The Winter of the Gaza-Sderot Discontent


War in Gaza

Gazans pick up the pieces after buildings are demolished in Gaza City. Credit: Creative Commons/Al Jazeera English

The temperatures rose sharply in the Gaza-Sderot region during July and August. But it wasn’t the heat that made our lives unbearable; it was the third war that tore through our area in less than six years. It was the lethal ping pong of over 5000 Israeli bombings in Gaza and over 4000 rocket attacks on Israeli communities that killed nearly 2200 Gazans, and wounded over 10,000 and that took the lives of 70 Israelis and wounded 875. In addition to the deaths and injuries, ‘Protective Edge’ – or what I termed Unprotected Abyss – forced half a million Palestinians in Gaza from their homes during the war (many still have no homes to return to), and led to the two-month escape of nearly 8000 Israelis – mostly young families – all desperate to find shelter from the bombs, rockets, mortar shells and bullets.
In the south, we knew that after Prime Minister Netanyahu declared the Hamas responsible for the kidnap and murder in mid-June of the three boys – Naftali, Gilad and Eyal – Israelis lucky enough to have ‘safe rooms’ or friends and relatives in the north, would soon be running in their direction. Even though the intelligence branch of the army knew that the terrorists came from Hebron, the air force was sent to punish Gaza. This is the script we know by heart: we go in and bomb, they respond with rockets.
It was not satisfying to be in the know then, nor is it comforting to be in the know now.
We know how devastating that war was to the souls and to the peoples of the region. We know that the people before the war are not the same people after the war. Even though it is difficult to believe, given our frightening past experiences, we are more depressed, more fearful, more distrusting of our neighbors and of what the future holds. We know that the destruction of the last war did nothing to stave off the possibility of yet another war, but rather succeeded in creating more enemies, since our leaders continue to have one mantra: Israelis and Gazans are destined to remain hated enemies. By proposing laws that eat away at our already too-fragile democracy, by keeping the blockade on Gaza in place, and by constantly delegitimizing the right of the Palestinians to live normal lives, the Israeli leadership continues to endanger not only Palestinians but Israelis as well. We know that no negotiations, no new thinking, and no desire to bring neither solace nor sustainability to war-weary Israelis and Palestinians means only one thing – a fourth war that will be worse than the three that came before.
We in the south have learned that periods of ‘quiet’ are only temporary. For years, nothing has changed. Well, actually, that is not quite true – plenty has changed, for the worse. When leaders refuse to use their power to end the Occupation and end the conflict, life gets worse. Furthermore, Unprotected Abyss, and the subsequent verbal attacks on the Palestinian leadership and the physical attacks on Palestinian citizens – in the West Bank, Jerusalem and in Gaza – unleashed widespread hatred. No one is safe in such an environment. Not children in a joint Arab-Jewish school in Jerusalem and not children in the Gaza-Sderot region.
However, even though many Israeli politicians have succeeded in convincing most Israelis that it is our destiny to hate our Palestinian neighbors, some of us refuse to believe this ‘given.’ I belong to one such grassroots organization, Other Voice, a group that is committed to creating another reality that can break the cycle of fear, hatred and violence.
Our members all live and work in the area close to the Gaza border. We keep in contact with friends in Gaza via phone, e-mail, Facebook and Skype. We kept in touch during the war and we continue to do so now. We share stories about our families and our lives. We heard what life was like during the summer nightmare and how they are trying desperately to once again, rebuild their lives, while ‘common sense’ tells them that such acts are futile, since life on the ground remains the same.
On rare occasions, when a friend from Gaza manages to secure a permit to enter Israel (for example, to go for needed hospital treatment), we meet face to face. We are able to look into one another’s eyes, and to give one another a hug. We have the extraordinary opportunity to eat lunch together at the café at the Yad Mordechai junction. We become ‘normal’ neighbors, even if only for one hour.
On our side, we continue to support one another, and to bring in new members from communities in what-could-be the beautiful Negev, if only our area would no longer be a war zone. We remain committed to convincing our leaders that enough is enough. Over the last few months, we have protested outside the Prime Minister’s home, spoken at demonstrations, strategized with other peace organizations, and sent members to Europe to meet with politicians in the EU so that they can learn that not all voices from the Gaza-Sderot region are voices of war. We have a simple message: We cannot take another war. We refuse to continue to live in a region where human life is so belittled, where our leaders expect us, again and again, to sacrifice our lives in the name of national security that has only made our lives impossibly insecure.
Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in convincing enough Israelis to join us in a non-violent path out of this madness. If in the past we were usually perceived as being naïve, over time we have increasingly been seen as traitors by many, for not demanding that Gaza be leveled to the ground.
The three wars of the last six years have proven unequivocally that most of Israel is now in rocket range. The manifest hatred and the hate crimes that have erupted over the last six months has proven that it is wise for all of us in the country to have an escape plan, since our leaders have offered no plan for life. While we Israelis are able to plan ahead, at least to some extent, our Gazan neighbors do not have this luxury; they have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. They continue to be locked up in their tiny piece of land, terrorized by the Hamas dictatorship, blockaded by Israel, occasionally attacked by the Israeli air force or army, locked out of Egypt, and forgotten by their brothers and sisters in the West Bank and in most of the world.
It is difficult to be happy with life on the Israeli side of the border. Our leaders continue to put us in harm’s way, while spinning a story that we are protected by the Iron Domes and that by “continuing to be strong”, we will prevail. We are supposed to be grateful and feel secure, and thank our ‘leaders’ for wreaking havoc on the civilian population in Gaza. We are supposed to be thankful that we have a strong army and police force that can keep the Palestinians under our control, with no hope for a decent life.
Psycho-social research on the long-term effects of inter-group conflict has shown that by keeping people separated from one another, reinforcing distrust of the enemy, and repeating negative stereotypes of people that are not “one of us”, short-term conflicts become long-term intractable ones. Furthermore, when societies are caught up in such perceptions, they only see themselves as victims, losing the ability to imagine a future of peace with the monstrous ‘other.’ We become convinced that our ‘enemy’ is sub-human and that this ‘reality’ is our fate.
Life along the Gaza-Sderot border, and now throughout Israel, is a living example of these research findings.
In the midst of the terrible war this summer, I wrote an article in which I cited Ecclesiastes (1: 9-11): What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Now that we are approaching Hanukkah, it is time to remember that we can overthrow the darkness that we have created, and bring about the light of justice, freedom, dignity and life. In our region, innocent Israelis and Palestinians have been brutally harmed by rounds of endless fear and revenge. Every terror attack, every hate crime and every military action ultimately harms every one of us. We in Other Voice say that it is time for Israelis and Palestinians to stand together, to sweep away the darkness, and spread the light that lies deep within our souls.
Julia Chaitin is the AICE visiting Israeli professor at the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas in Austin.

