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Sderot is a little Israeli town that has been bearing the brunt of rocket fire from Gaza for over 7 years now. Its population is mostly Middle Eastern Jews and new immigrants from the former USSR - both are groups whose worldview tilts right, especially with regards to Israel-Arab relations. Its mayor Eli Moyal has been extremely vocal in demanding heavy-handed IDF attacks on Gaza.

Yet, Sderot is not monolithic. Here is what I received a couple of hours ago from Israel, written (in Hebrew) by a member of Kol Aher (another voice) - a Sderot-based peace group. As the tranlation is mine and this is the first place it appears, it is posted in its entirety.

Sderot War Diary

Nomika Zion, Sderot, 8.1.09

"I talk with Sderot people and everyone's cheeks are rosy again", boasted Fuad on the war's second day [Fuad is Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a long-time centrist Labor minister - Assaf]. "The heavier the blow we deliver - the wider the hearts get".

Hey Fuad, not everyone. Even if I was the only one around Sderot feeling differently - and I am not - my voice should be heard.

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Not in my name and not for me you went to war. The current bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name and not for my security. Destroyed homes, bombed schools, thousands of new refugees - are not in my name and not for my security. In Gaza there is no time for burial ceremonies now, the dead are put in refrigerators in twos, because there is no room. Here their bodies lay, policemen, children, and our nimble reporters play acrobatically with Hasbara strategies in view of "the images that speak for themselves". Pray tell me, what is there to "explain"? [Hasbara literally means "explanation" - Assaf] What is there to explain?

I got myself neither security nor quiet from this war. After such an essential calm, that helped all of us heal emotionally and mentally and experience some sanity again [Nomika is referring here to the first 5 months of cease-fire, which were observed by both sides - Assaf] - our leaders have brought us back to the same wounded, anxiety-ridden place. To the same humiliating, terrified sprinting to shelter.

Don't mistake me. Hamas is an evil, terrible terror organization. Not just for us. First and foremost to its own citizens. But beyond that wretched leadership there are human beings. With hard labor, ordinary people on both sides build small bridges of human gestures. This is what the Kol Aher, a group of people from Sderot and elsewhere on the Gaza border of which I am a member, has been doing. We have tried to lay down a human route to the hearts of our neighbors. While we have won a five-month calm, they continued to suffer under the siege. A young man told us he does not wish to marry and have kids, because in Gaza there is no future for children. A single airplane bomb drowns these human gestures in depths of blood and despair.

Qassams scare me. Since the war started, I almost didn't dare cross the street. But even more frightening is the monolithic tone in our public sphere and our media, the unbreachable wall of jingoism. It scares me when my Kol Aher colleague is assaulted by other Sderotis, as he is interviewed and criticizes the war - and later receives anonymous phone threats and is afraid to return to his car. It scares me how little room there is for another voice, and how difficult it is to express it here. I am willing to pay the price of social isolation, but not the price of fear.

It scares me to see my city light up, celebrate and put up flags, and cheerleader squads hand out flowers on the streets, and people honk in glee at every one-ton bomb dropped on our neighbors. It scares me to hear the resident who happily admits that he has never been to a concert, but IDF's bombing of Gaza is the best music he has ever heard. I am scared by the smug reporter interviewing him, who doesn't challenge him even one bit.

It scares me that under the screen of Orwellian words, and the children's corpses blurred on TV as a public service to us, we are losing the human ability to see the other side, to feel, to be shocked, to feel empathy. Under the codename 'Hamas', the media has created for us a huge dark demon with no face, no body and no voice. A million and a half people with no name.

A deep, dark stream of violence flows into the veins of Israeli society like a deadly disease, and it gets stronger from war to war. It has no smell and no shape, but we feel it very clearly here. It is a type of euphoria and trigger-happiness and joy of revenge and power-drunkenness and love of Mars, and the burial of the noble Jewish commandment: "when your enemy falls - do not celebrate". Our morality is so polluted, so soiled now that it seems no washing will be able to remove the stains. Our democracy is so fragile, that you have to weigh every word in order to safeguard yourself.

