Where Politics Are Complex, Simple Joys at the Beach

Published: July 26, 2011

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,
throwing back their heads and ultimately laughing with

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,
in fact, was part of the point: to protest what they and
their hosts consider unjust laws.

In the grinding rut of Israeli-Palestinian relations -- no
negotiations, mutual recriminations, growing distance and
dehumanization -- 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 traveled to Tel Aviv from Haifa
to take part. "But it is one more activity to oppose the
occupation. One day in the future, 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, determined movement of
civil disobedience.

Ilana Hammerman, a writer, translator and editor, had been
spending time in the West Bank learning Arabic when a girl
there told her she was desperate to get out, even for a
day. Ms. Hammerman, 66, a widow with a grown son, decided
to smuggle her to the beach. The resulting trip, described
in an article she wrote for the weekend magazine of the
newspaper Haaretz, prompted other Israeli women to invite
her to speak, and led to the creation of a group they call
We Will Not Obey. It also led a right-wing organization to
report her to the police, who summoned her for

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. They are not permitted free movement within the
occupied territories nor are they allowed into the towns
and cities across the green line, where their families,
their nation, and their traditions are deeply rooted.

"They and we, all ordinary citizens, took this step with a
clear and resolute mind. In this way we were privileged to
experience one of the most beautiful and exciting days of
our lives, to meet and befriend our brave Palestinian
neighbors, and together with them, to be free women, if
only for one day."

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

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