NSWJBD-Honest Reporting Advocacy Mission – Day 3
Twenty people – mostly members of Sydney’s Jewish community, plus a number of West Australians and Americans – are currently participating in the inaugural NSW Jewish Board of Deputies-HonestReporting Advocacy Mission in Israel – Day Three from Hilary May Black.From: Hilary May Black
Day 3 of our tour here in Israel with the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and HonestReporting begins with a visit to the Joe Alon Museum of Bedouin Culture. We are given a rare insight into their culture and lifestyles both past and present and then briefed on the current issues relating to land rights and planning issues. Fortified by hot sweet tea and strong coffee courtesy of our guides at the Museum of Bedouin Culture, we take a few minutes to salute our fellow countrymen and women at the Beersheva Park of The Australian Soldier dedicated to the exploits of the charge of the Light Brigade in 1917 – a game changer in the progress of World War 1. Fittingly Michael Jaku, chair of the Shoah Rememberance Committee of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, read a poem by Banjo Patterson commemorating the charge, as we paid our respects to those lost on that day.
Our next visit is to Sderot.
Everyone has heard of Sderot. Everyone in Sderot wishes you hadn’t. Sderot is a modest little town in the south of Israel a kilometre from the border with Gaza. Now home to 25,000 people, Sderot has achieved recognition worldwide as the unfortunate recipient of constant mainly low-level rocket fire from Hamas-controlled Gaza. The Sderot police station has a notoriety all of its own. We were fortunate enough to be granted special access to see this extraordinary sight. The station hosts a veritable Aladin’s cave of home-made and, now, increasingly sophisticated rockets, some with the insignia and signatures of their makers. Quite a few resembled domestic plumbing pipes complete with welded fins and our guide confirmed that they were made from locally available materials including cut down lamp posts filled with shrapnel and metal fragments. This display and the concrete bomb shelters located at every bus stop around the town are sobering.
The day’s program indicated that our next stop would be to the Gaza border with a “briefing from an IDF (Israel Defence Force) spokesperson”. Sounds fairly straightforward, you would think. What actually followed was an extraordinary few hours that took us to the heart of the challenges to Israel today. We often hear that Gaza is either “occupied” by Israel (actually, no, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005) or, alternatively, “blockaded” or “under siege” by Israel and, naturally, we are concerned for the humanitarian needs of the people living there. In particular, we hear there are shortages of basic foodstuffs and medicines, and building materials are banned so that even if they wanted to the Palestinians cannot rebuild their damaged buildings.
We met with a Lieutenant Colonel from the IDF who is in charge of all commercial dealings with Gaza for the Israel Ministry of Defence. This includes all goods moving in to Gaza from Israel and all exports from Gaza to the West Bank and the rest of the world. He outlined how he and his team ensure that the needs of the civilian population in Gaza are met by careful coordination with local farmers, businesses and representatives from the Palestinian Authority. This was, of course, confusing since Hamas and not the PA control Gaza but apparently Hamas refuse to deal with Israel and prefer to let the PA manage infrastructure issues such as these. Either way, it means that foodstuffs, medicines, consumer goods, even cars get to their customers in Gaza as required and Israel also facilitates export trading from Gaza to the outside world. The ban on construction materials started after Hamas started redirecting this material from civilian reconstruction to building reinforced underground rocket launching bases. Now these materials are provided largely through international aid projects where the sponsoring organisation ensures the materials reach their intended destination. The only passage for goods to legally move into Gaza is provided by Israel through the Keren Shalom crossing. The crossing from Egypt is closed to goods and only open to pedestrian traffic.
Having learnt more about the movement of goods in and out of Gaza, we wanted to hear more about the movement of people. We pushed a little to go closer to the border to see the pedestrian crossing itself.
Again, being part of this Board of Deputies-HonestReporting tour gave us unprecedented access. This time it involved seeing the inside of the Erez crossing between Israel and Gaza. The viewing area we were escorted into is a high security area not open to the public. The crossing itself, built only a few years ago by Israel at a cost of over 250 million sheckels, was made even more secure after a female suicide bomber pretending to need medical help blew herself up along with the three young officers who came to her aid.
The officer who took us around, who is in charge of coordination with international organisations, pointed to the area where a Qassam rocket landed a week ago. “I was on the phone to my mum at the time,” she said. When her mum asked what the noise was, she made some excuse, She didn’t want to worry her. I asked how old she was. “Twenty”, she said. “And you’re in charge here”? I asked. “Well… I have some help”.
As we drove back to Jerusalem just after sunset, the impact of the remarkable day began to sink in.
Hilary May Black is a graduate of the TAI course and a member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Membership Development Committee.