This post is the reflections of SaraAnn Stanway as she visits Netzer Veida, January 19th, 2015.
Like many Jewish teens, I was raised to love Israel. Dayschool education, Sunday school, URJ camps – all were components of my identity as a Reform Zionist Jew, and all taught me the ties, both emotional and historical, that bound me to Eretz Israel. But much as I cared for Israel, it had once been nothing but paragraphs in a textbook, perhaps an anecdote from a respected teacher. When I took my first trip to Israel with NFTY two years ago, it suddenly became real, and afterward, the news stories and social media feeds that had once flooded my mind began to impact me emotionally as well. Israel had become real to me – an actual land filled with people I knew and cared about. Real world experience materialize issues for me, transforming it from entity to reality.
Today, travelling south to Sderot to speak with residents and view the area, was such an occasion. Especially after this summer, headlines have screamed about battles and blood, dirty fighting and martyrs both Palestinian and Israeli. But, though I have always been invested in the issue, it has never been so real for me as it is today. It is one thing to hear that six thousand rockets have rained upon Sderot in recent years – it is quite another to see a wall covered in melted rockets, knowing they were aimed to the very man speaking to you. No doubt one feels shock and grief to read about a four year old having been killed on a kibbutz by rocket fire – but to see an entire kindergarten class enjoying a sunny day on their playground, seeing them and hearing their laughter, and realizing you are staring straight in the faces of Hamas’s intended victims is an absolutely different experience.
Looking at Gaza in real life, speaking with the residents of Sderot, and hearing perspectives on peace has been a sobering and thought-provoking experience, but by no means a hopeless one. In spite of the hatred brewing across the highway, the residents of kibbutzim still paint the walls of their bomb shelters with colors so bright one might momentarily forget their purpose. Although those in Gaza that are may indeed wish for peace live in paralyzed fear of both terrorists and the defense forces attempting to fight them, is it impossible that the victims of Hamas, might someday overcome their oppressors as so many groups have in the past? I am under no illusions that peace is still a faraway dream. Yes, it very well may be something none of us see in our lifetime – but the Jewish people said the same thing about the establishment of the State of Israel. If it’s possible that we can achieve a land of our own, is it so impossible to dream that we may someday live there in peace?