The Twin Traumas of Gaza and Sderot

The Hour

Meeting Hamas: Leonard Fein visited Gaza recently, where he met with Hamas officials, including Ghazi Hamad, to discuss the possibility of peace.
Getty Images
Meeting Hamas: Leonard Fein visited Gaza recently, where he met with Hamas officials, including Ghazi Hamad, to discuss the possibility of peace.

By Leonard Fein

Published May 15, 2011, issue of May 27, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

“You cannot begin to imagine the fear that infects everyone here. Even before Cast Lead, we felt it. But then, when the bombing began, it was devastating. And no one can know whether at any moment it will resume.”

Those are the words of Dr. Eyad Sarraj, the senior psychiatrist in Gaza, a man widely respected for his development of mental health centers and for training the personnel to staff them. We are sitting in his lush garden, in an area as utterly remote from the stereotypical depiction of Gaza — crowded, desperate, noisy — as can be; a place more akin to Savannah or Scottsdale; a place of beauty, affluence, good food and good talk.

I observe that his words are almost exactly the same as the words I’d heard the previous day, during a visit to Sderot. This was the southern Israeli city that was hit by rockets fired from Gaza as many as 50 times a day in the years before Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s three-week-long military operation in Gaza in 2008–09. Travel around Sderot, and the consequences are apparent: shelters everywhere you turn, nursery schools without windows and playgrounds with shelters than can be reached by scampering children within 15 seconds — the time between the alarm and the explosion.

And the psychological aftermath, I am told, persists. How can it not? The occasional rocket still lands, reminding both children and adults of their ongoing vulnerability, of the menace from Gaza, just a mile away.

So it is: two traumatized populations, neighbors in an area where good fences provide no relief. Yet when I tell Nomika Zion, an organizer of “Kol Acher,” an effort to bring Sderot and Gaza residents together, of the coincidence between her words and those of Sarraj, she replies: “With all the difficulties and despair that we have experienced in Sderot, the reality in Gaza, as we all know, is 10 times worse, and we have a heavy responsibility for that. I never forget that.”

We talk at length about the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, about the pitfalls that await and the historic opportunity it provides. Then we are unexpectedly joined by a very senior official of Hamas, Ghazi Hamad, who is very affable and insists that he and his movement are flexible.

I have, over the years, spent enough time with “important people” to know that they invent, they lie, they spin. That’s the norm for a brief interaction. But we spend more than an hour with Hamad, and there are lengthy exchanges that seem candid, credible. He says that Hamas is willing to recognize Israel and renounce violence, but that it can do so only in exchange for meaningful commitments by the other side. Hamas has very few cards to play; recognition of Israel may be its only ace. Will Israel stop the settlements, end the occupation, lift the siege of Gaza?

We get to the “right of return.” He asks why Israel, during its War of Independence, drove so many Palestinians from their homes. I refuse to take his question as rhetorical, and reply that United Nations Resolution 181, the Partition Plan, was rejected by all the Arab states, that they then launched a war against the new Jewish state, and I remind him that his side lost that war and that when you lose a war, there are consequences. (In its War of Independence, Israel lost nearly 6,400 people, 1% of its population. That war remains, by far, the costliest in human life of all of Israel’s wars, accounting for more deaths than the Six Day War; the Yom Kippur War; the 1982, 1993 and 1996 wars in Lebanon; the various wars in Gaza, and the first and second intifadas combined.) He is, I think — but who can know for sure? — taken aback. There seem to be things to talk about with this man. Neither side in the bitter dispute perceives the other as “a partner for peace,” but that is a judgment that deserves to be tested by both sides.

Two days later, I spend six hours driving through the northern part of the West Bank, driving on some roads that are reserved for Jews, sailing through sundry checkpoints where cars with the Palestinians’ license plates await clearance, seeing Jewish settlements and some of the estimated 95 Jewish outposts (acknowledged as illegal by the Israeli government), the separation barrier (sometimes a fence, sometimes a wall) that too often separates Palestinians from their lands. A day earlier, I was in Budrus, a Palestinian town that successfully engaged in nonviolent resistance to the Israeli police and military and finally won its case for relocation of the separation barrier so that it would no longer be cut off from its cemetery, its water sources, its lands. The rationale for the barrier must be, the court held, security, a ruling that sometimes holds. Too much data to process. Little wonder that so many Israelis tune out.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  •'s Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.