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Israeli activists replace threatening military signs with messages of peace and resistance

Using creative, colorful tools and supported by Palestinians from a number of villages, a group of Israeli women is trying to break the army’s campaign of fear and segregation.

Bring out the old, bring in the new. Signs in WB roads (Image: Crack in the Wall, Facebook)

Bring out the old, bring in the new. Signs on West Bank roads (Image: Crack in the Wall, Facebook)

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.

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.

A new civilian-oriented sign near Nablus (Image: Crack in the Wall, Facebook)

A new civilian-oriented sign near Nablus (Image: Crack in the Wall, Facebook)

“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.”

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.

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    1. maya

      i have problem with a group of israeli jews deciding how should signs at the entrance to the palestinian villages look like.it is patronizing. the army (or whoever put those signs) didnt ask Palestinians what they think about them, and this group did exactly the same.in order to be invited somewhere maybe you should first as your host for invitation, ???

      Reply to Comment
      • The signs are a token of an (admitedly very minor)Israeli internal struggle which means, yes, the Palestinians are being fought over, watching on the sidelines. When they try to enter the game they are forced back rather forcefully.

        Reply to Comment
      • They did work with Palestinians to place the signs. When I saw the one near Beit Jala, I thought it had been done by a nearby Palestinian family because of a sign they have outside their farm – ‘We refuse to be enemies’. The language used is similar. I’ve heard nothing but positive comments from people who have seen these signs.

        Reply to Comment
        • Although it means nothing, I think “refusal” better than “resistence” as a general descriptive position. To refuse shows resolve without any implication of harm; “resistence” can, but need not, imply direct harm.

          Reply to Comment
    2. oarsman of the apocalypse

      unfortunately, for me, this appears to be a step in the right direction still supports the notion that the Israeli state has authority and rights over Palestinians, undermining identity through the use of the language: Arab why were the signs not removed?

      Reply to Comment
    3. rsgengland

      So if any Israelis are killed or injured by Palestinians, because the signs were defaced, I hope the Civil Administration will prosecute these ‘touchy-feely believers in utopia’.
      Whenever there is a prospect of a movement toward some form of settlement to the conflict, violence is never far behind.
      There is Hamas, Islamic Jihad and all the other organizations that come and go under various guises and names.
      It has happened every time.
      Why should these current potential negotiations be any different?
      Those that are changing the signs are acting totally irresponsibly.

      Reply to Comment
      • I too believe that the forces of violence will become manifest if real movement ocurrs, although my view of real movement now is hardly anything like final talks. But to claim that placing a near transparent countersign over a long standing bright red one constitutes liability if such an act ocurrs is just silly.

        What those placing these alternative signs up are saying is that the Palestinians are hardly one color in attitudes of life. All must come to understand that many Palestinians living under occupation could be, even now sometimes are, your active allies against violence–but violence of all kinds.

        Reply to Comment
      • Jewish Israelis have been visiting Palestinian communities in Area A for years. They didn’t wait for anyone to alter the signs before they started coming, and funnily enough they aren’t dying in their droves. (One of my friends even came here when he was still a serving soldier and he lived to tell about it.) These people can actually talk about daily life in the OPT with some first-hand knowledge, unlike those people who sit behind their keyboards in London and pontificate about how dangerous it all is and how necessary the segregation. As for the Israelis who stay away, most of them will never even pass by these signs, know few if any Palestinians, and wouldn’t spontaneously decide to enter Area A simply because a sign had been changed anyway. The chief benefit of the new signs is to bolster people’s spirits here by reclaiming some space from the army. It is humiliating to have signs proclaiming you and your community to be a danger to people’s lives and the new signs at least allow people to take some dignity back. (And before anyone comes along to say that the signs are justified, the Palestinian civilian death toll is over six times greater than the Israeli one, so by the same token perhaps you ought to think about campaigning to install such signs at the entrance of various Israeli towns to warn people off).

        By the way, the warning about Area A being dangerous to life and limb was added pretty recently, in 2012, not after any incident of violence but during a very quiet time. The original version was tamer. Before then it just said that entry to Israeli citizens was illegal.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Taylor

      The Israeli military I have come across at checkpoints into the West Bank have said very negative things about the people and kind of place it is. I was told I should fear going there from Israeli friends. When I visited lat year I was greeted by lovely smiling friendly people. The place was beautiful and there were lovely houses all around. I really loved the colorful clothing the women were wearing. It was a great experience. The only time I felt uncomfortable was when a few very Orthodox Jews from a particular settlement were causing a bit of trouble

      Reply to Comment
    5. Zach Resnick

      Is there actually a law that prevents Israelis from entering Areas A and B? My understanding was that a law was never passed in the Knesset, but a military order was given during the second intifada, but has since expired and has not been renewed.

      I would love to have a definitive answer on this (with accompanying evidence) if anyone knows.

      Reply to Comment
      • Morgan

        I talked to an Israeli in Combatants for Peace, he and his fellow members routinely went to Area A and sometimes they were apprehended by the IDF, questioned, and detained for a few hours, then released.

        Reply to Comment
      • I see, so increasingly prevalent terror has given no casualties. Our resolve must become even stronger.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Tzila

      Fantastique! ,fantastic !, fantástico !
      ! יוצא מין הקלל !,אויםנעצייכנט

      Reply to Comment
    7. Anat Reisman-Levy


      Reply to Comment