search
Adele Raemer
Life on the Border with the Gaza Strip
Featured Post

I used to believe more Gazans want to live in peace, as I do

How upsetting to still not be sure that my Gazan friend's texts on October 7th were to find out how I was and not where I was
The Gaza Strip as seen through the windshield of a car on Nirim that was destroyed by terrorists on October 7th. (courtesy)
The Gaza Strip as seen through the windshield of a car on Nirim that was destroyed by terrorists on October 7th. (courtesy)

My name is Adele. I live in Kibbutz Nirim, less than two kilometers (a mile and a quarter) from the border with the Gaza Strip. People from my community have always held our hands out in peace to the residents on the other side of the border. We even have a special Nirim-written anthem that we sing at our celebrations, which talks about these hopes. The song begins with the words: “Listen up, folks! The day will come, When this will be a more peaceful border.” (The entire song can be seen here

Throughout my years living on the border, I have participated in a number of projects and interactions with Palestinians, to try to build bridges. I’ve worked with people from Gaza who understand that we in Israel genuinely believe in coexistence with anyone who wants to live in peace with us. I always tell whoever will listen that it is in our best interest to see them thrive and prosper and have good lives. Those with whom I am in contact are people who understand that there needs to be a change in the way children in Gaza are educated, and they have worked to change those paradigms to raise children who also strive for peace and coexistence, even at the risk of their own safety. However those bridges are not the steel-beamed bridges that can be built by investments of strong leaders. They are not sturdy bridges, capable of withstanding heavy loads and strong winds. Their leaders will not allow them to be. Ours are grassroots bridges built by people on the ground — people who have much invested in the success of these bridges, but they are bridges of rope and wood that sway in the wind and can break with wear.

On October 7, 2023, at 6:30 in the morning, when the pastoral quiet of our kibbutz was pierced with sounds of the incoming rocket warnings and subsequent explosions, many bridges around the region, collapsed. After running to take cover in my safe room, I glanced at the security app on my phone and realized how heavy and widespread the barrage was, simultaneously targeting cities ranging from the north of Tel Aviv to communities in the southern part of our Eshkol region.

Despite the lack of official updates, by 7:30 a.m., it was becoming clear to me that terrorists had infiltrated our relatively small kibbutz of 450 souls. None of us had any idea whether there were two or 20 or 200 armed and dangerous Hamas infiltrators. On the news, there were reports of terrorists invading, but at the time, I did not hear specific communities named. People on Nirim were reporting in the kibbutz’s WhatsApp group that they were hearing automatic machine gun fire and shouting in Arabic outside their houses. Via the emergency kibbutz messaging network, we were alerted to shutter and lock doors and windows, then lock ourselves in our safe rooms. The problem was that the safe rooms, which were built to keep us safe from mortars, rockets and shrapnel, as opposed to infiltration by terrorists, do not lock. There I was, with my 33-year-old son, who had come for the weekend for a visit, hiding in the stifling room, with the air conditioner turned off so the motor would not betray our presence.

In the hopes of gleaning more information, I sat on the bed frantically scouring news outlets and WhatsApp groups on my phone. Suddenly, I saw a message from someone I had met in the past as part of a bridge-building project, developing connections, normalization, and hopes for coexistence. Someone who I know lives in Gaza! (Note: I am not using her real name or exact location, but the times stamps and text are authentic and unaltered)

[07:55, 10/7/2023] Zahra: Hi

[07:56, 10/7/2023] Zahra: How are you?

[07:56, 10/7/2023] Zahra: How is the situation?

The truth be told, I was petrified.

I responded:

[07:58, 10/7/2023] Adele: Hi! Scary. Very worrisome. How are you?

To which she replied:

[07:58, 10/7/2023] Zahra: I am in front of your place

Wait, I thought.

WHAT?!?

Could she be on the sidewalk in front of my little house in Nirim, having infiltrated with terrorists? That made zero sense, but none of what was going on outside and all around made any sense.

Hesitantly, I responded:

[07:59, 10/7/2023] Adele: What?

To which she replied:

[07:59, 10/7/2023] Zahra: In Khan Yunis

That is the city near us, in the Gaza Strip. I was now feeling quite absurd, but still… For a second, I had doubted all sense of logic. At that point, I assumed it was what is called “linguistic fallout”: when a non-native speaker misuses vocabulary and is totally misunderstood.

