From Netiv Ha’asra, Israel, looking into Beit Hanoun, Gaza
Both communities are within 1 km of Gaza and often heavily attacked by rockets and mortars fired by Gazan militants. Nomika Zion lives in Sderot, Roni Keidar and her daughter, Inbal Yahav, live in Netiv Ha-asara even closer to Gaza.
This wasn’t my war, Bibi, and neither was the previous cursed war: not in my name, and not in the cause of my security. Neither were the boastful, theatrical assassinations of Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in November, and Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in 2004, and Hamas founder Sheikh Yassin, and Al-Kaysi, and Shahada and Ayash—wicked as they were—these were done neither on my behalf nor for my security…. —Nomika Zion
Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel
April 22, 2013, Monday, Sderot, Israel, with Nomika Zion
A full day yesterday with Roni Keidar of Netiv Ha’asara, probably one of the Israeli communities nearest Gaza, and 2 filmmakers, one from Nigeria and the USA, Ose Oyamendan, and a young woman from the Galilee studying film making in Sderot, Kirin. Roni hosted the 3 of us and guided us to several walls, the main wall for “infiltrators” as she named them, i.e., escapees from Gaza perhaps intend on damaging Israeli Jews, and a barrier to prevent sniper fire. There is around-the-clock army presence to prevent tunneling and several chain link fences to control access to agricultural fields. The village (Netiv Ha’asara, meaning path, path to something) is a moshav, a cooperative farming community.
Roni Keidar’s house and yard
She explained to us that all families, comprising some 750 people, have about 10 acres of fields each, and some 70% actively farm them. She and her dour, stern-looking husband, an agricultural engineer working for a seed company, grow tomatoes and other plants for seeds. Many of these fields squat between the Gaza wall and Netiv. She showed us the several walls, including one with a ceramic and calligraphic installation made by a resident. It’s called Netiv Shalom, Path to Peace, and invites visitors to add shells to fill out the lettering. For some reason we did not participate.
Netiv L’Shalom – Path to Peace
Ose and his hired assistant, Kirin, are making a movie comparing life in Gaza with life in the surrounding Israeli communities, an obviously good idea. I wonder if anyone has tried it before. In a minor way that is the theme of my various visits to Sderot. They filmed an interview with Roni’s daughter, Inbal Yahav. With tears in her eyes Inbal told us about the death of a close friend of hers, Dana Galkowicz, who at the age of 22, ready to marry someone from the moshav, while fleeing a rocket attack in 2005, tried to race into her house shortly after speaking with her fiancé. The rocket landed on or near her, a piece of it struck her head, probably an instant death. Death is a close neighbor in Netiv Ha’asara. Inbal named her daughter after Dana. Apparently severely traumatized, Dana’s former fiancé will not return to the village and has since married. Also, Dana’s father was in great pain until recently. As are or were many in the community. Less physical carnage perhaps in these Israeli communities than in Gaza and much of the West Bank, but a high degree of trauma.
Dana Galkowicz (courtesy of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Roni told us her story about how she arrived at her twin passions: face-to-face meetings with adversaries and negotiations. She meets Gazans at the Erez crossing who are entering Israel for medical treatment and accompanies them thru the system. She is active with the organization, Other Voice, linking the 2 communities. She told us how Inbal, her daughter, at a very early age like 6 years (my granddaughter Eleanor’s current age), while living in Egypt (Roni’s husband is Jewish Egyptian, driven out or voluntarily fleeing shortly after Israeli independence), was excluded by an Egyptian mother from the daughter’s birthday party. Thru Roni’s persistence and the intervention of an understanding teacher the mother relented and included Inbal in the party. The 2 girls came to be closest friends. A case study in reconciliation—human beings transformed from enemies to friends. And she believes this can happen, should happen, on a much larger scale. I’m sure her story is online somewhere so I won’t try to retrieve details.
From Netiv Ha’asara
Roni recently returned from a 3 week speaking tour of the USA where, Nomika told me, she exuded high energy at an advanced age (I believe around 67, I’m 72, I wonder how long I can sustain energy for this project) and spread the good news of Israeli Jews who live close to Gaza and shout with Other Voice: peace with justice!
