November 11th, Day #10

For too long, the Gaza-Sderot region has known war and despair. Other Voice – a grassroots volunteer initiative comprised of citizens from the communities bordering the Gaza border – knows that our violent reality can and must be altered.

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Roni Keidar

 

 

 

 

“Open the borders with Gaza. Some will tell me, ‘I don’t want to be at risk.’ I say, ‘I am already at risk. At least this risk has a chance for peace.” ~ Roni Keidar

Roni Keidar

Excerpted Transcription by Joel Berman and Helen Fitzgeraldat Nativ Ha-Asara

My name is Roni Keidar and I would like to tell you how I got to this place: to this moshav, or agricultural community, Nativ Ha-asara, and to this place of my perspective and commitment to peace. This moshav did not always sit where it is now, right on the border with northern Gaza. Nativ Ha-asara was first established in 1972, in the Sinai desert, across from Gaza’s southern border.

Our village was a fantastic success story.  The sand was good to us, the climate was good to us. We managed to grow and pick crops when they couldn’t pick them anywhere else in the country. This meant that our produce got extremely high prices.  We were doing so well for ourselves that most of us enlarged our homes, enlarged our families. We went into more and more sophisticated and modern types of agriculture.

We were a little far out and detached from anywhere else. So we had to create our own quality of life, emphasizing what we thought was important to our way of living and to our specific community. There was also a very normal, natural, good relationship with all our neighbors in the northern Sinai. Our nearest town was Rafah, and we went to visit Palestinians, do business with them and many of them came to work with us in the fields. Really a very normal and good relationship, as neighbors should be.

Then one day, the totally unexpected happened – an Arab leader offered his hand in peace. This is something we never, ever thought could happen. When you say “never say never”, this is what they meant. But there we were. 1979, Anwar Sadat offers his hand in peace. The condition for this peace is that we leave the northern Sinai. And the whole area is returned to Egypt.

This created a very strong conflict within each and every one of us. On the one hand, the longings for peace which we all had, on the other hand, our concept of peace didn’t go together with having to be evacuated from our homes, having to uproot our plantations. Some protested, some cried out. We tried to put over a message that there must be another way. But when we realized that it was either peace or staying in northern Sinai, it was obvious what we should do.

So we chose a group of people to look across the country and choose a place for us to live. And this is the place they chose, right on the border of the Gaza Strip. You might very well ask, what on earth made you do a thing like that? The thing was, we wanted to be as close as we could to our original village, knowing the agricultural advantages we had there, without being on negotiable land ever again. So we are within the internationally recognized borders of Israel.   66 families came here, right across the border from the Gaza Strip. We built a new village. Today we are 230 families. And we’re already talking of the next expansion.

When we first came here, everything was very normal. Many of the people from Gaza came to work with us. We used to go to visit them, and they came to visit us. A normal neighborly relationship until the mid-nineties. Then things started changing. Palestinian suicide bombers with explosive trucks, blowing up in the middle of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and many other parts of the country, coming out of Gaza. Every time this happened, the border would be closed. No one was allowed in or out. Things went from bad to worse: Hamas rockets, missiles, mortar shells on a daily basis, several times a day. You never know when. Even now when I’m talking to you, I can’t be 100% sure that there won’t be an alert at a certain point in our meeting.

What should we do? My bomb shelter in my house is very small. We have 15 seconds to get there. All we can do is lie on the ground, cover our heads with our hands, and count up to 40 50 60, until we hear an explosion somewhere, hopefully far away in the sea, but we never know. We know these rockets are very primitive. They can’t accurately target. Usually it’s like – ah, weren’t we lucky, they landed in an open field. We were luckier still when they fell into the sea. Lucky lucky lucky – but sometimes luck runs out. We do know that if a rocket hits, there’s no hope. One day one of the girls in our village was coming home.  She got out of the car, heard an alert. She started running into the house, and on the doorstep, she was hit directly by a rocket. She happened to be my daughter’s best friend.

Now I’m talking of day-to-day life, I’m not talking about wars. Where are we today? The same place.  Talking of the next round. Anyone you speak to both here in Israel and in the Palestinian territories, they’re all talking of the next round. There’s going to be the next round. It’s bound to happen. Why? Why don’t we do anything, really do anything, to stop that next round? Not to reach that next round? I don’t want a next round. And I’ll do anything in my power to stop that next round.

