Harriet Sherwood
The Guardian
January 18, 2011 - 1:00am

In a small village between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, I joined a remarkable group of women and children for lunch last weekend, a noisy and cheerful crowd enjoying plates of chicken, fish, rice and salad. All of them were breaking the law.

The party consisted of around 20 mostly middle-aged Israeli women, slightly fewer and younger Palestinian women and a handful of the latter's children.

The Palestinians were from villages in the West Bank and therefore forbidden entry into Israel without proper permits. The Israeli women had illegally brought them across checkpoints for a day out – a journey that is both just a few miles and an impossible distance.

This wasn't the first occasion; there have been previous trips to Tel Aviv and Jaffa and to the zoo in Jerusalem. For many of the Palestinians, it is their first trip across the Green Line into Israel. Earlier trips have been described by Ilana Hammerman, one of the organisers, in the Israeli paper Haaretz, and by Rachel Shabi in the Guardian last September.

But in recent weeks, the Israelis – who describe themselves as "women who disobey" – have begun to be questioned individually by the police about their actions. Some see this as part of a bigger picture of intolerance and harassment of groups and individuals supporting co-existence, civil and human rights, and opposing Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.

Many civil and human rights groups and politicians across the spectrum here detect a growing campaign against those challenging the "norm" of occupation. That, on a small and individual scale, is what these disobedient women are doing.

Two weeks ago, Nitza Aminov was questioned for an hour by police who took her fingerprints and photograph for their records. She refused to answer their questions. She told me that more women have been told to expect visits from the police this week.

Another, Meira, said police intimidation would not deter her from taking part in illegal days out. "If we have to sit in jail as a result, we'll sit in jail."

Hammerman has been questioned a few times, the first three months ago. "I've been public about challenging the law, acting in an illegal way," she told me.

The risks are greater for the Palestinian women, who are likely to face a harsh punishment if discovered illegally in Israel.

One of them, Fida – who by lunchtime had replaced the headscarf she had removed to get through the checkpoint – was not afraid of getting caught. "The Jewish people don't scare me – this is normal," she said.

As the group prepared to drive back to the West Bank in a sudden downpour, thoughts turned towards navigating their way back through the checkpoints. "We see that this is the way of life for Palestinians," said Meira.


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