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Voices from Sderot
Friday, October 30: Sderot


Why Expect a Better Solution?

At age 72, Arieh Zimmerman of Kibbutz Zikim has no qualms about speaking his mind. 

"If an ordinary Palestinian and Israeli, above a certain age, probably parents, were to sit together in a room, they could probably find an equitable and mutually agreed peace in a couple of weeks."

Originally from San Francisco, Mr. Zimmerman came to Israel in early 1967.  He was looking for an alternative to the obsession with time and money that he experienced as life in America.  On top of that, he believed that Israel was about to be wiped off the map, and he couldn’t just sit back and let that happen.

Forty-two years later, he’s seen a lot, and he believes that what Israel needs is an honest, equitable peace, in which Palestinians get what belongs to them.  When asked if East Jerusalem should belong to the Palestinians, he responds, “What the heck!  Why not?  East Jerusalem was never part of the biblical Jerusalem anyway!”

He remembers the days before his government closed off Gaza.  “We had Palestinian workers on the kibbutz that commuted from Gaza,” he says.  “Every one of them that I knew was very warm, very hard-working.  We’ve been down to Gaza for their weddings.  They’ve brought their families up here for our weddings.”

He says that in recent years the kibbutz has tried to support its former Palestinian workers — for example, by contributing money to pay for a surgery that one of them needed — but what the kibbutz members can do is limited.  “The border is closed,” he says with sad resignation.

Asked about Qassam rockets that have fallen on his kibbutz, he says that there have been 8: some dairy cows have been killed, some property damage caused, and a couple of children slightly injured.  “We are not the target,” he says.  “It’s the power plant a few miles from here in Ashkelon.  We just happen to be on the way.”

Asked if he supports a right for return for the Palestinians, he says, “Morally and ethically, yes.  But practically speaking, no.  It would be too many people to absorb, and with so much hostility — no.” 

And why does the world expect Israel to find a better solution to this kind of problem than so many other nations throughout history?  “Well,” he says, “the writings on morality and ethics that Jews have produced are second to none.  I suppose the world expects us to read them.”

-- Linda Bronstein

NOTE: This report has been edited for accuracy since it was first posted

Save the Children   

Qassam rockets, firing wild from besieged Gaza for eight years till 2009, had hit the two kibbutzim we visited Thursday. 

One rocket killed five cows and slightly injured two children in the older, farming Kibbutz Zikim.  At Sderot’s urban neighborhood Kibbutz Migvan, another smashed a dresser-sized hole into a home where a mother sheltered with two of her three daughters; she ran out covered in white dust to find six-year-old Bar safe, too. 

“Daddy, if I hear a red-color alarm and the nearest house is on the other side of the street, should I run across the street or lie down?” Bar asked her father, one of the four eloquent Jewish leaders who talked with us at the kibbutzim.  He has to answer their terrible questions while he “tries to teach my daughters not to hate the other side.” 

And with just 5-10 seconds from the sounding of the Sderot alarm to a Qassam hitting, parents must ask themselves—again, terribly—“Which child will I protect first?” 

But they stay because “it’s home,” and their child wants “to sleep in my own bed.”  On the farm, “a rocket doesn’t make a lot of damage, but it makes a lot of fear,” the farming father said.  But he takes pride in having a school so good that parents from Ashkelon, a city out of Qassam range, send children there.

Our hosts worried deeply about the emotional wounds and spiritual scars to the children, while engaged in “daily thinking about how to save your own soul.”  Crowded into Gaza, 1½ million people on “the other side” don’t even have a choice to leave or stay. 

On whichever side of Gaza’s blockaded checkpoint, all struggle against the fear, the hardening hatred, the “craziness” — the “not-post-traumatic” experience of this war.  Many fail, although our courageous hosts have not.  But one has a friend who spent six months in jail when he was a young man rather than do Israeli military service in the West Bank or Gaza, and he now says, “If they send one more rocket, we must wipe out Gaza City.” 

All four think political leaders on both sides have failed their own psychological struggle against fear and hate — and failed them

“They are all idiots,” the grandfather said — “infants,” the mother concluded. 

So every one of our four hosts volunteered the same opinion:  the international community — the US — must “force” them” (they all used that word) to an agreement.

Save the children?

-- Sid Bremer

Everyday Dirt and Other True Stories of Not Going to Gaza

I. Not Going to Gaza

It was like visiting the neighborhood of a person, so famous, who I came to see but who had died before I arrived.  I heard so many stories from the neighbors about what she was like. 