We’ve all got to realize that we are both here to stay, so we had better start learning to live side by side, because it’s never going to be one instead of the other. I so wish we could realize this. Most people do. But leadership – nothing is further from their mind. At least that’s how it looks at the moment. I believe, although many don’t, but I believe this is possible. When people call me a dreamer, I say I’m not the dreamer. The dreamers are those Palestinians who say that they want to abolish Israel and throw the Jewish people into the sea. That’s not going to happen. They are dreaming! The dreamers are those Israelis who think they can bomb Gaza again and again and again, and eventually the Palestinians will come on their knees and beg for peace. It’s not that way. That’s how we’re going to get 11 and 13 year olds knifing people in the streets. They’re not going to come on their knees and beg for peace. Not like that. So they’re dreaming. What I say can be a reality. What I say is, wake up, people! Wake up, leadership! And understand that we’ve got to live here together, side by side, and we can have a beautiful life.

 


Tsameret Zamir, founder of Nativ Shalom, arts and peace education.

By Joel Berman:

We met Tsameret Zamir, ceramic artist and founder of Nativ Shalom, an arts and peace education project. Tsameret lives with her husband and children in Nativ Ha-Asara, a moshav (cooperative agricultural community) as close as you can get to the Gaza border. It’s an idyllic setting with lovely homes, luxuriant gardens, and an expansive view of the Mediterranean to the west.

The beauty ends abruptly when one looks to the south. Several hundred meters from Tsameret’s front porch rises the 25-foot high concrete security wall that separates Israel from Gaza.

To the residents of the moshav and the nearby city of Sderot, the wall is the reason they’re able to live here. It’s also an everpresent reminder of the dangerous neighborhood they live in. When the rockets are flying from Gaza, parents have one minute to get their children and themselves to the nearest bomb shelter. “I never know how fast I can run until I need to save my life,” she told us.

As a mother, she worries constantly about her children’s physical safety and their emotional well-being.  She tries hard to help them regain their equanimity as quickly as possible after the sirens stop wailing, to impart a sense of “normalcy”, as crazy as that sounds. “OK, kids, time to get on the school bus,” she’ll tell them matter-of-factly. “See you this afternoon.”

This is their life. This is the price they pay to live here.

Last year during Operation Protective Edge, the sirens went off as many as 35 times a day. One day a neighbor of Tsameret, a 23 year old woman, was blown to pieces. “You never get used to it,” she told us.

How could anyone?

Why does she continue to live here? “It’s my home. I grew up here. It’s such a beautiful place. This is where I want to raise my kids.”

Tsameret can see the wall from almost every window of her house. “The wall protects me, but it also reminds me of the danger and the fear. So after the 2012 Gaza war, I decided to change the atmosphere for the people of this village. I wanted to make them feel better”.

She came up with a plan to transform the wall from a reminder of violence to a symbol of hope. Her efforts evolved into Path to Peace, an initiative that infuses the security wall with the age-old aspirations and evocations of the Western Wall. She does this by inviting visitors to choose one of her ceramics – a flower, a hamsa, a dove – and write a prayer for peace on the back of it. The visitors then take their ceramic objects to the wall and glue them onto the concrete. Over the course of three years, the process has transformed one small section of the wall into a work of art.

For my ceramic, I chose a hamsa. On the back I wrote a prayer for peace for my wife Mary, our girls Laura, Julie, and Cory, and my 3 year old grandson Caleb.  As I glued it to the wall, my eyes welled up. I glanced over at the two IDF soldiers watching me from their sentry tower a few meters away.  The eyes of the younger one were brimming and his lower lip was quivering.

“This is brilliant!” I said to myself. “Just brilliant!”

File Nov 11, 11 53 19 AMIsraeli soldier at the edge of Netiv HaAsara, on the Gaza border.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(photo, right: Israeli soldiers on the edge of Netiv HaAsara, on the Gaza border – their outpost is a part of her art project. The Gaza Separation Wall is visible in the background)

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Transforming fear to hope. Delegation members placing prayerful ceramic symbols on the Gaza perimeter wall on the edge of Tsameret's village.

Transforming fear to hope. Delegation members placing prayerful ceramic symbols on the Gaza perimeter wall on the edge of Tsameret’s village (Joel, Leah and Laurie).

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Separation Wall with Gaza. Hebrew writing on the wall: “The path to peace.”

 

Don’t miss Rabbi Arik Ascherman and Dr. Alon Liel! Click the “older entries” link below.

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