Sunday, December 16, 2012
This is a city of Concrete Bunkers
We began our day in peaceful worship and ended it in bomb shelters.
Okay that is a little dramatic but it is true to a point. We began our day in Sunday worship at St. George's Anglican Church near our hotel. It was a very nice and pleasent Advent service. I especially enjoyed our reading of the Nicene Creed and our unison responses to prayers.
After that we traveled to the town of Sderot where we met with Isaac, Siva, and Joel from the orgnaization of Sderot Media. Sderot is only 1km from the Gaza boarder and spends more time than any other city in Israel suffering from the Qashka rockets. As a result the government of Israel has spent 500million dollars building bomb shelters for its citizens. Every home, public building, school, and bus stop is a bomb shelter. They are a target because most of the home made rockets that are fired from Gaza are not advanced enough to travel much further than 15km. They have an early warning system that turns every public light red and a female voice comes over the PA system. At this point they have 15seconds until a rocket lands somewhere in their vacinity. People run from wherever they are to the closest shelter. Each home has an additional room that cost about 26thousand dollars (paid for by Israel) that serves as a shelter. For many this serves as a bedroom or a small famly room. We visited a few of the shelters. Many are painted very nicely and help express an artistic side of the people. They also make art and sculptures from the rocket fragments in town.
Not only is this city of concrete and shelters it is a city full of citizens under mental duress because of the constant fear of attack. They suffer from what they call "Current Stress" problems while people who move away suffer from PTSD. 30% of the population is under phychiatiric care, most of whome are children.
The guests who hosted us believe that the group Hamas is responsible for the attacks, not the common citizen of Gaza. They emphasized several times that there are 1.4million people there and that Hamas is a very small number who are the problem. They believe that there is a solution but it is hard to accomplish because the extreme minority on both sides.
Second we visited the Kibbutzim, Nir Am. These are some of the older models for villiage life incorporated by Russian and other communist Jews who immigrated to Israel. Basically, they were meant to be communial in the sense that all money, land, and responsibilities were shared. This has gone out of vogue due to capitalism and now most Kibbutizm are more like Co-ops. The family we met there was Michael and Tina and they work with the organization "Other Voices." Their aim is to maintain relationships with individuals from Gaza so that they can continue to learn from one another and reach toward peace. They do this by taking trips to foreign countries to meet because it is impossible for them to meet in Israel or Gaza. While in foreign countries they share about their lives and have joint education training. They also sponsor joint awareness events like bike rides where people on both sides of the wall ride together. This Kibbutizm is less than a kilometer away from Gaza and has suffored rocket attacks but has not had any casualties.
These very southern parts of Israel are a very different experience than in Central and Northern Israel. They experience life, think about politics, and approach the concept of peace differently. Most still believe peace is possible but it will require the end to terror groups, of which Hamas being the first. There is less Palestinian Jewish interaction here because all the towns are Jewish and there is zero crossing between Gaza and Israel. But there is not as much animosity as one would expect given that over the past few years as many as 3,000 rockets have been fired at or over their heads. They really believe in the goodness of the human being and in the evil of terror organizations. It is an inspiration to see their fortitude and to hear them talk in such absolute terms their reality and their hope. Both groups hope their country will find a way to end hostilities without being hostile in return.
They both expressed our need as Americans to question Israeli governmental decisions from time to time and not just blindly support all of its decisions. We have heard this over and over from many leaders (both Israeli and Palestinian) we have met with. Twice our hosts referred to Israeli government as a drunk driver that needs to be encouraged to stop driving. There are many elements that shape these comments and they will have to wait for anther day.
We ended the day by following the pattern of our Brethern partners love feast. We ate dinner, reflected upon out lives, washed each others feet in humility, and shared in communion. It was a very meaningful moment in the treip.