Strenthening Voices for Peace–A Solidarity Visit to Sderot
A few days ago, I joined about 80 Israeli Jews who are members of the PEACE NGO’s FORUM (http://www.peacengo.org/en/ for a visit to the southern town of Sderot, 5 minutes from the border with Gaza. We traveled there on a solidarity visit with friends and colleagues who had suffered greatly during the last 50 days of war in their region, but had nevertheless tried to raise a voice for peace and a diplomatic solution to the conflict through an organization called Kol Acher (“Another Voice”).
We were hosted by Noomika Hazan, daughter of the legendary Mapam Kibbutz movement leader Yakov Hazan, who is one of the founders of an urban kibbutz, which is part of a non-profit organization called Gvanim. This group of idealistic Israelis has been involved since the 1980’s in social justice work in Sderot and the area, and many of their group are still also trying to raise a voice for peaceful coexistence, even in very difficult times, such as the recent war with Gaza this past summer.
We broke into four discussion groups to discuss what we all experienced this summer during the war, and what should be our directions for the future, to prevent further wars and to catalyze the people of Israel for the peace option.
I was in a small group with a number of people from Sderot and from kibbutzim and moshavim near the Gaza border, who had lived through this war in a very intensive way. Many of them talked about the fear and confusion that they experienced this summer—fear of constant rocket bombardment on their communities and confusion over the government’s statements and the inability of the government to offer them total protection from the mortar fire that killed adults and children, especially near the end of the war.
One of the women, who is a grandmother of ten grandchildren and lives on the moshav of Netiv HaAsara, right on the Gaza borer, spoke eloquently about her daily contact with a Palestinian friend “on the other side”. They called or texted each other 5-6 times a day to check in to see how they and their families were doing. She also said that the war did a lot of damage to us “in our hearts”, i.e. it was a traumatic emotional experience—and she felt angry at both the Israel government and the Hamas leadership for causing so much destruction and killing and injuring so many people.
Another woman, from Kibbutz Kissufim, also right on the border, told us how surrealistic it was to live with tanks in her back yard all summer! She also explained to us that she was in touch with Bedouin women in the Negev on a regular basis, especially because they did not have safe spaces in their towns and villages, and therefore were at high risk. In addition to her own suffering and that of her family, she expressed her solidarity with Palestinian women and children in Gaza, so many of whom were killed unnecessarily! And, she concluded by saying :
“we should do everything possible that this will be the last war!”
Perhaps this comment reflected the sentiments of the entire group. Enough of wars already! It is time for a diplomatic solution!
This war was just another sad reminder of the severe limitations of the military option. In fact, it is quite clear now we cannot win this war! This is why the government of Israel did not launch a second ground invasion, despite the constant efforts of Hamas to drag them into this.
Will there be a new diplomatic initiative, as the Prime Minister of Israel has hinted? Will both sides finally get serious for peace? Are they capable of being creative and flexible?
Most people I talk to are very doubtful. But we cannot give up hope. Those of us in the “peace camp” must continue to raise our voices for a diplomatic solution, especially after this horrible round of violence this summer.