Mid-Term Meetings: Near Gaza – Netiv Ha’Asara and The Other Voice

For far too many years, the Gaza-Sderot region has faced war, rocket attacks and now isolation from each other.

The latest conflict in October 2012 saw Hamas-launched rockets reaching further into Israel, targeting Tel Aviv, Beersheva, Ashdod and other communities in the region.  The Israeli response, Operation Pillar of Defense was swift and extensive.  This this latest round, four Israeli citizens and one soldier were killed.  Between 158 and 177 Palestinians were killed, including militants, civilians, women and children.brutal.

On June 5, the EAPPI bus took us to the Israeli community of Netiv Ha’Asara, adjacent to the northern border of Gaza. The Separation Barrier isolates the two communities. This community is near the better known Sderot and both have been the unwilling recipients of rockets launched from within Gaza against Israel. We went to visit the Other Voice, a grass roots volunteer initiative of local communities.  We met with Roni Keidar, a teacher and resident of Netiv Ha’Asara to learn about the conflict and the work of Other Voice (http://www.othervoice.org/welcome-eng.htm).

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In 1973, there were 11 villages in the buffer zone between Sinai and Egypt.  With the advent of peace talks with Egypt, these communities had to be abandoned and residents relocated north of the 1950 Armistice Line.  They demonstrated, evacuated their homes, lost their plantations and set out to build a new community.  Fifty-six families came to Netiv Ha’Asara and created a community of beauty and friendships with Palestinians living in Gaza. Two hundred families live there now.

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For the past 10-15 years, the Israeli communities outside Gaza’s border have faced despair, destruction and psycho-social trauma.  There threat of missile attack is constant, with only 40 seconds from the sound of an alarm to reach shelter.  A university student and immigrant worker have been killed.

Roni told us that the communities in this region have carried burdens of despair and anger.  Some are now ready to listen with an open mind.  Both Israelis and Palestinians are telling their own truths from their own histories.  She noted that there are solutions and that these will require compromise.

She admonished the group by saying: “Retaliation and war are not getting us anywhere.”  Israel seems to be taking the easiest route – fire back – and the conflict just deepens.

Other Voice provides a place where these issues can be discussed.  Members share the same view: violence is not the answer.

Other Voice does not talk about how who is right or who is wrong.  It concentrates on addressing trauma, facing death, the welfare of the community, and seminars. She noted that there is a lot of mistrust, lots of misunderstinding.  Roni said that both sides need to find understanding.  Jewish people need to better understand Palestinians – “we know what it is like to have a home. We need to live alongside the other.”

She emphasized that the prevailing climate of fear can lead to two outcomes:

love <  fear >  hate.

Fear needs to be replaced with dignity and respect.

After an informative series of questions and answers, we toured the community and drove to an observation point at the Separation Barrier.  This what we saw:

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Here we find an exclusion fence between the community and the Barrier.

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And a decorated wall facing the community to disguise the starkness of the Barrier.

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Looking toward the Mediterranean, one can see the extensive separation of Gaza from Israel, with the Separation Barrier on the left, then the High Risk zone in the middle, and the No Go Zone on the right, with a guard tower close to the communications tower to the right.  These zones are under constant surveillance.

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A reinforced, battle-hardened bulldozer was clearing the ground to make it easier for the Israeli military to detect any incursions from Gaza.

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And here is a view into Gaza:

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Roni led us to an intersecting wall where the Other Voice has initiated a program called “The Path to Peace.” For a small fee, visitors and students can glue ceramic figures on the wall under a dove of peace.

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Note the green frog (ceramic) I put on the wall.  This a tribute to my daughter-in-law Monica, the expert on Oregon Spotted Frogs and their habitat in British Columbia.

And here was my contribution to Paths to Peace, seven small pieces in the hope that peace will come to this holy and troubled land.

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We then boarded the bus and set off for Haifa, some three hours to the north.

To be continued …

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