Rhonda Spivak, an attorney and a writer, is a member of the Canadian and Israel Bar Associations, now editing the Winnipeg Jewish Report at http://winnipegjewishreport.com/

Former Winnipegger and Israeli citizen, Ronee Yaeger, is a founder of Machshom Watch, a well-known human rights organization {Funded through the New Israel Fund – db] made up of Israeli women who monitor the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli soldiers at checkpoints in the West Bank. [Machsom is the Hebrew word for checkpoint].

Yaeger addressed an audience of about thirty people at an event sponsored by the United Jewish People’s Order held at the Millenium Library on Sunday January 10.

Yaeger, “who now lives half of the year in Israel and half of the year in Toronto” told the the Winnipeg Jewish Report, that she founded Machsom Watch in 2001, because of her previous experience in Latin America.

“Prior to [founding Machsom Watch] I had worked for 8-10 years in the field of human rights in Latin America, so I understood the importance of documentation. I understood that it was important to record at such and such a date at a certain place this and this happened. You do this in the hope that eventually in time history will correct things, and [injustices can be addressed].”

According to its website, the Machsom Watch aims to ensure that the human and civil rights of Palestinians attempting to enter Israel are protected; and record and report the results of their observations to the widest possible audience, from decision-makers to the general public.

In her remarks at the event, Yaeger said that the organization calls for the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

She said that the women who go to the checkpoints vote for various parties in Israel “No one asks anyone how they vote. I only know how a few of my closest friends vote,” said Yaeger, who noted that “a Co-founder of Machsom Watch is a very [religiously]observant person”.

Yaeger also said that “We [Machsom Watch] have access to any checkpoint [in the West Bank] but we can’t get to all of them quickly.”

The white haired Yaeger noted that “Most women that [stand at the checkpoints] are white haired and look like grandmothers,” adding that“ this is a good thing” because most soldiers realize that “I could be their grandmother.” Yaeger said she is never afraid that a soldier will hurt her.

Yaeger said that “I think that soldiers should thank me for what I am doing”, for “standing there and helping save them from doing things that they will have to live with.”

She gave the example of an old Palestinian woman who wanted to go not into Israel, but into another Palestinian village to see her daughter. Yaeger told the soldier to treat her respectfully.

“I was once at a small checkpoint [with another woman]- and all of a sudden a [Palestninian] man was taken behind a structure so we couldn’t see him.”

She said that then they saw a man with a television camera filming a pastoral scene nearby.

“We called him over and he started filming, and we told the soldier that this was a TV camera and he’s an American,” she added.

In answer to a question from the Winnipeg Jewish Report, Yaeger said that the Machsom Watch women stand on the Israeli side of a checkpoint since they are Israeli citizens.

“We stand where the soldiers allow us. Generally we stand close…We never go alone…there are always 2-4 [Machsom Watch]women” she noted.

Yaeger indicated that some soldiers do not like the presence of the Machsom Watch women. “I have been spat at,” she said.

But in answer to a question from the Winnipeg Jewish Report, she said “some soldiers are easy to talk to”, and “some soldiers are decent,’’ and that some soldiers “hang back” because “a lot of soldiers don’t want to be part of this.”

In an editorial of March 8, 2006, Haaretz argued that human rights organizations such as Machsom Watch, with the ‘ the presence of women alongside soldiers in an effort to ensure a more humane routine,” are “the state’s pride, not a threat that must be liquidated or minimized.”

COURT WATCH:

According to Yaeger, another development that has evolved out of Machsom watch is “Court Watch.” Yaeger related that at a checkpoint she saw a young Palestinian man smiling. A soldier said “stop smiling”, and the man said” “I’m not.” The soldier then apprehended the man and took him into a van.

Yaeger said “we didn’t know what happened to these detainees,” so Machsom Watch followed the van to a military prison.

“…[We] decided to check out military prisons,” noted Yaeger, who said that the women now have access to Israeli prisons and record what happens there “because some day those recordings can be used to right wrongs.”

She said that the women now are able to watch the proceedings at Israeli military courts.

Most of the Palestinian men who come before them, are “under 25,” according to Yaeger.

For example, one man from Ramallah was asked to film a part of Palestinian life for a university class and he filmed a checkpoint and was apprehended.

“He had been jailed for three months for doing an assignment,” said Yaeger, who noted that he “will get out of jail” because his family was wealthy.

Yaeger described another case of an older Palestinian man [a “parliamentarian” in Gaza] who had been picked up crossing from Jordan to Gaza, and was facing charges in military court of being a member of Hamas. She said that the prosecutor didn’t have to tell the man’s lawyer what the evidence was against him.The prosecutor said “it’s secret” and the Judge said “no, this information is secret,” and he was sent back to jail.

“Only lately have we been able to find a system to track [what happens] to these people,’ she said.

Audience at Ronnie Yaeger’s talk.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

TWO STATES OR ONE ?

Yaeger noted she votes for the Hadash party in Israeli elections. When asked if Hadash supports a one or two state solution, Yaeger said “there are many voices within Hadash.”

In Yaeger’s view, the United States ought to stop funding Israeli settlements beyond the ’67 border, the occupation must end, and then “there ought to be “difficult intense negotiations” between Israelis and Palestinians.

She said the results of negotiations could be either a “a two state” or “one state solution,” noting that “whatever happens, happens… our job is to stop the occupation.” She said that the negotiated solution must be based “on freedom and equality…I don’t know where it will go.”

Yaeger said she feels “connected to the Jews that live in Israel” but “I can’t say I love Israel.” She said she saw Israel largely “as a tragedy.” She then added that she loves her partner Sam [Blatt], but she can’t say she loves him “all of the time.”

Yaeger also said “I don’t have such a strong feeling about the destruction of Israel as a state.”

In an interview following the event, The Winnipeg Jewish Report asked Yaeger to clarify exactly what she meant by that statement. She answered, “I’m not so sure I am married to the idea of a State [of Israel]. I am married to the idea of Jews [and Jewish life] surviving, and I’m worried that there will be a blood bath [in Israel-Palestine], such that there will be mass deaths [in the area].

Yaeger noted that her sons live in Canada so they don’t have to be in the Israeli army.

She also said, that most Jewish settlers “are secular, not religious, and they are living in the settlements “to get free land”

In answer to a question by David Weller, who referred to Israel as a “fascist state,” Yaeger said that in Toronto she had titled her talk, “Israel: Tilting to Fascism.”

Weller also said that in Winnipeg, “we feel the long arm of the fascist state Israel moving right here into our community” in the fact that UJPO was banned from having their political forums at the Gwen Secter Creative Living Centre.

However, another audience member disagreed with Weller, noting that Israel couldn’t be faulted for UJPO being banned by the Gwen Secter Centre, as it “is [Jewish] Canadians who made that decision.

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