MAY 2005

Grandmothers take on the police to see law enforced
By Lily Galili
A small group gathered last Monday in Ibrahim Alam's house in the West Bank village of Tolat. A number of village residents came to report the harm and physical damage they and their property suffered in attacks by Jewish settlers.

One villager had his head split open, another's olive trees were uprooted, and a third person's access to his lands was blocked. The stories are not new, but those who came to hear them are. The daughters of Israel's founding generation have decided to set things right.

Ruth Kedar, 77, and Dina Gur, 67, undaunted by the heat wave, had made their way to the village with the deftness of Bedouin scouts. On the sofa in the small living room, they asked questions and filled in forms, taken from thick folders. They also went to the location of the attacks, drafting a map of the invasion and friction points.

The 37 years of occupation have given birth to numerous Israeli aid organizations. Yesh Din (There is Law), which Kedar and Gur recently founded with others, has entered the vacuum created by the absence of law enforcement on the Jewish settlers in the territories.

In the first month, Yesh Din activists have witnessed Palestinian difficulties in lodging a complaint, the obstinate refusal of Judea and Samaria police to receive Palestinian complaints, and the symbiosis between the settlers and the law enforcement authorities in the territories. Yesh Din did not sprout in Salon Mazal, the Tel Avivian breeding ground for alternative political thought. It grew in the Viennese salon of Muki Dagan, a musician and art collector, over fine china tea cups and beneath an impressive art collection. Here Dalia Golomb, Gur and Kedar got together and formed the nucleus of Yesh Din. Talking to them is like hearing a chapter in the history of the state, combined with high society gossip and an interview with Ta'ayush members. The names of the state's founding fathers, who are the fathers and grandfathers of the group's members, are woven naturally in the conversation, along with the names of "anti-fence anarchists" who have become close friends, and of Palestinians from unknown villages.

Golomb, 77, a grandmother of four, is the daughter of Haganah commander Eliyahu Golomb. Her uncle, Moshe Sharett (Israel's second prime minister), was also Kedar's uncle. Kedar, a grandmother of seven, is the wife of Mossad veteran Paul Kedar. Gur, a grandmother of nine, is the granddaughter of author Moshe Smilansky and Yehuda Gur, the writer of the well-known Hebrew dictionary and one of the founders of the agriculture school Mikveh Yisrael. All their grandfathers were in Hagdud Ha'ivri (the Jewish Legion).

While it may not be politically correct to bring up their family lineage, the founders of Yesh Din were apparently driven by their lineage to form the organization. More than a year ago, they joined Machshom Watch, a voluntary women's group conducting daily observations at military checkpoints. But they wanted to do more. This is how they were raised at home.

An accidental encounter with a Palestinian's abortive attempt to file a complaint for injuries suffered from an attack triggered the foundation of Yesh Din. They took a short course in law and collecting testimonies with attorney Michael Sfard, who became their legal adviser. Now, they not only collect testimonies but accompany frightened Palestinians to police stations and to Shin Bet interrogations. They follow up the cases, unabashedly using personal connections. "We have a large network of acquaintances, including military and police officers," one of them says. "We can call masses of people."

They make comparisons about the indifference of the Israeli public and the situation in Nazi Germany when Hitler came to power, a comparison that angers even their grandchildren. Golomb is convinced that had her father been alive today, he would have been in complete agreement with her.

One case the group handled in the West Bank's Bil'in village demonstrates the system, which is based on cooperation between the police, the Israel Defense Forces' civil administration and the settlers. A month ago, a Yesh Din team accompanied Bader Hatib of Bil'in to the police station at the settlement of Givat Ze'ev to complain that settlers had uprooted 60 of his olive trees. To their shock, the police investigator refused to take down the complaint, saying he was acting under the instructions of the IDF's area coordinator. When they called the official, they claim he offered them a deal - the uprooted trees would be returned to their owner and the owner would drop the complaint. Sfard wrote a complaint to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi, saying the official also threatened Hatib, in the presence of a Yesh Din activist, that if he insisted on filing a complaint, "he would not be responsible for the consequences." Sfard asked Mazuz to order an inquiry into the suspicion that the military official had pressured the Palestinian not to file a complaint and instructed the Givat Ze'ev police not to accept the complaint. Sfard cited a long list of cases exposed by Yesh Din, asking Mazuz and Karadi to instruct the police commanders in the territories to do their duty and take down every resident's complaint and investigate it, if it raises suspicion of criminal activity.

In one month, the Yesh Din women have handled dozens of cases, attended demonstrations and been accused by the police of inciting Palestinians against them.

"With all the compassion I have for the Palestinians, I'm not doing it just for them," says Kedar. "I'm doing it for the State of Israel. An immoral nation cannot survive."