5 thoughts on “The Winter of the Gaza-Sderot Discontent

  1. You know that this war was more than juts being about those 3 kidnapped teens.You also might realize that this was not a war on Gazans. Let me bring up a fwew points.
    1. NY columnist, David Brooks, accurately put the eruption of Hamas in context. He pointed out that Hamas was venting its frustration over the loss of significant revenue when Egypt shut down their smuggling tunnels. Those tunnels brought in $500 million annually.Rather than directing the anger at Egypt, they chose an easier target, Israel. Brooks also put the Gaza conflict within the context of the other regional conflicts.
    2. Hamas imported hundreds of thousands of tones of concrete. Some of it came from Israel. They used that concrete to construct a network of tunnels into Israel and around Gaza to fight. Their intent was to launch attacks into border communities in Israel. The leftist playwright, Amos Oz asks this question:
    “What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?”
    3. It is clear, and evidence is well documented, that Hamas used civilians as human shields. They shot their rockets form atop schools and hospitals. The IAF dropped pamphlets warning Gazamns of attacks, but Hamas gave them no where to hide.
    Again, a question form Amos Oz
    “Question 1: What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”
    4. Thishis was not a war against Gazans. It was a war against Hamas. Hamas does not represent anyone bout themselves. In spite of what was claims, there was not unique election in Gaza putting Hamas in power. They seized power and forced Israel into blockading what became a rocket base.
    5. Finally your quote:
    “Unfortunately, we have not succeeded in convincing enough Israelis to join us in a non-violent path out of this madness. If in the past we were usually perceived as being naïve, over time we have increasingly been seen as traitors by many, for not demanding that Gaza be leveled to the ground.”
    When will you convince Hamas from choosing a non violent direction, like negotiation?

