Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

Resisting Occupation or Institutionalizing Control? Israeli Women and Protest in West Bank Checkpoints

Academic journal article International Journal of Peace Studies

Resisting Occupation or Institutionalizing Control? Israeli Women and Protest in West Bank Checkpoints

Article excerpt


The Napoleonic wars initiated the modern republican order in which citizens, in return for security, participate in the political and military ambitions of the nation-state, and in defense of country and nation (Clausewitz, 1993). In consequence, in national conflicts the divide between "us" and "them"--the enemy--is drawn in the boldest terms. In situations of protracted national conflict, this division is heightened, leading to accentuated patriotism, jingoism, and to militarization of various aspects of civilian life and culture. Indeed Enloe (2000) argues that almost all modern democratic societies are structurally and culturally militarized to one degree or another. This means that military values, needs, and presumptions are pervasive and integrated into routine daily lives.

Despite the cultural blurring of the lines between "government," "army," and "people," however, in the age of mass democracy, directing foreign and national defense is still normally, perhaps necessarily, the responsibility of political elites and military professionals. Yet, since the 1950s with the erosion of the republican order in the West, the relationship between the state, army, and society has become more complex (Levy and Mizrahi, 2008, 5). The government, especially in democracies, may need to invest "a great deal of political effort ... into the legitimating of a particular war, producing shifting and often contradictory public rationales for war making" (Roxborough, 1994, 630).

Very often, despite those efforts, there is dissent in which civil society demands a direct say in political decisionmaking on issues of war and peace. Dissidents in pacifist organizations, anti-armament, and antiwar movements in Europe and the U.S were active even before World War I. They voiced their opposition to governmental policies within this basic framework of division of labor between civil society, the army, and state professionals (Lofland, 1993; Alonso, 1993). When women are the protestors, such an assertion vis-a-vis the professionals is especially notable, considering the social division of labor along gender lines. As Ruddick (1989, 76) puts it, "War certainly seems to be men's business.... Traditionally in most cultures it has been men's lot to fight while women watch, suffer, applaud, ameliorate, and forgive." This of course does not mean that women cannot be militaristic in their thinking. Militarization requires both men and women's acquiescence. It means, says Enloe (2000, 3-4), that militarization privileges masculinity.

Under those assumptions regarding the connection between national conflicts, civil-society militarization, and gender, the question I raise is "Under what conditions, if any, will women in grassroots civil-society groups be able to influence security policy and mitigate the 'us-them' dichotomous view of the enemy?" The goal of this article is to assess the effectiveness of the largest Israeli women's grassroots organization, Machsom Watch, which has tried to do just that.

Protesting and Resisting: Machsom Watch's Activity

Machsom ("checkpoint" in Hebrew) Watch is a nationwide Israeli women's grassroots organization which, at its peak in 2004, numbered 400 members. It was founded in February 2001 by a group of five Jewish women in Jerusalem, three of them peace activists, who decided to go to the Bethlehem Checkpoint to see what was happening there with their own eyes (Keshet, 2006, 33-34). Within weeks they were joined by 30 women activists, who began to go in shifts to checkpoints in the Jerusalem area. A year later, due to media coverage, a group of some 200 organized themselves as a Tel Aviv branch to monitor checkpoints at the center of the West Bank. Thus, membership is acquired merely by volunteering to participate.

The group's main activity is systematic and routine observation at military checkpoints in Jerusalem, and within the West Bank, and reporting that observation to the public and decisionmakers. …

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