This week we had the Gaza/Sderot seminar about the disengagement from Gaza, and Hannah ended birthright and began staying with me!
First- the seminar. Although I had heard many similar lectures about Sderot/Gaza before, this was the first time it become more personal, as I got to hear first-hand accounts of how life is in Sderot and life after the Gaza disengagement.
A little about the disengagement (the Israeli perspective, sent to me by Career Israel) for those interested:
During the month leading up to August 2005, there was an atmosphere of great debate in Israel because the government under Ariel Sharon decided to pull out of the Gaza Strip. In that region lived about 10,000 to 15,000 Jewish residents. These Jewish residents were forcibly evacuated from their homes in Gaza. This was a big risk taken by the Israeli government because the rockets that were being fired from Gaza could now reach populated residential areas in Israel, like Ashdod, that were not reachable before, which put many more Israeli lives in danger. With that being said, there were also innocent Palestinian civilians who were suffering under the situation at the time too – and every time when the IDF entered or attacked Gaza they became victims. It is always a big dilemma in Israel when we think about withdrawing, because on one hand we could put more citizens in Israel in danger, while on the other hand, not taking any action and not having dialogue or trying to look for options other than fighting also puts Israelis civilians in danger. Was there really an alternative solution that besides withdrawing? After struggling with these circumstances since 1967 (which didn’t lead to any good solution), the Israeli government decided to take a risk and move forward with their decision to disengage from Gaza. The country was torn between those who supported the decision and those that demonstrated against the disengagement and the removal of Israeli citizens from their homes.
And a little about Sderot, also sent by my program:
Sderot is a city that is less than 1 mile from Gaza. Between 2001–2008 it has been a main target of Qassam rockets being fired from Gaza. From June 2007 to February 2008, 771 rockets and 857 mortar bombs were fired at Sderot alone, an average of 3-4 each day. In March 2012, more than 300 rockets were launched into Sderot, and in the last operation in the south, more than 1600 rockets were launched into the south of Israel. (And these are just the reported rockets, many go unreported.) The city constantly lives with trauma, in desperation, and about 20% of the population has moved away. Here are a couple links that show the problem in the region.
We started the seminar with a lecture by Kol Voice about the disengagement. Then, in the morning, we left for the Sderot Media Center where I heard the same lecture I had heard at various pro-Israel seminars, in addition to the one I held for CSI at Scripps with the Director of the Center, Noam Bedein.
After going to the Media Center, we went to a local high school to talk with students about how their life is under the constant threat of rockets. This part was my favorite- we heard some pretty amazing stories from the teachers and students. One part that stood out was when someone in my group asked a boy if he was scared. He said no, that he’s used to the rockets so he isn’t scared anymore. But another girl said her little brother in elementary school who grew up with the rockets has PTSD and still sleeps with his parents and wets his bed. Here is a picture of some of the high schoolers we met:
Another interesting part was when a teacher was describing how she used to do all of her shopping in Gaza, so she became friends with Palestinians there. But since the disengagement, there has been no contact.
Then, we took a tour of Sderot, which was nice but it was SO HOT. Luckily, there were plenty of opportunities for popsicles. The watermelon is the best.
Later that day we spoke to Roni Kaidar, who lived in Egypt and still keeps up with her Palestinian friends in Gaza, even after the disengagement, which is rare. We were also supposed to speak to one of her Gazan friends on skype, but the Palestinian government limits their electricity to 6 hours a day, and unfortunately, at the time we were supposed to skype, the electricity was turned off. Nevertheless, I got a lot out of this lecture, also about more personal stories of living in Egypt as a Jew. She told us of the story of her daughter, Inbal, and her Palestinian friend from school, Amira. Here’s the gist of the story:
Inbal and Amira were friends in school. Inbal is Israeli and Amira is Palestinian. Amira was having a birthday party and one day in school, Amira’s mother handed out birthday invitations to everyone in class except Inbal. When Inbal asked Amira why she was not invited, Amira said that her mother would not let her invite Inbal because she was Israeli, the “enemy” of the Palestinians. Amira’s mother told her that Israelis hate Palestinians. After Inbal heard this, she went home crying to her mother, who called the school. The school called Amira’s mother, who said that she did not want an Israeli child in her home, The school said Inbal did not have to be invited to the party, but that if that is the case, Amira’s mother cannot hand out invitations at school unless they invite everyone. After this incident, Amira told other children in her class not to talk to Inbal because she was Israeli. Despite this, Amira and Inbal stayed friends, although Amira’s mother would not let her daughter go to Inbal’s home or vice versa. But Amira and Inbal stayed friends all throughout school, and after three years and much begging, Amira’s mother finally let them go to each others’ homes. There was no explanation for the change of heart, but it happened and Amira and Inbal were very grateful. After this, the two girls were inseparable. On one play date, Amira’s mother even took the girls to get a portrait done of them, which now hangs on Inbal’s mantel.
