Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nomika Zion, "A Different Voice from Sderot," Ameinu, July 19, 2006.

Written just before the June 25 attack on Kerem Shalom in which Gilad Shalit was kidnapped, this account by a member of Migvan, an urban kibbutz in Sderot, is a moving testimonial to human ideals under stress and to the enduring desire for peace. Ameinu thanks Ami Issaroff and Mideast Web News for bringing this article to our attention. The Hebrew version is available at The translator of the English version, supplied to us by Mideast Web News, is unidentified. With the approval of the author, we have done some editing on his/her translation to improve readability.

Appropriate disclosure: I have been living in Sderot for almost twenty years. For five years I have been "breathing" Qassams. Some of them fell a few meters from my home, and for the first time in my life I comprehended the emotional meaning of the expression "victims of shock and anxiety." All the daily worries that were generously exported to the public are familiar to me too. All the rituals that were built around the anxieties: To jump in response to any unusual noise, to watch the sky while walking in the city, to bolt out of bed like an automaton at three in the morning and run to the fortified room, to tensely wait for the boom, to verify that everybody is okay, and so on again.

Nevertheless, I want to sound a slightly different voice. I will not say anything new or original here that was not already been ground to dust before me. The only validity to my words is the fact that I am a resident of Sderot. I am not leaving the town for any Qassam. I am not returning to "Sheinkin"[1] at the end of the day.
Let me start by saying that the repeated calls "to destroy Beit Hannon", "to raze Gaza", "to black out cities" and to "turn off the water" horrify me when they are uttered by a frustrated public. They are even more horrifying when they are stated by public figures, ministers and journalists who are expressing empathy with the people of Sderot. These are calls for which there cannot be empathy! When one repeats the same call so many times, it inadvertently becomes legitimate, part of the daily agenda. What singed the ear five years ago is suddenly transformed into acceptable music and then to sweet music. One gets habituated. This process of habituation scares me even more than the Qassams.

Sderot is a multicultural city, multi-tribal. Journalists must act extra cautiously when they presume to reflect the "Feelings of the Residents". Not all the residents of Sderot seek revenge. Not all the residents of Sderot wish to "Raze Beit Hannon." Not all wish to be rejuvenated by rivers of Palestinian blood. We have enough on this account--too many years, too much blood.

Just because I belong to those who believe in a proper welfare state, it is important for me to say: The State of Israel did indeed absolve itself of responsibility to many areas of the economy, but it did not absolve itself of the responsibility to Sderot. The media did not forget Sderot. The Israeli public did not remain indifferent. The army did not pump itself up less because we are residents of the periphery rather then of Ramat Aviv C. On the contrary. The media grabbed Sderot in an empathetic and suffocating hug. The public and all its sections expressed concern and solidarity and poured on us a rain of gestures and gifts. The IDF pounded the Gaza Strip, day and night. Government ministries poured money in here, lots of money. That was how the State was supposed to continue until things would get better. But, two weeks ago, high risk youths whose support structures closed were screaming "Where is the money?" as they were thrown into the street during these hardest of all hard times. This is the really important question which remained echoing in space, without an answer: Where did the money go to? What are the priorities? Does the municipal structure provide a true and correct response to the needs of this exhausted city? The Qassam produces true anxieties and mental burnout, but it also provides a dangerous screen to economic and social problems, which are no less deep, and with which the city must still deal.

I did not fall off my chair when I heard Shimon Peres chiding us to maintain restraint, for which he received the headline "Qassam Shmassam." The wording certainly did not shine with political wisdom, but the content and the criticism were certainly worthy of examination. What Peres essentially said was that PANIC is not a work plan, that the destruction of Palestinian cities is not an agenda. It is better for us to focus on the defense and strengthening of Sderot rather then grabbing the profits of some short-term media coverage at the expense of the real tasks. The town is indeed exhausted, but it is not under an existential threat.

Leadership does not need to promote hysteria; it needs to provide calm. It does not need to aid hyperventilating; it needs to help all of us to live in a complex reality in which there are no magic solutions, and certainly none provided by power alone. Leadership does not need to black out a city and block its entrances; it must continue the routine of life and to broadcast stability.
It does not need to rush and close the education system; it needs to nurture and strengthen it. After all, the kids that are wandering outside are less protected and are more traumatized than children who are inside a stable and supportive framework. Brave leadership can go far by transforming the calls for the blood of Palestinians into extraordinary initiatives such as meetings between youth from Sderot and Gaza.

The media coverage during the past month raised my threshold for disgust to high levels. The media reinforced emotions and fanned instincts and creatively orchestrated an endless number of dramas, without blinking and without inhibition. The communities of the "Gaza Wraparound", all in the same boat as Sderot, are almost forgotten. Sderot became a byword for hysteria and fainting. Take for example the sweeping wording for the strange initiative to blackout the city: "Sderot is in total darkness," screamed the headlines. After all, every child knows that the houses of the residents cannot be blacked out, only the street lighting. The "blackness", therefore, was relative at best, but the political or populist goal was accomplished.

