Last Monday, June 29th around noon Geneva time, there was a demonstration of support held in front of the UN building. As a resident of a kibbutz that was under heavy fire last summer (and has been targeted often over the past eleven years) I was sent as one of two representatives, to speak at this demonstration.
I am a teacher, so speaking to lots of people is not new to me. I am also accustomed to the stage, but I do not think I have ever had the experience of being flown so far, to speak with so many. As I stood in the shade of the statue of the three-legged chair, with the flags of the UN rustling in the wind behind me, and 1,200 sign-holding, flag-waving people in front of me, in the searing 28-degree heat of Geneva Switzerland (indeed, it felt more like Israel than what one expects of that region) I felt honored and humbled.
I do not know how many people will remember what I said there, but I know that the experience is one which will be seared in MY memory forever.
Here is the unabridged version of my speech:
Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. It is an incredible honor and while I have come to represent the residents of my country and community in the Eshkol Region of the western Negev of Israel, my views and opinions are my own.
Have you ever had to run for your life? Literally? When I hear the Red Alert early warning system for incoming rockets, I know that I have between 5-10 seconds to get to someplace safe – regardless of where I am in my little kibbutz house. From my kitchen, I can sprint to the saferoom in about 3 seconds. If it catches me in the shower, I’m out of luck – there’s no way I can jump out of the bathtub and run fast enough to the safety of the saferoom before the projectile explodes. If I am out walking my dogs, I either throw myself down next to a wall – or just lie down wherever I am, cover my head and hope that whatever falls doesn’t fall too nearby.
WE do NOT have Iron Dome to protect us. Every Red Alert means that something WILL explode nearby. And last summer there were numerous alerts every single day.
Last summer, on what was to become, in retrospect, the last morning of the war, my bedroom was invaded by deadly shrapnel that ripped through the walls. The electricity of our entire community was knocked out in the same barrage that could have killed me had I been in my bed rather than in my saferoom. I decided that it was time to take a break from being brave, helping others, bearing witness and dodging rockets all summer. I was 59, after all. I’m no Rambo.
So I decided that that day, after I gave a talk in Tel Aviv about Life on the Border, I would take a breather to regroup my emotional forces and return after a few days. I had no idea what the rest of the day would bring, nor that that would be the day when the final ceasefire would hold.
At the very moment I was up on stage, depicting life in another world, another reality, my friends back on Nirim were outside in the heart of the kibbutz – between the members’ homes and the day care centers – helping restore the electricity to the community saving those there from going through the night in terrifying darkness and the stifling heat of the dead of August. While I was in the safety of that Tel Aviv lecture hall, two of my friends were killed by a mortar. The same mortar that landed between the legs of a third friend, blowing both his legs off below the knee.
That night was the only one I slept away from home last summer. The next morning I returned for Shachar’s funeral. The day after that we accompanied Ze’evik on the journey to his final resting place. The war seemed to have ended – but suddenly my friends were gone, and our kibbutz was a community in mourning.
And here we are – a year after that bloody summer, standing in the shadow of the UN Building in Geneva, where a committee has just published a report which, although reinforcing our right to exist, it questions our ability, prerogative and judgement in dealing with an enemy that threatens our lives even today; an enemy that vows openly to wipe us off the face of the earth. And let me be very clear: my “enemy” is not the Palestinians. My enemy is the Hamas terror organization, and the others who deny my right to live in Israel.
When I came to Nirim in 1975, I had made a purposeful decision NOT to move to a community that was on land that was under controversy. Nirim is in Israel proper. The times were very different. We could go to Gaza to shop at the open-air market. Gazans could come here to work and make a good living. That was until the mid 90s. The western Negev was heaven on earth – the perfect place to raise a family.
Today, as my daughter holds her own two-month–old first-born, she is apprehensive of living there – terrified of the dangers that lurk from above as well as below.
