Friday, July 15, 2011

Gazing Over Gaza

One week ago today, from a hill in the Israeli moshav of Netiv Hasara, the northern Gaza Strip unfolded before my eyes. It was a sunny, quiet day.

Six times over the last two days rockets fired from that same region fell inside Israel. No one was injured. Israel retaliated with an air strike. No one was reported injured.

The Gaza Strip I looked out upon, along with Gilda, our friends Dave, Gemma, Phil and Margie, is a rolling stretch of houses and fields, with no outward indication of unyielding conflict. Except, to gaze at Gaza your eyes have to first pass over a security wall, perhaps 25 feet high, topped by machine gun turrets.

There’s a constant breeze in your face as you stand on the hill, a nagging thought in your mind that a sniper could easily pick you off if so inclined. You joke you’re thankful you’re not the tallest one in your group.

We were in Israel the first 11 days of July primarily to attend a wedding and tour the country with Dave and Gemma, best friends from Britain who’d never been to Israel. We traveled to the Sha’ar Hanegev (Gates of the Negev) region to visit with first responder trauma care providers who visited New York in May of the last two years as part of a rest and relaxation program sponsored by Shalom Yisrael, a volunteer group I joined last year (http://nosocksneededanymore.blogspot.com/2011/05/well-deserved-rest-relaxation.html).

After a day of touring several kibbutzim, we dined in Kfar Aza, at a home several paces from the spot a mortar shell landed three years ago, killing a neighbor, a father of three and Israel’s national engine-powered paragliding champion. Jimmy Kedoshim, 48, died while tending the garden in front of his home.

I have no doubt there are people on the other side of that fence who want friendship and amity, if not actual peace. Before Gaza became a synonym for incessant, random rocket and mortar fire, there were many friendly exchanges between the two Semitic peoples. As related by my hosts, workers from Gaza routinely came across the border to work in Israel’s fields and factories. Israelis brought their cars to Gaza for repairs. They visited the beaches of Gaza. When a Palestinian fell in love with an Israeli, he sought refuge with his Israeli employer to avoid the death threat his family imposed on him, a sentence eventually rescinded when the affair ended.

It is one of the ironies of this seemingly intractable conflict that people who live in the shadow of terror are among the most pacific of their fellow citizens. Time and again they expressed an affinity for the residents of Gaza, people they mingled and traded with before Hamas took control and turned the narrow strip of land into a missile launching pad.

On the other hand, one of my retired military friends from Tel Aviv has hardened his dovish position of years back. He now fears a Hamas-led Palestinian state on the West Bank—he has no doubt Hamas would take over there from Fatah, as it did in Gaza. Such an eventuality would make Israel’s population centers vulnerable to missile, rocket and mortar fire, would make air travel into and out of Ben Gurion airport hazardous because of ground to air missiles.

In Sha-ar Hanegev, settlements are picturesque villages of single family homes inhabited by hundreds to several thousand residents. On the other side of the fence, multi-story apartment houses dominate the landscape. Its among the most densely populated areas on earth. Yet, Gaza is not a blighted ghetto. Consumer goods abound. Ample food and medicines arrive daily in trucks from Israel.

One wonders what Gaza could become if peace, true peace, settled over the area. Gaza has beautiful beaches, an industrious, educated population.

Fanatics have co-opted the dialogue, on both sides of the fence. Ordinary people just want to live in peace, without fear. Perhaps, in our lifetime, it will happen. As the Arabs say, “inshallah,” God willing.

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