Many of the women are older than the state of Israel itself. Hanna Barag, in her 80s, is one of Machsom Watch’s key activists. This neat, seemingly demure lady will surprise you with her powerful voice, which echoes in her German Colony house when she discusses her experiences in the West Bank. When she first visited the Qalandia checkpoint in 2000, she suffered what she now describes as “a tremendous shock.”
“Qalandia was quite different from what it is today. … It was much worse then, and there was a lot hustle around, and cars, and people screaming.”
The effect was so deep that the next week, Barag pretended to be sick instead of going back. She relates, “The lady from the organization phoned me and said, ‘I know you are not sick. You couldn’t take it. We will help you.’ And that’s how it started.” Today, 12 years on, she describes her role as a kind of a “diplomat” for the organization, liaising between the Palestinians and the IDF. She also helps Palestinians who need to access medical services in Israel.
Barag worked for David Ben-Gurion — Israel’s first prime minister — as his secretary when she was in her early 20s. This, alongside her military service experience of working for the IDF’s chief of staff, is what gave her an initial foothold to set up a dialogue with the army.
“I realized I have an opening — and we needed it,” she says, but the effects were not immediate.
“It took us 10 years to have the first feeling in a big way that someone was listening,” explains Barag. The change came several years ago when, after many years of complaints from Machsom Watch and other organizations and human rights activists, the army changed the conditions in Qalandia, the largest crossing in the Jerusalem area. According to data from the Association for Civil Rights, in 2009 some 20,000 people passed through the crossing on a daily basis.
“The [IDF] changed and extended the opening times, and they opened all the stations, and they made changes in who is able to cross, with which IDs. And suddenly, you come there and people don’t wait for six hours like they used to,” says Barag, noting that many problems still remain. “The IDF officers phoned us after it happened and told us that we had a big share in all of this. So one morning … it was possible. But why wasn’t it possible in the 10 previous years?”
Of course it had to be women … lovely!
One can’t avoid asking himself why not more of these rule the world… and why most of those women who ruled, such as Golda Meir or Margaret Tatcher, had to be “Iron Ladies” in order to prove they deserved the seat “same as a man”.
… as if being same as most ruling men was something to feel proud of.