Thursday, August 9, 2018

On the Border with Gaza: My visit to Netiv HaAsara

I am feeling incredibly saddened and angered by the most recent round of rockets and mortar shells from and to Gaza in the last 24 hours. And the weaponized children’s toys - the kites and the balloons with incendiary devices attached to them that have become part of this summers reality. Too many of the people living in Gaza have become hostages to Hamas and terror groups. The people living in Southern Israel and increasingly in places deeper into Israel are also being held hostage to the fear and the reality of not knowing when a rocket is going to appear, when a siren will sound, when their life will be in danger and they will have to run to the nearest shelter. 

I was in Israel the summer of 2014 during the last summer of terror. I remember spending time in bomb shelters. I remember being caught outside, cowering, watching, in awe and with prayer and pride, as the Iron Dome, intercepted rockets. I remember my fear as my daughter traveled around the country and all I could do was pray. 

And I was an American, a tourist, just living in Israel temporarily. Though my heart and soul reside in Israel, my main residence is Maryland.  I went home. And I came back this summer for nearly 2 months. Now I’m home in the States again. 

Last month my adopted big sister Ohelli, who lives in Ashkelon, found a balloon wafting into her kitchen. She almost had a heart attack. Thank God it did not have its incendiary device attached to it. Yesterday, my cousin, Ohelli’s daughter, and her little girls, had a bomb explode near their home in Beersheva. It hurts my heart to say that unfortunately this is not she first time has experienced such horror. But her daughters? They are babies. They should not have to experience such things. No one’s children - Jew or Arab - should have such childhood experiences. 

A few week’s ago, when I was visiting Ohelli in Ashkelon, she reminded me that she lived only 11 kilometers (just about 7 miles) from Gaza. Although I was a senior (read: elderly) transportation and mobility specialist for many years I have very little conception of distance. So to illustrate just how close Ashkelon was to Gaza, we drove to a Moshav called Netiv HaAsara.  

Netiv HaAsara is the closest community in Israel to Gaza. The moshav was founded in 1982 by 70 families who were residents of the former Israeli settlement of Netiv HaAsara in the Sinai Peninsula which was evacuated when Israel turned over Yamit to Egypt as a result of the Camp David Accords.  The original moshav had been named for ten soldiers that were killed in a helicopter accident south of Rafah in 1971. 

I must admit that the name of the Netiv HaAsara was familiar to me not from the historical context that I just wrote about, but only from the Red Alert App that I have on my phone. Actually, as I wrote this blog two alerts went off indicating sirens sounding in Netiv HaAsara at 21:15:20 and 21:15:26. At Netiv HaAsara they have 15 seconds to a get to a bomb shelter once they hear the sound of the siren. 15 seconds. That is not a lot of time. By comparison, in Jerusalem one has 1.5 minutes. In Ashkelon one has 30 seconds. 

There are quite a few families who live in Netiv HaAsara. It is actually quite lovely. The children go to school in a neighboring Kibbutz, Yad Mordechai, which also has a 15 second siren to shelter time period.  I remember going Israeli dancing there in the early 1980s. Anyway, houses are still being built in Netiv HaAsara - new families are still moving in. People want to live there, they feel it’s important to live there. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, “In the 2010s Netiv HaAsara became an increasingly popular tourist attraction among foreign visitors drawn to a community where ordinary life continues despite constant threat of rocket attacks from neighboring Gaza.”

There is a wall that separates the Moshav from Gaza. It is decorated with ceramic art work by a local artist. It’s beautiful really, as are the bus stops which are also the bomb shelters. The human spirit wins out. Beauty out of desolation. The main drag, so to speak, is called Netiv L'Shalom - the Path to Peace
Kein Yehi Ratzon - So May It Be. 

picture of the balloon bombs being thrown from Gaza

The remains of an exploded balloon

Welcome to Netiv HaAsara

 The fence with Gaza

Netiv L'Shalom  ~  The Path to Peace

Bus stops/Bomb Shelters

An ordinary house.....

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