Today, we are hyper-aware of the fact that in addition to the tunnel we KNOW about, which is less than a 5-minute jog from my home, it’s highly possible that other tunnels that the IDF have yet to uncover, could loom. I have stood in the tunnel, which began in Gaza, has one branch in the direction of Nirim, the other leading towards the neighboring Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha. It is sinister and frightening, built with a complex infrastructure for communications and electricity that was developed solely for purposes of death. Can you imagine how our children feel when they know that terrorists could come through a tunnel under our community at any time?
Hamas are still digging tunnels. They flaunt it proudly. Each day trucks barrel through our area, on their way to Gaza, laden with cement and other humanitarian supplies. I also know that the Gazans who need that cement to reconstruct their homes, do not have money to feed their families. They sell the cement so they can buy food. Therefore, the cement sent over to fix their homes, ends up under the ground making its way back into Israel in the form of tunnels of terror. As far as I know, not one house has been built in Gaza since last summer.
Last summer, I was held hostage by the Hamas. The Hamas, and the Hamas alone, decided when there would be a ceasefire. The Hamas and they alone chose to construct terror tunnels rather than buildings to house their people, or factories to generate industry. Israel builds saferooms to protect her citizens. Hamas builds saferooms to transport their weapons.
The Hamas also held the Gazans hostage – resulting in the deaths of countless innocent Gazans when Hamas directives prevented them from leaving their homes, even after IAF used harmless explosives (“Knock-on-the-roof”) developed specifically to warn innocents to vacate the premises. Gazans, who had no place to evacuate to, were put at risk by Hamas projectiles being launched from within residential neighborhoods, mosques and schools.
I live in the shadow of the threat of rockets and attack tunnels, and I know only too well that until the Gazans have something to live for, they will only have reasons to die for. I understand that until the unemployment level drops and the ability to put food on their tables rises, our safety will remain compromised. I have no doubt that until Palestinians are able to work on the construction of homes, they will continue to work on the construction of tunnels; until they are able to raise their children in homes rather than the rubble of last summer’s conflict, they will be raising another generation of Israel-haters, and MY grandbaby will not be able to romp on our lawn without her mother worrying about the eventuality of a Red Alert blaring out.
Coexistence begins with education and responsibility.
I am disappointed by the tone at times of the HRC which insinuates that Israel does not demand accountability from her army. Israel’s army is MY army. We all serve in our army – these soldiers are our spouses, our parents, our children, our lovers, our former students, our neighbors…OURS. I KNOW these people. I know that in the process of protecting my community, our soldiers have put their lives at risk to save innocent Palestinian lives, aborting vital missions when non-combatant Palestinians were in harm’s way. I also know that one of the reasons my friends were killed was due to the fact that the IDF did not neutralize the rocket launchers because they were shooting from within an area which was populated with civilians. I trust my army to hold fair and honest inquiries to determine whether there were instances when their very high standards of respect for human life were not upheld. Will the Hamas do the same? Of course not. They are a terror organization. THAT is the challenge when you have the situation of an army which needs to protect its citizens against guerrillas who make no such distinctions, who target civilian populations with impunity.
I hold the Hamas responsible for finding a way to stop investing in terrorism and incitement to hatred, and start making choices that will enable the people of Gaza to thrive and prosper. I encourage and trust my government to bring about a long term political agreement with the Palestinians. I call upon the countries of the world, and their representatives sitting in the building behind us, to act in a way that will compel the Hamas to abandon their path of violence and empower all of the people in our region with the conditions to live in a way in which the human rights of all of us will truly be respected.
We all need to be able to raise the next generation to respect our neighbors, not fear them, so that both sides of the border can be heaven on earth. This is clearly not a conflict that can be resolved by weapons. It can ONLY be resolved by courageous leaders and diplomacy.
Note: It is Friday afternoon, July 3rd Israel time. As I write this post there was just now a Red Alert and rockets landed in communities a few kilometers south of me.