The first time I felt the state is really protecting me, was when they got the ceasefire. I am not responsible for Hamas, and therefore I ask our own leaders: have you turned every stone in order to continue the calm? To extend the ceasefire? To use it to get a long-term agreement? To resolve the border-crossing and siege issues before they blow the whole thing up? Have you gone to the ends of the world looking for the right mediators? And why did you wave away, unblinkingly, the French ceasefire initiative after the war started? And why do you keep rejecting, to this very moment, every possible offer of negotiations? Do you think we have not reached our maximum Qassam quota here, that we can stand some more? That we have not yet reached the quota of killed Palestinian children that the world can stomach?

And who guarantees that Hamas can be toppled? Haven't we tried this trick elsewhere? And who will come in its place? Global fundamentalist organizations? Al Qaeda? And how, from the heaps of rubble and hunger and cold and dead bodies, will moderate voices of peace grow? Where are you leading us? What future are you promising us here in Sderot?

And how much longer will you hang on our backs the tired old "backpack of lies" [cultural reference to a well-known book of 1948 war anecdotes - Assaf]: "there's no one to talk with", "it is a no-choice war", "let the IDF finish the 'job'", "one good blow and we finish them", "let's topple the Hamas" and "who doesn't want peace?". The lies of brute force and the idiocy of even more brute force - your only guide for resolving the region's problems.

And how come every hasty interview with a Kol Aher member, always begins and ends with the disdainful punch line by the reporter: "Don't you think you are being naive?" How come the option of dialogue and negotiation and agreements and understandings, even with the worst of our enemies, has become a synonym for naivete, while the option of brute-force and war is always a wise, rational, ultimate one? Eight year of senseless cycle of bloodshed haven't taught us anything about the futility of brute force? The IDF has slammed and shot and assassinated and razed and hit and missed and bombed - and what have we gotten in return? A rhetorical question, ain't it.

It is extremely hard to live in Sderot nowadays. At night, the IDF pounds infrastructure and human beings, and our home walls shudder. By morning, we get Qassams - more sophisticated ones each time. A person going to work in the morning, does not know whether their home will be found standing by evening. At midday, we bury the best of our sons, who have paid with their lives for yet another "just" war. In the evening, after many difficulties, we manage to make contact with our desperate friends in Gaza. They have no electricity, no water, no gas, no food, nowhere to hide. And only the words of N., the 14-year-old whose school was bombed and whose classmate was killed, don't leave my head. She writes us in perfect English, an email that her mom somehow managed to send:

"Help us, we are human beings after all"

No, Fuad, my cheeks are not rosy, they are not. A ton of Cast Lead is weighing on my heart, and my heart cannot contain it.

(translated from Hebrew by Assaf Oron)

-----   Night Update

My bad. The author's first name could be read in Hebrew as a nickname of either Naomi or Na'ama. Had I thought about it a second more, it would have been clear that Naomi is more logical - but for some reason Na'ama stuck in my mind, hence the mistaken "Na'amika" which most readers saw. Since there was one Google link with the same mistaken name, I assumed I got it right. But the author's correct name is Nomika, nickname for Naomi, and she is quite a remarkable woman. She is among the founders of Migvan, a hugely successful urban kibbutz in situated in Sderot. Her two grandfathers happen to be  Rabbi Daniel Zion, chief rabbi of Bulgaria during WWII, and Yaakov Hazan, one of the kibbutz movement's legendary charismatic leaders. She is currently Program Director of Van-Leer Jerusalem Institute’s Center for Social Justice, named after her maternal grandfather.

With a heritage and personal accomplishments like hers, it is no wonder Nomika Zion is not easily intimidated from speaking.

Originally posted to Assaf on Sat Jan 10, 2009 at 09:36 AM PST.

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