Daily Life In Israel’s Southern Border Communities
Sergey Kadinsky, a Forest Hills resident, on the Gaza border of Israel -- note smoke in the background -- , is a journalism student at City College, practicing journalism for a pro-Israel organization.
(Israel, 07/18/2006) “History is being made, and I am here to document the unfolding events.” This is how I responded to the concerns of my family in Forest Hills while I was living in Jerusalem for the past two months working for The Israel Project, an organization that works closely with journalists in helping make coverage of Israel more accurate. This is done by providing journalists with tours, fact sheets, and interviews with residents of Israeli border communities. Following the escalation of hostilities on the northern border, I helped connect Russian-speaking residents of these communities with Russian journalists. I also wrote fact sheets detailing the history of these communities, including their distance from the Lebanese border, number of casualties, population, history, and holy sites.
With the outbreak of a two-front war against Israel, I knew that the worst possible thing to do was to stay silent, or to flee. As an American student living in Jerusalem, I had to make a statement of solidarity with the defenders of Israeli frontier communities.
This includes not only the soldiers, but also the residents. By building their homes in places such as Sderot and Shaar Hanegev, they continue to secure the state of Israel through their undeniable presence. Unlike the so-called settlers of the West Bank, their presence is internationally recognized as justified. In all of these communities, I was told stories of how the residents attempted to extend a hand of friendship to their neighbors, only to be answered by the total rejection of their existence. In all these communities, the ability to literally touch the physical borders of Gaza and Lebanon were memorable. On one side, a thriving community that continues to grow in spite of the bombings; while on the other, the result of terrorist regimes paint a landscape of devastation.
School teacher Atara Orenbach was raised in a religious family, and holds strong claims to the land of Israel, but instead of the controversial settlements, she chose this poor development town in the Negev Desert as an alternative. “This too is part of Israel,” Orenbach stated. This claim goes hand in hand with a sense of purpose. Sderot needed teachers who spoke English and who can teach computer science and Orenbach filled this niche. Within feet of rooftops damaged by Qassam rockets, new construction continues to make its impact on the skyline. Since the escalation of hostilities, her daughter has refused to shower alone; for fear that a rocket may pierce through the bathroom.
Shaar Hanegev city manager Eliyahu Segal wishes that his job would be about attracting new residents and developing the local infrastructure, but as a result of Hamas, the top concern is responding to security concern. Though the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council is home to only 6,000 permanent residents, when counting workers and students, the number rises to 250,000. Sapir College alone has 7,500 students. Looking to Gaza as a neighbor, Segal points out that prior to the Intifada, he had been in close contact with his counterparts in Gaza City, and that Sapir College included a number of students from Gaza City. According to Segal, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was justified by demographics, where more than a million Arabs lived alongside 8,000 Israeli settlers. “Their rate of reproduction is great, this is the reality,” Segal states.
On the Erez Checkpoint, a series of guard posts, walls, and parking facilities were built to expect a large flow of trade. With the exception of smoke across the wall, and occasional bombs dropping, the crossing was all but empty and silent. Large trucks carrying humanitarian aid were the only traffic on the road. Traveling with me was the former managing editor of the Jerusalem Post, Calev ben David, who described his connection to the region. “When I served in Gaza, I also reached the conclusion that we have no business there, surrounded by a million hostile Arabs,” ben David recalls. At the same time, he understands the strong response against Hamas’ campaign of Kassam attacks, “my son attends a summer camp that is within the range of the Kassams. As a parent, I support Israel’s right to defend itself.” Ben David immigrated to Israel from Brooklyn almost 20 years ago.
Alongside the tragic circumstances in Gaza, where residents had to choose between a terrorist and a corrupt government, life on the Israeli side cautiously continues, with the tenacity to no longer retreat, but to resist by continuing to grow crops, attend summer camps, and settle in these frontier communities. Under normal circumstances, there should be no fear in living near national borders.
Residents of Detroit have every right to live across the river from Canada; as do residents of El Paso in full view of their Mexican neighbors. Unfortunately, for the residents of Sderot and Shaar Hanegev, the notion of not being able to live within their own national borders is very real. In a country the size of New Jersey, surrounded by much larger neighbors, every community is a frontier community. Until the people of Gaza and Lebanon begin to recognize these communities as neighbors rather than enemies, the borders will remain delineated by walls, forts, and military bases.