It was the first day of my summer break from school. And yet, I woke up at 6 a.m. in order to be in Kibbutz Be’eri at 7:00 to help organize refreshments for Israeli riders and runners who would be making their way along the border, on the singles tracks behind Beeri. Those very same tracks have been set alight and burnt to a crisp in many places by kites and balloons, launched by terrorists, bearing smoldering coals and incendiary devices over the past year. These are the fires which I have been documenting every time they hit our region, since last spring. Last Friday morning, something else came over the border from the Gazan side: the initiative for a marathon.
The Gazan Youth Committee was founded by young adults in Gaza who believe that there must be a different way. Their goals are to encourage relationships and friendships between the people within the Gaza Strip, and outside it. They look for ways to deliver positive ideas from the different people inside the Gaza Strip, through the use of social media. They work to encourage the spirit of volunteering for the good of community among Gazans, by conducting public activities. They strive to educate and protect the Gazan youth by teaching them how to concentrate on their skills and futures. We ran on our side of the border, to support their vision.
On our side, runners left Kibbutz Be’eri at 6:30. The riders met up at Be’eri’s “Lamidavesh” biking store, so that those who came without, could rent biking equipment, after which they set out at 7:40.
Most of the runners from our side were participants of “Mechinat Hadarom”, young people who are helping our region in their pre-army year, in a program on Kibbutz Holit. Riding and running along Beeri’s singles tracks, all 80 participants from the Israeli side met up at the site of Old Be’eri, where I awaited with fruit and energy bars for their break.
A word about communicating with the “other” side. It’s not always easy or even possible. They have electricity for only about 6-7 hours a day, and when their phone battery dies, it dies, and can’t get refilled until the electricity comes back on. Somehow, these brave people on the Gazan Youth Committee have been managing to tread gingerly between the minefields of the situation and the culture.
Their marathon took place later on the same day, rather than at the same time as ours. But that doesn’t matter. What matters is, that young people on both sides of the border, wearing the same shirts, rode and ran on the same day, bearing the same message: #freedom_peace. What matters is that Israelis showed the Gazans that they care, and are happy to support initiatives like these. We sent them photos from our side, because what matters is that we show our support. Because once you communicate with the “other”, you see that they don’t have horns. What matters is that I took another opportunity to show my neighbors on the other side (ESPECIALLY children, who have never actually met an Israeli, and only see photographs of us in green holding weapons pointed at Gazans) that I truly believe that we could be good neighbors. It tangibly demonstrates to them that I know that not all Gazans want to kill me or take over my land and my home. That we all basically want the same things: safety for our families, food on our tables and quality of life for those of us who live in this region and share this border. And the photos-of-the-day are the crowning glory of this initiative: young people on both sides of the border, wearing the same shirts and smiling after completing their challenge. I am awed and inspired by their bravery, these seedlings of our futures.
PS And and for those of you who do not know me, and are tempted to write comments accusing me of being a self-hating leftie Jew who would sell our country down the drain: I am a deeply devoted Zionist who has lived 2 kms from the border, in a sometimes-warzone for most of my life. I live walking distance from the tunnels, my bedroom walls have been splattered with rocket shrapnel and I have 0-10 seconds to get to safety when the Red Alert sounds. And still I KNOW that there can be a solution to this conflict. I do not rule out any options – but am actively working to demand that my government does SOMETHING to change our realities down here; to make all of our lives better, here on the border. I wholeheartedly believe that most Gazans would be happy to live as peaceful neighbors, with the opportunity to thrive in their region, just like us. Which is why I can work for coexistence with my neighbors while still doing Israel advocacy: because the situation here is not black or white. It is totally multicolored and human.
Organizers on the Israeli side included:
Danny Hakim: founder of Budo for Peace www.budoforpeace.org an active member of ALLMEP www.allmep.org
Aharon Ariel Lavi: Organizer and fundraiser for the Ride and Run for Peace, Founder and General Director at Hakhel – Jewish Intentional Communities Incubator