Rocket shelter in a playground
…And right action is freedom
From past and future also.
For most of us, this is the aim
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying…
—T. S. Elliot, “The Dry Salvages”
Once again in Sderot, with friends Eric Yellin and Nomika Zion, overnight, dinner with Eric and family, lots of conversation with Nomika and Eric, deep and satisfying.
Passage thru the Erez crossing into Israel was relatively easy, except for the mess inspectors made of my luggage. They spilled out everything that I’d carefully sorted and packed. I will now need to redo the packing today before heading to the airport with Eric later. Why complain? They confiscated nothing, so I’ve safely leaped the first of 2 security hurtles on my way home, Erez and then the airport, all photo and video files intact, at least as far as I know.
I went thru with a young woman from the UK working with Oxfam and a man who appeared Palestinian. Waiting to enter Gaza was what looked like a large extended Gazan family. Nomika said she’d heard that Israel allows more Palestinians to pass. Is this part of the easing of restrictions after the humanitarian aid ship convoy debacle of May 31, 2010? Palestinian security, aka Hamas, was not a problem either, altho I’ve heard that some Palestinians who’ve left Gaza to meet with Israelis are questioned by Palestinian security upon entrance. Collaboration is a major problem.
A quiet period in Sderot: Eric reports that altho there have been hundreds of rocket attacks on Israel since Operation Cast Lead [the brutal Israeli bombardment and invasion of the entire Gaza Strip for 22 days beginning on December 27, 2008, Gaza’s Day of Infamy], killing one worker from Thailand, and numerous violent and often lethal confrontations along the border, Sderot itself has suffered minimal attacks since Cast Lead. However, residents experience continuing anxiety about the resumption of those Qassam rocket attacks and by Israel on Gaza. While discussing this he received a robo call about exchanging gas masks. All are required to store masks in their homes. They are periodically collected, cleaned, and returned.
Now snippets of the rich conversation I’ve had with both:
Nomika, busy at the end of the year with proposals and reports, was horrified at some of my stories. The buffer zone—why did you go there? she asked, and risk your life?
To support Palestinians afflicted by the buffer zone.
The Samouni family. [massacred by the Israeli army during Cast Lead]! You actually met them? Please show me some photos.
What do you do in Gaza?
I teach photography and make photos.
Teach to whom?
Can you show me some photos of them?
She also requested links to an English translation of the Gaza youth manifesto that she’s read in Hebrew. Plus the video showing the bullet whizzing by the International Solidarity Movement and Palestinians in the buffer zone. And she’s heard of the Qattan Center for the Child and its director, Reem Abu Jabber, and requested a photo.
Photo courtesy of Nomika Zion
She was amazed when someone had earlier reported the presence of fancy hotels in Gaza. That life continues, that a few people are rich, that goods and services are available to some, while highly restricted to most because of rampant poverty. She bemoaned the practices of Hamas, especially—I would assume, knowing what a powerful woman she is—stricken by the treatment of women in Gaza.
She confirmed what I’ve been reading about Israel tending toward fascism, and certainly becoming more openly racist. She recently completed a series of meetings or workshops about the Nakba [Palestinian catastrophe coincident with the formation of the Israeli state] provided by Zochrot, and either did or soon will visit a destroyed Arab village. She also confirmed the growing suspicion among Israelis that another attack on Gaza is imminent. I’ve reported that one major finding in Gaza is the widespread fear of another attack, and this one more ruinous than Cast Lead—the final solution?
Ah, one of the intrigues in this Palestine/Israel dynamic is mirroring (along with symmetry: radical Palestinians and radical Jews, both right radical as with Hamas and some settlers, and left radical as with the Palestinian Popular committees of resistance and people like Eric and Nomika and the organization he co-founded which seeks reconciliation with justice, Other Voice). Mirroring is the phenomenon of Jews treating Palestinians like Nazi’s treated Jews, using some of the same techniques. Ethnic cleansing as a form of genocide. Cast Lead as a form of pogrom. Checkpoint harassment as a form of ghetto treatment. And the separation wall as a ghetto wall.
No doubt many Jews would be sensitive to the claim that they’re acting like Nazis. Too close, and, in some cases, too true. Of course there is no comparison in numbers: 6 million Jews annihilated by Nazi’s, vs. upwards of 5,000 Palestinians killed since the Second Intifada or Uprising began in 2000.
Another mirroring phenomenon might be Jews using the Jewish holocaust to justify the treatment of Palestinians, as Germans used the outcome of World War 1 to justify their militarization and as they used selected incidents related to Jews and Jewishness to justify The Final Solution. With many differences obviously, important ones.
Altho she was busy with her work—her main job is with the Center for Social Justice in the Van Leer Institute based in Jerusalem—she’s made time for me, and not begrudgingly or only slimly so. Ample time for conversation, heated and deep conversation. She is a woman of passion and conviction. Asking her again why she is different from many other Israelis, her first response was, I’m asked that a lot. When I mentioned Eric’s answer related to his family upbringing, she nodded yes, true with me also. She added, I’m afraid of the alternative, which is to become blind and numb to other people’s suffering. She comes from a strong left Zionist family, her grandfather one of the founders of an early radical left Zionist movement in Israel.
