Sunday, January 15, 2012

Forbidden Streets

The news from Israel has been as bleak as the news from the West Bank, with no shortage of parallels. Flakes of Israel’s rich coat of democracy are rubbing off like speckles of paint from a rusty metal wall. Suddenly, though, in the very last minute the Netanyahu government has gotten embarrassed about what they have allowed against women, in Israel. It has admitted, thanks to pressure from the Israel Medical Association, that if a health conference is being held about women’s health, it isn’t such a good idea to bar women gynecologists for fear of offending male rabbis who want to attend. The great tent city movement rustled up some brave hearts and now people are emboldened to speak out against these last straws perpetrated by the collusion between the government and the Haredim. I have a calendar drawn especially for this new season of outrage. I’m marking its longevity.

The issue is, of course, complicated. “Non-violent” Haredim in Beit Shemesh are expressing their own outrage that they are being given a bad image by media coverage of the violence. Well, yes, but segregated buses and streets, and the wholesale erasure of women’s images from billboards and magazines, and the barring of women themselves from award ceremonies or from field games in the army – these are a quiet violence that the news media seem to have been missing until now, and are attributable to the whole Haredi community. In a way, and unfortunately, it took a little violence to let everyone know what’s happening.

Not much concern for the women in the West Bank or any Palestinians there, and it gets worse. A Bedouin village is destroyed over and over again in the name of planting a forest in the very spot that people have made their home. That spot, that piece of a vast desert needs that forest. B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories,, has an ongoing Camera Project, distributing video cameras to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which really needs widespread viewing. B’Tselem itself is a great source of information.

I’m reading The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson. It is about the great migration of black people from the South during Jim Crow. It talks about the streets in their own home towns where they could not walk. It doesn’t mention the Jews in Poland in 1938 and their streets, or the women in Beit Shemesh, or the Palestinians in Hebron. But we know that it does.

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