Machsom Watch

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Machsom Watch, or Checkpoint Watch is a group of Israeli women who monitor checkpoints in the West Bank and the military courts, out of opposition to the Israeli occupation.[1] The self described "politically pluralistic" human rights organization is composed entirely of Israeli women, who tend to have a "liberal or leftist background".[2] Machsom Watch claims to have 400 members, notably including former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's daughter Dana. The word machsom is Hebrew for "checkpoint," referring to Israeli Defense Forces checkpoints which control movement between different parts of the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel.

According to its website, the group's aims are to monitor the behavior of soldiers and police at checkpoints; 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.[1] Some members also see their role as protesting against the existence of the checkpoints.[3][4]

Machsom Watch has been accused of disrupting the work at the checkpoints and entering restricted areas without permission.[5]

In response to the group's contentions regarding the checkpoints, the IDF has implemented training procedures intended to ensure respectful behavior by soldiers.[6]


Machsom Watch was founded in 2001 by Ronnee Jaeger, previously a human-rights worker in Guatemala and Mexico; Adi Kuntsman, who arrived in Israel from the Soviet Union in 1990; and Yehudit Keshet, a former Orthodox Jew and scholar of Talmudic ethics, in response to allegations of human-rights violations at IDF and border-police checkpoints.[1] The three activists made a decision to travel to Bethlehem checkpoint so they could observe what was happening there with their own eyes. In a matter of weeks they were joined by 30 female activists who started visiting checkpoints in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Membership of the organisation is given to all those who volunteer to participate in monitoring at the checkpoints [7]

By 2002 due to media coverage the organisation had attracted 200 members. Based in Tel Aviv the volunteers began to observe checkpoints in the heart of the West Bank. At its height membership reached 400 volunteers in 2004.[7]

The group has also expressed concern about what they say is "the excessive Israeli response to the Al Aqsa Intifada and the prolonged closure and siege of villages and towns on the West Bank".[1]


The primary activity of the organisation is the regular, systematic observation of Israeli military checkpoints in Jerusalem and the West Bank along with the reporting of their findings to decision makers and the wider public.[7]

Machsom Watch volunteers visit the checkpoints in daily shifts of 2–4 hours, morning and afternoon, where they position themselves in proximity to the Israeli soldiers so they can monitor their interaction with Palestinians. Volunteers document their observations with notes and photographs. They also try to intervene on behalf of Palestinians when something inappropriate occurs or something has been ignored or overlooked by the Israeli soldiers. Intervention is made firstly by directly approaching soldiers, when this is ineffective attempts are made to contact higher military ranks, the media and Israeli politicians.[7]

Reported incidents[edit]

The Beit-Iba checkpoint violin incident[edit]

On 9 November 2004, members of Machsom Watch released a video of IDF soldiers requiring Wissam Tayam, a Palestinian violinist, to play his instrument at a checkpoint.[8][9] The IDF announced that the soldier had acted insensitively and reprimanded him, but later declared that the violinist had been playing voluntarily.[10] The violinist later rejected the IDF's assessment, stating that he never offered to play and that the soldiers had asked him to do so. The Maschom Watch observers said that they did not hear the discussion between the violinist and the soldiers and did not speak Arabic, which Tayam speaks.[11] A month after the incident, Tayam was invited to attend a seminar for violinists at a kibbutz in Western Galilee.[12]

Reactions, accusations of bias and the "violin incident"[edit]

Criticisms of Machsom Watch[edit]

During a two-hour meeting with members of the group in March 2006, IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told the women that: "Humanitarianism is not exclusively owned by Machsom Watch and it is tested not only at the checkpoints, but also in preventing suicide bombers from reaching the markets of Tel Aviv and Netanya."[13]

In fall 2008, company commanders in the Military Police's Taoz Battalion began filming Machson Watch's activities as a result of repeated complaints from soldiers that Machson Watch and similar organizations were disrupting the work at the checkpoints and entering restricted areas without permission.[5]

According to Yossi Olmert, a political commentator, Machsom Watch volunteers "disrupt the work of soldiers at checkpoints who are trying, not always successfully, to prevent the entry of terrorists."[14] On May 2006, the group sent a letter of apology to the IDF after activists had verbally attacked a soldier, called him "Nazi" and other profanities as he asked Palestinians to stand in line for an ID check at a checkpoint leading into Israel.[15]

Support of Machsom Watch[edit]

In March 2004, the group was awarded the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel[16] for "their remarkable activities and ongoing surveillance of operations of the armed forces at checkpoints in the occupied territories, at a time of general indifference and waning sensitivity to the human rights of Palestinians".[17]

In an editorial of March 8, 2006, Haaretz argued that organizations like Machsom Watch should not be viewed negatively in Israel: "This organization - like other human rights organizations, each of which focuses on a different consequence of the occupation - is the least that Israeli citizens can do to try to prevent injustices stemming from the occupation. Life under the anomaly of an occupation regime produces strange solutions, such as the presence of women alongside soldiers in an effort to ensure a more humane routine. The human rights organizations are the state's pride, not a threat that must be liquidated or minimized."[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Machsom Watch website
  2. ^ Grandmothers on Guard Mother Jones, November/December 2004
  3. ^ 'Watch' (in Hebrew), accessed 11 March 2006.
  4. ^ 'Many Mothers' by Sima Kadmon, Yedioth Ahronoth, 21 November 2003, accessed 11 March 2006.
  5. ^ a b Elazar, Ido; Tal, Uri (31 October 2008). "Watch Out: The Company Commanders at the Checkpoints will Film Human Rights Organizations". Bamahane (42nd Edition (2008)): p. 12. 
  6. ^ Haughey, Naula. Irish Times, 12 June 2005. 'Israeli checkpoint monitors decry their army's abuse of Palestinians' - Reproduction, accessed 11 March 2006.
  7. ^ a b c d Kaufman, Ilana (2008). "Resisting occupation or institutionalizing control? Israeli women and protest in west bank checkpoints" (PDF). nternational Journal of Peace Studies 13 (1): 43–62. Retrieved 2013-03-17. 
  8. ^ Israel shocked by image of soldiers forcing violinist to play at roadblock November 29, 2004.
  9. ^ Israel army forces violin recital 25 Nov 2004.
  10. ^ "Investigation Regarding Violin Incident At Checkpoint [not asked to play]". November 30, 2004. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  11. ^ Eldar, Akiva (November 30, 2004). "Palestinian violinist slams claim troops didn't force him to play". Haaretz. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  12. ^ Khoury, Jack (December 24, 2004). "'Checkpoint violinist' thrilled to attend Galilee music seminar". Haaretz. Retrieved July 3, 2012. 
  13. ^ Harel, Amos 'IDF chief invites anti-fence protesters to Tel Aviv meeting', Haaretz, 5 March 2006, accessed 11 March 2006.
  14. ^ Stannard, Matthew B. 'A Time Of Change: Israelis, Palestinians And The Disengagement: At Checkpoints, A Gentle Advocate For Palestinians', San Francisco Chronicle, 2 August 2005, accessed 11 March 2006.
  15. ^ Soldier: Machsom Watch activist called me Nazi Ynetnews, 23 May 2006
  16. ^ "List of recipients of the Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award on the Association of Human Rights in Israel website" (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2010-06-20. 
  17. ^ ACRI Website, Association for Civil Rights in Israel - Winners, accessed 14 March 2006.
  18. ^ Editorial, 'Who is for the state, and who is against?', Haaretz, 8 March 2006, accessed 14 March 2006.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]