Poet Klil Zisapel was one of twelve Israeli women that took a group of Palestinian women and children on a fun outing to Tel Aviv, knowingly violating the Entry into Israel Act. In an interview to +972mag Klil explains her own reasons for taking part in this initiative, and shares some of the experiences of that special day
An unusual ad appeared in the Haaretz daily a month or so ago: it held the story of twelve Israeli women about how they took a group of Palestinian women and children on a fun outing in Tel Aviv; by doing so they intentionally violated Israel’s entry laws and, like their Palestinian travel-mates, taking on the risk of long-term imprisonment. Since the nineties, the Palestinian population is denied permission to leave the West Bank without special authorization from Israel’s military – and such permits are only given to a select few.
“We crossed the checkpoint with them [the Palestinian women] and knowingly violated the Entry into Israel Act. We are hereby declaring this fact publicly… we do not recognize the legitimacy of the Entry Into Israel Act, which permits every Israeli and every Jew to move freely throughout most of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River and denies that right to the Palestinian, whose land this is, as well,” said the ad which they published in Haaretz. Following the publication, a right-wing organization filed a complaint with the police, demanding that the ad signatories be prosecuted. The penalty set forth by law for the crime of moving from the Palestinian Authority into Israel any person who does not have a legal pass to be there is up to two years of imprisonment.
Poet Klil Zisapel was one of the Israeli women who took part in organizing the Israeli-Palestinian trip to Tel Aviv. She talks here about the motivation behind the public flouting of the law, the decisions about where to travel, and the shared experiences of that day.
Q: Why did you decide to flout the Entry into Israel Act openly?
Klil Zisapel: “I suppose that this idea comes into being in every one of the Israelis who travels to and from the Occupied Territories and who has any kind of personal relationship with Palestinians. A personal relationship brings into consciousness the absurdity of the situation and makes it impossible to forget the terrible strictures imposed on the population which is living on its own land, in areas that are under Israeli occupation. A real relationship with anyone, beyond the wall and on the other side of the checkpoints, suddenly focuses in the life of an Israeli Jew like me the enormous price that tens of thousands of innocent people on the other side are made to pay.
“It is a daily price, a wicked and strangulatory one – it cannot be described only in words, or at least it cannot be grasped through the enumeration of the prohibitions and restriction in their own right. Relationships with Palestinians make present the terrible things done in our name, as Israelis, and the constant presence of these pangs from our conscience arouses the need to rise up and cross boundaries.
“The initiative itself started with a similar action which Ilana (Hammerman) reported in an article in Haaretz, born of her relationship with a Palestinian family. This was neither the first nor the only case, but in most other cases, violation of the Entry into Israel Act was done for medical or other urgent reasons. However, there were other cases where Ilana drove people who did not have passes in her car, for purposes similar to the ones in the article.
“After a complaint was filed with the police about Ilana, I told her that I would really like to do that sort of thing, too, but my Palestinian friends were afraid – and from their perspective, this may have been justified. The prior and dangerous experience of a young man in sneaking into Israel and moving around its back yards, attempting to make a living, does not leave him space to put himself into danger for spiritual ‘luxuries’, despite the desire to see the Mediterranean or Acca or Ramle, or the curiosity to peek at the tall buildings in Tel Aviv or to visit my home.
“The other women who signed the ad also contacted Ilana, each in her own time and in her own way. It was finally proposed that a joint, multi-person trip be organized, one which could rail against the filing of the complaint, evoke a greater public resonance, and encourage other people to join this kind of initiative. The goal was to make the opening of [criminal] proceedings against us, if such a thing would indeed happen, more comprehensive – and thereby, all the more spurious.
“It is important to note that all of the other Israeli women are or were active in various contexts. Most of them, like Ilana, have already found themselves violating the Entry into Israel Act or one of the other laws of the occupation, through relationships that they had formed with Palestinians. Thus, the public and symbolic action also had significance for the Israel women involved, because it implies and enfolds within it the prior, personal, private civil disobedience that each of us had committed.”
Q: How did the relationship with the Palestinian women who took part in the trip come into being?
KZ: “I cannot answer that question, due to concerns about exposing organizers on the other side. The sanctions that could be imposed on them due to illegal stays inside Israel could be most grave, especially due to the defiant and provocative nature of this action.
“I can only say that people who wanted to come were indeed found. One of the women even told Ilana and Ofra (Yeshua-Lyth) on the last meeting that a million Palestinian women already want to come with us for a trip into Israel. Of course, that is an exaggeration, but we want to believe that this statement expresses the enthusiasm on the other side.
“In a preliminary meeting we talked about options. I thought – and also said – that it would be best to violate the Family Unification Act, which is in fact a law against family unification, and its declared goals are demographic. In other word, cross the checkpoints into the country, with the women and the children, to Acca or to Baka Al Gharbia or wherever, to meet a grandmother or other relatives that they had not seen for years or perhaps ever. There was agreement that it was a good idea, but that organizing such an operation would be complex and take a long time, so that will be next time, inshallah.”
