Protecting Human Rights
Dafna Banai of Machsom Watch
Mother of three and grandmother of two, 60 year-old Dafna Banai lives in the comfortable suburb of Ramat Aviv. Contrary to her former beliefs, and unlike anyone around her, Dafna has become one of the leaders of Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch), the women’s organization that works to address restrictions of freedom of movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Every week, Dafna goes to the West Bank where she and her colleagues observe and document violations of human rights at checkpoints.
Machsom Watch (machsom means “checkpoint” in Hebrew) was founded in January 2001 in response to repeated reports in the press about human rights abuses of Palestinians crossing army and border police checkpoints. Machsom Watch was founded by three women – Ronnee Jaeger, a long time activist with experience of human rights work in Guatemala and Mexico, Adi Kuntsman, a feminist scholar who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in 1990, and veteran activist Yehudit Keshet, an Orthodox Jew – and now involves 400 volunteers. MW’s volunteers observe and document activity at West Bank checkpoints and have also begun to monitor proceedings at military courts. Due to their perseverance, the police now relate with greater seriousness to complaints of settler violence filed by Palestinians. In 2007, Machsom Watch, together with NIF, initiated an innovative campaign against the humiliating treatment of Israeli Arab and other non-Jewish passengers on flights to and from Israel. New Israel Fund has provided grant support to Machsom Watch since 2006 and through Shatil also provides the organization with consulting and training.
“People simply don’t believe that right here – next to them - are human beings for whom taking their child to the doctor has become an impossible mission”, says Dafna. “I can’t just sit around and do nothing. Somebody once told me that historical processes aren’t necessarily linear. I want to believe that’s true.”