In the beginning of June, the "Festival of Southern Cinema" took place in Sderot. This uplifting experience somehow did not rate media coverage. In the darkened halls, David Ben Shitrit's jolting movies about the refugee experience of Palestinian women were screened. Also, the story of the "refusenik" pilots was shown. It seemed almost hallucinatory: Outside, the Qassams whistled and, on the screen, endless Palestinian suffering splashed. Many spectators bolted out of the theater; they did not want or could not allow the images to crack their defense mechanisms. The power ethos and the victim mentality that we get intravenously injected by the culture after our first breath on earth is so deep that, at times, it appears impenetrable. For me, it was a most powerful moment. This is a Sderot I want to live in--a Sderot that does not forget that on the other side of the equation there is human suffering as well.

For years, the media’s narrative has been addicted to the Power Paradigm. Our screens expose, one after the other, non-smiling and "non-apologetic" marching security types, who expose before us hypnotic plans to defeat the Qassams through deep penetrations, daring commando operations and a host of other creative ideas that seem to have been taken from the operational arsenal of "Fatal Mission 2" or "Rambo 3." One after the other they emerged this month in Sderot where the microphone caught their deliberations with uninhibited commitment. Even the Hebrew language was long since recruited and, in turn, it has created an inventory of proper terms, cleansed of unnecessary sentiments, and thus it allows the selective reporting of what had happened in the territories. The media collaborated obediently and the Hebrew language was reborn, cleansed and easy to pronounce. "Exposure," "Engineering Operations", "Non-Combatants."

I am revolted by our Palestinian neighbors who recycle again and again historical errors and are not succeeding in building a Riviera in Gaza instead of shooting Qassams at us. By doing so they are passing the verdict that millions of "Non-Combatants" will live in a more horrible squalor than the one in which they already live. But he who sows wind during forty years of occupation is destined to reap a storm, and it is occurring in front of our eyes and it doesn't let go. Yes, even after the Disengagement. Reality is becoming increasingly more complicated and the State of Israel is heavily responsible, too heavily responsible, for this quagmire.

Every time in the past few years when a little quiet sets in, or some understandings were achieved, there comes the next "focused liquidation" of a senior wanted person or a junior wanted person; Sderot immediately assumes an absorption stance. Who benefited from all these liquidations? What kind of security did we buy for ourselves, at the end of the day, save for the next barrage? After that comes the Big Blitz. For months we did not close our eyes, not only because of the Qassams. The IDF pounded the "launching areas" 24 hours a day from the sea, the air and the ground. Restless nights for Sderot and the neighboring villages. A nightmare for the residents of the Gaza strip. An endless and useless bombardment. On whom? For what? For what purpose? Who did it benefit? What security achievements were ascertained?

Amir Peretz, whom I respect, took a brave step as Minister of Defense. He reintroduced the moral discussion into the narrative, the very morality that was pushed many years ago to the outskirts of the public debate. If and when it was mentioned, it was generally only in a soft tone and mumbling apologetics that were whispered only after all the advantage calculations and image problems were reviewed. Not what we do, but how we will look to the world. However, the person that reintroduced the moral discussion into our narrative is building in the past few weeks a cemetery in his heart where dozens of bodies of innocent Palestinian children and civilians are lying. Yitzhak Ben Aharon once said, "I am stepping on my own soul." In my eyes, Amir Peretz is almost a tragic hero. In the past few weeks, he is stepping on his own soul. Or at least that is how I wish to see him--one whose heart did not turn to stone, that the IDF power did not cause him total drunkenness.

Amir Peretz, you have heard many voices in Sderot recently. It behooves you to hear this voice too. I am approaching you because I do not have another address. Olmert's ears are blocked to the following message: Break this crazy "Had Gadya" paradigm"[2]. Stop the liquidations policy. Cease this massive bombardment. Do not lead us under the populist deception of more force and more force. It is not calming; it provokes panic. Everything was already tried ad nauseam. "The butcher already slaughtered the bull and the fire did burn the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the lamb". Only the water did not yet extinguish the fire.

Propose a creative policy: Speak to them already!! Through overt channels or covert ones. Break the deceiving myth of "There is nobody to talk to" with which we are being drugged time and time again by cynical politicians and their loyal spokespersons in the media. Listen to the voices of the prisoners, the voices of the moderates, to Abu Mazen and to the voice of the Islamic Jihad who is ready to stop the fire if the liquidations will cease.
Do not close any window of opportunity deliberately, and don't abolish any initiative in its infancy just to maintain a fossilized thought paradigm. At least try--but honestly, without fear and preconditions--the political option. It is your civil duty!! It is your moral duty!! If not, Hava Alberstein's binding transcription to the ubiquitous Had Gadya song will exemplify our reality as I complete this article: "Once again, we start from the beginning."

A few hours after this article was sent to the editorial office, the Kerem Shalom incident triggered a tragic escalation and, at once, toppled the entire deck of cards. The abducted soldier, the shot boy, dead and injured soldiers, "Summer Rains" in Gaza. Against the background of last week's events, this article looks irrelevant and out of context. On another, less transitory dimension, it is possible that it is VERY relevant. One thing is painfully certain in the midst of the oppressive uncertainty: Hava Alberstein's prophecy is now a reality and the Had Gadya is a continuing history.

[1] Sheinkin is a street in Tel Aviv. This refers to derogatory slang for city dwellers.

[2] Had Gadya is the traditional Passover folk song which tells of a hierarchy of violence and retribution that is completed only by the Lord himself: the stick beats the dog, and is consumed by fire. The fire is extinguished by water, which is drunk by the bull... In colloquial Hebrew, a Had Gadya is an interminable chain of unfortunate events.

Copyright by the author.
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