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Born Free

A haftorah of unpopular decisions and profound prophecies

Liel Leibovitz
July 02, 2010
The Jalama checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Jenin.(Saif Dahlah/AFP/Getty Images)
The Jalama checkpoint, near the West Bank city of Jenin.(Saif Dahlah/AFP/Getty Images)

If the fanatics have their way, Ilana Hammerman might spend the next two years in prison.

An Israeli journalist, Hammerman befriended a teenage Palestinian girl and was heartbroken to learn that, like most Palestinians in the West Bank, the girl—writing about the encounter in Haaretz, Hammerman called the girl Aya to protect her identity—was confined to her village by a Byzantine system of roadblocks and restrictions that renders travel virtually impossible. Unable to drive even to the nearest large Palestinian town without spending hours in blazing corrugated-metal kennels, subjected to searches and sometimes denied entry just because, Aya was preparing for a summer filled with idle days, confined to her village, succumbing to boredom.

It wasn’t the most horrid story one can hear in the West Bank, but it touched Hammerman deeply. If Aya’s childhood wasn’t allowed to transcend the thicket of politics and prejudice that entangles everyone in the region, she thought, then all was hopelessly bleak. Hammerman made a suggestion: She would smuggle Aya and two of her cousins into Israel, drive them to Tel Aviv, and show them what life was like in the big city, just an hour’s drive away but beyond their imagination.

This, Hammerman was well aware, was against the law. To get Aya and her relatives into the country, she would have to lie to soldiers and policemen. And the border, she realized perfectly well, was heavily guarded for very good reasons. Still, the thought of young girls under siege struck Hammerman as categorically evil. The Israeli law book, she reasoned, also included the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, enacted in 1994 and promising every man and woman, regardless of his or her ethnicity, “no deprivation or restriction of the liberty of a person by imprisonment, arrest, extradition or otherwise.”

“All of these rights,” Hammerman wrote in a recent article in Haaretz, “are denied the civilian Palestinian population living in the occupied territories under Israeli military control: Their lives, dignity and property are violated; their privacy and intimacy is not respected; and their private premises are entered without their consent. But, above all, their liberty is restricted: They are not free to leave their country, to move within it or to choose their place of residence at will. They are denied their liberty by arrest and imprisonment. Indeed, since 1967, approximately 800,000 Palestinians have been arrested and imprisoned for various periods of time by the Israeli military jurisdiction to which they are subject.”

With Israeli law pitted against Israeli law, Hammerman chose to err on the side of dignity and freedom. In May, she loaded Aya and her cousins into her car, drove to a checkpoint she thought would be more lenient, blurted out a few words in Hebrew to the soldier standing guard, and sighed with relief when she was waved right through. Once she hit Tel Aviv, she took her young charges to a museum and a mall, watched with delight as they frolicked on the lawn of Tel Aviv University and sprinted on the beach, bought them each some ice cream. It was two in the morning by the time she drove them back home; a few days later, reading Hammerman’s account of the day in Haaretz, a settler organization began a campaign for her arrest.

As Hammerman’s self-appointed prosecutors are self-described religious Jews, they may want to spend this Shabbat pondering the weekly haftorah. Awarded his divine mandate, the prophet Jeremiah is warned not to expect an easy ride.

“And I will utter My judgments against them concerning all their evil, that they left Me and offered up burnt-offerings to other gods and they prostrated themselves to the work of their hands,” God tells Jeremiah, preparing his servant for the coming calumny he’s sure to face. “And you shall gird your loins and arise and speak to them all that I command you; be not dismayed by them, lest I break you before them. And I, behold I have made you today into a fortified city and into an iron pillar, and into copper walls against the entire land, against the kings of Judah, against its princes, against its priests, and against the people of the land. And they shall fight against you but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to save you.”

It is unlikely, of course, that those modern-day Israelites who still prostrate themselves to the work of their hands—the separation walls and the checkpoints and the armaments they firmly believe to be their sole measure of protection—would summon the wherewithal to take in a touch of prophecy. Now, as in Jeremiah’s time, they would likely adopt an imperious tone and talk about security and its neverending demands, or ragingly recite all of the evils, great and small, perpetrated by the nations who criticize Israel, or find a thousand and one excuses with which to extenuate the senseless brutality of the occupation.

Never mind: Now, like then, we still have women and men who are wise enough to understand that sometimes the path to righteousness leads straight to an ice cream parlor in a nearby-faraway town and who are courageous enough to drive there, roadblocks be damned.

Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.