tirsdag 16. november 2010

- Peace has become an empty word. A meeting with a brave Israeli woman

Last week I had the opportunity to meet Nomika Zion, a co-founder of the grassroots group "Other Voice". The group is comprised of citizens living in Sderot and the surrounding Gaza region. The group has no political aspirations, but call for creative action that will bring about a long-term and real solution to the region and will take the civilians out of the circle of violence.
Included in the program as Ecumenical Accompanier is a midterm week where we travel in Israel and meet and speak with people "on the other side" of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Sderot is only about 3 kilometers away from Gaza. Since 2001 more than 7,000 Qassam rockets have been launched from Gaza on Sderot.The period from 2006 up until the war in 2008 was especially difficult when as many as 60 rockets per day - any time of the day - and for months kept falling over the village. Today about 20,000 people are living in Sderot. 1/5 of the population has left during the conflict and about 100 small businesses have closed - it is a difficult economic situation.

- We are all victims of shock and anxiety, we are all traumatized and our defense system is gradually getting weaker, says Nomika. She talks about how it is to live under a constant threat of rocket attacks, that when the siren goes off you have around 10 seconds to find shelter, and what a difficult situation this is when you are driving your own and neighbours' children to school - who should you shelter first? Nomika lets us know that presently 90% of all houses are protected and have shelters. There are shielded windows of schools, all new schools are made of concrete and fully protected, all bus stations are made of concrete and protected, children's playgrounds likewise.
-The government have spent millions of dollars shielding the town, money that should have been invested in a peaceful solution of the conflict, they should rather have addressed the basic reasons why rockets are being launched, says Nomika.

Nomika Zion
She tells us about her community that used to be inhabited by tolerant people. Nomika is shocked at the way people have changed in the past years. Previously, before the war, people in Sderot often did their shopping in Gaza. Now people are more extreme towards the people in Gaza - even the leftists have changed. - Everything changed with the first intifada, she says, -people have lost their abillity to see the Palestinians as human beings because of the ongoing conflict, - and when you lose your emphaty you also lose a part of your humanity, she adds.

A playground in Sderot

The caterpillar is also a concrete shelter
The caterpillar inside where the children play and seek shelter

In January 2008 she and some friends of her decided they wanted to raise another voice - and the group "Other Voice" was born . They wanted to open a human channel to people in Gaza and to exchange experiences. They started to talk with people from Gaza on the phone. - They gave us another dimension on what was happening in Gaza, Nomika said.

From 19. June till 4. November 2008 there was a ceasefire by Hamas. In this period "Other Voice" intended to speak with members of Hamas and try and establish a relation with them. They also wrote a petition to leading Israeli politicians urging them to solve the conflict in a non-violent way, and try and get out of - the vicious circle of revenge, as Nomika put it. This 5-month period was a recovery for the people of Sderot, however, the political leaders wasted this time and the hostilities broke out again early November and rockets were once again launched at Sderot. - This was the most traumatic time of my life. Sderot was almost empty. I felt like a civilian soldier - I lived in a war zone, says Nomika, and continued - we have conducted our life from one war to another, in 48 - 67 - 73 - 82 - 84...... War pollutes our souls. Nobody comes back from a war without mental damage. I do not use the word "peace" anymore. This word has become an empty word, an enemy. I rather use "long term or short term understanding".

The school is made of concrete and had several concrete shelters in the schoolyard
Nomika says that the atmosphere in Sderot during the last war on Gaza was really awful. There was celebration in the streets when Gaza was bombed, people were glorifying the war. One of her neighbours even said that - the music of war is the most beautiful music I have ever heard, while Gaza was bombed 24 hours. The messages and voices in the media were also war propaganda.
-The journalists did not ask questions, they were rather the army's spokesmen, Nomika says, - we should ask questions about what was happening!

The bus stops are also a concrete shelter
Then Nomika wrote a "War diary from Sderot", which she later changed into "Not in my name not for my security", since the Israelis kept on saying that the war on Gaza was for the Israelis' security. She received a lot of support from people all over the world, and her article was translated overnight into 20 languages. In Sderot half of the population supported the war. One of her neighbours said to her - I feel ashamed of you, and Nomika found that difficult to take, however, she underlines that, - I can take social isolation, but I cannot stand any more fear (for rockets). My civil obligation is to speak up - and I realized I was not the only voice, but it gets more and more difficult to raise another voice in Israel, she continues.

The Qassam rocket assaults have been fewer after the war, but only 3 km away 1,5 million people are fighting for survival, and it seems that nobody cares anymore. - As if we have become numb, says Nomika. She is very pessimistic with regard to the future. She thinks that during the current Israeli extremely right wing government and the extreme Hamas the conflict will not find its solution. - I believe in a political solution, but the present politicians are not able to move forward. We can still create a dialogue though, and that is some kind of hope, she says. Her wish is that the international community puts pressure on the Israeli government and Hamas to force them to negotiate a peaceful solution.

Nomika also tells us that the "Other Voice" has managed to build good relations with the Israeli Army so that now some of their friends from Gaza may visit Israel. In February 2011 the "Other Voice" plan a "Gaza/Sderot conference" where they hope to see academics from Gaza and arrange workshops on various topics. - This is my hope for the future, says Nomika.

Gaza - picture taken from Sderot - so close and yet so far away

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