- Human Rights NGO that monitors and reports on Israeli Defense Force checkpoints
Machsom Watch (MW) is a volunteer organization composed exclusively of Israeli women. It was co-founded in January 2001 by social worker/activist Ronnee Jaeger, gender-studies activist Adi Kuntsman, and UK-born Yehudit Keshet, who has been involved with such organizations as the Communist Party and the Coalition of Women for Peace. The word “machsom” is Hebrew for “checkpoint,” a reference to the dozens of locations where Israeli police officers and IDF personnel monitor and regulate border crossings from the West Bank into Israel, so as to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering the Jewish state. Jaeger, Kuntsman, and Keshet formed Machsom Watch “in response to repeated reports in the press about human rights abuses [against] Palestinians” crossing these checkpoints. MW’s earliest outside recruits to its organization were members of Women In Black.
Asserting that the Israeli-run checkpoints “severely restrict Palestinian daily life” and impede “the right of Palestinians to move freely in their land,” MW members spend three-to-four-hour shifts in small groups each day observing the interaction between Israeli soldiers or border police and Palestinians at checkpoints throughout the West Bank. The Machsom Watchers often document their observations with photographs or videos, and sometimes they intervene to assist Palestinians who are engaged in disputes with Israeli officers. After each shift, MW observers compose reports in Hebrew and English and distribute them to Knesset members, military commanders, High Court judges, the State Comptroller, other human-rights organizations, and the general public. These reports commonly employ what NGO Monitor describes as “emotive and politically charged language that contributes to the demonization of Israel.”
MW also sponsors periodic tours to the West Bank, to help people from around the world “acquire an understanding of daily life” in the region while “meeting with Palestinians who continue to wish for peace.” These tours are carefully orchestrated to present Palestinians as victims of relentless Israeli oppression.
The ultimate objective of MW’s reports, videos, photographs, and tours is “to influence public opinion in Israel and throughout the world by recording and authenticating the impossible conditions faced by the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.” By MW’s telling, the border checkpoints are places where Palestinians are routinely “humiliated” and “subject[ed] to abuse,” and where “their time is wasted interminably.” More than once, MW reports and officials have claimed that the checkpoints exist mainly for the purpose of inconveniencing and humiliating Palestinians, rather than to guard the security of Israeli citizens.
Aside from the issue of checkpoints, MW also objects to the fact that Palestinians accused of violating Israeli laws are tried not in civilian courtrooms, but rather, “in military courts in which the judges and prosecutors are uniformed Israeli army officers.” Asserting that prosecutions therein are “based primarily upon incriminations” rather than substantive evidence, MW claims that “the means of interrogation often leads detainees to confess to deeds they have not committed.”
MW is also a vocal critic of what it terms “the bureaucracy of occupation” — i.e., the network of regulations that prevent certain Palestinian residents of the “occupied territories” from entering Israel, the settlements, or the seam zone (the area between the Green Line and the Separation Barrier). By MW’s telling, many Palestinians have been “blacklisted,” on “no justifiable basis,” from being permitted to enter those regions. One MW report claims that Israel’s “bureaucratic regulations … are aimed solely at impeding the Palestinians’ lives.”
According to MW, the hallmarks of “the Israeli occupation” in the West Bank include “collective punishment,” “apartheid,” a “policy of suppression and dehumanization,” “the appropriation of Palestinian land,” and “the denial of Palestinian human rights.” In sum, these Israeli transgressions “impos[e] unbearable burdens on Palestinians” and thereby “disrup[t] all aspects of the ordinary fabric of their lives.” MW co-founder Yehudit Kirstein-Keshet, for her part, accuses Israel of “pure racism, violation of freedom of worship, and cruelty.”
In its various actions and publications, MW has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for Israel, and its sympathy for Palestinian terrorists:
- In the summer of 2003, for instance, MW celebrated the fact that the IDF had “fortunately failed” in its recent efforts to assassinate Hamas leaders Ahmad Yassin and Isma’il Haniyeh, both of whom were responsible for numerous suicide bombings. Silent regarding Hamas’s relentless terror war against Israeli Jews, the report accused the IDF of seeking only to exact “revenge.”
- In a December 2006 report, MW denounced Israel’s implementation of “draconian regulations” such as a new Directive prohibiting the transportation of West Bank Palestinians in Israeli cars. The report omitted any mention of the fact that the statute in question had been implemented after several cases where Palestinian terrorists had used Israeli drivers to take them into Israel, where they subsequently carried out deadly attacks. In early 2007, MW signed a petition claiming that the aforementioned Directive “implements an ideology of ‘segregation’,” “creates an apartheid regime,” promotes the “persecution of a national group,” and seeks mainly “to create segregation and discrimination, and not to preserve security.” Other signatories included the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, HaMoked, Gisha, Physicians for Human Rights, and Bimkom Planners for Planning Rights.
- In an April 2007 report titled “Invisible Prisoners” MW asked: “How did it happen that the Jewish nation, itself the eternal victim of persecution for generation upon generation, dreamt up and created such a dismal reality [for Palestinians] in the back yard of its own state?”
- In May 2009, MW joined the Coalition of Women for Peace, Mossawa, Israel Social TV, Women Against Violence, the Israel Committee Against House Demolitions, Zochrot, and the Alternative Information Center, in writing a letter urging the Norwegian Government Pension Fund (NGPF) “to stop investing in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.” The letter accused a number of Israeli and international corporations of “provid[ing] specifically designed equipment for the surveillance and repression of [the] Palestinian population through restrictions of movement and collective punishments.” As a result of pressure from this campaign, the NGPF divested its funds from the Israeli company, Elbit Ltd.
- In the aftermath of a March 2011 Palestinian terrorist attack that murdered five Jewish family members (including three small children) in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, MW activists visited the Palestinian town of Awarta to comfort the relatives of those who had been arrested for the killings. MW spokeswoman Raya Yaron was photographed hugging the mother of one of the terrorists.
Tax-deductible donations to Machsom Watch are made through the New Israel Fund, which acts as MW’s fiscal agent and is one of the group’s leading supporters. Other noteworthy benefactors of MW include the the Delegation of the European Union to the State of Israel, George Soros‘s Open Society Foundations, and the A.J. Muste Institute. To view a list of additional funders of MW, click here.
For additional information on Machsom Watch, click here.