Her name:  Gaza

Her name meant burning in my language.  Darkness electrified on news wires. 

I was expecting larger than life, the way names of war zones always sound from Baghdad to Hiroshima to Warsaw. 

Just like hearing the name of holy places: Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Mt. of Olives. 
I still can't believe these places have dirt on the ground with as much everydayness as a parking lot in Medford, Oregon.

But those places, walled and angry as they are, are at least living --- this I know because the everyday Jerusalem dirt stuck to the soles of my sandals, bugs squirming in the cracks. 

Gaza:  I stood at the Erez border crossing like standing at a hospital waiting room asking to see if she was alive.  A tent outside of the crossing for Gilad Shalit.  The place looked like a border of nothingness — like Gilad Shalit is the only person living behind the fence. 

But then I found evidence Gazans lived there too.   From a Palestinian woman with Israeli citizenship.  She had just returned from visiting her husband. He is Gazan, she cares for six kids in Israel, she is only allowed to visit once a year.

You'll be happy to know he has not been killed by the ongoing and nearly weekly Israeli raids on tunnels.  (But to make sure you should check back in a few weeks on UNOCHA's daily civilian protection reports.  The latest headline was that there have been no fatalities for all of 3 weeks in Gaza.  Can you remember what you were doing 3 weeks ago?  Does that feel like a long time to live?) 

Next stop we visited a Kibbutz that was hit by thousands of Qassam rockets, which have injured several children and traumatized countless more. The kibbutzniks molded Qassam rockets into a larger than life menorah. 

II.  Shudder


"No exports were allowed out from Gaza this week."

Since 1994, Israel fenced Gaza in.  Who visits and what they are allowed to bring has been decided for her ever since.

Oct 30, 2009: A defunct Qassam rocket was the only object I was allowed to touch that proved Gaza's existence. 

I wondered what it would be like to touch the crates of strawberries, bouquets of roses, boatloads of shrimp that Gaza used to export.  

Oct 30, 2009: I visited Sderot, a historic campaign spot for Obama.  The mayor of Sderot gave him a "I [heart] Sderot t-shirt" like the other politicians passing through.

Did the politicians on photo-op pilgrimages think it was the only thing they could touch to prove Sderot's existence?

Because the Sderot peace activist Nomika Zion told us about running for the shelter for 20, 40, or 60 red alert alarms during the day.

Did they hear her story?  They would have listened to this part, that after a day of Qassam rocket siren warnings and running back and forth from the shelter, she needed so desperately to sleep.  But did they hear this part, that she couldn't sleep because her walls shuddered from the Israeli midnight bombing raids of Gaza?  She would lay awake wondering how many children were killed in their sleep, and writing to the world about how in Gaza, "the dead are put in refrigerators two by two in the mortuary for lack of room".

Another Sderot resident said in a TV interview that he had never before heard such beautiful music as the sound of Israeli warplanes bombing Gaza.

Nomika said only two decades ago half the merchants at the Sderot market were from Gaza. Past tense. The way you talk about people who have died. 

As for Gaza--what does she think?  I only saw her silhouette through the fog -- that is, tall, close buildings huddled to form a skeletal skyline.  I saw my first view of Gaza next to a greenhouse where settlers who used to live in Gaza now worked to grow vegetables -- they were -- if you can believe it -- "organic vegetables". 

III.  Dirt

This is all I can tell you:

I can tell you the people in Sderot feel their walls shudder when Gaza is bombed.  One hears music in the murder of hundreds of children.  One woman from the same town wrote to the world that such terror laid "a ton of cast lead (Cast Lead is the name that the IDF has given to the ‘operation’ in Gaza) weighs on my heart, and my heart is too small to contain it.”

Sderot is a town with the everyday dirt crawling with bugs and humanity--but ask the people there and the people in Gaza about the dirt -- they would know.  Sderot was built on the remains of the Palestinian town of Najd, whose residents were forced out into Gaza in 1948. 

Obama said when he flew over Sderot he thought about how much it looked like home.  The ultimate platitude--that he saw that another's home is just as much home to them as his home is.

Seeing the Gaza skeletal skyline I decided to take it on faith that for many people, they are just as much home as my home is.  Everyday dirt crawling with humanity and bugs -- I decided they must have that in Gaza too.

So there is the life I was looking for -- not hers but looking for my way to connect to her life. 

Now that I know this -- what will I do for Gaza's life?

Read more at:

-- Kate G.


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