[08:00, 10/7/2023] Adele: What is happening there?

[08:00, 10/7/2023] Zahra: We don’t understand anything

[08:01, 10/7/2023] Zahra: There’s any problems in your place

[08:01, 10/7/2023] Zahra: ?

So… . of course there were problems, but my radar was up and my survival senses were on overdrive.

[08:02, 10/7/2023] Adele: Not sure

[08:03, 10/7/2023] Zahra: Take care and be safe

[08:05, 10/7/2023] Adele: You too

Not long after that, my son and I started hearing automatic gunfire nearby, and shouting outside our house in Arabic. Approximately 35 minutes later, at 8:40, sitting inside our safe room door, holding down the handle to keep it locked, my son heard sounds that he couldn’t recognize, and the words in Arabic which mean “Come back.” By around 9:30, I was in physical pain from not having been able to go to the bathroom for fear of being discovered. I ventured outside my safe room and saw that the slats on my window had been broken, and the screen slightly torn. The sounds my son had heard were those of the terrorists who had been on my porch, attempting to break into my house. We could only hope that they wouldn’t return to finish the job.

About two hours later, again my WhatsApp pinged:

[10:21, 10/7/2023] Zahra: What’s going on?

[10:22, 10/7/2023] Zahra: How are you doing?

By this time, not long after realizing how close we had come to being murdered or kidnapped, I was too rattled to respond. There were people on the other side of our border, just a few kilometers away, whom I had considered to be my rays of hope through the cracks in the wall of suspicion and mistrust. I had gotten to know people whom I believed could be viable alternatives as leaders of the Palestinian people, who could provide a horizon of hope for a thriving Gaza alongside a thriving Israel. Zahra was one of the people whom I believed could help make that positive change. She is a serious professional who had only ever communicated peaceful dreams and intentions with me, and I with her. But now, considering what was going on just outside the walls of my safe room, my mind began to doubt everything I had believed in before 6:30 a.m., October 7th. Those rays of optimistic light seeping through the fissures suddenly turned dark, and I could see not even a glimmer.

A few hours later, before the IDF soldiers evacuated my son and me, while I was still in my safe room, yet with the understanding that the IDF had already begun going through my kibbutz, house by house, neutralizing any terrorists they found, and evacuating residents, I dared reach out to her again:

[15:53, 10/7/2023] Adele: Are you safe?

[15:53, 10/7/2023] Zahra: Yes and you ?

[15:53, 10/7/2023] Adele: It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. I pray for your safety

To which came the questioning response:

[15:55, 10/7/2023] Zahra: You are in your house ?

I wanted to believe that she was just concerned about my safety. Or could it be something else, more nefarious? Again I grew anxious about the wisdom of interacting with her, and decided not to contact her again until I was safely evacuated, out of my house, out of my kibbutz — to someplace far away from what had just taken place this morning, causing my region to morph from being the 95% Heaven/5% Hell since the 2005 Disengagement — as we liked to describe it — into 100% Hell.

A harrowing night and then day in our community followed, with the viability of armed terrorists still on the loose both inside and in the surrounding area, still a real and present danger. When we were finally evacuated from Nirim on the afternoon of October 8th, we had to drive through an active war zone in order to be evacuated to the southern city of Eilat. It was not until October 10th — two days later — that I felt secure enough to contact her again.

[07:58, 10/10/2023] Adele: Zahra, how are you? Are you safe?

[09:54, 10/10/2023] Zahra: The situation is very dangerous

[10:03, 10/10/2023] Adele: I pray for your safety, and for the people in Gaza who are good, and want to live in peace. I used to believe there were more Gazans who want to live in peace. What we lived through, (and what so many of my friends have NOT survived), the destruction wreaked on my community out of pure hatred, makes me wonder. I am heartbroken. I know that YOU are someone who wants peace. And I worry about you and your family. 

To which she did not respond.

We communicated a few more times after that. I learned that her house had been damaged by Israeli bombs, and that she had had to move with her parents. I know that she is not in her home, and that now their situation is currently much more dangerous than mine is. However, for all of her hardships, as well as my own, I fully blame Hamas. I blame them, too, for all but destroying our rickety but hopeful bridge of trust.

