To meet people who live in the area surrounding Gaza and to hear the personal stories reinforces the complexity of the situation demonstrated through their real life experiences. Our mission visited Moshav Netiv HaAsarah, Kibbutz Kfar Aza and the town of Sderot on Election Day.
Raz Shmilovitz, a tour educator and farmer from Netiv HaAsarah spoke of his parents being part of this community when it was established in 1975 in the Sinai. The uprooting of the moshav after the peace treaty with Egypt led to their present location on the northern border of Gaza within the original boundaries of Israel. They chose this locale so that no one would dispute their right to live on that land. He used an expression based on two Hebrew words which have similar pronunciation but different spelling. “If you don’t work (eebeyd with an ayin) the land, you will lose (eebeyd with an alef) the land. Another member, Roni, spoke of her participation in The Other Voice, continues to believe that they must dialogue with Gazans. During Pillar of Defense a friend from Gaza called her to ask how she and her family were doing. She calls herself a realist and not a dreamer. According to her the dreamers are those who think they can continue in the present state of affairs.
At Kfar Aza, Chen Avraham, who works for the IMPJ, came back to the Kibbutz to raise her son in this wonderful environment. Now her challenge is to keep his perspective to not hate all Arabs. During the war a rocket landed just outside of her grandmother’s home who was safe with her caretaker in the shelter but found her bed covered with ash and broken glass. From both of these places we were able to look out across the border, a few hundred yards away, even seeing a few Gazans who were chased away from approaching too closely.
In both communities many of the women and children were evacuated but others remained. We witnessed people of tremendous resilience as many continue to suffer from traumatic stress disorders. And yet on this sunny day we saw children and adults seemingly living a normal life. At Netiv HaAsarah an artist designed a peace mosaic to which we able to add pieces of ceramics.
In Sderot, a town most heavily bombarded in the area we met with Noam Bedin of the Sderot Media Center. His message was to get out the truth on what he called the “rocket reality.” Not only has the greater area had over 12,000 rockets shot during the past 7 years since the disengagement from Gaza, but 97% were shot from civilian areas. He also spoke of the many dilemmas such as the mother who hears the alert while in a car and has to decide which child to pull out first to bring them to a shelter. Anat, who works with Noam, was evacuated from a community just across the border from Netiv HaAsarah, which now lies entirely in ruins. She loves the area but spoke of the anxiety and fears that she and others have at such minor things as a clicking sound which reminds them of the tzevah adom (Red Alert) warnings.
Noam summed up his feeling as we looked at a playground and soccer field surrounded by bomb shelters. His claim is that those images together are in and of themselves an abomination.
Rabbi Alan Katz is the Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Rochester, NY. He is currently traveling in Irsael with the CCAR Israel Solidarity and Social Action Mission, part of the CCAR Leadership Travel series.