A Different Voice from Sderot
“GAZA: End the Siege” demonstration in Tel Aviv, 2 December
Nomika Zion, Sderot
Translated from the Hebrew
Early last week, I threw open the metal cover
of my ‘security room’ which had been sealed shut for many months. The
room, which is both my work area and my ‘protected space’ – filled up with sunlight at once. It was a huge relief. Within minutes and over the next two
days, Qassam missiles landed around us, but something in our consciousness was already more calm and optimistic. Thus began
For most of you here tonight, the ceasefire
is an important political event. For us, adults and children in Sderot and the
adjacent villages, and for those in the Gaza Strip as well, it is the simple human act of opening a window (if you have one
at all), and a release, if only for a moment, from the chronic fear and oppressed uncertainty that have become our constant
companions. It is called: normal life.
Allow me to share with you some personal insights
and feelings of the past year.
I have been living in Sderot for almost twenty
years. For five and a half 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 emerged 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 security 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. Or at least, different than the stereotyped voices that are recycled endlessly
in the media. I will not say anything new or original here that has not already
been said before me. The only validity to my words is the fact that I am a resident of Sderot.
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 be extra cautious 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.
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 for many
areas of the economy, but it did not absolve itself of responsibility for Sderot. The media did not forget Sderot. The Israeli public did not remain indifferent. The army was
no less aggressive because we are residents of the periphery rather then of Ramat Aviv C [an exclusive suburb of Tel Aviv].
On the contrary! The media grabbed
Sderot in an empathetic and suffocating hug. The public and all its sectors expressed
concern and solidarity and showered us with gestures and gifts. The IDF pounded
the Gaza Strip, day and night. Government ministries poured money in here, lots
of money. And that was how the State was supposed to continue until things would
But last June, during the week in which the
protest tent went up in Sderot pointing its darts against the Israeli government, youth at high risk (and there are lots in
Sderot) went out to demonstrate in the town squares. ‘Where is the money?’, they shouted when they learned that
their support networks were about to close, and they would find themselves thrown out exactly during that difficult hour.
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 dangerously conceals the economic and social problems, which are no less deep,
and with which the city must still deal.
During that same week in June, Shimon Peres chided us to maintain restraint,
and earned the unfortunate headline ‘Qassam, Shmassam’. I did not
fall off my chair. The wording certainly did not shine with political wisdom,
but the content and the criticism were worthy of examination. What Peres essentially
said was that Panic is not a plan of action, 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 short-term media coverage at the expense of the real tasks. The town is indeed
exhausted, but it is not under 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 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 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 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 year 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 Ritalin and fainting.
For years, the media narrative has been addicted
to the Power Paradigm. Our screens depict, one after another, the non-smiling and ‘non-apologetic’ security types,
who reveal their hypnotic plans to defeat the Qassams through deep penetration, daring commando raids, and a host of other
creative ideas that seem to come from the operational arsenal of ‘Terminator 2’ or ‘Rambo 3.’ One
after another they emerged this month in Sderot where the microphone caught their deliberations with uninhibited commitment.
Even the Hebrew language has long since been
mobilized for the cause and created an inventory of terminology cleansed of unnecessary sentiment, thereby enabling the selective
reporting of what happens in the territories. The media collaborated obediently and the Hebrew language was reborn, cleansed
and easy to pronounce: ‘Exposing,’ ‘Engineering Tasks, ‘Non-Combatants.’
Also in 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.
I am revolted by our Palestinian neighbors
who recycle again and again historical errors and are not 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 this is occurring before our eyes and doesn't let up. Yes,
even after 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 reached, there comes the next ‘targeted assassination of a senior or junior
wanted person; Sderot immediately braces itself for the worst. Who benefits from
all these liquidations? What kind of security did we earn 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 ground,
sea, and air. 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? To what end? For whose benefit? What security was achieved?
At the beginning of his term, Amir Peretz took
a brave step as Minister of Defense. He reintroduced the moral discussion into the narrative, the very morality that was pushed
outside the public debate many years ago. If and when it was mentioned, it was
generally only in soft tones and mumbling apologetics that were whispered only after all the advantage calculations and image
problems were reviewed. Not what we did, but how we will look to the world. However, the person that reintroduced the moral dimension into our narrative has built
a cemetery in his heart since last June, where hundreds of bodies of innocent Palestinian children and civilians are lying.
Yitzhak Ben Aharon [labor leader] once said: ‘I am trampling my own soul.’
Last June, Amir Peretz became, in my eyes, a tragic hero. He trampled his own
soul. Or at least that is how I wished to see him – one whose heart did
not turn to stone, that the power of the IDF did not completely intoxicate him. However,
after the second Lebanon War, after the wholesale slaughter and destruction in Gaza
under the cover of war and following it – I don’t know what to believe.
Ehud Olmert and Amir Peretz, something
incredibly important happened here this past week. Don’t miss it!! You
even competed for the credit. The terrible thing that happened to us the citizens
is that we stopped believing. Give us hope that there is something to believe
in. Allow us to open a window. The
window in the ‘security room’, and the window of opportunity and the window of dialogue. Stop the liquidations policy. Do not lead us under the populist
deception of more force and more force. It is not calming; it provokes panic!!
Talk to them already!! Through overt channels or covert ones. Propose a creative policy.
Break the 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. Do not close any window
of opportunity, and don't quash any initiative in its infancy just to maintain a fossilized thought paradigm.
Break this insane ‘Had Gadya’ paradigm’
[‘one young goat’ Passover song]. Everything was already tried ad nauseam. The
slaughterer already slaughtered the ox, and the fire consumed the stick that had beaten the dog that had bitten the cat that
had devoured the young goat. Only the water has not yet extinguished the fire.
At least try, but honestly, without fear and preconditions,
the political option. It is your civil duty!! It
is your moral duty!! Because if you do not, Hava Alberstein's chilling rendition
of the never-ending Had Gadya song will exemplify our reality just as I close with these words: ‘Once again, we start
from the beginning.’
Tel: (+972-8) 662 4447
Home: Kibbutz Migvan, POB 346, Sderot, 87013
Office: The Center for Social Justice in memory of Yaakov Hazan in Van-Leer