Terrorism Tourism (Or: What to do near Gaza on a Friday morning.)
“You aren’t really going there, are you?” asked one friend when she heard that I was planning on driving down toward Gaza yesterday morning (11 May 2018) to see for myself what was going on near the border fence between Israel and Gaza.
“Please don’t,” said another.
“Looking forward to hearing all about it afterward,” said yet another.
I got up early to set out for the Gaza border from my home in Haifa. Inon Dan Kehati, a friend of mine, told me about an event near there set up by the Goldin family for 1 pm. Their son, Hadar, together with Oron Shaul, were both killed during a ceasefire. Their bodies are being held by Hamas. Their families want them back for proper burial in Israel. I wanted to show my support as well.
It is about a two-hour drive when there is no traffic. People in some parts of the world commute almost that long to work every day. For us Israelis, that is considered a very long distance. I stopped off in Sderot for a coffee and to rest from the drive. If I ever thought that Sderot might be an interesting place for tourists to visit, driving around looking for the center of town cured me of that misconception. A friend told me about a good humus restaurant after I had already left. If I find myself in the neighbourhood again I will certainly look for it. There really is nothing else there. Trip Advisor lists Sderot but the few things that there are to do and see are all outside of town. On the other hand, looking beneath the surface reveals that there is an interesting human element that might be explorable with the appropriate contacts.
Fortified with coffee and my favourite apple pastries, I set off for the Goldin event. It was held at The Black Arrow Memorial Site. It was a modest event, tastefully planned. There were refreshments and there was music. Soon after the event began, the shofar was blown and it was blown a few more times during the ceremony.
The shofar was pointed in the direction of Gaza. No doubt the sound carried easily across the open fields. It was likely heard by the Gazan demonstrators starting to gather on their side of the border. What did they think when hearing it?
It was likely heard by our own soldiers.Were they heartened by the wailing melody that vibrates in my heart so?
Hadar and Oron can no longer hear it, but I hope it was heard by the three young men, civilians, trapped in Gaza. Hamas is refusing any contact with them or word of their condition. Maybe the song of the shofar will give them hope, let them know they are not forgotten (even if our leaders seem to be ignoring them).
Participants were asked to move to the field to fly kites. Not “Molotov kites” like the demonstrators in Gaza let loose over the border fence in order to set fire to farmers’ fields, but kites flying high to show them that Israel is not afraid, and to show our soldiers that we are here with them.
MK Miki Zohar (Likud) and Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel (Bayit Hayehudi) gave brief speeches. I caught snippets here and there but I admit my thoughts were wandering more than focusing on what they had to say.
I wondered about the difference between the fear in those who pleaded with me not to drive down here or who merely expressed their worry with a “Stay safe, Sheri” and the relaxed atmosphere in the place itself. Families were here. People brought their kids. Kids who flew kites, or who tried to. One kite entangled me as it fell from the sky, but I easily helped the young girl pull it aloft once more. There were families having picnics in the picnic grounds next to where the event was taking place. We could see Gaza. It was a surreal feeling, in a way.
So close, yet so far.
Gaza was on the horizon. It holds no particular emotional charge for me. It was a place my husband and I contemplated moving to decades ago (when we were still together, of course). But we never did. I do not have children who served in Gaza and I do not think I know anyone personally who did (or does). I am dealing with the idea of Gaza, the idea of a place where we Jews are so hated that each and every one of us has a bulls-eye on our foreheads. I believe there are Gazans who do not hate us and who wish for peace, but I do not know them. I have not heard them. They are not real for me. And only they can change that.
I can only imagine the despair and pain and probably anger that Lea Goldin feels when she looks across the fields to the place where her son lost his life and his body still lies. I cannot imagine what gazing in that direction feels like for the mothers of the three men who are trapped alive by Hamas. Gaza is not an idea for them. It is a hell. It is a black hole that sucks energy and emotion into it and does not give anything back.
And yesterday was the last Friday before Nakba Day. The Friday marches have been getting quieter and quieter (Fadi, were you there?) but I thought yesterday might be different. Perhaps they would be building up steam in anticipation of the final day of the “Great March”, Monday. According to Hamas threats, a hundred-thousand Palestinian Arabs will tear down the fence tomorrow and march across into Israel. The army seemed to have thought yesterday would see a greater degree of violence too and a soldier told me they were not letting people get any closer to the border than we already were here.
He was wrong.
After the event, Inon and I got into our cars and drove out together in the direction of the border. With Inon in the lead, we skirted around a kibbutz and drove down the dirt roads in the agricultural fields. Here and there, we saw burned out patches of fields, the work of the Molotov kites on other Fridays.
And there were also glorious sunflowers acting as if there was no war playing out so close by, as if their lives were not being threatened with a children’s toy.
After the sunflower field, we turned left and then right. I thought to myself, “There is no way I would have come here without Inon.” Even with him, I was not without misgivings. Yet army and police vehicles passed by us with nary a glance. I found that strange. Inexplicable even.
I saw a few birdhouses in the fields. At least, they looked like birdhouses to me. But that seems a bit incongruous. I thought farmers put up scarecrows to chase away the birds and not specially built nesting boxes. A reader will point out if I am wrong about this.
When the road we drove down proved impassable (a puddle of indeterminate depth stretched across it), we turned back the way we came. Now I was first in line. Just ahead, I suddenly saw a white kite flutter to the ground. It landed gently, almost like a bird floating down soundlessly with quivering wings softening the landing. By my reaction, or rather, lack of reaction, I knew that I was a bit numb, not quite digesting all the inner and out stimuli of being in this place at this time.
I stopped the car a few meters from the kite and motioned to Inon to stop as well. He had not seen the kite. We walked up to it. It was just a plain kite, nothing drawn or painted onto it. In fact, I found the clear white and the fluffy tail deceptively attractive.
Even though I had just videotaped the kite from tail to head, I had not taken in the small bottle of gas tied onto it. Inon picked it up and detached it from the kite and then asked me if I wanted it. Having the bottle bomb in my car was not the least bit enticing. We had not looked for the trigger mechanism that should have ignited the fluid upon landing. Surely the soft landing in itself was insufficient to set it on fire. In any case, I suggested he take it so that it would not be ignited by a car driving over it without seeing it (could that happen? I have no idea.)
At that point, it was time for me to head out; I had other things to do that day. Inon went on down another road to get yet closer to the border.
Just before the turnoff back to the highway, I stopped and got out of the car to watch IDF vehicles plying the roads along the border fence beyond the range my cellphone camera could successfully handle. Another car stopped at the same place. Four people got out and started taking photos. We chatted a bit; I found out that they were from Pardes Hanna. Then they asked me to take a picture of them with Gaza as the background. Just as if we were at the Taj Mahal.
I was there to see for myself what I could see and to tell others about my impressions. I was curious if my impressions would differ from those who write for the major media sites. The four friends were there to see for themselves and tell their friends about it. And perhaps for a bit of excitement.
And perhaps as a statement! This is our country. We might be afraid at times, but we are not going to be scared away. We will drive where we want when we want.
I wonder what it would be like if more people were to drive out from other parts of the country, if just seeing us there hiking and picnicking (not demonstrating) would have any impact on those who live there. After all, there are likely many who wonder aloud and possibly in their faces how they could raise children in such a dangerous part of the country. If people go out to visit, to picnic in the local parks, would that have any meaning for the residents of the region? Would it have any meaning for all of us?
All images and videos were taken by Sheri Oz.