Last week the US Senate passed Sen Res 548, a resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself and condemning the “destabilizing actions by extremists aboard the Mavi Marmara.” Both Colorado senators, Bennett and Udall, voted for it. The resolution contains much language about Israel’s “inherent and undeniable right to defend itself,” and calls Hamas a terrorist group—pursuing foreign policy by name-calling.
One of the “Whereases” of the resolution mentions the “approximately 860,000 Israeli civilians [who] reside within range of rockets fired from Gaza and live in fear of attacks.” Fortunately, some of these Israelis are not satisfied with name-calling.
Roni Keider and Julia Chaitin, met with our Compassionate Listening Project delegation in June. Roni and Julia live in Moshav Netiv-haAsara (a moshav is like a kibbutz, but the families do not pool all their money). They live on Israeli land, given to Israel in the armistice of 1949. Israel’s security wall, separating Israel from Gaza, forms the boundary of one of the neighborhoods. The moshav has decorated the wall on their side. (see picture)
Roni and Julia are part of a group called Other Voice, meeting with Palestinians from Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya, just on the other side of the wall. The moshav was founded in 1982, as a buffer between Israel and the Gaza Strip. As we sat in their community room, having cold drinks and cookies, the women told us what to do if the sirens sounded. Basically, we would follow them to the shelter. The warning sirens give them fifteen seconds to get to shelter before the rockets land.
They told us that ten years ago life became more difficult here—before that Palestinians had worked at the moshav and Jewish and Palestinian families knew one another and celebrated together. They thought that when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, they would have peace. But the day after withdrawal, a rocket fired from Gaza killed Roni’s daughter’s best friend, Dana Galkowicz.
Roni also told us about living in Egypt, where her daughter became best friends with a Palestinian girl. It took three years, but finally, because the girls, Heba and Imbaa, were persistent, their families, too, became friends. (photo shows buffer zone between Netiv-haAsara and Gaza)
Julia, a professor at Sabir College near Sderot, told us about the two students who were killed two years ago in the parking lot, while other students watched. The effect of the rocket attacks on these Israelis is devastating. She told us that 75-80% of Israelis have PTSD, a result of living with the constant fear of the rocket attacks and seeing or knowing people who have been injured or killed.
Her story is like so many I have heard from Israelis. At one time she believed that Israel only wanted peace. She believed that the land was empty when the state of Israel was formed in 1948. She also believed that the Arabs hated the Jews. Then she learned about the history—the forced removals of Arabs from their villages in 1948, and the massacres of Palestinians. And she realized that the Palestinians and the Jews need one another in this arid part of the world. So she joined Other Voice (http://www.othervoice.org/welcome-eng.htm ), a group that builds friendships between Israelis and Palestinians. She stays in touch with friends in Gaza by email and speakerphone these days. They put the cell phone on the floor in the middle of the group and talk with their friends in Gaza. They have not seen one another since Operation Cast Lead in 2009.
While they used to get together in person, now she plays Farmville with her friends on Facebook. She was opposed to Israel’s attack on Gaza and she is opposed to the security wall, which is supposedly being built for her protection (read Other Voice’s statement). When one of her friends from another moshav protested the killings of the nine people on the Free Gaza flotilla, she was threatened by one of her neighbors who called her on the phone and told her to apologize or she would be forced out of the moshav—a frightening prospect for a single mother. (photo shows Julia and Roni)
Julia told us they won’t give up “because there is no other way” to live. She told us to support peacebuilding groups in Israel because this is really what it means to be pro-Israel. Regarding comparisons between the Holocaust and the Occupation, she says, “I don’t have to compare. I cannot because we know what this (occupation) is doing to us as a people.” She said it is easier to talk to Palestinians than it is to have a dialogue about Israel’s policies with other Israelis. She said it is easier for Israelis see themselves as the victims because then they are not responsible. “Both peoples are entitled to land and life; both have a right not to be bombed….We know what we have to do; we just have to do it; we need to know how to listen and talk to one another.” She does this for her thirteen grandchildren, “so they will have a good life.”
Read Julia’s article about the Israeli attack on the Free Gaza flotilla in the Berkeley Daily Planet.
People killed in Gaza, January 91, 2009 (the date of the Operation Cast Lead ceasefire) to May 31, 2010 (from B’Tselem):
As in most stories from Israel and Palestine, there is suffering on both sides of the wall. For the past sixty years, the suffering of the Palestinians, however, always seems to be greater. While there have been deaths from the rocket attacks on Israelis living just north of Gaza, there have been many more deaths of Palestinians in Gaza. During the past year and a half, while 4 Israelis were killed by Palestinians in ALL of Israel (2 in Israel and 2 in the West Bank), 56 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by Israelis; an additional 24 were killed in the West Bank.