Israel’s military, which began limiting Palestinian movement into Israel two decades ago to prevent terrorism, issued about 60,000 permits for Palestinian visits to Israel this year, twice last year’s number but still a token amount for a population of 2.5 million.
The Palestinian visitors came with complicated histories, most had never seen the sea before. They were Palestinians from the southern part of the West Bank, which is landlocked, and Israel does not allow them in.
They risked criminal prosecution, along with the dozen of Israeli women who took them to the beach. And that, in fact, was part of the point, to protest what they and their hosts consider unjust laws.
The illicit trip was a rare event that joined the simplest of pleasures with the most complex of politics. It showed why coexistence here is hard, but also why there are, on both sides, people who refuse to give up on it.
Such visits began a year ago as the idea of one Israel, and have blossomed into a movement of civil disobedience.
Ilana Hammerman, a writer had been spending time in the West Bank learning Arabic when a girl told her she was desperate to get out, even for a day.
Ms. Hammerman, 66, a widow, decided to smuggle her to the beach. The beach trip followed a pattern, the Palestinian women went in disguise, which meant removing clothes. They sat in the backseats of cars driven by middle-aged Jewish women and took off headscarves and long gowns. As the cars drove through an Israeli Army checkpoint, everyone just waved.
Excitable at first, then wide eyed with delight, the women and girls entered the sea, smiling, splashing and then joining hands.
One of the Palestinian women, Manal, who had never been to the sea before, is 36, the mother of three and pregnant; five of her brothers are in Israeli prisons, and another was killed when he entered a settler religious academy armed with a knife.
She brought with her an unsurprising stridency. “This is all ours,” she said in Tel Aviv. In the course of the day her views seemed to grow more textured or less certain as she found comfort in the company of Israeli women who said that they, too, had a home on this land.
The beach trips, seven so far have produced some tense moments. An effort to generate interest in a university library produces no response. And at predominantly Jewish beach, a policeman made everyone nervous.
“What we are doing here will not change the situation,” said Hana Rubinstein, who traveled to Tel Aviv from Haifa to take part. “But it is one more activity to oppose the occupation. One day in the future, people will ask, like they did of the Germans; ‘Did you know?’ And I will be able to say, ‘I knew. And I acted.’ ”