…as Israeli airstrikes shook homes throughout the crowded enclave. “Hi Roni,” [Mimi, a Gazan friend] wrote. “I hope you and your family are well and safe. What’s happening is really insane. Please take care and stay safe. Love, Mimi.” Keidar felt the warmth of the gesture but also the sheer weirdness of the circumstances. Rockets fired from Gaza—maybe even from Ibrahim’s neighborhood—were raining all around Keidar’s tiny farming town, Netiv Ha’asara. “Thank you for your concern,” Keidar replied. “I’m thinking of you since it all started and I hope you and your family are okay. If only our leaders would talk. Take care.” It took only a minute for Ibrahim to respond: “Our leaders don’t care about us. The situation is really bad and I expect it to get worse. I hear bombing everywhere. We are safe so far. Take care.”… —”A Brave Friendship Spans the Border Between Israel and Gaza,” by Dan Ephron and Sarah A Topol
Roni Keidar (David Blumenfeld for Newsweek)
Now Nomika who lives nearby in Sderot, herself a major story (all in a visit of less than 24 hours). First my impressions: high energy, near manic, interrupting me constantly but also able to listen, treating me with great respect, nearly every one of my needs fulfilled, passionate, dedicated to justice for the Palestinians, critical of Israel’s habitual militarized responses to threat, courageous, innovative (she claims to have founded this urban kibbutz), active, far from numbness (I asked how she avoided numbness, thinking of T—mainly my family, she told me, parents and grandparents, all very active politically, grandfather a founder of the Haganah and active with labor-derived kibbutzim), and constantly tweaking her long black curly hair. I estimate from appearance and stories she is in her 50s. She informed me about an article she’d written about Operation Pillar of Cloud/Defense that occurred in November 2012. It had been translated into English and published by the New York Review of Books. I found it on the internet and swiftly forwarded it with a personal note to my Levant list. It is titled, “It’s Not Just About Fear, Bibi, It’s About Hopelessness.” She slyly remarked, it is just a rewrite of my famous earlier article, “War Diary from Sderot”, which I wrote during Operation Cast Lead in 2009. But I find it is more—articulate and impassioned, a plea for wisdom.
Her story (I should probably take notes if I wish to be a professional journalist, but I don’t and I’m not—I’m a photographer looking for images and a human being forming relationships with a variety of people): in large part it’s about growing up on a kibbutz near a development town (people strategically resettled to claim the land). She observed racist hatred directed by her peers against those living in the town. Which motivated her to form the urban kibbutz, Kibbutz Migvan, in another development town, Sderot, then largely populated by Moroccan Jews resettling in Israel. The population of this urban kibbutz is now mixed and the site of a major NGO (that had its board meeting last night) offering social-psychological services to a wide variety of people, including mentally disabled. She showed me the many gifts and products from their production, ceramics mostly decorated by the participants.
When I asked her what Other Voice was doing to end the Gazan siege and transform the situation of conflict generally, she listed a variety of projects from Voice that brought Palestinians and Israelis together. During the conference Eric Yellin helped organize and indeed may have initiated 2 years ago (that I supported and promoted) a young Gazan man who attended gave an interview on the web which Hamas apparently saw. They tortured him, probably alleging collaboration with the enemy. He fled. But returned, was again tortured, refled and now is separated from his wife and kids and extended family—without country, perhaps barely surviving. All because of this “fraternizing” with the enemy. Nomika and I deplore this attitude and policy. It’s as suicidal as are many of Israel’s violent policies. Nomika adamantly opposes these of her own country. She also listed the many international delegations Other Voice hosts and speaks to….
Wall separating Gaza and Israel Click here for larger image
TO BE CONTINUED
“It’s Not Just About Fear, Bibi, It’s About Hopelessness,” by Nomika Zion, with an introduction by Avishai Margalit (in the New York Review of Books, January 10, 2013)
“War Diary from Sderot,” by Nomika Zion, January 13, 2009
“A Brave Friendship Spans the Border Between Israel and Gaza,” by Dan Ephron and Sarah A Topol