Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day Trip to Sderot

Alex, a current 5 month Social Action participant, wrote the following about Tikkun Olam's day trip to Sderot this week:

Ventured to Sderot today. Got to see what it's like for students at Sapir College to study in bomb shelters while rockets from Gaza fall from the sky.

They joked around, a lively bunch. One girl commented that one time, when a siren went off, she ran to her nearby bomb shelter, but since she had been in the shower she showed up in just a towel, surrounded by cute guys and students she didn't know.

It was good to be on a college campus again, and these students live life to the fullest.

Who wants to live in fear anyway? I remember times that I told people I was traveling to volunteer in Israel, and they responded with, "Are you crazy? Aren't you scared??" And I always explained that I can't live life fearing the unknown. I could get hit by a car or bus in San Francisco any day of the week. If it's meant to be my time, it's meant to be.

That's what I appreciated about today. The students we spoke with had the same attitude. What's more, they had pride for the city of Sderot. This little city, with bomb shelters on every corner, playgrounds in bomb shelters, bus stops with bomb shelters. Qassams, or rockets, are kept at the local police station, hundreds of them stacked on these metal shelves like collector's items. Many are made out of pipes, car exhausts, or other random junk metal pieces, and you wonder what someone is thinking about when they’re creating rockets out of them… especially when they’re adding nails and other sharp objects to make a bigger impact when it falls on enemy land.

When rockets were flying back and forth between Sderot and Gaza a few years back, many people took their families and left. But many people stayed, feeling a sense of loyalty to this place, even at risk of trauma and death. That blows me away. Many times today I felt like I didn't understand this mentality - but when I think about it for a couple seconds, I can grasp some vague and strange concept of why. Maybe because I have been here for four months now and sometimes no longer feel like such a tourist??

Unfortunately for the students, there is no work in Sderot, so they're happy to go to school here, and they feel really strongly about the excellent education system at Sapir, but after graduation, it's time to find work elsewhere. One girl commented, if you want to help, sometimes you have to help yourself first. She wants to see Sderot developed just like any of the other students we spoke to.

From the top of one of the school buildings, there's a view of the Kibbutzim across the football field, also with bomb shelters on either side. One “Urban” Kibbutz was founded back in 1987, by this woman, Nomika, and 5 other visionaries who shared the goal of having dialogue with folks in Gaza, not war. They’re about 80 people today; half that number is their kids. Nomika shared with us in the recreation room of the Kibbutz stories that will be hard to forget. She is a different voice in Israel, one that is more humane and empathetic towards human beings in Gaza. She shared that when she was young, maybe 10, she made friends with a Moroccan girl, and they were very close. When the little girl came to visit her, however, local boys would run over to them, throwing stones and yelling racial slurs to the young Sephardic girl, chasing her back to Gaza. She never saw her again. It stayed with her, wondering how people could think they’re better than someone else.

She wrote an article a couple years ago, relating her compassion for peace and humanity to the masses. The article was translated into 20 languages, Nomika stated. She received responses from people all over the world, especially from Israeli’s who feel the same way about war and the treatment of other human beings, that it’s wrong, that there should be dialogue, and not death. It’s all about revenge now, not understanding.

There is so much hatred built up with this issue, such a wall, with Gaza and Israel, with Palestinians and Jews, that the ultimate goal, peace or something better, may never actually be seen. Ever… Ever? I don’t know. But today was one of the defining reasons why I came to Israel. I wanted to see how Israeli’s live in fear. They don’t live in fear. They LIVE.

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