spite of all the wrongs done to the Palestinian society by our side", said the Israeli feminist activist Yvonne Deutsch. Artist Tamar Borrer, a trio of Arab-Israeli singers and the Debkka Dance Group of Beit Ommar graciously performed during the conference. 

12 March 2011

Photographs by Esti Tzal