Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Mother, Neighbour, Activist or Simply a Human Being?

MK Aida Touma-Suleiman
MK Aida Touma-Suleiman

Today my house is being repainted and this morning I needed to get some paint mixed at the local Ace branch. My Gett taxi driver, an old timer like myself tried to explain to me what those trapped children in the Philippines were actually doing in the tunnels. I and most of the world it seems is glad that they were rescued. Just as I would be glad if any children or adults had been rescued from disaster irrespective of nationality or religious beliefs. In times of tragedy also in random killings even at schools in the USA, one always tries to rationalise the events which led to the seemingly inevitable result.

Here in the Middle East it seems that everything is irrational.

Politics to one side. We are all human beings who enter the world in the same way. Some are born in fields and others in super luxurious maternity units.

So why are we so cruel to some and sympathetic to others? Man’s inhumanity to man (woman) is inexplicable. As my friend the eminent Professor of Public Health and a fighter for Prevention of Genocide, Elihu Richter would say ‘the Holocaust did not start with gas chambers. It started with the denial of civil liberty.’

So the joyous though short-lived football hysteria, an almost universal focus of attention where nationalism is at its height but acrimony less, will soon be over. The Philippine kids hopefully will receive psychological help and get back to their lives. So unwittingly my thoughts turned to the seemingly never-ending horrors in Gaza.

I left Ace and called Gett, this time my driver was from Kfar Kassem. As a tribute to my beloved husband Leon, who died almost ten years ago, I had bought the maroon paint which he had been his original choice for the two of the walls in the salon, giving the apartment a wondrous feel.

I share this information with the driver as I need him to carry the paint for me to my front door. We also chat about my connection to Kfar Kassem which is on two levels. One as a frequent traveller on Venezia coaches and two because both my husband and son Anthony are buried at Kibbutz Einat.

When my younger son visits from England we always go to their graves. After that, if we do not go for a nosh to The Gingi on Kibbutz Einat, whose houmus is the best in the land, we go to Kfar Kassem. There, my son almost fills a suitcase with all the goodies from a shop which has everything from burekas and kanafeh, to spices, Arabic coffee, lakoum and a million other items most of which he takes back for friends in UK. Then we usually stop off to have coffee in a rustic garden where we enjoy chatting to the owner. He tells us about the regular Jewish Israeli clientele he has, both individuals and groups. And we go on our way.

At home, my thoughts again turn to Gaza. In 1980, at the age of 18 my youngest son started his military service in Gaza. He would come home with tales of the painful and bizarre situations he had experienced. At the same time, my husband was opening a clinic for aromatherapy in Netanya and his partner wanted to order cane furnishings and fittings. The late Tzvi Gera, a consummate artist was a family friend. Through Ruth Dayan, he knew of the cane furniture industry in Gaza. She had trained Gazan women in handiwork so that they could help finance their families. She had also worked with furniture producers. It was he who first introduced us to life in Gaza.

When the furniture delivery was due, Fadhi one of the brothers involved in the called to ask me if he should also bring me fruit and vegetables from the shuk. Such was our relationship and such was the ability of the Gazan society to function productively on a day to day basis.

During the following years as BIPAC Director of Israel, I went in and out of Gaza on a regular basis with visiting journalists and some VIPs. I know Arabs, also through my work in road safety when we did exciting projects in the Arab Triangle with impressive results.

Last night, I had attended an event entitled ‘Get out of Gaza’ at the Tmunah theatre in Tel Aviv. It was convened by MK Aida Touma Sliman, the Head of the Committee for the Status of Women and Gender Equality. Amongst the speakers were Meretz MKs Mosi Raz, Michal Rozen and Issawi Frej and various representatives of activist groups including Breaking the Silence, Gisha, Doctors for Human Rights and B’Tzelem.

I listened to reports from those who are close to the human catastrophe taking place in Gaza and Otef Gaza. Some army guys spoke of their experiences and a former general expressed his opinion of what was and how different it could have been had the decision makers been men of vision.

Its men who decide when we go to war. We do not have a Golda Meir today and there are many questions outstanding as to her judgment and ability at the time of the Yom Kippur War. Recently 20,000 Gazan women marched peacefully to the border. Some Israelis went to meet them! That is from where they stood they could wave and send white balloons on which their children had written messages of hope. Maybe it is time for women to come to the fore. Not those who ban open and free discourse and intermingling in society. Not those who will stop theatre performances or the showing of a documentary film of Gazan children speaking out, at the Knesset (last week).

We listen to MK Aida Touma Sliman describe the dire situation in Gaza and the question of who will initiate the move to find solutions to end this conflict which has reached disastrous proportions. Then to a member of Doctors for Human Rights Organisation, who explained that doctors cannot use their abilities because lack of supplies is critical, even minimum hygiene doesn’t exist.

Before the meeting closed, Nomika Zion who lives in Sderot and is a driving force in Kol Acher, spoke from the heart about what it is to live on a day to day basis in fear and anxiety for your children but actually find oneself in a symbiotic relationship with your helpless and violated neighbours and their children, only minutes away. A visibly moved audience applauded softly.

On my radio earlier that morning, MK Tzahi Hanegbi, Minister for Regional Cooperation had stated the need to create a plan for next summer to offset the amateur but effective weapons of ‘mass destruction’ of Israeli farmland and vegetation. Not one word of solving the problem and no expectation of peace, with a whole generation growing up without hope.

So where do we stand? Are we mothers, neighbours, activists or simply a human beings?



About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.
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