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Report from Special Team to Gaza, February 16-17, 2009

The goal of our MPT team has been to be in Gaza with the people who have suffered the horrific Israeli invasion of December 27-January 18, which killed over 1,300, including over 400 children, and wounded thousands, and destroyed a massive amount of Gaza's infrastructure. This invasion came withing the three-year ongoing blockade that severely limits food, medicine and all necessities of life. We are still striving to enter there.

MPT is committed to ending all violence in resolving conflicts, and that is true of the Palestine/Israel conflict. We do not condone the great violence of the occupation of Palestine by Israel. Likewise, we oppose the violence of Palestinian rockets fired from Gaza on populated Israeli cities and towns. Our MPT commitment is to hear the cry of all who suffer violence in this conflict and do what we can to break that cycle of violence. Violence can bring out the worst in us, and it escalates and grows.

In that spirit, we have spoken with Israelis who have been vicitims of rockets fired from Gaza. What follows is our interviews with Israelis who agreed to speak with us. Their experience is a piece of the picture we must hear, if we are truly committed to justice, peace and reconciliation. Questions we asked them include 1) What has been your experience here in Israel with the rockets being fired from Gaza? 2) What insights can you share with us that will help us to understand the situation here? 3) What is your hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

This report presents the responses (including experiences and viewpoints) of individual Israelis that we interviewed ...

A Faculty Member Ashkelon Academic College -- located at the corner of Ben Zvi and Eli Cohen St. in Ashkelon, Israel. This college was hit by one of the rockets launched from Gaza ...

Feb 16, 2009 Interview of Efrat (her first name). I have a teaching position on the way to a PhD, in the Dept. of Criminology, here at the Ashkelon Academic College. It is a public, not private college. Yes, it is the only college in Ashkelon.

A missile from Gaza hit Ashkelon about a month ago. We always get missile attacks. For nine years now we have been under attack. A stream of missiles. The army doesn't want to retaliate. Israel wants an agreement with the Palestinians. We don't see Hamas representing the government of the Palestinians. They don't want an agreement. They try to sabatage agreements. The south of our country is under attack. In January the missiles were more frequent. Now there is a greater range of attack.

We had no choice; we had to retaliate. We see ourselves defending, not being aggresive. We were provoked. Our citizens are under attack. Daily life is disturbed. Mothers with children are fearful. We want to carry on our daily lives without danger. There were 40 missiles a day in January. Most fell in open spaces. No one was injured. Classes were cancelled from pre-school through college. When we get the warning, we have 13 minutes to get to a shelter. Every building has a shelter. We have received instructions: for example, go to a shelter, or to the lower floors, or to stairways. If you are driving, get out of the car. Go to a bus station or wherever you can. If you are outside, put you head down and raise you knees to protect yourself.

There are sad stories. Some were hit while driving, injured badly, mothers with little kids. We Israelis always seem to be the "bad" guys, in Europe and in some of the U.S. Hamas spreads itself amoung civilians, so innocent people get hit - we don't have any choice.

All Israelis have to do military service, starting at age 18. The youth today doesn't want to be recruited. 25% avoid the army. I did not go into the army, by circumstances of my life at the time.To our parents, this land was sacred. Now, for us who are younger, Life is sacred. We grew up on stories of our fathers struggle for liberation, saying "It's good to die for our country." We say, "we don't want to die." That's how I see it. We do love our country. We see our Holy Book in relation to our country. We are willing to make great compromise. The other side needs to make peace. I don't see them at that stage of development.

I'm very pessimistic. I don't see peace for the next 50 years. I have a little child. It's now a global issue. Muslims against the U.S.... We, Israel are the devil.... We're not at a prime time as human beings.

Students at Ashekelon Academic College -- Brief responses from eight different students:

Student 1: "Rockets are horrible and war is horrible. I want peace."

Student 2:" How can they fire rockets into schools and neighborhoods?"

Student 3: "Rockets grow hatred on both sides. My own friends are becoming hate-filled. I believe that is happening in Gaza too. It's a bad situation and will only grow worse unless there are major changes."

Student 4: "How are we supposed to live with this? When will there be peace?"

Student 5: "I hate the rockets and I'm growing to hate the people who send them."

Student 6: "You see, the rockets only do two things. They make people fearful and they increase hatred on both sides. You ask about peace, my response is WHEN?"

Student 7: "The new rockets from Gaza have a much longer range. Now the war is in our homes and on our streets. This must be stopped. What is the answer? There is only ONE answer. We have to defend ourselves."

Student 8: "We are being hit now. One hit our college. Many, many more rockets will come to Israel. Soon all of Israel will be under attack. My brother is a soldier in north Gaza. He says many more rockets are coming, soon. I believe there will never be peace. Never, never, never."

One Other Ashkelon Academic College Student, Named David -- His response seemed to sum up comments about fear that many other students also expressed:

David said: "What is there to say that has not already been said over and over in the press and on the TV? Many are afraid. In my family my father says we should not be afraid because it gives power to the people who are attacking us. But I am afraid about the people I care about. I think about my cousin who is eight years old. During the war a rocket hit next to his school. My cousin called his mother and dad and told them how afraid he was. He said that all of his friends were crying and he had never seen kids cry like this. His parents became very angry. So I ask you, "How would you feel if your family was under fire?" ... Wouldn't you be afraid? ... Wouldn't you be angry? ... Wouldn't you defend your family?"

A Businessman in the Wider Ashkelon Community:

An Israeli businessman from Ashkelon offered a different perspective. His opening response was ... My God, I feel terrible about the war in Gaza. I have many friends, business associates, and workers in Gaza. I am very worried about them and their families, and all the people of Gaza. The situation is terrible and they are suffering.

This Israeli businessman explained that until the mid-1990's he owned businesses in Gaza that were co-owned by Gazan partners. They employed many in Gaza . Also his own Israeli businesses employed many in Ashkelon. Moreover, he said the border was open before 1993 and thousands of other Gazans worked in Israel.

During the recent war in Gaza this businessman's home in Ashkelon was struck by a rocket from Gaza, destroying the roof. He believes Hamas is the problem. Also he is convinced that the borders of Gaza must be re-opened if there is to be peace.

A Resident Near the Gaza Border:

In the afternoon we took the bus from Ashkelon to an Israeli town that is one kilometer from the Erez crossing. In the town Peter asked a resident for directions to the Erez crossing. This resident offered to drive us to Erez and on the way gave us a tour of the town and surrounding farming region. During the tour he told us that the town had been the target of Qassam rockets for many years, and during recent months the town had been hit by rockets and artillery over one hundred times.

He reflected that this was not always the case, stressing that until 1993 Gazans and Israelis were friends and co-workers. He added that over 500 Gazans worked in the town, and surrounding greenhouses and gardens.

-- Posted by Liz and Peter on February 17, 2009

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