Nomika is single, has said nothing about children altho some of her walls display child-made art. I’ve not seen photos of her with kids. She is a connoisseur of art including some of my favorites like Monet and Egon Schiele. She is elegant in clothing, home, speech, and being. A woman of majesty and mystery. I’d love to know her better, her history, her destiny. I am gifted by her willingness to receive me and be one of my friends in Israel. I believe we support each other.
Eric: a casual sort of fellow, with a strong dedication to justice thru partnering. Also able to nuance dynamics and give a well reasoned, fair-to-many-different-views analysis. For instance, Zionist and anti Zionism. When I told him about the International Jewish Anti Zionist Network (IJAN) conference that I attended last summer in Detroit, he offered this: if Zionism means the right of Jews to a safe homeland, I’m a Zionist. If it means a homeland that disregards the rights of others living there, I’m an anti Zionist. And about BDS, Boycott, Divest, Sanction, I see how blanket condemnation of all things Israeli cuts off many avenues for reconciliation and justice. For instance, many of the people I work with in Other Voice are Israeli academics. A full academic boycott would prevent meetings with them.
Eric and Other Voice are planning a conference called Gaza and Sderot, Moving from Crisis to Sustainability. To be held February 14 – 17, 2011 in Sderot. A local progressive-leaning college, Sapir, will host it. One of Eric’s main directions is linking people so he is attempting to get permits for Gazans to enter Israel and take part in the conference. The organization invited Dr. Eyad Serraj, founder and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, who replied that he supports the conference but because of the academic boycott can’t participate. John Ging, retiring director of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza, has agreed to appear—Nomika told me that she admires him as does Eric, and he’s been several times to Sderot giving lectures. She hosted him for a large meeting in her home.
Eric is not sure yet about conference funding, which would determine whether they could bring international presenters. He asked me for suggestions. Friends of the Earth Middle East was one of my suggestions because one theme of the conference will be the environment and FoEME seems to have lots of money. Also the Open Society Foundation founded and funded by George Soros. I promised to think further about this matter and to promote the conference. I wish I could attend.
As I wrote earlier, Eric’s family background is liberal. He lived in the United States until age 5, then in Israel, then one teen year in the States before finally moving to Israel permanently. He married an Israeli whose grandparents, he told me, left Poland in the 1930’s when the Nazi party started gaining power. All family that remained perished. He added, I believe most of my liberal education came from the kibbutz education and upbringing.
He and his wife have 3 sons. During our meal together last night (with food we picked up from the community kitchen—Eric reports their urban kibbutz is doing well, Nomika was one of the founders) we discussed a recent youth program journey to Poland by the eldest son, Yuval. Yes, we were told to be worried about what others might do to us because we are Jews, but it was not an extreme scare (I mentioned the movie Defamation, which Eric had seen). And while at the death camps we were instructed to believe never again, not only to Jews but never again to anyone.
This son is also taking part in optional physical training, a sort of preparation for the military. Eric told me his son is willing to become a soldier, probably would prefer an elite combat unit, succumbing to the temptations so irresistible to youth that age—I remember my impulses at that stage well—but that he might be more moderate because of sharing most of Eric’s political views. The 2 young sons, twins, were returning from football practice. All were very engaged in our conversation. My credential of having visited Gaza might have provided incentive for their interest in me.
Shelter and bus stop
I ventured that the son’s experience of Auschwitz was probably much different from mine. He would identify with the Jewish victims, I with the Nazi German perpetrators. I thought hard about revealing one of my major discoveries of not only my visit to the death center but generally: that with my German and Austrian heritage I could have been a Nazi perpetrator. Had I been born 10 years earlier and in Germany I might well have been seduced by Nazi ideology and thought working in the camps not only tolerable but noble. Kill the Jews! I stated some of this, and I believe I was respectfully heard.
Eric, despite a veneer of casualness and distance, is very generous. Not only did he volunteer to repair my ailing power unit for my Apple computer—it failed yesterday at the Gaza Quaker office, as I was completing what I could of transferring files. I smelled smoke, thought first one of the office appliances had malfunctioned, then realized to my horror my cord had burned finally thru, the cord I’d worried about during my entire trip, finally and perhaps permanently. No more power once I drain the battery—but he offered to drive me this evening to the airport, a ride of about 1 hour each way, this the last day of the year, a party at his home looming in front of him with all the preparations necessary. This will save me some hours waiting in the airport. Earlier he’d contemplated driving me in the early morning tomorrow so I could arrive by 5 for my 8 am flight. Remembering the party and the drinking, he wisely changed his mind.
We’d considered other transport, bus and train. Because of the Sabbath beginning today at sunset, all public transport stops. Where else but in Israel? I love being here, despite the problems it creates for me.
He succeeded in the repair, for now. I have power. For how long I’m not sure, enough to travel home? I could use the computer tonight at the airport as I sit trying to get thru the long night.
The powers provide, when called, sometimes. Eric and Nomika are angels. I mark their friendship as a vital part of my long-term journey to the region.
TO BE CONTINUED
“Sderot conference hosts Gaza residents” by Hanan Greenberg
“War Diary from Sderot,” by Nomika Zion
Zochrot (in Hebrew and English)