Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

The other voice

I met Ose six years ago through someone who still had connections in Gaza. Ose, a Nigerian American filmmaker, was concerned that people outside of Israel had a distorted view of what life was like for those living on both sides of what is known as the Gaza border.

He explained that he wanted to personally chronicle the day to day lives of the ordinary people within Gaza and those living over the border in kibbutzim, moshavim and in the town of Shderot. This area known as Otef Aza has been plagued by rocket attacks for many years. Despite the fact that their will to remain in the place they love has prevailed, the Israelis living there have been totally denied a normal and secure life, not to mention the lasting psychological effect of regular bombardment will have, especially on their children.

So this week I was one of a hundred or so people who attended the preview of his movie “The Other Voice,” which is also the name of an organisation which was founded when dialogue was still possible between those on either side of the conflict.

After the showing the audience were invited to have their say.

The reaction was mixed. “The film was not political enough” or “It was honest and meaningful and should be shown around the world” were some of the comments.

From the beginning of the Lebanon war until  the Second Intifada, 1982 -1992  I had been Director of the Britain-Israel Public Affairs  office in Tel Aviv.

I was responsible for devising and carrying out programmes for visiting journalists and VIP’s from the UK to Israel. In those days it was possible to travel in and out of Gaza and the West Bank almost unhindered. Since my journalists, mostly experts in a specific field, were not seeking headlines but rather real-time information about the lives of both Jews, Muslims, Christians, Israeli and Palestinian there was almost no political bias as such.

100,000 Gazans came into Israel each day and were employed in a variety of occupations where labour was needed. At the time our markets were flooded with agricultural produce of the highest quality,grown in Gaza. The question of whether it should be marketed as: Produced in Gaza, had already arisen? However, Gaza was then not a high priority for anyone. The Egyptians had refused to take any responsibility and the Israelis were still in occupation although, not long after the end of the Six-Day War,  there had been  a slogan “Gaza First.” In other words a solution regarding the future for the captured territories had been mooted.

Rudi a former Viennese who had come to Israel via England in 1950 and with whom we had lived on Moshav Habonim until 1961, had become the General Manager of Crystal a soft drinks company. Crystal employed a fair number of Gazan workers and Rudi told us that for them he was like an Abba (father) and he delighted in seeing them go home to their families with a salary and  goods which they could not obtain there.

Since they had accumulated cash through their labours they were encouraged by the Civil Administration to buy apartments, which were being constructed in Gaza.

Gazan Doctors and Nurses, were invited to Israeli hospitals to be trained in the latest methods including use of MRI and other diagnostic equipment.The institutions and ministries were all run by Gazans and the Israeli Civil Administration was in charge of keeping order. There was also a thriving Hebrew Ulpan there, which had been started in cooperation with the iconic Shulamit Katznelson.

For a visitor it seemed like a reasonable situation. Added to which Israelis and Gazans were getting to know each other.

There was however an open sewer in Gaza and following a visit of a British member of Parliament to the region, who eagerly gave this information to the press, my immediate boss came over to examine the sewer. It seemed that the question of whose responsibility it was to deal with this disturbing phenomena lay in Israeli hands. In fact the UN were already involved and we were told, had offered to pay half of the cost, on condition that Israel would match the funding.There was no outbreak of any disease and the matter was left on a low burner.

Despite this, on the surface all ran well. Gazans even brought their cane furniture to Israeli venues on Shabbat, and there were eager buyers.

We had  returned to Israel in 1978 after a long sojourn in the UK. A good friend the artist Tsvi Gera z”l  was connected to Ruth Dayan who had trained many Gazans, especially women in handicrafts. he took us to the leading cane furniture manufacturer and we ordered  furniture for the clinic which we had planned on opening in Netanya.

One of the brothers running the company was very happy to deal with us the other less so but we were good customers spending a rather large sum of money so in time the order was completed and I received a call. “Would you like me to bring the furniture to Netanya and at the same time a box of fruit and vegetables from the market”?

Of course I said yes. At that time our son was serving in Gaza and even suggested going to say hello to Fadhi who had come to our home to  take measurements. Of course I dissuaded him from doing so knowing the antipathy that was expected from the brother and also the fact that if the army was made aware of this, our son would be in great trouble.

So all this flashed through my mind while the audience were throwing out opinions and asking Ose questions.

I then felt the need to stand up and tell people my own story of many visits to Gaza including taking our journalists to meet and interview people in every sector of the population. There was never any Israeli civil administration interference. At that point I was accused  by some of the audience of being a propagandist for the Israeli Government.

I was simply trying to explain to them that is indeed possible for the Gazan people to fend for themselves and be productive, but what we see is the opposite. We see a cruel regime which  inflames their subjects against those over the border and threatens to destroy Israel?  I am not blind either to what Israel and Egypt are doing to those desperate people.

This is where efforts should be made through the personal contacts and friendships which were established, to ask the caring people in the world, to both challenge and help Israel to pick up the gauntlet.  To enable the Gazan people to have a life worth living and not feel they have nothing to lose. Coming up with doable ideas that both sides could live with. Instead we continue to respond to their weekly destructive actions and efforts to penetrate our communities aiming to kill and maim, with bombardment which maybe hits some targets but has to date sadly failed to quell their ardour!

As someone interviewed in the movie said  “We are not going to leave and neither are you”
So I do hope that this movie will be shown around the world for the edification of those not understanding the situation and also to speak to those who could help to make the change we wish to see.

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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