I had believed — along with the rest of the world — when the Qatari suitcases of dollars were allowed into Gaza, that all our lives would be safer. While I had no doubt that the lion’s share would be going to Hamas, I had hoped that at least some of it would be going to the citizens. In light of the discoveries made by our troops now fighting inside Gaza, clearly the money was invested in building an underground terror network, instead of helping Gazans.

I had faith in the belief that if we allow thousands of Gazans into our country for work, they would be able to feed their families and live better lives, that they would not be as easily convinced by Hamas terrorists that terror was the solution, despite the fact that I also was aware that a chunk of their salaries would be taken by Hamas. Bitterly, we now understand that it was many of those people whom we were hiring who were busy at the same time — betraying us, mapping out our communities, including names of residents and where they lived on the map. While they were working in our communities, earning money to support their families, some of them, at least, were also learning our habits and lifestyles in order to weaponize that knowledge on October 7th. The trust we put in them enabled the slaughter of over 1,200 people and the kidnapping of over 240, many of whom were and are my friends. It is also what has caused those of us who live on Nirim and the other border communities to be refugees in our own country, with no idea of when we will be able to return to our beloved communities and homes.

So… do I believe that Zahra was working with Hamas, trying to milk me for information about what was happening in my community at the time the infiltrations and the massacres were happening? Probably I do not, and I certainly don’t want to. But then again — can I count it out? Can any of us ever trust any of the Gazans on the other side as not being Hamas collaborators, or not betraying my safety because Hamas terrorists have forced them to, by threatening them or their family by putting a gun to their head? Hamas has entrenched itself so deeply into the lives of the Gazan families, is it even possible any more to pick out the flowers from the poisonous weeds?

I still believe that there are good Gazans over there — and that Zahra is one of them. Tragically, though, I now believe there are far fewer than I had believed before. So many of the Gazans who invaded our homes — stealing, looting, destroying — were not only of the “Nuchba”: the trained and armed terrorist units. They were the “Shababim”: regular citizens who swarmed in to destroy what they could. That day I asked myself: Where were the “good Gazans”? Well, one of them might have been on the other side of the WhatsApp conversation with me…. Or not!

I have never claimed that my country is perfect. Indeed, I often am critical of the way this country is run, especially in the past year. However, I fear that the bridges I have built — the bridges so many of us who have strived to work towards peace and be allies for the innocent citizens of Gaza, have been blown to smithereens. In their place are the dark shadows of doubt and suspicion of our neighbors,  and for that, I have Hamas and what they did to us on October 7th to blame, as well as misguided citizens and countries of the world who embolden and support these terrorists.

As usual with recent blogposts, I cannot close without mentioning that my usual editor, Judih Weinstein Haggai, who is an American-Canadian-Israel citizen, and a very dear friend, was unable to edit due to the inconceivable fact that she is still — after 77 days — being held captive in Gaza by the monstrous terrorists. #bringherhomenow

About the Author
Born in the USA, Adele has lived in a Kibbutz on the border with the Gaza Strip since 1975. She is a mother and a grandmother living and raising her family on the usually paradisaical, sometimes hellishly volatile border. She moderates a FB group named "Life on the Border". https://goo.gl/xcwZT1 Adele recently retired after 38 years as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, as well as a teacher trainer and counselor for the Israeli MoE for EFL and a Tech Integration Coach. She blogs here about both Life on the Border, as well as about digital pedagogy, in "Digitally yours, @dele". She is a YouTuber, mostly on the topic of digital stuff. (https://goo.gl/iBVMEG) Her personal channel covers other issues close to her heart (medical clowning, Life on the Border, etc.) (https://goo.gl/uLP6D3) In addition, she is a trained medical clown and, although on COVID hiatus, until allowed back into hospitals, she clowns as often as she can in the pediatric ward in the hospital in Ashkelon. As a result of her activity as an advocate for her region, she was included among the Ha'aretz "Ten Jewish Faces who made Waves in 2018" https://goo.gl/UrjCNB. In November 2018 she was invited to Geneva by an independent investigative committee for the UN to bear witness to the border situation, and in December 2019 addressed the UN Security Council at the request of the US ambassador to the UN.
Related Topics
Related Posts