Voice of compassion from Sderot

January 16, 2009

In News

Plea to stop war from victims of rocket salvoes

01.17.2009 | The Independent
By Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem

Considering people in and around the Israeli town of Sderot have been under daily rocket attacks from Hamas for much of the past 20 days you might have thought they would unanimously back the offensive in Gaza.

But amid overwhelming support for the war, lonely Israeli voices of dissent among residents along the Gaza border can be heard. Uri Dan, a security co-ordinator for Nir Oz, a kibbutz which lies just 5km from Gaza, is among a small but brave number of Israeli residents who say they would like to see Israel’s war in Gaza halted.

“In Sderot and in the area around Gaza, the suffering from rockets is great but it has no proportion at all to what is happening to the Palestinians,” he said. “We live next to the Palestinians and we will have to continue living with them. You should live with your fellow human being as a neighbour, not as a wolf.”

Criticism of Israel’s military offensive in Gaza for imposing too heavy a toll on Palestinian civilians takes on added resonance when it comes from residents of southern Israel in whose name the campaign is being waged.

Generally, Israeli people are overwhelmingly in favour of the invasion. But what the dissidents lack in numbers, public support and media exposure they make up for in courage and vision of a more peaceful future with Palestinians. Mr Dan, 64, a veteran of the 1967 and 1973 wars, believes Hamas caused the conflict and that the decision to respond militarily to rockets was justified. But he says the scale and harm to civilians has “created hatred of us for the next 20 years among Gaza’s children”.

He is circulating a letter on his kibbutz and neighbouring kibbutzim declaring support for “any step” that would ease the suffering of the people in Gaza. Now he is calling for an immediate ceasefire. “We must stop. It’s completely clear who won and lost this war but apparently that is not enough for many people.”

In Sderot, for Naomika Zion, a leader of a now-defunct dialogue group with Gaza residents, the war has been wrenching, between being under missile attacks, knowing relatives of soldiers sent into Gaza and worrying over Palestinian friends in the Strip. “I’m in an emotional storm,” she said. Perhaps the most poignant moment for her came when she had an email from a nine-year-old Palestinian girl, saying, “Help us, don’t you understand we are human beings too”.

Ms Zion opposed the war from its outset. She believes it was Israel broke the ceasefire with a 4 November army raid into Gaza. This week she wrote an article on Israel’s popular Y-net website entitled “Not in my name”, claiming Israelis have lost their ability to see the other side and feel empathy, and that the “monolithic” militaristic public and media discourse is a greater threat to the country than Qassam rockets. “It was tough to write this, but I said to myself I am ready to pay the price of social isolation, but not of fear. I assume most people think I’m a traitor.”