Home > Egypt, Gaza, Israel, Palestinian Authority, Spain, Ulla Hadar > Even in line of fire, Sha’ar Hanegev mayor seeks peace with neighboring Gaza

Even in line of fire, Sha’ar Hanegev mayor seeks peace with neighboring Gaza

Tractor works in Sha'ar Hanegev wheatfield set ablaze by Kassam missile

Editor’s Note: Our Sha’ar Hanegev bureau chief, Ulla Hadar, recently invited  Sha’ar Hanegev Mayor Alon Schuster to reflect on the Gaza Flotilla and on the upsurge in rocket attacks on his community.  Here is what he had to say:

By Alon Schuster

Alon Schuster

SHA’AR HANEGEV, Israel–I remember at the age of seven driving with my father on a tractor along the borderline between the Gaza strip and Israel.  At that time the border was marked only by  a line of big barrels placed every 200 meters.  After the Egyptians deported the UN forces that had been placed along the border, IDF forces entered Gaza.

The Palestinian terrorism led to a closure of the border and the building of a border fence. Other heavy security devices were added. This fence parts us from our neighbors today.

The last two decades saw two important events: In the 90’s Israel agreed to return the Palestinian leadership to Gaza and the Western Bank from their exile. In the beginning of the 21st century. Israel made a complete unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip.  Ine result was the uprooting of several thousands Israeli citizens.

These two actions were executed amid intense political and ideological arguments amongst the citizens of Israel.  We can only regret that the Palestinian side did not know, or even worse, did not want to take advantage of the opportunity to create a
normal coexistence with Israel.

For the Palestinians this situation is a disaster and we can only express our deepest regrets that there has been no success in establishing together with us, the closest neighbors, (we describe ourselves as “peace searchers”) a healthy and reciprocal relationship.

Sha'ar Hanegev residents "weed" a Kassam from Gaza out of fields

 
A couple of weeks ago the State of Israel marked Yom HaShoah,  Holocaust Memorial Day. In Kibbutz Mefalsim where I live, a kibbutz that lies one and a half kilometers from the Gaza Strip borderline, an emotional ceremony was carried out. In the middle of the ceremony two mortars blew up close by. And later in the night the whole kibbutz was shaken by an enormous blast when an explosive placed by the border was detonated. How can you deny the symbolism in these acts??

Who are the people living next to the Gaza Strip on the Israeli side? Mostly people of the kibbutzim and moshavim, many of them moderates in the political arena.  Most of the area’s population had been educated in the socialist youth movements, with the main banners – all men are equal, tolerance and peace among human beings and nations as important values.

During the 90’s we tried to develop a healthy relationship with our Palestinian neighbors. Hundreds of Palestinians studied in the local Sapir College situated in the Sha’ar Hanegev municipality.  This college in the last 10 year became one of the main targets of the Kassam rockets  launched from the Gaza Strip.

Several models in cooperation were formed, in areas like agriculture, environment, industry, trade and health. Students started to meet and talk and leaders talked more moderately. All this was an attempt  to fashion  a future healthy coexistence. How sad and frustrating to be on the Israel side where the standard of living  is ten or even twenty times higher than in the Gaza
Strip! How depressing it is to realize that the hand stretched out in a sincere desire for peace is met with hatred, nourished from a base that is imcomprehensible to all of us!

We have sworn to never again be engulfed or be victims to the madness of hatred and anti-Semitism. We will not agree that the hooligan killers who grabbed power from their people can command us to lose our hope, or lose our faith that one day there will be a better future.

This is one of the reasons that we use our resources, continue to dream, and do not miss any chance or possibility to establish peaceful encounters among Arab and Jewish teachers, youth and sometimes even leaders.

The main goal is  to feel the joy of taking part in a joint action. This was taught as early as in the “Golden Age” in Spain where Jews and Muslims once stood together shoulder by shoulder in an action for human civilization.

We are determined that our democratic country for the Jewish people will continue to exist. We will not give up the simple human dream – to be in a healthy neighborly relationship with the people that live so close to us and yet so far away….

As for the recent events and the closure of the Gaza Strip: It is extremely important to notice that it is not about banning the importation of goods to Gaza. Every day there are tons of supplies that enter the Gaza Strip, true that only goods defined by Israel as acceptable are entered.

The intention is to enable the population to achieve a reasonable existence and to assure supplies of food and medicine.

Two reason for closing the border: To prevent the smuggling of arms that might be used against Israel and to demand the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit.

In a situation where there is  no political agreement with Hamas, where the leadership  in the Gaza Strip does not recognize the legitimate existence of the State of Israel and Hamas’s  army is gaining strength, Israel has a the full right to defend itself and to interdict military goods bound for the Gaza Strip.

Hamas is ignoring the civil rights of the captured Israeli soldier Gilat Shalit and it is unacceptable. It has made it mandatory for Israel to act harshly until the policy of the enemy is changed. We can not obligate the Palestinians to love us, but it is possible to deprive them of a normal life if they abrogate the  rules of behavior amongst civilized  people.

I will remind you again, Israel disengaged itself one hundred percent from the Gaza Strip, with a costly political and social effect for the country. We did this in order to enable our neighbors an independent, honorable and thriving life. They decided not to use this enormous opportunity, they rejected the hand stretched out for peace. Misery is brought to the civilians of Gaza by their murderous and dictatorial Hamas government.
 
Strangely enough a dramatic change and improvement in the life of the Palestinians could be very close. The only thing they need to do is to stop shooting and attacking Israel, to enable visits to the captured soldier and to ban the import of weapons to the Gaza Strip. On these conditions Israel – even with no official peace treaty signed– will ease its measures against the Gaza Strip and the life of the thousands of civililian Palestinians will improve dramatically.

*
Schuster is mayor of the Sha’ar Hanegev municipality which includes ten kibbutzim, a moshav, and the Ibim Student Village in an area lying along the Gaza border in the vicinity of the Israeli city of Sderot.

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