The Earth Caravan made a stop at Kibbutz Nirim this week. Their visit was unlike any I have ever hosted before. Most groups come here so that I can tell them, and show them, what it is like living on the border, raising kids and maintaining a sane existence while coping with the ever-present security threats.

Most of the participants in the Earth Caravan were from Japan (although there were Canadians, Austrians and Israelis in the group, as well). They came to Israel specifically to hear our stories (ours and the Palestinians’). They were on an investigative pilgrimage, “travelling from place to place, where there are wounds of war, violence and disaster, or where people still suffer”.

The Earth Caravan came to Nirim on an “exchange” of sorts. They wanted to see the award-winning movie, made on the kibbutz for a project coordinated by The Children’s Channel and The Lahav Foundation, last year. This was before the war, before two of the fathers of the participating children were killed, and before a third lost both his legs. The movie won the competition for short children’s movies in Israel, and went on to win the international FESTIVAL CIAK JUNIOR competition in Italy,this past May, 2015. While these visitors were here in Israel, one of the children who participated in the movie, accompanied by her father, was visiting Japan, to represent our country and our community, in a children’s movie event, there.

Here is the award-winning short film: “The Balloon” Kibbutz Nirim: Life as a Movie

Our visitors were invited to ask the children (most of whom are too young to be able to remember what life was like here before the threats of incoming rocket fire and Red Alerts) questions about their experiences and feelings.

Question: Is it a feasible idea that you would send a message to children on the other side of the border?

Response: “From what we know, the children in Gaza are taught by their elders to hate us, and that it is bad to communicate with us. So sending a balloon over to the other side of the border is possible (since we live so close) but it is not realistic to expect a response. Despite that, I would like to send them a balloon.”

Question:
We empathize with your suffering, but would like to know what you think about what the children on the other side of the border feel and have experienced?

Responses:
“I understand that it is not an issue of ‘bad people’ versus ‘good people’. There are just people who want to live their lives in peace, but there is an organization (Hamas) that prevents that from happening.”

“I empathize and am sorry for what the children in Gaza went through, and realize that they are less able to deal with these kinds of incidents of violence (war) than we are (because the children from Nirim were evacuated to a safer place during the war, whereas the children in Gaza didn’t have that option).”

“I have friends who live up north and during the Second Lebanon War their house was hit by a rocket. Through that experience (of what I saw that my friend experienced) I can better understand, and empathize with what the children in Gaza experienced.”

(Note: Throughout the entire summer last year — aside from short periods of cease-fire — these children were away from home, in safe environments, and were not exposed to the brunt of the war-time experiences on Nirim, as were those of us who remained.)

Question: If you could send a balloon to the other side, what message would you send them?

Responses:
T. “ I would say that I empathize with their pain, and that if I were the Prime Minister of Israel, I would find a way to work out a solution.”
R. said: “I would tell them that I empathize with their pain and that most of the people in Israel want there to be peace.”
A. responded: “I am pretty pessimistic about the possibility of making peace in the near future, but I hope that the children over there will be safe and able to grow up in peace.”
H. replied: “I realize that the children there are raised to believe that we are evil people, but I would like them to know that we want them to be able to have good lives, and to be able to grow up safely and in peace (that we’re not really so bad as their elders tell them we are).”
E. would tell them that he wants us all to be able to live in peace.

Eliyahu, who is the only adult who participated in the film responded: “I am not an actor — I came to this project as the grandfather of Hadas. What most impressed me was that this movie had not even one drop of animosity in it. Keeping in consideration that these children had lived through two wars before making the movie, and through many difficult periods of rocket fire, possible infiltration alerts and other frightening experiences, I was amazed and happy to see that there was not even one drop of hatred in their imagined stories or scenarios.” (Note: 77-year old Eliyah was seriously wounded by shrapnel during one of the many rocket attacks on Nirim last July during the war, when he was walking outside and did not have enough time to take cover. He sustained serious head and leg wounds, and is still in rehabilitation. The fact that he survived at all, was due to the fact that at that time, there were army physicians stationed within Nirim, and they were his first responders.)

Nurit explained that the world, as children perceive it, is very different from the way adults do. She recounted that when in Italy for the award ceremony, she and the children who participated in the movie were asked the same question. One of the children whose father was killed in the rocket attack on Nirim on the last day of the war (and was not at this get-together) said that she understands that the realities of the lives of Gazans is very different from ours because we have a country, a government that built us safe rooms, and an army to protect us. She said that if she could, she would tell the children who live on the other side of the border that she hopes they will soon have a country, a government and housing that protects them, as well, so that they can grow up safely.

On a personal note, as an observer of what transpired in this visit, I was both happy and proud, of the empathy and humanity that these children expressed, despite their experiences.

Following the question-answer session, a member of the visiting group spoke about the tragic history of war, in Japan. The group brought with them an eternal flame from Hiroshima, a spark of the flame from the devastating fires that resulted from the A-Bomb, dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago. That spark has turned into a flame of hope and a symbol of peace, which they take around the world with them. The group visiting us brought it here to the border as a symbol of peace and healing.

Eternal Flame from the spark of the fires at Hiroshima

Eternal Flame from the spark of the fires at Hiroshima

At the end of the visit, the group toured the kibbutz, and heard depictions of what it was like here last summer. Then, standing in a circle around the eternal flame, they sang songs of prayer and healing. (Click the link to see it.) As a backdrop to their prayer session, they had the fields of Nirim, and beyond them, the dome of the mosque on the outskirts of Khan Yunis, in the Gaza Strip, on the horizon.

They thanked us for hosting them, and sharing our stories.

I thanked them for coming and caring, and told them that although in the Book of Isaiah the people of Israel were commanded to be “a light unto the nations”, sometimes it’s clear that we could use some light from our friends, as well.