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War Diary from Sderot

Posted: 01/13/09 11:06 AM ET

"I speak with the people of Sderot and the flush has returned to their cheeks" boasted Fuad [Ben Eliezer, Labour Knesset member and Israel's current Minister of Infrastructure] to Razi Barkai [presenter of a popular news programme on Israel Army Radio] on the second day of the war. "The heavier the war is, so the heart opens". But we are not all Fuad, not all of us. And I too am a lonely voice in the greater Sderot area, and I am not Fuad, and he should know about it.

Not in my name and not for me did you go into this war. The bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name nor for my security. Houses destroyed, schools blown up, thousands of new refugees - they are not in my name or for my security. In Gaza, there is no time for funerals; the dead are put in refrigerators two by two in the mortuary for lack of room. The bodies of policemen and children are laid out and the eager journalists jump between the tactics of pro -Israel advocacy and "the pictures that speak for themselves". Tell me, what is there to explain? What is there to explain?

I did not buy myself security or peace and quiet in this war. After such an essential period of calm that enabled us (the residents of Sderot) to recover psychologically and to experience sanity again, our leaders have returned me to that same gashed and anxiety-filled place. To the same demeaning experience of running petrified to the protected space -- (Since the 1980's Israeli building regulations require all new homes to have a room with thick concrete walls that will withstand bombs - called a "protected space").

Don't misunderstand me. Hamas is a bad and terrible terror organization. Not only for us. First and foremost for their citizens. But behind this accursed leadership live human beings. Laboriously, simple people on both sides build small bridges of human gestures. So did the "Other Voice" group from Sderot and the surrounding-Gaza region ( of which I am a member) when it sought to pave a human path to the hearts of its neighbours. While we took advantage of a 5-month lull, they suffered under the millstone of the siege. A young man told us that he does not intend to get married and have children, because in Gaza there is no future for children. In the brandishing of one fighter plane's wings, these gestures plunge to the depths of blood and despair.

I am afraid of the Qassam rockets. Since the current war started I have hardly dared to go beyond the bounds of our street. But I am much more afraid of the inflammatory and monolithic public and media discourse that is impossible to penetrate. It scares me when a friend from the "Other Voice" is verbally attacked by other residents of Sderot while being interviewed and expressing a critical opinion about the war, and afterwards gets anonymous phone calls and is afraid to return to his car for fear that something will happen to him. It scares me that the other voice is such a small one and that it's so hard to express it from here. I am prepared to pay the price of isolation but not the price of fear.

It frightens me to see my town lit up, as if for a festival and decked out with Israeli flags, groups of supporters distributing flowers in the street and people sounding their car horns in joy at every ton of bombs that's falling on our neighbours. I am frightened by the citizen who admitted to me, with a beaming face, that he never attended a concert in his life but that the Israel Defence Forces bombs is the sweetest music to his ears. I am frightened by the haughty interviewer who doesn't question his worlds by one iota.

I am frightened that, underneath the Orwellian smokescreen of words and the pictures of [Palestinian] children's' bodies that are especially blurred for us on TV as a public service, we are losing the human ability to see the other side, to feel, to be horrified, to show empathy. With the code word "Hamas" the media paints for us a picture of a huge and murky demon that has no face, no body, no voice, a million and a half people without a name.

A deep and gloomy current of violence seeps through the dark pores of Israeli society like a grave illness, and it gets worse from one war to the next. It has no smell and no shape but one feels it very clearly from here. It is a kind of euphoria, a joy of war, lust for revenge , drunkenness on power and burial of the Jewish command "Do not be joyful when your enemy falls". It is a morality that has become so polluted that no laundry could remove the stains. It is a fragile democracy where you have to weigh every word with care, or else.

The first time I really felt that Israel was really defending me was when a ceasefire was agreed. I have no responsibility for Hamas, and therefore I ask our leaders, " Did you leave no stone unturned in order to achieve a continuation of the period of calm? To prolong the ceasefire? To reach a longterm understanding? In order to solve the questions of the crossing points and the siege before all hell breaks loose. Did you go to the ends of the earth to find suitable mediators? And why did you wave away the French initiative for a ceasefire after the war already broke out, without batting an eyelid? And why do you continue to reject up to this moment every possible suggestion for negotiation? Have we not yet reached the quota of Qassam rockets that we are able to withstand? Have we not yet reached the quota of killed Palestinian children that the world is prepared to countenance?"

"And who guarantees us that it is even possible to destroy Hamas? Didn't we try this maneuver somewhere else? And who will take the place of Hamas? Worldwide fundamentalist organisations? Al-Qaida? And how will there spring from the ruins and the hunger and the cold and the dead the moderate voices of peace? Where are you leading us to? What future do you promise us here in Sderot? And for how much longer will you hang on our shoulders the "backpack of lies" laden with all the worn-out clichés? "There is no partner", "A war of no choice", "Let the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) finish the 'work'", "One good blow and we'll finish them off", "Destroy the Hamas" and "Who doesn't want peace?". The lie of power and futility of even more power as the only guide to solving problems in the region.

And why is it that every instant interview with a representative of the "Other Voice" always starts and ends with the punchline question "Don't you think you are naïve?" How does it happen that the option of dialogue and negotiation and the quest for agreements and understandings has turned into a simile for naiveté, and that the option of force and war is always the sensible rational ultimate alternative? Have not eight years of a pointless cycle of violence taught us anything about the naiveté of the use of force? The IDF mowed down and destroyed and shot and razed and hot and missed and bombarded - and what do we get in return? A rhetorical question.

It's unbelievably difficult to live in Sderot these days. During the night the IDF crushes the infrastructure and the people in Gaza, and the force of their bombing causes the walls and the houses to shake. In the morning we get hit by Qassam rockets, ever more sophisticated. Somebody who goes to work in the morning doesn't know if he'll find his house in one piece in the evening. In the afternoon we bury the best of our young who gave their lives for yet another "just" war. In the evening we succeed, with difficulty, in getting through to our desperate friends in Gaza. There's no electricity there, no water, no gas, no food, nowhere to escape to. And only the words of N., a 14 year old whose school was bombed and whose friend was killed and who writes us an email in perfect English that her mother succeeded with difficulty in sending "Help us , we are humans after all".

No, Fuad, my cheeks are not rosy, not rosy at all. A ton of cast lead (Cast Lead is the name that the IDF has given to the "operation" in Gaza) weighs on my heart , and my heart is too small to contain it.