July 4, 2004
The human factor
A recent newspaper photograph shows a camera crew
filming a woman in Muzaffarabad holding a
microphone while talking to a male relative in
Sringar, whom she can see on a television screen.
They can see and hear, but not touch each other.
Their contact was part of the BBCs initiative to
bring together six divided Kashmiri families
through live video-conferences in Srinagar and
This is a step better than the experience of
those Kashmiris who have managed to wave to each
other across the Neelum River since the shelling
stopped this past winter moving scenes have
been reported as people catch glimpses of loved
ones they have not seen for many years. It is
these gatherings from which the BBC idea stemmed,
leading to emotional and thought-provoking
responses on its website.
Since the fighting began, my grandfather has not
seen his children or grandchildren on the
Pakistani side of the border in Muzzafarabad and
Kotla. 14 years of fighting and who's won? No
one, writes Ridwan from Ohio, USA.
I was born in Srinagar from where my family had
to migrate to New Delhi in the early 90s due to
the terrorism of the Islamic Jihadis. I have only
one uncle left there. All the rest of my family
were forced to leave Kashmir as we are not
Muslims. My uncle managed to save his business
and home in Srinagar after he converted to Islam
but still privately practises Hinduism. This type
of service would be very beneficial for the
thousands of Kashmiri pundits in the refugee
camps in Jammu and other places in India,
suggests Rahul Bhatt from the UK.
Ghazanfar Ali in Birmingham writes:
governments of India and Pakistan can come to
peace over this beautiful land, then maybe it
will send out a sign to the Palestinians and
Israelis that two different people can live side
by side in peace.
Maybe this vision of living in peace will become
a reality as long as there are people striving
towards it, often in ways that many of us know
nothing about. The reference to Israel and
Palestine brings to mind a peace initiative
little known in our part of the world Machsom
Watch, an attempt by Israeli women to monitor the
behaviour of soldiers and police at checkpoints.
Dr Adele Reinhartz, a Canadian academic from whom
I learnt of this organization, says that their
presence, just standing quietly at the
checkpoints with their notepads, makes the
soldiers conscious of their behaviour. Many of
the soldiers are young, 17 to 20 years, and these
women are like their mothers or grandmothers.
Sometimes they quietly intervene and influence
the soldiers to behave more humanely.
A search on the web finds that Machsom
(checkpoint) Watch started in January 2001 with
the slogan women for human rights. There are
daily patrols -- about once a week for each
volunteer during which women speak with
Palestinians and document their hardships on
videotapes and reports they distribute to the
Israeli media (Reuters, November 27, 2003).
The website www.machsomwatch.org explains: The
excessive Israeli response to the El Aksa
Intifada, the prolonged closure and siege of
villages and towns on the West Bank provided the
stimulus and the motivation for what at first
seemed an impossible mission. The initiative of
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
Jewess Machsom Watch now boasts 400 women all
over the country.
They find that their quiet but assertive,
presence at checkpoints is a direct challenge to
the dominant militaristic discourse that prevails
in Israeli society. It demands accountability on
the part of the security forces towards the
civilian estate, something hitherto almost
.Machsomwatchers comprise a wide
spectrum of ages and backgrounds, with a definite
bias towards mature, professional women. All
members are Israeli. The group is politically
pluralistic within the context of opposition to
the occupation and a commitment to human rights.
But their opponents brand them traitors and
anti-nationalist. Among the most vocal is the
right-wing Women in Green organization, which
writes (June 15, 2004): Just a few examples of
what those leftist women do at the checkpoints:
last week, at the Kalandya checkpoint, the
soldiers told us that Arabs had started throwing
rocks at the soldiers, threatening their safety.
The soldiers were getting ready to shoot teargas
canisters at the rioters- the leftist women of
machsomwatch put themselves in front of the
soldiers and said: you will have to shoot us
first and thus protected, with their bodies, the
Arabs who were trying to harm our soldiers.
Why does this sound so close to home?
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