Onnie Schiffmiller

The Imagery Is Real

Before you continue reading, please close your eyes for a minute. Let your shoulders drop. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Uncurl your toes.  Relax. Let your body go limp. Now imagine a beautiful place; an agricultural village where front yards are littered with bicycles because there’s no need to lock them up. Visualize a town where everyone knows each other; where people congregate daily in the local grocery store over freshly-picked fruits and vegetables. Don’t open your eyes just yet. Visualize the palm trees pregnant with date clusters; fields extending north, west and east.  Parents return home at the end of the day, often on tractors from the local fields, and evenings are filled with sounds of crickets and giggles of young children trying to catch fireflies in a jar. It sounds like paradise.

Now open your eyes but hold onto that vision.  The vision of paradise.  Except it’s not paradise.  It’s a real town with real people; over 600 of them. Its name is Netiv HaAsara and it’s one of Israel’s most beautiful communities. Originally built in the Sinai Peninsula, it moved after the 1982 Camp David Agreements returned Sinai to Egypt. The newly evicted residents were given empty land just south of Ashkelon. They had to rebuild. It wasn’t easy. The soil was rocky, and the humidity was unforgiving.  But they did rebuild and flourished. People who lived there would never think of leaving.  Never. Tensions with nearby Gaza ebbed and flowed, but life went on.  Then 2005 arrived.

In 2005, the government of Israel evacuated 7,000 Israelis from the 40-kilometer stretch of Mediterranean land known as the Gaza Strip that in a unilateral commitment to peace.  Citizens wondered what would become of the residents of Netiv HaAsara and other Israeli communities bordering “the Strip”. Would this be good for the country?  Would it be bad?  No one really knew.  We didn’t need to wait long for an answer. By 2007, Hamas was digging tunnels underneath the land of Netiv HaAsarah to penetrate Israel and murder her citizens.  Parents thought they were crazy when they heard sounds coming from under their children’s bedrooms.  They weren’t crazy.  Miles of electrified concrete tunnels stretched under the border. Israel responded with a blockade and the building of a security barrier. It helped, but not a lot.  Now paradise was disrupted by an enemy who chose to invest in murder rather than developing Mediterranean, seaside real estate. But on good days, Netiv HaAsara was still tranquil, and her people were not giving up so easily. What to do? Let’s show the people of Gaza that we really want peace.  That was the idea of resident and artist Tzameret Zamir. Initially thinking she was a lunatic, the army ultimately allowed her to decorate the security barrier with wishes of shalom on the Israeli side and “salaam” on the Gaza side.  Thousands of people have helped Tzameret decorate that wall; all hoping to be part of a process of promoting peace, not violence. Who lives 400 meters from an enemy and responds with messages of peace?  Enter “Netiv HaAsara” into WAZE and go see it for yourself.

In the 13 years since Israel provided a platform for peace and prosperity, Hamas has exploited the 1.8 million residents of Gaza.  They’ve robbed the coffers meant for development.  Hamas members have set fire to gas and oil pipelines, thus denying their own people access to electricity and they continue to use school basements for weapons storage. They have rejected the writing on the wall.

Now, close your eyes again.  Imagine you are back in paradise.  But now the thousands of enemies threatening to cross your border are only 400 meters away.  They are burning thousands of tires which send noxious gas into your home and hurling rocks with lethal force into your backyard. They are placing incendiary devices up and down your border and sending flaming kites into the air. What would you do?

About the Author
Onnie Schiffmiller is a tour guide and the owner of Israel with Love. She made aliyah with her family from New York in 2003.