The Sydney Morning Herald

West Bank women beside themselves to be beside the seaside

Author: Ethan Bronner, The New York Times
Date: 28/07/2011
Words: 514
Source: SMH
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Page: 10
TEL AVIV: Skittish at first, then wide-eyed with delight, the women and girls entered the sea, smiling, splashing and then joining hands, getting knocked over by the waves. Most had never seen the sea before.

The women were Palestinians from the southern part of the West Bank, which is landlocked, and Israel does not allow them in. They risked criminal prosecution, along with the dozen Israeli women who took them to the beach. And that was part of the point: to protest what they and their hosts consider unjust laws.

In the grinding rut of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the illicit trip was a rare event that joined the simplest of pleasures with the most complex of politics. It showed why coexistence here is hard, but also why there are, on both sides, people who refuse to give up on it.

"What we are doing here will not change the situation," said Hanna Rubinstein, who travelled to Tel Aviv from Haifa to take part. "But it is one more activity to oppose the occupation. One day ... people will ask, like they did of the Germans, 'Did you know?' And I will be able to say, 'I knew. And I acted."'

Such visits began a year ago as the idea of one Israeli, and have blossomed into a small movement of civil disobedience.

Ilana Hammerman, a writer, translator and editor, had been spending time in the West Bank learning Arabic when a girl told her she was desperate to get out, even for a day. Hammerman, 66, smuggled her to the beach.

The trip, described in an article she wrote for the daily newspaper Haaretz, led to the creation of a group they call "We Will Not Obey". It also led a right-wing organisation to report her to the police, who summoned her for questioning.

In a newspaper advertisement, the group of women declared: "We cannot assent to the legality of the Law of Entry into Israel, which allows every Israeli and every Jew to move freely in all regions between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, while depriving Palestinians of this same right."

The police have questioned 28 of the Israeli women in the group, their cases are pending. So far, none of the Palestinian women and girls have been caught or questioned by the police.

The beach trip last week followed a pattern: the Palestinian women went in disguise, which meant removing clothes rather than covering up. They sat in the back seats of Israeli cars driven by middle-aged Jewish women, and took off headscarves and long gowns.

As the cars drove through an Israeli army checkpoint, everyone just waved.

The beach trips - seven so far - have produced some tense moments. An effort to generate interest in a university library fell flat. An invitation to spend the night met with rejection by Palestinian husbands and fathers. And at a predominantly Jewish beach, a policeman made everyone nervous.

So, on this latest visit, the selected beach was one in Jaffa that is frequented by Israeli Arabs. Nobody noticed the visitors.

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