I don't want to live in fear in 2013
I live near the Gaza border, but I do not want another year of reinforced concrete or Iron Domes or helicopters and war planes flying overhead day after day after day. It’s time to lift the blockade on Gaza and enter into negotiations with Hamas for a long-term ceasefire.
It’s eerily quiet here now that the rocket attacks have stopped. My family is trying to return to normality and forget what happened. We were lucky; the rockets did not hit close enough to cause physical damage but we’re all still traumatized.
I remember it was hard to concentrate in the weeks that followed the conflict. I’m an academic but I just couldn’t sit down and focus on work at all. I found it difficult to celebrate Chanukah, which is meant to symbolize liberation and coming out of the darkness. I asked myself how we could celebrate freedom when our neighbors in Gaza are trapped in poverty.
On the surface things have gone back to normal but the recent attacks really broke something inside people. There’s a lot of psychological damage, and a sense of helplessness. People are just waiting for the war to begin again.
When I first met people from Sderot in 2008, people who had been living with the rocket attacks, day after day, for years, I wondered why they stayed in that crazy, dangerous city. When I heard their children talk about their parents putting them at risk, since they refused to move away from that dangerous city, I wondered how long the children would resent their parents for putting them at that risk, every day. Would the children ever forgive their parents for choosing to live in an area that took away much of their childhood? I secretly thought that I would never put my family in such danger, that I would never expose them to daily rocket fire.
That was before Urim, a kibbutz in the Negev and my home, became one of the many communities that received the not-sought-after status of being in rocket range.
When I first met those ‘crazy, irresponsible’ parents in Sderot, I ‘forgot’ that I was teaching at the Sapir College, located across from that dangerous city, that also suffered rocket attacks on a regular basis. I ‘forgot’ that I had to drive those dangerous roads to get to the college, in order to teach students, many of whom were traumatized from years of living with rocket fire. I ‘forgot’ that I often parked my car very quickly when I got to the college, so that I could rush indoors, and be near a safe room. I ‘forgot’ these minor details since Urim, at that time, was a safe haven.
All of that changed in late 2008, before the onset of Operation Cast Lead/The Gaza War, when Urim also became one of those communities within rocket range. All of that changed when the home front division of the Israeli army came to examine people’s homes, and told us that our corridor, separated by plaster walls, was our ‘safe’ area. It was then that I finally understood that ‘their’ crazy and dangerous reality had now become my crazy and dangerous reality and that I had become one of those ‘irresponsible’ parents and grandparents who insisted on living in a war zone.
For over a year we have been able to tell time according to what the media call the "latest round of violence". Every three months, like clockwork, we have had a weekend of massive rocket attacks (from them) and they (the Gazans) have a weekend of massive air force bombing from us. Days of 60, 70, 150 rockets became the norm, four times a year for us on the Israeli side. The Palestinians in Gaza have it much worse. After those weekends, things would go back to ‘normal’ for us – days of ‘only’ one or two rockets that hit ‘open fields, no damage’ and they, the Gazans, would ‘only’ have drones and helicopters and planes hovering above, sometimes shooting, sometimes ‘just’ on reconnaissance – making their lives constantly unbearable. 80% of Gazans now rely on humanitarian aid, and entire populations on both sides have forgotten what it is to relax, how not to look up at the sky, not listen for booms, not run for shelter.
Netanyahu, Barak, and other Israeli ‘leaders’ tell us that help is on the way. They promise those of us who do not have ‘safe rooms’ tons of reinforced concrete so that we can feel secure during the endless rain of rockets. They tell us to remain calm since they are obtaining more Iron Domes to keep us safe from the endless rain of rockets. They tell us that they will keep us safe by assassinating Gazan terrorists, by perhaps sending in our ground forces, by showing them who’s the boss.
Our ‘leaders’ have created a region that is even more crazy and dangerous than before. I do not want their reinforced concrete or Iron Domes or helicopters and war planes flying overhead day after day after day. It’s time to lift the blockade, and help agencies like Oxfam, which has supported Israeli civil society and human rights organizations for over 20 years including dialogue and peace building initiatives, rebuild people’s lives. I want peace and security. That’s why last week I held a discussion at my kibbutz with fellow Israelis, including Eyal Megged, to talk about peace, and to bring a message of hope for the New Year so that we no longer have to live in fear.
I want to drive to Sapir without wondering if I really will pull my car quickly over to the side, jump out and lay down on the ground, with my hands protecting my head, if the siren goes off while on the road. I want our ‘leaders’ to finally admit that after years of siege on Gaza, reconnaissance and targeted assassinations have made our area one of the most insecure on the planet.
The time for military options is over. I hope that this New Year the Israeli government will find the ways to negotiate with the Hamas government in Gaza, and to arrive at a long-term ceasefire. I want my corridor back. I demand my life back.
Julia Chaitin is a Senior Lecturer at Sapir Collegein Sderot, and one of the founders of Other Voice, http://www.othervoice.org/welcome-eng.htm an Israeli community based organization that calls for a civil solution in the Sderot-Gaza region.