Newsletter 215: After the War
Nothing happens without rhyme or reason; the Palestinians have theirs and and we have ours. The Palestinians see Shederot and the surrounding kibbutzim as legitimate targets because they were established on land which was part of the villages of Najd and Simsim. In fact they’ve got excuses for attacking all of Israel.
We conquered those villages in the war of independence because they were natural defense positions, on the route of the Egyptian army, who attacked us in the war of Independence.
We are proud of Shederot; in 1950 a desolate tent camp was set up to house Jewish immigrants expelled from Arab countries like Kurdistan and Iran on land vacated by Arabs, between kibbutzim Bror Hayil and Nir Am, where the new immigrants could find work, one km away from the city of Gaza. Later, in the 1990’s it absorbed more than 10000 Jews from the Soviet Union, mainly the Caucasus region(Georgia) and from Ethiopia.
Today Shederot is a town of about 20000 inhabitants. Taher, our Arab bus driver parked the bus and he and I waited in the bus in the parking lot outside a supermarket, in Shderot, now, after the war, a pleasant, tranquil town, while our tourists shopped for candies and drinks to dish out, as a sort of goodwill offering to the soldiers, we were going to visit, some of them as they kept a beady, electronic eye watching on the border for signs of an attack from Gaza and others sitting in their tanks ready to lob shells into Gaza in response to an attack.
Israel makes sure that she doesn’t start a battle. She only retaliates.
The last time I had been here was about 4 months ago, when the people living around here had finally accustomed themselves to living in peace and quiet, after about 10 years of having rockets fired at them. Uzi had taken us to see Gaza, from where they used to fire rockets at Israel. Then it looked as if finally peace had come to stay. Naively I imagined people here lying in hammocks counting the stars, sipping coffee and enjoying the grandchildren.
Sad to say the end of reverie came with a bang. Everybody fell out of their hammocks. No lasting peace here, just a permanent seesaw.
Uzi maintains that all the rockets missed him because he’s too close to Gaza for rockets that go whizzing over his head on their way to Beer Sheba about 50km away while he tends his olive grove, and he’s too far for mortars that land about a mile away on the kibbutzim right next to Gaza.
Uzi’s place is called Dutch farm, not only because his wife is from Holland but he makes honey and olive oil which he sells to Holland and Dutch tourists come here to drink coffee and eat Dutch biscuits.
Apparently he gave up a cushy job Tel Aviv for all this. At first I thought his Dutch wife dragged him here, because she’s very idealistic about the Jews, fulfilling the word of God, returning from the four corners of earth to rebuild the land of the Bible, but I see it’s him who has farming in his blood.
We sit around a rough wooden table, which he probably made with his own hands while he tells us about his farm, especially the olives and the honey that he sells to Holland, his wife Tamar stands behind a bamboo bar table preparing coffee. One or two of us pick out a little green apple from the straw mat basket and to Uzi’s relief declare them to be tasty. I wonder how long it took him to plant the tree and tend it lovingly until it finally produced these apples. It was plain to see that he enjoyed being a farmer.
While some of us mashed the little green apples between their teeth, others, perhaps without teeth, sipped cappuccino brewed on one of those machines on sees these days, even in private homes, we listen to Uzi on the benefits of washing with organic olive oil soap, but sadly no one rushed to make a purchase.
We gave a young soldier a ride. He looked Swedish to me because of his short blond hair in crew cut style. Israel is such a mixture of people these days that he could well have been from Sweden. He was a soldier of the Givati Brigade, who had done some of fighting in Gaza, a real hero in everybody’s eyes. Although he’d been in the fight he would have preferred being at his studies at the university and at home with his family.
His heroism was greater because he didn’t see himself as a hero; he was simply doing what was necessary, defending his country, and had done a fantastically great job in fending off the spooky black masked Palestinian attackers from our borders, now they were rejoicing, absurdly as if they had succeeded.
It’s actually terrible the way we take war in our stride, not like the Arabs who make a big deal over every victory, no matter how small and even over defeats which they present as victories.
No trumpets and flag waving for our soldiers on their return from battle. An anonymous return, they’ll simply melt back, unseen, into the ordinary, day to day activity of a modern, well run country that is really much too busy building a culture and a civilization to go about killing and destroying. Nobody here gets any joy from that, even if it is our enemy.
You can see hundreds like him in jeans and tee shirt, at weddings, playing in orchestras, in the movie houses; you’d never know which of them has been to battle, because the day to day life is important, not the fighting. That’s just something one does because it’s necessary like crapping or pissing. When you’ve got to go you’ve got to go.
Here is Israel the war is forgotten, except, of course for being sad over the loss of life of Israelis and even over Palestinians who died. When you see some item in the newspaper about it you stop and think because you don’t automatically know what the paper is going on about.
Afterward we came to Kiriat Gat, a new development town on the edge of the Negev desert, part of Ben Gurion’s Lachish Plan for making the desert bloom and housing new immigrants of the 1960’s.
For the media the war was a treasure house of sensationalism, but some scenes of mundane life crept in, probably unintentionally. These were attitude changing scenes. I’m referring to scenes of the many young Ethiopian Jewish fighters. This was a new view for the average Israeli, of new immigrants from Ethiopia, who until now the media, in its damned search for sensationalism, had shown in a negative light, such as violence in the Ethiopian family, rejection of Ethiopian children in some schools, on the grounds that they would lower the standard of education, the requirement of Ethiopians to undergo conversion etc. all great sensational issues, which left Israelis with the untrue impression that the Ethiopian Jews were a negative factor in our society.
About 120000 Jews from Ethiopia live in Israel today. Most of them started their new life in Israel, like most immigrants in development town like Kiriat Gat.
Following the directions Thalia of Keren Hayesod, the organization that runs these absorption centers*, we came to a beautiful tennis center, for me a sign of upward social mobility, a pleasant surprise for someone who had always seen Kiriat Gat as a kind of backwater place.
Thalia and Adaneh, the Ethiopian director of the center welcomed us and told my small group of Dutch tourists about the problems of absorption into a new country and how it’s done. They make it sound easier than I believe it is and I admire them and all the teachers for the tough job they do there.
We saw a class of women who had been illiterate a few months ago and now could read and write Hebrew. We saw the kids coming, happily back from school and we picked tomatoes and spices from the little garden tended by the new immigrants.
Wishing you a great no newsday
*For more information about absorption centers go to:http://www.jewishagency.org/aliyah/program/456