Q: How did you decide where to go?
KZ: “A preliminary meeting was held with the Palestinian women and indeed, there was deliberation about the destinations. Jerusalem, and in particular, the Al Aqsa Mosque, were the preferred destination for them. I’m afraid to say that this was taken off the agenda, because we feared for their safety: there is dense police action in Jerusalem, and many cases of requiring and examining identification papers – especially for Arabs, in an intentional search for people traveling without a permit. The situation is different in Tel Aviv.
“We continued deliberating this until almost the very last moment, and eventually some of the women (depending on the car they were in) visited one place or another and the others did not. But for all of them, the focal meeting was at lunch, in a Jaffa restaurant overlooking the sea, and then we spent many hours on the Ajami beach. On the way back, the women looked at Al Aqsa from Mount Scopus.”
Q: Some would say that the Palestinians have more pressing issues than the need for having a fun day in Tel Aviv.
KZ: “Of course there are countless requirements of the population that lives under occupation, all of which are urgent. However, I think there is a point to choosing such a day of fun. It seems to me that few of the Israelis would say that they object to such a trip in and of itself, if it were not against the law, and that the law was meant to ban entry to people intent on committing attacks. But the truth is that the border is not hermetically sealed. There are many people among us who do not have valid passes, but most residents of Israel, including members of my own family, do not imagine this nor do they think about it. These Palestinians do not cause any damage to Israel or to the Israelis, but they are never openly supported by the construction contractors or restaurant-owners that employ them. If they are caught, they are entirely on their own. Unfortunately, some employers seem to see an advantage in having employees with no rights, without the ability to complain or even to demand their fair wage, if they were deprived of it.
“The great risk which the Palestinian women assumed, and the (small) risk which we assumed are in direct contrast of the daily reality of the pores and holes in the separation policy. I would like to be able to hope that in our unusual and somewhat pointless action can shed light on the absurdity of the Entry into Israel Act. It may be able to provide a peephole into the mass that is blocked and imprisoned beyond the wall and the checkpoints: women, children, and elderly people, none of whom can visit their family members or their holy places or their places of birth. And also, the sea, for those who are moved by it. That day, one elderly woman shed quiet tears when she saw the sea.”
Q: Please tell us more about the day you spent together.
KZ: “The experience itself was really most exciting, and throughout that day I found myself feeling a variety of surprising feelings. For example, about clothing. We were driving down Nordau Avenue in Tel Aviv, a 26-year-old Palestinian woman, her four-year-old daughter, Ilana, and myself – and as we got relatively close to the beach and could see people walking toward it I could see that the girl was laughing, and the mother was laughing with her a bit, but trying to choke down the laughter and silence her. When I looked out the window I saw men of all ages wearing only shorts and beach flip-flops, and nothing else, and women of all ages in the very shortest of dresses – and I suddenly understood that this scene seemed to them (and suddenly, to me, too) ridiculous, embarrassing, and unnecessary. I asked them if she was laughing because everything was so short, so bare (talking with our hands helped, too, and after all, I was also wearing a sleeveless shirt, although my pants came down beyond my knees). The mother, who did not want to offend us, admitted with some embarrassment that it was indeed so, and she was relieved when we laughed together. It was no less hot in their village, but everyone there was covered in such a way that was not disturbing or eye-catching. To tell you the truth, in contrast to what I could suddenly see through their eyes in Tel Aviv, it was a more pleasant sight.
“And on the other hand, one of the women wore makeup. One of the girls really liked the light scarf I brought to cover my shoulders, so I left it for her, to her obvious delight; for other women we bought straw hats, because they loved the hats worn by Israeli women. This is feminine communication which is somewhat silly but is also intimate, and linked us with the women. I have learned not to dismiss this communication, although it could of course be sparse and impoverish communication if that is as far as it goes.
“Here is another example: when we got to Tel Aviv, seeing the huge buildings which stand to such great heights, the four-year-old girl who was in the car with me told her mother that when she gets back, she will ask her father to build a tall building for her, too, in their village. When Ilana translated the girl’s response to me I laughed and asked Ilana: ‘oh no, are we doing a good or a bad thing here?’
“And there was also intimacy which is simply human, which comes into being unexpectedly in the course of such a day. That sort of thing happened when one of the Palestinian young women feared for her unborn baby, whose movements she had not felt since the morning. When finally, in the late afternoon, she told Michal Pundak about it, Michal called a friend of hers, a doctor, and got advice from him: she should lie on her left side and have some chocolate. After long and scary minutes, the baby kicked. The moments of joint concern, the cheers of relief when things fell into place – these formed a deep and enduring bond between Michal and that woman.”
This interview, originally written in Hebrew, was translated to English by Dena Shunra.
UPDATE: Yossi Sarid has picked Ilana Hammerman as his woman of the year.