Friday, April 3, 2009

Finding Hope 2

Yesterday our team visited the Israeli town of Sderot. Sderot is the place that has been the target of missiles, rockets and every manner of improvised projectile launched by terrorists in the Gaza Strip just three short kilometers away. The town has been terrorized for over eight years. In that time thousands of Qassam missiles have landed in and around Sderot. Six people have been killed in the town and many more injured. The story here does not lie in these numbers but in the impact on every member of this community. Many times per day, for weeks on end, the warning sirens have gone off and every citizen of the town has just 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter. These shelters are everywhere. Most homes have an ugly concrete bunker that has been added on to it, schools and public buildings have had concrete shields added above their roofs, bus stops are bomb shields, and a children’s playground has a bomb shelter in the form of a painted concrete caterpillar. We saw homes and other buildings that were destroyed by direct hits. The fear that this community feels, individually and collectively is significant, palpable, and very real. The fear builds over time. It has clearly impacted people deeply, and in many ways for the rest of their lives. We met two people here, Noam who represents the Sderot Media Center ( ) and Nomika who is involved with a group called Other Voice ( ).
The goal of the Sderot Media Center is to explain to the world the trauma this town has experienced and to build support for defending them, both within Israel and the world. While he agreed that people in Sderot do not feel any safer than they did before the war, Noam is very supportive of the Gaza War, feeling it was about time his government did something to protect them. The missiles are still coming however; 190 since the war ended in January. Two landed just two days ago. The terror and trauma on this community has not been stopped by the war. Standing on a hill looking at Gaza City a short distance away, Noam is not hopeful. He believes they will simply have to live with war for the foreseeable future. He said that he felt the reason the missiles were still coming was that, “the army did not finish the job”. I immediately though back to the statement from another Israeli woman I introduced you to in an article here titled The Different Faces of Zionism. I recalled the Welsh woman, Lydia, who quit her job in London and moved to Israel to escape Jewish discrimination. The specific event that caused her to start a new life in Israel was when her boss said, “Hitler did not finish the job”.
Nomika and her fellow members of Other Voice have a different view. While they are equally traumatized by the bombing and have bomb shelters in their homes, she believes that the answer does not lie in increasing the violence with war. This, in spite of the fact that the home directly across the street from her sustained a direct hit. She and her partners have been engaged in relationship building at the grass roots level with Gaza Palestinians for many years. Prior to the border closures they were able to meet in person and have become friends. She is as traumatized by the bombing of her friends in Gaza as she is by the missiles landing in Sderot. They have been in contact weekly by phone and Internet. She is also very concerned about the breakdown of democracy in Israel. When the war broke out the founder of Other Voice, Eric, who we also met, was interviewed in an impromptu live TV interview. The media was trying to gather all perspectives on the war from citizens in Sderot. As he was being interviewed an angry mob attacked him and the interviewer. She said that other voices like theirs are increasing being silenced in the public forum and that concerns her.
Other Voice calls for creative and different actions that can lead to a true, long-term solution to the violence that will bring about an end to the intractable conflict in which residents of the area find themselves. They believe in the principles of dialogue, reciprocity, empathy, mutual respect, non-violence, and non-partisan local activism. Their brochure says “Members of the group are united in our hope that our area can become a peaceful area that offers quality of life, good education and a flourishing economy. We believe that this hope can only become a reality, however, if we end the violence by creating public and concrete partnerships that involve Palestinian and Israeli residents living in the south.”
In Nomika, Eric and the other members of Other Voice I find hope.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?