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Helpless and Hopeless

Text Messages in Gaza-Sderot

by JULIA CHAITIN

When I woke up yesterday at 5 a.m. to the sounds of war planes overhead, I saw that I had a text message from my friend Maha in Gaza.  Since this war began, almost every morning, I see that she has sent me a message. From day to day, the messages have become more depressing. Every day she tells me what has happened to her family – the windows in her home were blown out by a bomb that exploded nearby, her cousin’s house was hit and relatives were injured. I sense in these text messages that her belief that one day she will experience peace and freedom is slipping further and further away. In its place has come the real fear that she and her family are next in line to be killed.

When I woke up today at 5:30 a.m., the birds were competing with the war planes overhead. A few moments later, my phone whistled that I had received a new text message from the regional home front headquarters: “There is a fear of Hamas infiltration and shooting. All residents are requested to stay indoors with their doors locked. There is no traveling on the roads.” For about an hour the booms were massive, very loud and very frightening. It turned out that 13 Hamas militants had tried infiltrating one of the border kibbutzim from a tunnel with heavy weaponry in order to kill and/or kidnap Israelis and take them back to Gaza. Later on, when we got a text message that we could back to ‘normal’ routine – that is normal for wartime – media reports said that at least 6 militants had been killed and the rest fled through the tunnel, back to the Gaza Strip.

Last night I had three text messages with Maha, Mohammed and Fatma who live in different places in Gaza. Although they do not know one another, they all stressed the same point: We fear for our lives; there is no safe place in Gaza. Last night, many of my students from the Sapir College, where I teach, and friends from the area – from Other Voice (our grassroots group that works to put an end to the violence in this area) – were no longer to be found in the area. They, too, feared for their lives. But unlike my friends in Gaza, my Israeli students and friends have been able to escape from the area and find some safer ground in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and in the north-central Hefer Valley.  I received a few text messages from them:  “I am in Jerusalem;” “I took my kids to my parents so that they could get away from the rockets.”

Yesterday, I actually had a phone call with one of my students from the Sapir College, and not just a text message. She wanted to discuss her seminar paper with me. My student was horrified to hear that I had remained at home on my kibbutz, which is located in the Eshkol region, even though we have no safe room in our house. She told me that there wasn’t a safe room where she was staying in Tel Aviv, but there was a solid stairwell, and there they had much fewer bombs than she had on her border kibbutz.  Her parting words to me were the words that have become our anthem here: “stay safe.”

Our area has been eerily quiet since the beginning of the ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ that began at 9 this morning and is slated to end by 3 p.m. I am quite sure that within the hour, we will begin receiving new text messages to remain alert, to stay close to our safe rooms (which I really wish we had), because the war is still on. On Channel 10, the newscasters are talking about a possible comprehensive ceasefire that will go into effect tomorrow (Friday) at 6 a.m. The BBC is reporting it, but so far no confirmation has come from the Egyptians, who are brokering the agreement, or the Israeli and Hamas governments, who need to agree to the terms of the ceasefire.

In these days of text messages that leave me feeling helpless and hopeless, I hope that we will receive one message soon confirming the ceasefire, and the “return to routine.”  This means that instead of being frightened to death by incoming rockets, or of Hamas infiltration on the Israeli side, and massive bombing by Israeli air force on the Gazan side, we – the Israelis near the Gaza Strip – will only suffer occasional rocket and mortar fire and Palestinians – will only suffer occasional Israeli fly-bys over their tiny territory.

Though excitement over this “emergency routine” probably does not make a lot of sense for people who have not been living this nightmare reality of the last two weeks, for me, and my friends in Gaza, such a text message will give us a little hope that our time in this world is not yet up.

Julia Chaitin is a Social Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at Sapir Academic College. She writes for PeaceVoice and lives on a Kibbutz nearby Gaza.