a different side of Israel

Machsom Watch photo exhibition in Tel Aviv

by Jill Cartwright

In a chilly hall somewhere in the anonymous streets of Tel Aviv’s working class southern neighbourhoods, Lisa and I checked out the Machsom Watch Endless Checkpoints photograph exhibition that opened on Friday.

Machsom Watch is an organization of Israeli female volunteers who do vital work monitoring the checkpoints all over the occupied territories, often keeping the behavior of the soldiers in check.

The aim behind the event was to “help the Israeli public understand what is going on on their doorsteps and to make it clear to them that they are involved in the denegration of human rights,” said Susan Lourenco, a Machsom Watch volunteer and one of the event organizers.

Click “more” to see a selection of photographs taken from the exhibition.

But although there was a small crowd of mainly well-dressed middle-aged women milling around, it seemed most of the Israeli public was elsewhere, enjoying the glorious sunny weather that comes along every so often in the middle of February.

The exhibition was neither expansive nor particularly hard-hitting. The 50 or so images that lined the walls told a well-worn cliche: soldiers with guns, children climbing over walls and a whole load of frustrated people – soldiers and civilians – who did not want to be there.

And listening to the soundtrack that ran constantly in the background of a baby crying amid the crush of people trying to get through the checkpoint, I didn’t want to be there in that room either. But then I guess that’s the point the organizers were trying to get across.

But what about the other points?

They’re asking questions, but the wrong questions, said Lisa as we started a discussion about the exhibition on the way home. They should be asking why so many people want to get across into Israel. We should be talking about the interdependence here. And that was lacking from the exhibition. Where were the facts about the unemployment in the territories and why Palestinians want to work in Israel?

Where were other facts about the checkpoints? Are they totally irrelevant or do they have a point? There were no answers; it was another heart-sinking display of desperation. Our discussion moved on into a wider talk about fear and walls as the ultimate expression of the helplessness and hopelessness of the human situation.

So here are some of the pictures. Let us know what you think about them.


  1. – What are the checkpoints for?
    – To stop terrorists

    – Have any terrorists ever been stopped at checkpoints?
    – Yes

    – Why are the soldiers checking the children’s school bags?
    – Because there have been cases in which explosives have been found there

    All the rest is a mix of genuine humanitarian concern for the innocent population, and hand-wringing. There is no moral option to these checkpoints as long as the threat of terrorism remains. I prefer the discomfort (or sometimes humiliation) of the Palestinians over exploding Israeli buses, “human rights” or no “human rights”.

    Obviously I’m not advocating gratituous cruelty and maltreatment of these people, but as far as I can see the ladies of “Machsom Watch” have a larger and more political agenda than simple humanitarianism. This does not come across in your story at all.

  2. Funny thing, Maoz, regarding your last sentence: I think that Jill expressed our (hers and my) ambivalence about the exhibition quite clearly in this story. It’s not about whether the checkpoints should exist or not (although that is certainly a debatable issue); but rather it is about what those checkpoints symbolize – like economic interdepenence between Israelis and Palestinians, and the ugly symbols of human fear and desperation.

  3. They are heart wretching. Who can understand?
    The images projected will have an impact on the next generation. It is so sad to see what the little ones are subjected to.

  4. That first picture with the soldiers and the toddler is very misleading. The soldiers are not pointing their rifles at the toddler, nothing untoward is going on. Yet the picture is obviously trying to make the soldiers look bad, as if they terrorize children and enjoy it, or some similar nonsense.

    And how could the issue of whether the checkpoints should exist possibly be debatable (this from one of your commenters)? The alternative is to let the terrorists in, at their leisure. How many Israelis would be murdered without those checkpoints? Who would advocate such a thing?

  5. As sad as it is, it would be insane to dismantle the checkpoints until LONG, LONG, LONG after the violence stops! Some how, some way, these people must learn…nothing will be solved with violence. Do they really think if they do the same thing over and over, that one day it will produce a different result? The result of violence is as sure as the law of gravity and to expect otherwise is shear madness! Pray for the child inside us all (on both sides! AND those who observe!)

  6. If the checkpoint security is not to your liking dont enter Israel. Before Olso chekpoint security was not strict. Now you have bombs going off in busses and restaurants. I say , increase the security. Safety of the citzens of Israel come first!

  7. The pictures look extremely banal. Bored people on both sides doing what they need to do and wanting to get on with it. Not shown are the reasons they’re there — the terrorists and the bombs, but that’s fine, because what is shown isn’t particularly shocking. I’m not surprised Machsom Watch had to add a scary (or just annoying) soundtrack since what’s shown isn’t bad (from what’s shown here).

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