After Roni told this story, she brought up the question: if it took three years for one person in this conflict to change her mind, how long will it take nations with so many people in it? Roni proposed that if we learn how to talk and listen to one another, it might be sooner than we think. She also said that Israelis and Palestinians have a narrative that is parallel to one another. Both sides are telling their own truths. If we understand that, then their parallel lines will become closer and closer. Roni followed up by arguing that it is time to dialogue with Gaza. The precedent is there, when Israeli negotiated with Hamas to release the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who was captured. However, she stressed that negotiations are not when you stop when there is a disagreement. When asked about her more specific plan, Roni said that in order for there to be peace between Israelis and Palestinians, people have to see and feel a difference in their own lives to change. She argued that there should be more economic and humanitarian projects in Gaza for the people to change their government and/or views.
After the discussion, we headed to a Gaza lookout, which was crazy to see how close Gaza really is, yet worlds different:
The biggest take-away that I got from this seminar was how counter-productive the disengagement was in terms of normalizing relations between Israelis and Palestinians. Granted, the goal was not to normalize, however, I would argue it was not expected the extent to which the disengagement would alienate Palestinians and Israelis, creating animosity and a feeling of greater difference.
Enough about politics. Now more fun stuff-Hannah’s visit! I met Hannah on Thursday in Tel Aviv after hanging out with Barak a little. We stayed at his apartment on Nachalat Binyamin Street in Tel Aviv. Hannah’s birthright friend, Grace, also came, as she extended her trip but didn’t have anywhere to stay. (She is also staying with me now in the apartment.) On Friday morning, Barak made some shakshuka for us, which Hannah and Grace loved eating for the first time. Here’s chef Barak:
That day, us three girls walked to the shuk to meet Grace’s Israeli soldier and other friend, and to shop a little. On the way, we went to the Tel Aviv street fair and then shopped in the shuk for a while until we got hungry for lunch. For lunch, the two boys and us three girls went to the Dizengoff food market, which I missed quite a bit since I’ve been in Jerusalem. Everyone loved the food, as I expected, and after eating, we headed to the beach. That night, Hannah and I went to the Tel Aviv Port for dinner, where we went to an overpriced restaurant and got the smallest portions I had ever seen. We had our second dinner at Aroma, and went home to get ready to head out to party. After pre-gaming at Barak’s, we headed out with the Israeli soldiers, Barak, and his friends. We went to this cool little dance club and had a blast. Here’s us being silly on the way to the club:
We crashed, and the next day, went to Benedict’s for brunch, one of Israel’s highest-rated restaurants. Delicious as promised. Pictured as expected:
After, we went to the beach for the whole day, which was glorious. Here’s a pic to prove it:
After the day, we headed back to Jerusalem. The next day, I showed them Mahane Yehuda shuk and we went to the bar on the -1 floor of my building that night. The next night, we went out AGAIN to Zollie’s on “Taglit Street.”
Today after work, Chris made a picnic for us, which we took to the Windmill park. While we were eating, a man approached us and asked if we had a camera. Skeptically, we responded “no,” because we didn’t but also we had no idea why he was asking us. Then he told us how beautiful of a picture it would be with us picnic-ing by the huge olive tree we were sitting under. I gave him my phone to take the photo, and we thanked him. He was right, it made for a good photo:
This is already a long post, so I’ll cut it off here. For next time- the Jerusalem light festival and the North trip!