  2. And now for a more accurate perspective o the NY Times columnist, David Brooks:
    No War Is an Island
    When Middle East Conflicts Become One
    It’s amazing how much of the discussion of the Gaza war is based on the supposition that it is still 1979. It’s based on the supposition that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is a self-contained struggle being run by the two parties most directly involved. It’s based on the supposition that the horror could be ended if only deft negotiators could achieve a “breakthrough” and a path toward a two-state agreement.
    But it is not 1979. People’s mental categories may be stuck in the past, but reality has moved on. The violence between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, may look superficially like past campaigns, but the surrounding context is transformed.
    What’s happened, of course, is that the Middle East has begun what Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations has called its 30 Years’ War – an overlapping series of clashes and proxy wars that could go on for decades and transform identities, maps and the political contours of the region.
    David Brooks
    Politics, culture and the social sciences.
    The Cop Mind DEC 8
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    Class Prejudice Resurgent DEC 1
    The Ambition Explosion NOV 27
    The Unifying Leader NOV 24
    See More »
    The Sunni-Shiite rivalry is at full boil. Torn by sectarian violence, the nation of Iraq no longer exists in its old form.
    The rivalry between Arab authoritarians and Islamists is at full boil. More than 170,000 Syrians have been killed in a horrific civil war, including 700 in two days alone, the weekend before last, while the world was watching Gaza.
    The Sunni vs. Sunni rivalry is boiling, too. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and other nations are in the midst of an intra-Sunni cold war, sending out surrogates that distort every other tension in the region.
    The Saudi-Iranian rivalry is going strong, too, as those two powers maneuver for regional hegemony and contemplate a nuclear arms race.
    In 1979, the Israeli-Palestinian situation was fluid, but the surrounding Arab world was relatively stagnant. Now the surrounding region is a cauldron of convulsive change, while the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a repetitive Groundhog Day.
    Here’s the result: The big regional convulsions are driving events, including the conflict in Gaza. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become just a stage on which the regional clashes in the Arab world are being expressed. When Middle Eastern powers clash, they take shots at Israel to gain advantage over each other.
    Look at how the current fighting in Gaza got stoked. Authoritarians and Islamists have been waging a fight for control of Egypt. After the Arab Spring, the Islamists briefly gained the upper hand. But when the Muslim Brotherhood government fell, the military leaders cracked down. They sentenced hundreds of the Brotherhood’s leadership class to death. They also closed roughly 95 percent of the tunnels that connected Egypt to Gaza, where the Brotherhood’s offshoot, Hamas, had gained power.
    Continue reading the main story
    JDPhillips 29 July 2014
    Suppose this life is a moral test, maybe a moral education. If so, what are we supposed to learn from the situation in Gaza? Let me suggest…
    Bruce Olson 29 July 2014
    Brooks puts his finger on the pulse of the region, the heart of the problem that too many others, even many of the players themselves seem…
    FS 29 July 2014
    So it justifies the military occupation of West Bank and Gaza by Israel and Israel is doing so as proxy for whom ? USA ? Which is sending…
    As intended, the Egyptian move was economically devastating to Hamas. Hamas derived 40 percent of its tax revenue from tariffs on goods that flowed through those tunnels. One economist estimated the economic losses at $460 million a year, nearly a fifth of the Gazan G.D.P.
    Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
    Hamas needed to end that blockade, but it couldn’t strike Egypt, so it struck Israel. If Hamas could emerge as the heroic fighter in a death match against the Jewish state, if Arab TV screens were filled with dead Palestinian civilians, then public outrage would force Egypt to lift the blockade. Civilian casualties were part of the point. When Mousa Abu Marzook, the deputy chief of the Hamas political bureau, dismissed a plea for a cease-fire, he asked a rhetorical question, “What are 200 martyrs compared with lifting the siege?”
    The eminent Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff summarized the strategy in The Times of Israel, “Make no mistake, Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel. But Hamas is firing rockets at Tel Aviv and sending terrorists through tunnels into southern Israel while aiming, in essence, at Cairo.”
    This whole conflict has the feel of a proxy war. Turkey and Qatar are backing Hamas in the hopes of getting the upper hand in their regional rivalry with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The Egyptians and even the Saudis are surreptitiously backing or rooting for the Israelis, in hopes that the Israeli force will weaken Hamas.
    It no longer makes sense to look at the Israeli-Palestinian contest as an independent struggle. It, like every conflict in the region, has to be seen as a piece of the larger 30 Years’ War. It would be nice if Israel could withdraw from Gaza and the West Bank and wall itself off from this war, but that’s not possible. No outsider can run or understand this complex historical process, but Israel, like the U.S., will be called upon to at least weaken some of the more radical players, like the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and Hamas.
    In 1979, the Arab-Israeli dispute looked like a clash between civilizations, between a Western democracy and Middle Eastern autocracy. Now the Arab-Israeli dispute looks like a piece of a clash within Arab civilization, over its future.

  3. So much of the commentary and “discussion” on the Palestininian-Israeli conflict is aimed at vilifying and dehumanizing the parties involved. It is so important to give voice to everyday people who live in conflict areas. We learn that all sides include people you and I can identify with, people who are happy to live next to each other and have no interest in never ending war.
    Thank you professor Chaitin and Tikkun.

  4. Thank you Julia. Excellent words.
    Julia and i are collegues in Other Voice, and at the Sapir Academic College, located on the Gaza border. My family and i live only one mile from the Gaza Strip, and therefore were among the refugees of the last war.
    the two commentators that belittle Julia’s ability to understand the conflict, in my eyes are hiding behind good-looking rhetoric, that attempts to explain why we (the state of israel) must utilize so much force against civilians in the Gaza Strip. i would be much more open to listen to their explanations, if israel had attempted the other option – a diplomatic approach, and then failed. but israel has never attempted this – starting with the one-sided withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, eliminating the option of creating a functioning government before taking away our army. and so on until today. so please do not be so fast at justifying the harsh use of force against civilians, when it has already proven to only escalate the violence…

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