Today I passed on an incredible opportunity to join OneVoice in meeting MK Ephraim Sneh and chose to meet up with the rest of WUJS for a seminar entitled "Security and Terror." The day began in Herzliya at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) where my roommate Sarah happens to be interning. We heard a 90 minute presentation from Dr. Eitan Azani, director of the ICT. His lecture, titled "From Dawa to Jihad" explained the transformation from a propogandist message aimed at a non-violent process of repairing Islam to the terrorist ideology of Jihad and the imminent threat of such cells existing worldwide. Following Eitan's lecture we heard from 2 representatives, an Israeli man and a Palestinian woman, from Parents Circle Families Forum (PCFF). PCFF is a forum for bereaved families who have lost someone in the conflict to come together and talk to audiences about ending the conflict. Avraham and Shireen told their personal stories and engaged us in dialogue about their experiences, their positions on the current situation and their goal for talking with audiences. Although we have been in Israel for over 3 months, it was the first time many WUJS students had met a Palestinian face-to-face. Reactions from our group were mixed, ranging from praise and awe of the speakers' courage to doubt and distrust seeing 'no partner for peace' on the other side. I was particularly impressed when Shireen pointed out that representatives from PCFF had spoken to a group of people from the Al Aqsa Brigade (well known terrorist group) about the possibilty of non-violent resistance to achieve Palestinian independence. While it seems that the easy reaction to losing a loved one would be to place blame on the other side, these people have chosen to educate people about the necessity of our cooperation. As Avraham said, "We either sink together or we swim together, there is no option where only one side will win."
Our final stop of the day was in Sderot, a development town of just under 20,000 people very close to the northern border of Gaza. Sderot has been under kassam rocket attack from Gaza for the past 7 years, during which time over 7,500 rockets have fallen in/around the town. Just two weeks ago following a large scale Israeli military operation in Gaza, over 200 rockets poured down on Sderot over a period of a week. Miraculously, in the history of the rockets only 10 people have died in Sderot from the attacks. But as we saw yesterday, the psychological trauma caused by the almost daily attacks has affected every single citizen. Entering Sderot and throughout our visit, we were consistently informed on where to go if the "tzeva adom" (red alert) siren should sound. Just from driving around the city, it was clear that more often than not there is no "safe" shelter residents can seek in the brief 15 seconds between the siren's sounding and the rocket's impact. Of the 53 bomb shelters in the town, 25 were declared unusable because of flooding, rats, etc.
The situation in Sderot is more than sad, it is unacceptable. No mother should be forced to use her body as a human shield, laying on top of her children praying that the rocket won't hit close by. No child should have to ask their parent, "If I am killed by a Kassam, how long will you stay sad?" No innocent civilian anywhere should feel so abandoned, invisible and helpless.
And in Gaza civilans are suffering ten-fold. Although extremists are the minority on both sides, they have gained a disproportionate amount of power and are controlling the destinies of the moderate majority of civilians. When and how will this all end?
The only possibility that makes sense to me was the one explained by Avraham earlier in the day. In summary, Avraham pointed to the fact that Israel has fought wars, arrested and killed thousands of Palestinians and executed countless surgical operations to take out terrorist leaders. Yet we STILL don't have peace and kassam rockets continue to fall daily in Sderot. Where do we go from here besides completely wiping out all the Palestinians? Maybe it is time that we recognize that more and stronger military operations have failed to end the conflict in the past and thus are not likely to do so in the future. Perhaps it is time to take a step back, asses our failures and approach the conflict with a completely new way of thinking.
For more on the Parents Circle Familes Forum: www.theparentscircle.com
FYI: I booked my return flight. I'll be flying into JFK airport on March 28th!