<   Report Three: Over/Looking Gaza >

July 23, 2011
Sderot, Ramallah, Gaza

This delegation is traveling concurrently with
IFPB's African Heritage Delegation > > >



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The Sun Shines Over Gaza

On Wednesday I had the privilege of visiting a kibbutz where we were taken to stand at an overlook in order to see the Gaza skyline. In front of me stood two cement walls and some barren land, reinforcing the distance. Looking at Gaza in the horizon, it seemed so far away, so isolated, and so far removed.

As we stood gazing into the distance I was struck by the fact that the sun was shining just as brightly over Gaza as it was on the place where we were standing. That may sound odd, but as I thought about the footage and videos that I watched of Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, in my memory the sky was always overcast, filled with the smoke of exploded weaponry.

I sponsor a child through World Vision named Hiba who lives in a refugee camp in Gaza. I thought of her and prayed for her as I stood overlooking her homeland, gazing from afar rather than being able to go and meet her personally and give my young ten-year-old friend a hug.

I asked for someone to take a picture of me standing with Gaza in the background so that I could send it to Hiba and tell her that I had been so close to where she lived in her camp. But as my friend prepared to take my picture, it seemed so odd to smile for the camera.

What is the protocol for taking a picture in front of Gaza? Does one smile out of politeness, though the checkpoint which I cannot enter and Hiba cannot exit looms in the background? Should I look sad in front of an Apartheid wall, or would that bring grief to my young friend when I send her the picture? I still don't know the answer to these questions and at the end of the day, my face for the camera does not matter much.

What does matter, however, is my young friend Hiba and my other fellow human beings in Gaza who wait for an end to the occupation and the dignity of a life without quarantine.

- Julie Galle


 

“Hand in Hand, We Create Love”

Yesterday from the overlook near Nativ Haarsha we were able to see Gaza. The strip of land, just mere miles away, seemed thousands. Blocked by a series of walls, soldiers perched high in look-out towers, and a gloomy checkpoint filled with Israeli and Palestinians families hot and tired after waiting hours.

Today, that reality seemed much closer during our video conference with the youth working with the American Friends Service Committee in Gaza. The youth described to us their experiences working on popular achievement programs with other youth. I was moved by the passion with which they spoke about the projects they have implemented.

One young woman spoke about recruiting young girls from refugee camps to join her project group. She discussed the difficulty in organizing and gathering children for the group, but pride in what the girls learned when they finally came together. The girls were inspired by knowledge regarding concepts such as civil responsibility, democracy, etc. This inspiration drove them to become leaders within their own community, and form their own groups. Countless other youth group leaders shared similar stories, filled with equal amounts of passion.

What amazed me most was the laughter they shared and the passion they expressed despite their current situation in Gaza. I was further amazed, when asked if they could share one thing with the youth within our delegation, most responded with beautiful touching messages. Two quotes stand out most to me:  “hand in hand we create love” and “we are part of humanity, we will touch the sky with our feet on the ground.”

Hand in hand we will create love and end this conflict, one day you will touch the sky and tear down this wall!!!

- Brittany Jacoby


 

“We Have a Life”

“I don’t believe we are human beings trying to find our way in a spiritual world,” says Pastor Avery, a member of Interfaith Peace-Builders’ African Heritage Delegation. “We are spiritual beings trying to find our way in a human world.”

He is sitting back, relaxed stance, loose legs and arms, all easy smiles and easy eyes, the kind that look right into me, a voice of smooth gravel that hits right at the meeting of my clavicle and ribs.

On Wednesday, Nomika Zion, a member of an Israeli urban kibbutz in Sderot, stands while the rest of us sit in her sunlight dappled living room; stacks of books, fruit-hued walls, paintings of melancholy women, a patio green with succulents and sparkly with mobiles.

She stands straight-backed but brittle, holding her arms tightly together, her eyes burning, pools of shiny wax about to spill. She tells us of her family, which means her community, which means her neighborhood, her town. She does not tell us which children are hers, which man her husband. They are all her children, the women are all her sisters and close friends, the men all family.

She tells us of the collective trauma they have experienced together, the constant fear during the ten years when Hamas militants across the Gaza wall - only 2 miles away - shot thousands upon thousands of rockets into Sderot. The alarms that would sound. The scramble to bunkers. To the ground. The wait to see where the rocket would hit. The fear for a child playing outside.

But Nomika never forgets her friends in Gaza. The ones she had before the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000, who used to come to Sderot and their neighboring towns to work and sell produce, and the ones she has made via phone and email since. “Of course, I knew we were never equal because they were still under occupation,” she says. “But we were friends.”

Nomika tells us of the Israeli politicians who swooped into Sderot over the years with their accompanying media to hear about the terror the Sderot community experienced. How they would shake her neighbors’ hands and promise protection. How the bombs they sent “in retaliation” would shake the very walls of her house and terrify her even more. How the rockets did not stop.

During the three weeks of Operation Cast Lead in 2008, Israelis celebrating the bombing of Gaza flooded her hometown to be spectators to the show, one telling the media that the sound of explosions was the best music he had ever heard.

Nomika founded “Other Voice” in Sderot because she cannot stand it anymore, because she believes there is another way, because she still talks to friends in Gaza who believe. “I think we have become addicted to war,” she says. “But these bombs were not for my protection. The politicians were not interested in my protection.”

She wrote a now famous article entitled “Not in My Name, and Not For My Security.” It is what I think of later on a hilltop when we stare at Gaza across the wall, baking under the afternoon sun.

On Thursday, our delegation video conferences from Ramallah with a group of young people in Gaza who work through the American Friends Service Committee to promote civic engagement and youth empowerment within their communities. I am listening to them speak about their projects, but I am also watching the screen as one young man spills his water and wipes it up with tissue. The handshake and kisses exchanged by friends sitting in the right corner of the conference table.

They are not even 60 miles away from us, but we cannot enter Gaza and they cannot leave; we cannot share a physical space. Yet they are the energetic and upbeat side of the cyber discussion. They are the ones who say, “We have a life, we are looking to create our own future. People are thinking we do not have anything but we want to change the situations we are living in.”

The co-leader of our group, Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer, ends our meeting by thanking the youth: “Yesterday, looking at Gaza from Sderot I felt very depressed. Today, looking at Gaza from Ramallah, I feel much more inspired.”

- Jozi Zwerdling





This delegation is traveling concurrently with
the African Heritage Delegation > > >



 

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