A day on the border with Gaza

Twice a year, the Union of Jewish Students takes university students on a trip called Manhigut – a week-long insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The participants themselves are involved in campus activism and all had visited Israel previously on various trips. The trip can be described as an “all-access” pass to the conflict, with participants meeting politicians, journalists, various analysts, as well as day trips to various communities and geo-political flashpoints. One such day trip featured a tour of the border with Gaza and some of the neighbouring Israeli communities.

Apply for Manhigut Summer 2017, HERE

The day began with a visit to the Erez pedestrian crossing, visibly similar to an airport terminal, on the northern border, adjacent to Ashkelon. During the Second Intifada, the crossing was targeted by a suicide bomber linked to Hamas, who killed 4 Israelis and injured 10, including Palestinians. Before the attack there were 43,440 crossings per month. After a decline in crossing permits in the wake of the Hamas coup, in 2015 the number had recovered to 15,000 per month.

We then travelled to Netiv Haasara, a kibbutz protected against Gazan snipers by 3 huge concrete walls. Some participants criticised the artwork on the walls (left) as pointlessly beautifying an ugly reality while others were heartened by the humanity expressed by victims of a terror campaign. After a short stop at the Asaf Siboni memorial lookout, the group saw the Black Arrow memorial for “Tzanchanim” (paratroopers) operations. It was fascinating to hear not only about the various operations but also how in the early 20th century, Jewish pioneers were setting up the basic water infrastructure in the area for the young communities that had sprung up.

Sderot, a community made famous by the terrifyingly short maximum response time to rocket attacks, was our next stop. We were hosted by a spokesperson of the Hesder Yeshiva, who briefed us on the incredible voluntary work of the yeshiva students and the new infrastructure projects currently being undertaken in the town, including a state-of-the-art sports and leisure centre. While taking note of the inconceivable bravery of the residents, I asked the spokesperson if anyone in Sderot was trying to promote ties between communities in Gaza and Israel. Unfortunately, he refused to believe that communities in Gaza would want to make ties with his community. For me, herein lies a key issue in prolonging the cycle of violence characterising the last decade. Years of Palestinian terror and brainwashing, and Israeli military retaliation, have caused both sides to cease community relations such that the deep mistrust of the other side is fuelling more conflict. I suggested to him that only a strong reconciliatory campaign can bring about true peace between the two sides, something that Jews have been great advocates for in both our recent and biblical history. He agreed.

Apply for Manhigut Summer 2017, HERE

We concluded with a stop in the kibbutz of Nahal Oz, located only a few hundred meters from the border. We were guided through the kibbutz by one of the residents, who showed us the many saferooms and the school surrounded by high concrete walls. From the border fence of the kibbutz, it was possible to see rubble from the 2014 war in the neighbouring Gazan towns. Cement given to Hamas for rebuilding homes destroyed in the operation has been redirected to the building of terror tunnels – a sad reminder that the welfare of the civilian population is not a priority of the Hamas government.

I felt a range of emotions during the day. It was extremely heartening to see the sheer optimism of the Israeli communities who have survived a decade of Hamas terrorism. However, I was harrowed by seeing the enclave first-hand, knowing ordinary people like me are living in constant hardship. All the participants expressed hope for a forthcoming, long-lasting peaceful solution for the benefit of the Israelis living in constant fear of terror attacks, and the civilian population of Gaza.

Apply for Manhigut Summer 2017, HERE

This blog first appeared in the Jewish News student blog. If you'd like to write for the Jewish News student blog, get in touch.

Daniel Ohrenstein

Daniel is a student at Birmingham

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