By Haggai Matar
For several years now, all roads branching off of major Israeli-controlled West Bank highways and taking drivers towards Palestinian villages and cities, have been dominated by the presence of red trilingual warning signs. The signs threaten Israelis that the roads lead to Palestinian Authority controlled areas. Driving on them should thus be considered both a violation of the law, which officially forbids Israelis from entering “Area A” (although this law is almost never enforced), and a risk to one’s life, the signs warn.
Refusing to be Enemies
On Saturday, July 13, a group of Israeli women went on a road trip to replace these threatening signs with more inviting texts. They traveled between several Palestinian towns and with the help of local residents, covered the military’s red with sheets of more colorful cloth. The messages on the new signposts read: “Civilian zone: No entry to the army! This road leads to Palestinian settlements. Israeli civilians, do not be afraid! Come and visit Palestinian settlements, refuse to be enemies!” (The Hebrew and Arabic versions use alternative words for “settlements,” which do not correspond to the English word for illegal Israeli settlements.)
The group, called “We do not obey,” previously gained considerable attention for publicly stating that they break the law and illegally enter Palestinian villages in order to smuggle Palestinian women through checkpoints into Israel.
“We got really good reactions from Palestinians wherever we went, and people told us they feel like the original signs portray them as would-be murderers to be careful of,” Rivka Sum, one of the activists in the group, told +972. “One person said that every day when he comes home from work and drives by that sign, he is immediately depressed by the thought that Israelis reading it might think of him as a blood-thirsty cannibal or something.”
Human Beings First
In a Haaretz column (Hebrew) author, translator and one of the founders of the group, Ilana Hammerman, stated that putting up the signs was also for the benefit of Israeli drivers. “Fewer and fewer are those Israelis today who dare to acquaint themselves with this reality, with which their state’s fate is intertwined,” she writes. “We want people to know that these roads lead to the residences of human beings … to know that really it is the roads of military (enforced) segregation that lead to doom.” In their official statement the group added: “This is our way to express our protest against this method of threats and intimidation. The signposts that are supposedly for our ‘security’ violate the surrounding environment and their only purpose is to scare and to cause conflict between Jews and Arabs.”
While most of alternative signs the group has put up were removed within days, the one outside Beit Jalla was reportedly still in place at the time of this report, and the activists plan on going back to put up more of these signs throughout the West Bank in the near future.Φ
Haggai Matar is an Israeli journalist and political activist. After writing for the short-lived Palestine Times, for Ha’ir Tel Aviv of the Ha’aretz group and for Zman Tel Aviv, the local supplement of Ma’ariv (where he became chairman of the journalists’ union chapter), he is now working as a freelance journalist. He was awarded the 2012 Anna Lindh Mediterranean Journalist Award for his +972 series on the separation wall.