Australian legislators visit the Gaza border

July 31, 2015 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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A delegation of legislators and political advisors from Australia toured the Gaza perimeter to learn first hand about life on the border and to hear about different projects promoted by KKL-JNF for the benefit of frontline residents.

They were joined by representatives from the USA and the UK.

“Our aim is to become acquainted with life in Israel as it really is, not as it is depicted in the news,” said Josh Koonin from Sydney, the leader of the group, who had initiated the trip to Israel. The delegation is traveling all over Israel for ten days and, according to Koonin, the tour of the Gaza perimeter is an important part of their itinerary, so that they can truly understand the reality there.

The tour began in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which is located only 700 meters from the Gaza Strip and has fields right on the border. As they viewed Gaza from the fences of the kibbutz, the members of the delegation understood how close the border is and how complicated life is in that vicinity.

 


The delegation was hosted by Yankale Cohen, one of the founders of the kibbutz, who told them about the establishment of Nahal Oz in the early 1950s and showed them historic photos from the early days of the kibbutz. He described life under fire and the inhabitants’ determination to continue living their lives regardless of all the dangers.

Cohen pointed to a place where one of the terrorism tunnels was discovered, not far from the fence of the kibbutz, and told them how families with children quit the area during Operation Protective Edge last summer, and how the old-timers stayed to take care of the kibbutz and maintain the fields and the dairy farm.

He shared a personal experience of his with the guests, which illustrated life in the line of fire. “One day I went out for a morning walk, and suddenly I heard the sound of a mortar shell fired towards the kibbutz. Obviously I had no time to run to a bomb shelter, so I lay down on the ground. It fell about twenty meters away from me and charred the earth near me. Fortunately I was not harmed, and after a few minutes I got up and continued my walk.”

Cohen pointed towards the large water reservoir that is going to be constructed with support from friends of JNF Australia and will be supplying water for agricultural irrigation. He mentioned the security tree planting being done by KKL-JNF around the residential communities and alongside the main roads in order to hide the Israeli side from the eyes of the terrorists and prevent shooting on homes and vehicles.

The group   Photo: Yoav Devir

The group Photo: Yoav Devir

“Fifteen seconds means nothing to us in Australia, but here it is a matter of life and death – if it is long enough to get to a shelter before the missile strikes,” said Samantha Moulder, a Law and Politics student from Sydney. “We had a certain perspective about life in the border area, but it turns out that it’s not at all like actually living here. Visiting the Gaza perimeter has been an eye-opening experience about the way life goes on here.”

The delegation proceeded from Nahal Oz to the Shaar Hanegev High School, a regional school that is completely missile-proof whose ecological schoolyard was built with support from friends of JNF Australia. The ambience in the beautiful schoolyard was tranquil, especially these days during the summer vacation. Only the shelters scattered all over the premises, so that the students could run for cover in a few seconds, reminded the guests that rocket fire is an integral part of the lives of the local teenagers.

Dr. Noga Golst, a representative from the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council whose son graduated from the Shaar Hanegev High School this year, greeted the guests and took them on a tour of the school. “For the students to study as they should, they have to feel safe, and this place gives them a sense of security, also a beautiful green environment,” she said.

“It’s wonderful to be in Israel and to meet wonderful people, but it’s hard to see what the local residents have to deal with on a daily basis, especially the children,” said Scott Farlow, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. “It’s impossible to understand what it’s really like until you see the situation first hand.”

At the Police Station in Sderot there is an exhibition of hundreds of the missiles that targeted the city for years. “Twenty-eight thousand missiles were fired on Israel from Gaza over the last fourteen years, 8,700 of them on Sderot,” said Kobi Harouche, the Sderot security officer. “At first the terrorists fired rockets with 3 kilograms of explosives with a range of up to half a kilometer. Today they have rockets with 25 kilograms with a range of up to 100 kilometers.”

The untenable reality faced by local residents was made very vivid by a real life example. “Imagine a mother of four small children being woken up by a siren in the middle of the night. She has no choice but to choose which of her children she will take to the protected space, because there is no way she can move all of them in fifteen seconds.”

About the Iron Dome missile interception system, which was developed in Israel, and which protects the citizens of Israel, he said, “It’s a life-saving system that knows how to identify the source of the shelling, the type of missile and the anticipated point of impact, and how to alert the people and intercept the missile with a very high success rate.”

Harouche led the group to an observation point on the outskirts of Sderot facing the Gaza Strip where they saw how close the border is to the houses of the city and also met the deputy commander of the northern brigade of the Gaza Division.

Harouche explained to the visitors about the various terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and about the terrorism tunnels that were dug from Gaza to Israeli territory. He concluded, however, with hope and determination. “Although we are living in a surreal situation,” he said, “we remain strong no matter what happens. There are also people in Gaza who are hoping for peace, just like us, but right now they are hostages of their terrorist regime, and until peace comes, we will continue standing firm and defending our security.”

After a very busy day during which they had heard about the security threats to life near the border and about KKL-JNF’s contribution to the building of thriving communities on the Gaza perimeter, the members of the delegation departed from the region. “The support from KKL-JNF and from JNF Australia for the communities, for their environment, agriculture, water and education, strengthens our connection to this region and makes a significant difference in the lives of the people there,” said Samantha Moulder as the visit came to an end.

Members of the delegation included:

The Honorable Scott Farlow – member of parliament – NSW

Rep Megan Jones – member of the Iowa House of Representatives

Joel Schubert – advisor to president of the upper house, NSW parliament

Justin Fazzolari – advisor to deputy minister the Hon Ray Williams MP

Anthony Moate  – advisor to minister the Hon Mitch Fifield

Giovanni Frischmann – senior activist, Liberal party of Australia

Stephen Hoffman – senior activist, Conservative party of UK

Sophia Holman – adviser to minister the Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP

Samantha Moulder – Sydney university student representative leader

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