Political activists and advisors visit Sderot

January 13, 2016 by Ahuva Bar-Lev
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Fifteen political Australian activists and advisors on a visit to Israel to learn firsthand about the current situation have visited Sderot close to the border with Gaza.

Group in Sderot

The group in Sderot

The Sderot police station might seem like an unusual place to begin an afternoon with KKL-JNF in the area bordering the Gaza Strip, but the different sorts of rockets on display in the station’s courtyard left no room for doubt about the reality of daily life in this Negev town.

“From the moment that the Red Alert siren is sounded, we have fifteen seconds to take cover in a safe room,” Kobi said. “What is a mother of four children in different rooms of her house to do? Which child should she wake up and take with her? This is an impossible dilemma, and we have been living like this for about sixteen years now. Many of our children don’t ride bikes or play soccer because it’s dangerous to be outside.”

After hearing Kobi’s descriptions of daily life, the group was shocked when he said that the prices of real estate in Sderot had increased by 160% over the past four years, and that there were not enough apartments to meet the demand. They asked why anyone wanted to live here. “Personally,” Kobi said, “Sderot has always been my home, all the town’s residents are like one big family, and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a Zionist. No one will make me leave Sderot.”

Kobi took the group to a hill overlooking the Gaza Strip, only 800 meters away. He showed them the opening to a terror tunnel from which 12 terrorists emerged during the 2014 military campaign, disguised as Israeli soldiers. “There is one thing I would like you to take home with you,” Kobi said. “Israel cannot ever afford to lose even one war. Our enemies would destroy us as they promise in their media day and night. At the same time, I remember the days before Yasser Arafat came to Gaza, I used to eat fish on the Gaza beach, and friends from Gaza would stay over at my house. I hope that one day they will realize that we are here to stay and decide to live in peace with us.”

The group proceeded to Nahal Oz, a kibbutz so close to Gaza that you can almost reach out and touch the nearby buildings. With the help of its friends in Australia, KKL-JNF has carried out a number of projects to improve the quality of life here. Water is scarce in this region, so KKL-JNF built  a reservoir that stores water for agriculture, one of the kibbutz’s main sources of income, and a water recycling system to irrigate the gardens and spacious lawns where the children play.

Jordan Heckendorf

Jordan Heckendorf

Yael, a local resident, met the group next to one of the lawns. “To be honest, it’s not easy to live in a place where you are constantly being shelled. Here we have 2-3 seconds to make it to a bomb shelter. Towards the end of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, four year-old Daniel Tregerman was killed by mortar fire from Gaza, and there were families who couldn’t take it anymore and left. In order for the kibbutz to grow and flourish, we need more young families to move here. When it’s bad in Nahal Oz, it’s very bad, so with the help of organizations like KKL-JNF, we are making every effort to create a lot of good to balance it out.”

Jordan Heckendorf from Sydney said that what he had seen was somewhat hard to fathom. “I’m not a Zionist, I don’t have a connection to the land of Israel, and I can’t imagine living somewhere where my life would be at risk. On the other hand, it’s been absolutely amazing to see the pioneer spirit of the people here in the midst of tragedy and complexity. I’m leaving with the feeling that I’ve been privileged to have met the heroes of an epic historical drama.”

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